Much has changed in the past few years, especially in workplaces. It’s harder to build cohesive teams and positive company cultures. But while we might seem further apart, our offices have a chance to become more human.
Liz Borges, Sithabile Technology Services’ Account Director and General Manager of Strategics, explains how she adapts to the new workplace and helps her team grow together while keeping their newfound independence.
You’ve built a fantastic career in the technology sector. Why technology and not something different?
The sector gives me the opportunity to learn. I get bored quite easily. But technology is always changing, there’s always change. And just when you think you’ve grasped the next big thing, it evolves. For me and my team, it’s really important that we constantly learn and stay a step ahead so that when a customer asks us for advice, we have as many of the answers as possible for them.
Technology is a means to an end to enable a business idea. How do you ensure your team delivers on that outcome?
I consider myself more of a mentor than a boss. I’m there to help my team grow and evolve. It’s about a nice cohesive team to work with where we can rely on each other. When they’re having a tough time, they will knock on my door and say, “I’m struggling to make this decision—what do you suggest I do?” We discuss it, and whatever comes out is what we put forward. It’s a simple philosophy: you make a decision and you stand by that decision. If it evolves into something negative, you ask what’s the next decision? But that only works with a team who can rely on each other. if you don’t have a happy cohesive team, you don’t have a successful team.
If others often depend on you for guidance, how do you make sure you stay ahead of their expectations?
The biggest thing for me is to focus on continuous growth. You’ve got to keep your mind sharp, otherwise, you fall behind.
Growth is important. But what motivates you to keep growing?
My team motivates me. If a customer comes to me with a problem, I can sit with my team and say, “Hey, guys, how do we help this customer? What can we do differently?” There’s always that challenge that you’ve got to work through. Solving those challenges and working with my people, that’s a kick for me.
The workplace has experienced a lot of upheaval lately that makes it harder to build cohesive teams. Do you agree?
Yes, it isn’t easy. We went from a norm where you were going to the office every day. Things were quite structured. Hybrid work changed the dynamic for a lot of companies. How do we manage our people? How do we monitor their work? How do we make sure the performance still stays there? How do we motivate people? It definitely changed the dynamic not just for people, but how companies operate.
What are some of the cultural shifts you’ve noticed?
The biggest concerns are around culture and management. People don’t want to be micromanaged in this new environment nor they want to be left on their own. At a personal level, it became tough for me, because now you’ve got to talk to people in these online forums. All of a sudden, you’re judging how your team is doing through a Teams conversation. It was a very rough ride at the beginning but now it’s settling.
How do you keep building cohesion with your people when you only see them now and then?
Continue having conversations with them. You’ve got to be available to your staff. When they have a problem, they can reach out. They should never feel like they are sitting in a corner by themselves. Most people would rather work from home, but still miss the office. In our case, we go to the office once a week on the same day. We talk face to face. Sometimes, you get less work done on those days, but it’s not a bad thing. Offices must become more versatile and dynamic environments.
It’s interesting that the result of hybrid work is that offices feel more human.
I think offices had a colder culture. It wasn’t quite as human. Now that we’ve all experienced that life can be short and that anything can happen, people think differently. We look more at what people can deliver and not just whether they are at a desk. I want to see if something has been well thought out, that you’ve covered all your bases, that you care about your effort and the result. It’s definitely changed and become a lot more human-centric.
Such personal responsibility can weigh heavily on people. How do you encourage them to manage this?
A problem is as big as you make it. When a problem becomes all-consuming, I break it down in small pieces. Start off with the part that is easiest to resolve and work through it. It’s also important how managers place expectations. If someone delivers 50%, but you respond by demanding 80%, you’ve made that change, that delta, so big you’re setting them up for failure. But encourage them to then aim for 55%, inevitably, they will give you 70%, then 80% and more.