Authority, Openness and Approachability: Key Attributes to Building a Strong Cybersecurity Team

Dr Jessica Barker is Co-CEO Cygenta and her team is a finalist in the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards 2019

When my husband, FC, and I started Cygenta {link:}, we had some decisions to make. Did we want a lifestyle business or one with commercial ambitions? Were we interested in VC funding that would enable us to grow – and hire – really quickly or did we want to expand slow and steady?

We’re both ambitious people and we quickly found our skills were in demand by clients, so a lifestyle business was not the right avenue for us. We also wanted complete control over how we worked and who we worked with, so we decided not to pursue VC funding. We wanted to build a small, self-funded, family business and we soon realised we couldn’t do this alone. After a few months we made our first hire and in the last year we have grown from a team of three to a team of six. We were absolutely delighted to be nominated for the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards under the category Security Avengers (best team). We’re so proud of the team we are building at Cygenta and to have this recognised with the award nomination is amazing.

What makes a good team? We’re building the Cygenta team in the way that works for us as a company, which of course will differ from many other places. What works for us may not work elsewhere, but we’re lucky that we can build the company in our own vision and at our own pace. We can put our values at the heart of what we do and learn from good, and bad, practices from previous workplaces and clients. Some of the core elements of our approach are:

  1. We are the leaders of Cygenta, but not bosses. In leading, we believe it’s important to have the respect of your team and this can only be achieved by showing that you are transparent, trustworthy and will always back them up when needed. We treat our colleagues as adults and aim for a balance of authority, openness and approachability.
  2. When we hire someone, we are not interested in their skills first and foremost. Skills can be taught, and we provide everyone in the company with Pluralsight and other opportunities to develop their skills how they see fit. We are interested in attitude and approach. The people we have hired are passionate about their work and about having a positive impact. They are honest, smart, kind, inquisitive and have strong moral codes. These, for us, are the most important attributes in a cyber security professional and in the kind of cyber security team we want to grow.
  3. Having common values is important. Our team shares many common values, not least integrity of work and delivering the best we can for clients. We also share a passion for making the world a better place, reflected in the fact that everyone at Cygenta chooses to do volunteer outreach as part of their day job. As a team, we support many initiatives including TeenTech {link:} and the NCSC Cyber Schools Hub {link:}, for which we won an award last year {link:}.
  4. We recognise that work is not the be-all and end-all. There are real issues in this industry with stress and burnout, so the well-being of our team is really important. Health and family come first. For these reasons, we are an output-driven company; we don’t expect people to stick to rigid working hours and we trust our team to honour their work commitments without needing us to micro-manage their time and tasks. We respect the people that work with us at Cygenta and we know they respect us; we want the best from our team, and we want the best for them.
  5. This applies to remote working, too. Some of our team members work remotely and so utilising technology to enable us to work cohesively and inclusively is really important. As FC and I travel a lot as part of our roles, this approach has the added benefit of supporting us wherever we are in the world. 
  6. We’re a small team so it is important that we all get on. Of course, there will be differences of opinion, and that’s a good thing, but mutual respect and camaraderie make us all happier and more productive. We’re also committed to having a well-balanced team that is as diverse as possible, and we’re delighted that the team is 50/50 gender diverse.

People are the strongest link in any organisation, and we find that empowering people with respect and trust is the key to a great team. As Richard Branson says “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

Via: Dr Jessica Barker