Working in a team isn’t easy. Compromise is a word everyone should think about 24/7, because let’s be honest, four people are never going to agree on everything. Different backgrounds, characters, personalities, cultures, languages… All of these and many more create very different contexts for each of us, which all of a sudden have to correlate and work together to create something – whatever it is.
Yes, working with people is hard. Sometimes, very hard. Sometimes, impossible. But let me tell you this. This whole journey I’ve been on with design thinking and our start-up module in the past few months would have been absolutely impossible without the three other beautiful fools I now proudly call my friends.
I knew the process was going to be challenging, because it was tapping into sensitive spots of my soul – my insecurities. My insecurity about my creativity, about the ability to actually produce, whether it be an idea or the product itself, doubts about my capability to finish the course itself – trust me, there were several moments when I wanted to quit. These three people were there through it all. Not just supporting me and pushing me, or metaphorically “holding my hand” when I was too scared or insecure. They were also going through the same experiences as I was, every step of the way. And sharing that “burden”, that responsibility, was extremely comforting and it made the process easier – every day. Realisation that you are not alone, when you’re struggling is, I think on a basic human level, very naturally soothing. And I guess one of the lessons I’ve learnt from design thinking and this process is to think and be aware of our humanity.
From my previous work I knew about team work, I’ve worked within many teams, larger or smaller, and I understood the importance of a good team spirit and effort. But every experience is different and this one has brought new lessons. There are the lessons I’ve learned from working with my start-up team.
- “Storm, norm and perform” is not just a phrase.
Now, here is the thing. I don’t like conflict. I try to avoid it at all cost. BUT!! That’s not always beneficial for the process. When I read this article in Harvard Business Review about collaboration, it opened my eyes.
“Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time……You’ve probably been taught to see collaboration and conflict as opposites.” (HBR,2017)
That last sentence really resonated with me. I always related collaboration to happy, good relationships, agreements, fairy land. Well, not quite.
“There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict. What we need is collaboration where tension, disagreement, and conflict improve the value of the ideas, expose the risks inherent in the plan, and lead to enhanced trust among the participants.” (HBR, 2017)
If we didn’t have disagreements in our team and didn’t challenge each others’ ideas, we wouldn’t have moved forward. Ever. We would have been stuck on the same ideas, on the same, quite possibly wrong, path to nowhere. It was through challenging each other, opinions and ideas, discussions and often disagreements, that we were able to find new solutions, new ideas, new ways of doing things.
Despite the understanding, that conflict was beneficial and important in the process, we never left a conversation without closure, without finalising the debate.
Our storming and norming phases weren’t long periods of time. There was no conflict on long term bases, because agreements are equally important as challenging each other. Because only through agreements we were able to actually move to the next phase, which was “perform”. In order to make further steps, we had to reach a consensus. Instead of long conflicts, we would have discussions, loud, sometimes heated, in every meeting. In a way, the storming and norming sessions were happening on a smaller scale every day. But we always made sure to go through norming, or I like to say “get on the same brain wave”, so we could act on whatever we decided on.
Good technique we took on from the beginning was something I took on from my theatre work. After each meeting, we would simply express what made us happy and what worried us about that phase, that meeting, that day, that week. This helped! It made us relate to each other and calm the situation. It helped us get on the same page and conclude with positivity and the same outlook on the path ahead of us.
From that, performing phase was a piece of cake (not really, but the first two phases made the whole process a lot easier, that’s what I mean by that).
In other words, what I realised really works is this – have a little fight, talk it out, mediate, move on. Everyone’s happy-ish.
- Utilise your skills and divide the workload.
What we really worked on was dividing the workload evenly between all of us, but with a purpose. At the beginning of the process, we sat down and agreed what our roles would be. These were decided based on our experience, skills and qualities. Yes, some people say that it’s better to choose a role you are not comfortable with to challenge yourself. BUT, we felt that the process would be challenging anyway and we would all still go through the process together and we decided to use our skills to our advantage and increase the potential for success. This turned out to be a good decision – for us anyway.
I had some experience with production, so I made the products. Celina is a designer, so she designed our brand. Arturo is FANTABULOUSLY (yes, that is not a word) charming and he was selling our products like a pro, and Halyn was a confident advertiser, so she created a great marketing campaign.
This didn’t mean that we weren’t all involved in the design, marketing, sales and production process. But the workload was distributed and we could breathe. I knew I didn’t have to think about the looks of our brand the same way Celina didn’t have to think about the logistics of making our product. We consulted, agreed and then executed on our own.
It personally made me feel in the loop of everything, but like I wasn’t responsible for all of the workload, and it took the weight off my shoulders.
- Having fun is easier when you can laugh with others.
Fun was the word I kept repeating to myself, especially on the hard days. After all, what’s the point if you can’t enjoy your time?
Sharing the nice and the difficult moments and bringing lightness into the dark days is simply easier when you have other people to joke with, to laugh with, to enjoy the achievements with.
It’s the little moments every day, that make it worth it. That moment when Arturo was so happy we successfully made a prototype, that proud Halyn’s face after the final pitch rehearsal went well, that joy in Celina, when I brought the first final product. Moments I was happy to share with these guys and that made the whole struggle worth it.
If I could do it all over again, I’d always choose these people. We fought, we argued, we discussed, we laughed, we shared, we supported. That’s what a team is to me. That’s what a great team is to me.
PS.: Thanks guys for being there, even that time when I almost lost my shiz.