I love being in teams. I’ve just always been that way. Through childhood, then especially playing rugby as a teenager and in my twenties, and then at NixonMcInnes where we managed to assemble a special team. I’d almost always rather do work and play activities as part of a collective.
And like many people, I love especially those moments and periods of time when the teams I’m part of somehow reach that higher level of performance. When everyone is contributing their particular strengths, giving everything they’ve got, and the whole thing is working together fluidly.
Those moments when you look around you and you’re inspired and driven on by your teammates. And you suddenly realize that the individuals have become more like a single entity and you’re part of it. Yes it’s hippy-sounding and it’s also true and tangible. You must’ve experienced that too. Playing in a band, dancing in a club, organizing a brilliant event, whatever.
What prompted these thoughts was that I was at the dmexco show in Cologne, Germany these last few days. An unusually high quality event. Enjoyable to be part of and impressive in scale. (Most noticeably, not soulless in the way that the large scale trade shows have become – and better than anything in London of the same scale in my experience).
And these thoughts of teams are prompted by how our team came together to put that on.
Before the event our design and marketing team worked particularly hard to make a richer, more engaging platform than before – so some great foundations were laid and our goal of going further was established too. And then over the two days of dmexco our German commercial team just blew me away with their attitude and results.
In my favourite moments during the show one of two things was happening:
- sensing the same without communication
Every time I thought I was going to need to suggest to one of our guys that there was a person nearby who looked interested in chatting, as if by magic a team mate would sense the same thing and engage. Sometimes this was a lot more subtle than it might sound, and that was the inspiring, exciting bit. And the initiative, the proactivity to keep the whole thing functioning – the bin being emptied, screens being fixed, laptops being swapped. None of this is glamorous or difficult. But normally there’s friction in the need to spot, communicate, in the egos about who does what, that stop the flow.
- total contribution
Total effort all out. And ego-less. Our longest serving German team member gave out flyers and quietly supported from the edges. Our CEO gave product demos. Our head of client services lost her voice from talking to customers and prospects. Our young marketers shape-shifted into a salesperson and an IT / AV guy. And – to a person – our front-facing commercial guys worked so bloody hard. They smiled and they chatted and they won. Two days, everyone on their feet, extended periods of complete focus on other people, limited or no breaks. Our team gave their all.
All of this makes me wonder how we can do this over longer more stretched out periods of time. And across the boundaries of sub-teams. Our whole company is one team, after all.
Because I’ve experienced this team flow in a 60 minute new business pitch, in a half day workshop, over a two day show and – outside of work – in an eighty minute game of rugby.
Given that the teams I work with are located between 3 offices and working on programmes that can last weeks or months in quite different regions, the question I’m left with is can this state be designed for, given those constraints?
Can we reach this level of work zen and unity over an extended period of time, longer than 48 hours? Or is there just something about that compression of time and that essentially physical, face-to-face experience that best suits these moments? The reality is that very often we feel like we’re a long way off this smooth, satisfying state.
And what are the ingredients? What conditions create the right environment for this to happen?
At the heart of this team experience was one person – Susanne, our marketing manager for the DACH region. She was the axis at the heart of the whole endeavour, from deliberately planning the event into her budget in December 2013 to being the last person in the event hall, waiting for delayed delivery guys to show up. The playmaker. The conductor. The team captain. Not in a strategic armchair, but working like crazed person in the thick of it.
And secondly, there was a complete sense of shared purpose, and I think our team in this instance wanted to prove themselves, too. We all knew what the goals were. Shared purpose. And we wanted it.
I love teams. I wonder what else is present when teams of people reach their full potential and put on their best performances?