The Troy Outspoken Media office was bustling here on Monday. It was a late night for Rhea, Sabre and myself and we decided to take a break around 9pm to order some Chinese. We gathered around an office table to chow down and chat about what we were all working on and the state of our holiday shopping (I don’t even want to talk about). We ate, we chatted, and we laughed. I’ve been part of a lot of teams in my life – sports, academic, professional, coupled – but this continues to be a team I am increasingly proud of. If I had my way, we’d convince our remote employees to move to Troy so we could see and laugh with each other every day. But then I remember that we live in Troy, NY. And well, it’s not exactly a hotbed. We’re working on that.
When you talk about what makes a company great, I think we often focus on the wrong aspects. It’s not the clients, the specific skillsets, or even the personal or collective brands on board. It’s the team that exists behind all of that. The people that show up and fight every day. And there are some things that are important to building and nurturing that team. Here are a few things I’ve re-learned about team in 2010.
Teams don’t work in isolation: When you look at strong teams in action, you’ll see that no one is off completely by themselves. There aren’t any employees stuck on islands or people forgotten about with no inlets to resources or people. Instead, there’s collaboration. There are strong players working with supporting players. There are people helping to lighten the load, not buying into the “that’s not my job” mentality. There’s a sense that they’re part of something larger than themselves. And it’s that feeling that inspires everyone to work harder, to be their best, and to create something that the team, collectively, can be proud of. I know I’ve worked in places where the blog has been cast off to a remote part of the company, and me with it. That’s something we’re really conscious of NOT doing here at Outspoken Media. We want everyone to make people feel part of the movement. We think it’s important.
The mission needs to be visible to everyone: Whoever is in charge of the team is responsible for communicating its mission. It’s that person’s job to make sure everyone knows what’s at stake and what the team is trying to create. If you haven’t read Time’s piece on Mark Zuckerberg as their person of the year, you should. There’s a comment in there from Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, about how he walked into his Facebook interview pretty dismissive of the whole organization. He was working on a master’s degree in artificial intelligence at Stanford – he was doing something important, he saw Facebook as a complete waste of his time. But the interview changed him. He was able to see the intenseness of Mark’s vision and the mission statement that was written on the company whiteboard. It transformed him and he became a believer. That really stuck with me. If everyone’s not on the same page as to what the goal is and what they’re all working for, then you have no chance of ever getting there. Hire based on that vision.
Everyone must be in formation: If one person on the team is out of formation, expect that everyone else may fall out, as well. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for diversity, but if one person doesn’t believe in the team vision and is flying just a bit lower than everyone else, it will derail the operation. If they don’t believe, trust or aren’t willing to fight for it, it’s detrimental to the health of the company. While, I’m sure other people would advise talking to the person, working it out, giving them a hug, etc, I’d be more inclined to replace them. While transformations like Chris Cox’s are possible, if you’ve shown them the map and they don’t even agree on the target, they’re probably not a fit. Find someone who is.
A good team acts as if it’s impossible to fail: There’s a full-service social media agency based in Brooklyn called Carrot Creative and I’m pretty sure they can do anything. They make me feel that way every day through the way the company messages, through co-founder and President Mike Germano’s (@MikeGermano) Monday morning inspirational tweets and through the vibe they give off in all that they do. They make you believe. Because good teams believe. When you believe in your team, failure seems like the most impossible options. It’s infectious, both to the team itself, and to those watching it. Who wouldn’t want to work with and for that type of organization?
Team is important to me, and I think it’s important to the work that we all do. What are some of the qualities you love about the team you work with?
[We haven’t formally introduced you yet to many of the new Outspoken Media team members here, but we’ll be looking to do that in 2011. They’re a great bunch and I thank them all for everything they’ve taught and given Outspoken Media over the past year. ]