Pre lockdown, I was lucky enough to hear some words of wisdom on leadership from Owase Jeelani, Paediatric Neurosurgeon at Great Ormond Street (special thanks to businessfourzero for making that happen). He’s a remarkable human who has become famous for the work he has done on separating conjoined twins.
As you can imagine, this isn’t a one person job by any stretch. There is a whole surgical team that needs to come together to create a successful surgical outcome. That team may need to assemble quickly and though some may have experience of each other, many won’t. This team then has to find a way to work together in the right way on this incredible task. Fast.
He spoke of finding the right flows of working together quickly, and having the right people in the right roles. The interesting thing with those in the medical profession as opposed to the startup space I am working in, is that we get to cherry pick the people we invite into the business, and they often don’t. They have to find a way to make it work with the team they are presented with, united by a common purpose.
At Launchpad we are building businesses and therefore assembling teams quickly, so I’ve become super fascinated (even more than I was before) on how we support teams to find their rhythm together as fast as they can, and to come together united by this elusive yet essential common purpose.
Our challenges are seldom life or death in the tech space happily, yet there is almost always a beating heart in the middle of it, driving things forward. Often that heart may come in the form of our Founders. The first team we have to support them build is that of the Founding team itself. Happily I don’t need to embark on a study of team dynamics to get this nailed down, Google did a pretty good job of that already with Project Aristotle. For the uninitiated, those things are:
Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? That takes love, respect and honesty.
Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time? That takes consistency and commitment. We have to keep showing up for each other and ourselves.
Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear? This comes from the top, and has to be felt by the entire team.
Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us? It’s easy to find meaning in saving lives but how do we find the meaning in the business we are working in so that the team can translate it into their own lives.
Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters? A follow on from the above, how do we plug in what we need to feel as human beings, that what we do has value.
[Taken from re:Work – The five keys to a successful Google team with some Penfold edits at the end]
I would completely back all of the above when it comes to building teams, but there is a little bit of new data I want to share with you that I learnt from Owase. You see friends, our bodies have physical responses to one another that we aren’t aware of consciously. Some of us find a way to tune into our own bodies and our reactions, and I am happy to say I am now one of those people. I can feel things like stress and anxiety when I am in a new situation but what I hadn’t thought about was the impact that even nuanced reactions may have on other people.
The fact is, we can all instinctively hear, see and feel those nuanced reactions in others; our bodies, without our brains being aware, are constantly listening and responding to the data they are being given from the body in front of them. Our bodies are always in tune with each other and can literally hear the beat of one another’s hearts.
We can feel the none verbal clues that someone is in stress response and their heart is beating faster, but we can also sense when someone feels super comfortable and their heart is in a happy rhythm. What happens when the people around us are super comfortable? We get more comfortable too. Without realising it, we enter into a chemical reaction with the people around us, where our own systems react to what we are presented with. In a difficult interaction, this often exhibits in stress responses and can cause us to reflect the same. By total reverse, when we are truly aligned with others and working in a state of flow, our heartbeats can also align.
YES. Our heartbeats can ACTUALLY align.
We can become so in sync with one another that our hearts can beat together in a perfect rhythm. Incredible right?
So when you have a team in balance, like that of Owase’s, who have managed to establish the right dynamics that allowed them to really love and support each another through something huge, they fell into rhythm with each others hearts. When a team gets to that place, that’s where the magic happens.
We often hear stories of the magic of the early days in startup, where the team finds this incredible symbiosis. People within that team will describe those moments of time as some of the best of their lives. Of course the challenge is that, even if we get to this magical place, nothing is fixed and things are constantly moving and evolving. Which means to keep creating and being part of that kind of collective team experience, we have have to keep moving and evolving with it.
To do that, and to find these moments more frequently and allow them to happen quickly within teams, I honestly believe this starts with your connection and commitment to yourself.
Every day offers a new opportunity to show up for yourself and those around you. To show up in love, to show up in commitment, to show up with purpose and intention, to show up being clear and managing expectations of those around you well, which ultimately builds trust. Your steadiness will support the steadiness of the team around you.
At Launchpad we were a team of individuals who were thrown together quickly, and had to find a way to come together fast to unite towards a common purpose. We were all bought in to the mission around energy transformation when we joined, but have definitely had to put in a little work to create the kind of team dynamics I speak of above.
Yet in this moment in time we are living in, I have recently felt a shift within my very own team. The new world order dynamics have meant that we have become closer together and more in tune. We have had to pivot quickly into a new way of working, support one another and make fast decisions. For us, we are fortunate that unlike Owase, those have not had the weight of life or death, but they have still been significant for those within the team and within the lives of our people.
Whilst we can’t be together as a team at the moment, if I take a breath in the middle of a video call, there are moments where I can feel our collective heartbeat. I can feel this rising sense of common purpose, I can feel the energy of supportive forgiveness and I can’t wait to feel into the rhythm of the team when we come back together again. And for the teams that we are supporting, building and nurturing in our resident community, we can’t wait to beat alongside you until your hearts beat in a collective rhythm of their own.