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It Takes The Village To Raise A Child – Innovation Excellence

by Francesco Pagano

By Federica D’Armento and Frank Pagano

Me, Myself and I

You don’t get this in job interviews anymore: how are you as a Team member? In my first interview, some twenty years ago, I spent way too much time describing the ‘me’ and the ‘we’, and how I was going to align with the team. This was when ‘facetime’ at the office was mandatory, Marketing was wearing suit and tie everyday, and teams were operating by consensus and under the tight control of one leader. Alignment was more important than anything else. ‘Us’ prevailed over ‘I’. The world has changed. 

Technology is now asking teams to work under pressure, fast and remotely. Team members’ profiles are ultra-specialized – thus limiting exchange, and independent ideas (even misalignment) are what’s needed to survive in a business climate where strategy changes by the hour. Moreover, unicorns and Silicon Valley have created the cult of the individual. Without buying at face value the fairy tale of the one man conquering the world, it is true that bright minds are the hottest commodity for a company.

It takes the village to raise a child, an African proverb goes. Raise them quickly, and make them fully empowered, without killing their spirit on the altar of the ‘we’ or of their boss. What we need today is a corporate environment that gives a capable employee space to develop and shine. Because we need more disruption than continuity. A group led by consensus and a Senior Leader will default to caution. If you are to reinvent yourself, this is not what you want. One Etoile alone will generate tremendous impact and will make the whole team win. Today, the balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ heavily skews towards the former. The 100th anniversary Oreo campaign or the Gatorade observation room, which created a renaissance for the two Brands, as an example, are the result of freedom and courage of a few brave Marketeers, more than an orthodox Marketing team project. Hero, Where Art Thou?        

We, The People

None of us is smarter than all of us (Kenneth H. Blanchard)

It is so simple and true. Collaboration is key for organizational success, and people need to rely on each other to get things done. At the same time, in order for a team to be the best in class, each member needs to grow. So, self-development fosters team success. But is the contrary also true? Are team-building rituals conducive of self-growth?

Opinions about team-building fluctuate a lot. I hear friends describing their companies’ team initiatives as a complete waste of time (plus, the time spent is always recouped, as the show must go on!); others feel excited, but only if an activity makes a good Instagram story. Whilst the Hawthorne Experiment shows that employees’ motivation and productivity are linked to social interactions, the question is how, for example, a one-time event (even the coolest one) can go beyond the natural increase in communication between colleagues, and build a high-performing squad. Above all, how does a one-time program play any meaningful role towards individual developments? The answer is clear: there is no one-day activity able to make a long-lasting impact, neither at a team nor at an individual level. And, sad but true, we all know that. Business results are never a ‘one man show’. If the so-called team-building nurtures social connections, we can probably say that the old-school approach is now obsolete. HR, can you hear us?

Building A Team Goes Viral

Looking at the way Covid-19 is forcing companies to work, successful teams look as follows:

  1. Virtually united: it is no longer necessary to be physically together
  2. Engaged: engagement is the most valuable currency for business success; it generates better communication with customers and employees; it comes from an openly shared vision and full empowerment to act as one
  3. Independent: autonomy is the wind that blows from behind a self-organized and decentralized team; which is diametrically opposite to the classic command & control organization

Times of uncertainty, like the ones we are living in, show that old world team-building, or the like, is no longer possible (aka: social distancing) nor needed. This crisis will bring along both organizational restructuring and changes in most career paths, asking each individual to take responsibility for their own development.

The Power Of You

This is something I learned during my time at Google, and I truly believe in it: you, and only you, are on the driver seat of your career; you, and only you, are responsible for your personal and professional development; it’s up to you to reach out for help; it’s up to you to find ways to get to the top (or to grab whatever else you want).

Google is the world’s best employer (Forbes, 2019). Their secret? They place people at the very center of the organization. Yes, off-sites are still done there; yes, they emphasize the importance of taking ownership of your own career. They also offer the widest and most diverse range of tool-kits (of course, up to you to use), from mentorship programs, to structured career conversations with Career Guru-s, job rotations – you name it. I couldn’t fully grasp it at the beginning of my Google experience. Having PDP (Personal Development Plan) conversations was part of quarterly objectives, both for me and my manager. It was a time consuming, difficult effort: I needed to look around, ahead and inside of myself; imagine my career in the short, medium and long term; list my goals, my motivation, my gaps and – above all – I had to say if I needed my manager’s help, and how s/he could help. The exercise was sometimes painful, but I’ve never done anything more meaningful for my professional growth. And, this is part of Google’s philosophythat ‘taking care of our people is good for all of us’. 

At Google I have felt that human beings are not just assets that need to be ‘managed’, but they are resources, to be (em)powered through individualized ‘experiences’.

Rescue HR!

Here is the key point. Outstanding teams are fundamental for a healthy business, but HR professionals should understand whether existing programs are getting them any closer to the end goal: making all individuals successful.

In the future, we can probably keep team-building events (and have them as ‘optional’), but on top of the job grading, performance management systems, and L&D. The absolute priority is to put people first. Let’s learn from Marketing, and its customer centricity. Building solid HR programs, with individual development at their heart, is a business priority. In the future, it would be great to see new roles joining the HR Department, like Coaches, Career Consultants, Virtual Community Designers, Community Developers, Talent & Purpose Agents, Failure & Learning Experts.

There is no limit to the power of each one of us. There is no limit to the power of You.

It takes the village to raise a child. That’s the only thing that the village should care about.

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