Our 3 biggest learnings about collaboration in 2016

The ability to lead yourself and knowing who you are allow you to better approach collaborating with others, producing better results and long-term satisfaction. Authentic leadership changes people’s lifes and also the way companies work. Competition is replaced with collaboration. The latter was a prominent topic for us at ATAIRU too, on several levels.

No rocket science, but …

Thinking back about the lessons we learnt in 2016, we surprisingly found ourselves thinking: „Well, but this is nothing new, is it?“ We were thus reminded of the fact that it is one thing to know something, and quite anohter to have experienced it in everyday situations.

Lesson no. 1: Collaborating on a diverse team hurts. Still, when all the team members care about the common goal, the result is worth it and the team grows stronger.

Our strategic team meeting: As the first point on the agenda, we wanted to unveil our newly defined mission and get everyone aligned on it. All of us had been involved in the early phases, but only some of us had gone the whole way. Having accounted for everyone’s input, we were really proud to show the end product to the world. No big debate expected. Quite the opposite was true. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in the midst of a heated discussion most of us don’t particularly enjoy. Anger was the first instinctive reaction. We may know, rationally, that we are not being personally criticized, but the emotions like to have their say. Going to the bathroom or just taking a quick stroll around the office is a simple way to calm down, open to other people’s opinions and start listening, and it worked for us too. Needless to say, the team discussion which ensued proved to be very useful.

In such discussions, we follow three rules:

  1. We keep reminding ourselves of our long-term goal – we remain clear about why we are doing what we are doing.
  2. We create an environment where anyone can speak up their mind in an open, safe, and straightforward manner.
  3. We learn to listen to each other and provide feedback with respect. When criticism is due, we make sure to separate people from the problem.

By the end of the day, we were on our last legs, emotionally speaking, but we knew rationally that we had done a good job, also thanks to the unpleasant exchange. And one last thing: with hindsight, we can tell each other how upset we were, appreciate and praise each other, and have a good laugh.

Other vantage points, backgrounds, and ingrained cultural patterns on our team serve as a key to unlock rich and deep discussions and better – more thought-through, consistent and long-lasting – decision-making.

Lesson no. 2: The more people are involved, the higher the need for clear rules. Standardizing processes in the growth phase frees up your hands and time.

In the fall, we attended Roger Hamilton’s conference in London, worked for Microsoft in Moscow, and launched the first ATAIRU program for Japanese female managers in Tokyo. Our team grew. We had more presence both at events and in the media. We made Leadership Games, and published an e-book (only in Czech). All in all, we had our plates full, and the old way we worked stopped working. Not for external audiences, but surely for us inside.

Because when your company starts growing, time is the first thing you lose. You can win more time by either growing your team or by improving your product and process standards. Or by doing both simultaneously.

We knew we needed a seamless team. For a long time I have believed that clearly stipulated borders (roles and responsibilities) and direction (where we are going to) will give us freedom and flexibility.

Our international experience confirms we have a great product. Authentic leadership works even in dramatically different cultures. This fueled our belief in the purpose and benefits of what we do. But there was a BUT. Taking a lesson from manufacturing, there is a difference between making 50 or 500,000 chairs. Similarly, we needed to simplify workshop preparation and systemize communication. It all starts with small things, such as presentations and workbooks.

Rules and a system are a good foundation and free up your hands. Things may change again in a year’s time; it all depends on where we’ll be then, it all depends on context.

Lesson no. 3: Sometimes, saying „no“ to something is more important than what you say „yes“ to.

It all started with my enthusiasm and passion for making videos. We put together the concept with Yemi, and got off to a good start. Then came post-production – editing and shortening the raw material. Engrossed in it, we forgot about the follow-up campaign. We learnt that our original intention to place the videos on our web was not an option: it wasn’t designed for it. So, we found an agency and started to build a new one. This surfaced more imperfections. And so, eventually, we ended up redoing our branding and visual style. Then, finally, we designed the campaign and launched Leadership Games.

Would it not have been better to start at the other end? You bet! We got carried away, fueled by passion, and the time pressure did not help either. While each phase mattered, a reversed sequence would have worked better. We would have achieved the same result much more easily.

Saying “no” doesn’t have to be a hard denial, as in “No, never.” Instead, it can be about making a responsible decision: “Not now, but in three months.” Or “Not until we finish this.” It can be about thinking through the time and logical sequence, and waiting for the right moment. It will save you time, money and energy.

Another notch higher this year

We want to keep growing also this year. But we’ll take the challenge from a different angle. We want to better prioritize, focus on fewer things with more impact, and on internal processes. And we want to make mistakes. Only different ones. Ones that will move us forward. Another notch higher.

Datum konani 22.1.2017

Radka Dohnalová

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