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Blog > December 2020 > WLIT Panelist Stories: I’m New, Ur New – I and U aren’t Letters in Team…

WLIT Panelist Stories: I’m New, Ur New – I and U aren’t Letters in Team…

Teambuilding is a broad term that receives a lot of attention. Guidance on exactly how to build a team is sometimes lacking, and the concept can be a bit of a black box. What if you’re the person charged with building a team in an environment that’s been somewhat (or very) fractured? And, what if you don’t really have the time or the opportunity for in-person meet-and-greet events to get to know people? And, further, what if you’re in the minority due to gender, location, expertise, etc.?

As someone who’s worked in male-dominated industries for the entirety of my career, I’ve been faced with all of the above; my current team is 90% men, 10% women (myself included). Guidance from my mentors helped me to discover that teamwork is the most influential motivation in my daily work life.

Everyone is new, well, sort of…

In late 2014, I was offered the opportunity to return to the world of presales/consulting. After nearly 14 years on other teams, it was a chance to return to a department I’d really enjoyed. It was an exciting prospect – and more than a little intimidating. One of the key factors in my return was a new, dynamic leader who wanted to change the way we provided professional services. And change we did! 

Previously, our presales and consulting departments reported up through different vice presidents. Reporting structures were based on geographical location, regardless of specialty. Cooperation between different regions, if not actively discouraged, wasn’t viewed positively.  There was also minimal interaction between the presales team and consultants. As of October 2014, all of this changed. Everyone with a certain specialty was grouped together. Overnight, we became a global services group, comprised of individuals from multiple countries and time zones, with different languages and diverse job functions. I was new to the group, too. 

You’ll note that I used the term “global services group” and not “global services team.”  In October 2014, we weren’t a team. We were an amalgamation of individuals who worked for the same company, sometimes competitively, and who might have known each other. Maybe you’d seen someone’s name in an email exchange, but that was likely the extent of your interaction with or knowledge of that other person.

Poof – now you’re a team!  

We’d experienced a lot of change in a very short amount of time, and the expectation was that we’d become a team. We had a huge amount of work facing us that first three months and very little time to execute. Teams don’t gel overnight – there is no magic wand to wave and “poof, you’re a team.”  So, how to begin? 

I started a weekly global team meeting with a published agenda. During each week’s meeting, two to three individuals were asked to provide a short introduction: where they were located, how long they’d been with our company, what they did and an “unusual” fact. By taking this first step, we learned a lot about each other. On our team, we had volunteer firefighters, folks who loved to play musical instruments, incredibly talented photographers, hockey players, expert swimmers, boat makers, wine experts, people with amazing shoe collections, movie buffs and one individual whose childhood friend ended up as a famous rock star.

We continued our learning process by sharing our favorite phrases.  Although we speak/write English as our standard, there are 11 countries and as many languages/dialects.  It was fun to learn that Italian and English have a similar saying  “strike while the iron is hot” and that “herding cats” in English becomes “herding flies” in German. And that the Swedish phrase “Många bäckar små gör en stor å” (when everybody contributes, big tasks can be accomplished) truly represents our team spirit. 

By sharing little bits of ourselves, we’ve really gotten to know each other.  And, when you know someone, it’s a lot easier to ask for help or to offer a helping hand. Especially when you know your colleague will return the favor when it’s your turn.  Recognition of teamwork is an important part of our team meetings, and I do my best to celebrate these instances each week.  For us, teamwork is truly our superpower. 

Playing well with the new person…

There’s a saying in English (and likely something similar in other language), “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes.”  I’d amend that to, “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes – and change.” Teams, like people, are dynamic. How do you integrate a new person into an established team?  And how do you accomplish this now  when travel is minimal or forbidden?

I do my best to start everyone off from the same position. During their first team meeting, I ask the new team member to share a bit about themselves: who you are, where you’re from and, probably most important, the unusual fact. After the introductions, we have an open Q&A session. There’s usually laughter, frequently a pretty random follow-up question, and the team integration process begins.  Nothing magic – simply everyone meeting everyone else on their level. 

I and U are We

It’s six years later, and we have what I believe to be the best team within our organization. I know I’m biased, but…  how’d we get here?

  • We have a standing meeting every week with a published agenda.
  • We honor significant business-related accomplishments, highlighting fantastic teamwork in particular. And, if I overlook something, folks send me an update and I add that to the discussion.
  • We celebrate birthdays, years of service milestones and other significant personal successes.
  • We immediately welcome new team members into our culture
  • We practice and value open and candid communication.
Our team is spectacular, and my teammates are what I value most.