From being total strangers to starting a business together,
From individual aspirations to a shared vision.
We, made it through as a team
And I, evolved into a better team player.
MACE 2017, which turned out to be the biggest challenge so far came to me as an achievement for all that I had been a part of and evolved into. I thought since this was something I had been passionate about for a long time and studied in my Bachelor’s; it would be one smooth journey. But oh boy! Little did I know I had got myself into a roller coaster ride.
Since the day I had got my letter of acceptance to the course I had been excited to work on the start-up project, so excited that I had actually started watching shark tank and all sorts of business shows to prepare myself for it. Also, as I had worked in teams a lot of times before for film projects, paper presentations, event coordination etc; I was pretty confident in making this start-up project work in the right direction.
But now, as I look back at the start-up journey, I see just one thing which went as planned and that is, I learned so much from this process. Rest everything from forming a team to working together; it came as a new and such a colorful experience which was solely based on embracing the process and taking the right decisions, at the right time, in the right way.
Today, I am confident in saying that I AM NO MORE AN INDIVIDUAL THAT CAN DO WONDERS BUT SIMPLY A TEAM PLAYER THAT COULD TAKE YOUR BUSINESS FORWARD WITH YOU and I would like to take this final blog as an opportunity to reflect on how design thinking and the start-up journey helped me evolve into a better team player.
To do so, I rewind into the start-up journey and analyze it on some proven theories of effective teamwork while also focusing on how design thinking helped us work our way through all the hurdles and achieve all that we did as a team.
DESIGN THINKING, a concept popularized by IDEO founder David Kelly and Stanford’s d.school, which was first applied to the design of physical objects, then other products, such as technological tools, and now to more complex challenges across a wide variety of industries; revolves around the idea of putting the “user” at the center of the experience. From idea to selling the final product; design thinking became the basis for building our start-up.
Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to understand the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology and the profit aspect of any innovation a business comes up with. Following a non-linear path of iterative development, design thinking is based on Empathy.
In order to assess our team performance, I refer to the basics of team effectiveness as identified by J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior. He is well known for his groundbreaking insight on collaboration which goes as follows: What matters most to collaboration are not the personalities, attitudes, or behavioral styles of team members. Instead, what teams need to thrive are certain “enabling conditions.” In this blog, The three enabling conditions as per Hackman—a compelling direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context—will be the basis to study our teamwork and what role did design thinking play in our functioning.
ENABLING CONDITIONS AND OUR PERFORMANCE AS A TEAM:
HACKMAN’S TAKE: The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if they don’t know what they’re working toward and don’t have explicit goals. Those goals should be challenging (modest ones don’t motivate) but not so difficult that the team becomes dispirited.
OUR TAKE: Initially, a team so diverse would appear to find it difficult to set a common goal. But from the very first time as we sat together and brainstormed, we found something in common. We all wanted to work on something that could add value to the environment and could be a step towards a sustainable tomorrow. Such a broad and abstract thought motivated us in the first place to identify problems around us we could possibly solve. Through bodystorming and a bit of research we came up with our own set of problems we thought were important. Finally, we were able to narrow down to one single problem we, team Hi-Phive! Were ready to solve: PLASTIC WASTE. Even though coming to a clear set of goals was not a linear process but regular discussions and working together under a broad agenda which was to tackle plastic helped us come to get to a clearer set of goals to be achieved in the due course.
LEARNING OUTCOME: it was not just our strong will to bring a change which kept us going but with little achievable tasks assigned to us in the form of group activities or classwork turned out to be a major source of motivation. I am still not sure what I want to pursue when it comes to career but by involving myself in something I am passionate about in one way or another I can see my actions directed towards a set target. When it comes to teamwork a compelling direction is all you need in the first place to find common grounds and enough motivation to take things forward.
HACKMAN’S TAKE: Teams need the right mix and number of members, optimally designed tasks and processes, and norms that discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics. Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.
OUR TAKE: A dancer, a filmmaker, a graphic designer, a product designer and a fresh out of Bachelor’s in Mass Communication still figuring out what to do; all came together to form team Hi-Phive; a team, as energetic as its name. The best part about our team was the diversity each member had got with them. Diversity added perspective, it added challenges but as we moved along we found a set goal to pursue together. The respect and awe each one of us shared with the other members truly added to the positive and healthy environment of the group. We had difference of opinion but an open mind and a fair chance to each member to contribute to their product ensured smooth functioning of the group.
The only thing it lacked was a formal structure. As we got closer to the process of manufacturing our product, it was good that we all used to come together to discuss each and every decision and aimed for perfection at each step. But with limited time in hand, we needed a better structure to develop iteratively. This is where we needed to delegate tasks or duties to the one who was best at it. In no way did it mean to hold one person solely responsible for a task but a formal structure would have made decision making quicker and the process faster by putting every team members’ expertise to the best use. The time we had spent to brainstorm on the perfect idea could have been used to actually build, re-build the product without compromising on the features we had to give up eventually.
LEARNING OUTCOME: we realized the problem of lack of structure when we were close to winding up the business. Had we made the democratic decision making more structured, we could have easily saved a lot of time and money while manufacturing the product. As an evolved team player I understand the importance of collective efforts and democratic practice but by working specifically on one aspect of the project to achieve the collective goal and being open to inputs from one and all is a much better way to take things forward effectively and efficiently.
HACKMAN’S TAKE: Having the right support is the third condition that enables team effectiveness. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and last—but not least—securing the material resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance.
OUR TAKE: To be frank, design thinking classes didn’t really feel like classes. There was not even a single Friday when we sat and made notes, instead we were on our feet, with our minds running to come up with something new, unique and valuable to answer the questions asked and present the solution to one and all. If not present, we had business model canvas, value proposition canvas, accounting statements, and mind maps to fill in.
Presentations were not just confined to the classrooms but during our start-up journey, we were given a chance to present our idea at a number of amazing platforms. Be it by way of pitching our idea in the dragons’ den or talking to our target when in Trade fair; every pitch and opportunity made us stronger and more confident of our abilities as a team.
LEARNING OUTCOME: Be it as a team or an individual, the best way to keep the motivation and interest level up is by challenging them as much as possible. The more challenges one faces, the more chances they get to fail and there is no better teacher than failure. There was a time when we had to decide on which features to give up and what all to keep in the product. At that point, the value proposition canvas was our go to.
With a clearly plotted chart, we were able to narrow down to the features we thought added most value to our target market. As an aspiring entrepreneur, design thinking brought in a number of tools to bring a mere idea to life. As soon as I get an idea my first step is to map it out; either in the form of a mind map or on business model canvas, there are a number of ways to plot an idea and the moment you see that idea in front of you, you get a better idea about your further course of action.
GLOBAL VIRTUAL and PROJECT-DRIVEN: this is what the teams today have transformed into. The three enabling condition as discussed, give a fairer idea as to what works and what could be done better but I believe with teams becoming more dynamic, there is a need for something more. Distance and diversity, as well as digital communication and changing membership, make them especially prone to the problems of “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. This could be tackled by developing a shared mindset. The best way to foster a shared identity and shared understanding is by developing EMPATHY.
The idea of simply putting yourself in another person’s shoes is a key to shared and open mindset. Who is it going to be for? What are their needs? Who are we not considering? How are we impacting a broader culture? Who else would be impacted by the one decision we make? The idea is to involve as many viewpoints as possible, not just for the sake of it but by building an understanding of each and every viewpoint.
Empathy is the most vital step for collaboration and helps in working together and taking a sound decision. Simple steps can for sure up the EQ (Empathy Quotient). Going by what I learned in my design thinking module; the key to higher EQ is by being playful and always on the move. Communicate more often, not just with people you know but try taking a step to know someone. Be a good listener by being able to understand the other person and giving them enough space to fit their thoughts in. Try building your thoughts in the form of sketches or verses or anything creative. As soon as your ideas come to life you see the true value in them or simply realize how rubbish they are.
To improve collaboration and team play, the most important step is to build empathetic individuals. The one who understands what it is like to be in the position of the people one is targeting and trying to find a solution for is the right one to solve the problem. This comes not by simply Googling or going through books on psychology but simply through interactions and exploring opportunities to learn and grow. I see myself as an evolved team player, how? With the Empathy Quotient going up with every experience.
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