Love in the time of COVID-19
This is a love story.
In the weeks before the pandemic hit us in the face, we had been speaking to a prospect.
They liked our approach.
Then they looked closer and they loved our tech.
Then they did a deep-dive due diligence and they really loved our tech.
And yet, in a voice that said, “I don’t even believe I am saying this”, their CTO told me that the thing they really, truly fell for was the team and, if we managed to work together, they wanted to co-locate with us to “catch” whatever it is that makes us what we are.
That was the thing they really really wanted a piece of.
Your team is incredible, he said.
I know, I said.
But I do.
It was not false modesty.
Both because it is true. Nothing false about it.
And because modesty only applies when bragging of your own accomplishments, but they are not mine to brag about. I am proud of them. But not proud about them. They are the apple of my eye but not my achievement.
The team is its own thing. It exists in a way that defies any single person and is bigger and better than each of them.
And the team is real.
It doesn’t mean they always play nice.
It doesn’t mean that they are indifferent to their own needs and interests.
But it means they come together for each other in a way that makes them bigger than the sum of their parts.
I don’t know how co-location will help you get with that programme, truth be told.
Do you know how you know you have an amazing team?
When someone works late into the night to help a colleague out and doesn’t feel the need to send endless emails to ensure every man and their dog know they are working late.
When people know a colleague is under pressure and they offer help without anyone’s boss on cc.
When someone goes out and buys everyone cake because it’s been a shit day and you have to fight them for the receipt because “it wasn’t about that”.
Sure, sure before you say it, yes the amazing team has to deliver amazing results.
Again and again.
Hit it out of the park.
But that goes without saying. That is a hygiene factor. That is what makes them good. That is not what makes them amazing.
What makes them amazing is how they care about the work.
How they care about each other.
They don’t do it for you, your praise or acknowledgement or the monetary or status differential you may be willing or able to convey.
You are irrelevant to how hard they work.
You, their boss, don’t feature.
They don’t need you to notice. They don’t need you to see. This is not for you. It is for each other.
If you need help, they will do it for you too.
They will expect the same from you.
Boss is not a status symbol. It’s a job description. You do your thing for them, they do their thing for you. You have their back. They have yours.
We are all equal here.
Let me say that again for the bankers in the room who think co-locating will rub off some magic: we are all equal here. The product manager and the engineer. The delivery lead and the scrum master. The EA and the CEO.
We each have a job. And our job is needed and therefore essential and therefore part of the picture and therefore we each are just as much of a person and a colleague and a team member and an asset as anyone else. That is a team. That is my team.
And co-location won’t help you “catch” it.
You know why?
Two simple reasons.
The first is that you are not enough. No matter how much you love them, how hard you work, how good you are. How grand your title, how big your office.
Nobody is enough. Nobody is meant to be enough.
So if you want a kick ass team, don’t try to be bloody Braveheart.
That’s not how it works.
For the Game of Thrones fans amongst you, a kick-ass team doesn’t have a leader. It has many people who stand guard and share the burden of worry. People who are swords in the night. Watchers on the walls. People who are the fire that burns against the cold. The light that brings the dawn.
People who care and shield and fight and lose sleep.
People. Not person.
No kick-ass team has a single heroic, irreplaceable leader.
Amazing teams have teams that care. That’s how leadership works. It’s a team sport.
You want to call those guys and gals your left-tenants, your management team, your guardian angels. Call them what you like, it don’t much matter. They don’t do it for you because you are their boss. They do it for the team. And so they do it for you because you are of the team.
Know your place. You belong now.
The second reason is even harder to replicate and even more vital.
And I don’t even know how to explain it other than through a story so here is one that caught my heart and won’t let go.
Day two of COVID-19 isolation, I dial into my team’s health-check daily huddle. It’s a new meeting, added to help us cope with being apart. Isolation doesn’t work for many of us. We have a good thing going in this team. We miss each other. So this huddle is just a “hey buddy, are you ok” check-in, part productivity gauge, part self-help group. It’s where people offer newbies an open slack call so that questions can be asked with stream of consciousness levels of ease. It’s where people rant about things not working and collectively find solutions. It’s where people ask for help. It’s where people get together.
So day two and I dial into the call.
I am not needed.
And I am not a factor that changes the tone.
Not being funny but try explaining both of those things inside a banking hierarchy. Right. Well, I don’t have 17 years so you will have to trust it’s a thing that happens.
So I am on.
We check in. Is everyone ok. Who needs what. Concerns, blockers, priorities. Usual stand-up fare.
And then we have show-and-tell. It’s a thing we will do daily because why not. The winner of each day’s show and tell gets to determine what we show and tell tomorrow.
Now, let me set the scene.
Sure, I am their CEO and older and wiser (maaaaaaybe) than most of them.
But I live alone and I dread the isolation that this pandemic will bring. My folks live abroad and I don’t know when I will see them again. I worry about the impact this will have on the economy, our lives, our business. So I come on this call with a heavy heart. And within seconds my heart lifts and soars because here is my team. They have tackled the business part of the meeting. They are prepared and determined not to miss a beat despite the world going to s**t. They are delivering and building and dreaming as if nothing is happening.
They are determined to maintain team spirit no matter how long we are apart for.
But they know. They know some of us are down. They know all of us are scared.
So they decide to do show-and-tell. Like school. And on day two of our isolation, day one of show and tell, I am presented with a quick-fire round of people’s favourite kitchen utensil. And oh my god it is hilarious. It is personal. It is frivolous. It is serious. It is life affirming. It screams we are here, together, it will be ok.
And the winner – and what an entry that was – gets to pick the topic for tomorrow, day three of our captivity. And because this is the sort of team we have the ask is “what keeps you sane in these hard times”.
I am typing this late at night on 17 March.
Tomorrow I will get so see what the team brings. I know it will be true. Humorous. Brave. Bold. Silly. Honest.
What they bring will be their way of looking after each other in these hard times.
But whatever they bring, and whatever I bring, I know what my answer is. And I hope they know it too.
Who is so bloody good. To each other. And so bloody good together.
And me saying so is not false modesty.
It is not false. They are bloody good.
And I have nothing to be modest about. They are not mine. I am theirs. And I am grateful.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!