Congrats, Startup Pirates!

Dear friends,

This quote by Maya Angelou appears often in my Twitter time line:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While we were together yesterday and in the days leading up to the workshop, this quote kept popping into my head. The workshop I planned for you was designed to be somewhat informative, yes, but really I was thinking more about feelings. How to bring us all to a positive place in thinking about how we “do” teams.

It’s the morning after and, to quote another African American Icon, James Brown, “I feel good!” I hope that is true for you, too.

Our topic was “Team Management” and already in the introduction I took issue with that title. I think for our purposes and my intentions, “Self-Management in Teams” would have been a more accurate description. Because throughout the workshop I encouraged you to think about yourself and your behaviors and desires. My fundamental assumption about you as people is that you have and exercise agency. If you are thinking in the direction of startups, this must be the case.

“You and your expertise are the source of energy, creativity and learning here.”

That’s what I said and it’s what I hope you experienced during the afternoon. I certainly felt and enjoyed how your energy and humor and curiosity moved us through each phase of our conversation.

What did we talk about?

Purpose, Success and Resources.

What distinguishes a team from a group is a common purpose and the intent to accomplish a goal together. We talked about “knowing your (or the team’s) why”. And Rina raised the question of whether or not this was necessary at the outset of a project, suggesting that beginning without a clear picture of “why” might also provide an avenue of discovering it in the process.


We moved on and wondered about the truths embedded in the phrase “better together.” Rather than assuming that this is always true, we talked about when and under which circumstances and the specific advantages being part of team affords. The advantages that emerged, however, made a remarkably compelling argument for the power of working in a team. You listed:

  • Motivational support and stamina
  • Shared risk and responsibility
  • Greater reach through connections and networks
  • More fun
  • idea pool is mutiplied
  • Diversity of experience, know how, attitudes, backgrounds, etc.
  • Team members can complement each other

This conversation led us nicely into the next phase related to success. I explained why I put success here in the middle of the workshop rather than at the end. In formulating the plan for the afternoon, it occurred to me that success begins early on. Success must be part and parcel of our whole process: We need some idea of what success we are aiming for, we need to be able to recognize success along the way and as Amir pointed out, we need to be able to refine and adapt our notions of success as we gain feedback.

To encourage this view within a team I suggested a few ideas to keep in mind:

  • celebrate the small wins
  • Open your meetings with good news
  • Create and share vision(s) of success often
  • Discover the lessons in setbacks

I titled this slide: “Planning For Success.” Because a team’s success needn’t come as a total surprise. Particularly when we are focused on success with and among people – we need to think broadly and generously about the wealth of contributions that may be available. That means a large part of “people success” is recognizing the resources which individuals bring to the party.

Meanwhile I opted to leave out a special treatment of leadership. The irony of course is that I call myself a “leadership coach.” My argument: because our mental models of what leadership is and does remains typically “male and bossy,” I wanted to work differently, featuring team member behaviors that anyone can implement, regardless of position in a hierarchy. Also going back to my opening premise – that each of you has agency and decision-making power – when you form teams, each of you has some degree of leadership and can make conscious decisions as a team about how you will organize yourselves to accomplish your goals.

Here’s a poem about leadership that I didn’t find time to share with you yesterday but captures something essential that I still can’t quite put my finger on:

The Leader

By Robert McGough

I wanna be the leader

I wanna be the leader

Can I be the leader?

Can I? I can?

Promise? Promise?

Yippee I’m the leader

I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

And this is how we arrived at the final section: Resources.

Rather than talk about money, I believe that in teams the more critical resources are:

  • time
  • attention
  • know how
  • people/connections

To which you added:

  • space
  • tools

When we look at resources in these broad categories it helps us see how and where these apply in our specific context. As you noticed, I was struggling a bit with time – trying to  balance activity with discussion and yes, some lecturing. I tried to remain mindful of your attention by keeping you engaged with your peers and the content. This was the section to talk about meeting well and I asked you to create an agenda for “The Best Meeting Ever.” Honestly, I had never tried this activity with a group before, but you made it look like a stroke of genius! Thank you for that!

When we spoke more specifically about the “ingredients” for meeting well, I sensed that we had, during the course of our time together, experienced some of these aspects: I shared the agenda at the beginning, we had a clearly defined purpose, and I used time limits (not always successfully).

As you’ve seen I’m a fan of big picture thinking. And for this workshop I decided on big and broad rather than specific and clinical because you can find detailed models on how to run a team, project or business from any number of sources. My aim was to get you thinking about where you’ll derive your energy, how you will sustain your motivation, what factors will permit you to trust others, and what will remind you that fun and joy need space in this undertaking, too.

To that end I mentioned celebrating. A lot.

That’s why you were up and down, talking to this person then that person, sharing viewpoints, raising questions, making jokes, all while you were processing, taking in, deciding and wondering (in English as your second or perhaps 3rd language, by the way). It was designed to be a workshop and you worked.

You worked with enthusiasm and laughter and thoughtfulness. You were productive and playful. Our work together was a celebration of our capacity to be human: to share purpose, to act on our know-how, to cooperate and create meaning.

This is my wish for you as you continue through the rest of your jam packed week of start-up immersion: That you remain playful as you become ever more productive.

Thank you for your time and enthusiasm!




What is this post about?

  • I led a workshop on Team Management as part of a week-long immersion program for people with start-up ideas, called Startup Pirates Vienna.
  • Although the whole week’s program is held in English, the group members hailed from Finland, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Costa Rica, Austria, Romania, Belgium and Italy; all of whom currently live in Vienna.
  • Among the participants, women were in the majority. (Yes!)
  • I spent lots of the time listening to conversations rather than steering them.
  • We talked about purpose, success and resources.
  • Besides being a wonderful group of people, organizers and participants confirmed for me that there are many great ideas in the world and plenty of clever, kind people committed to making them reality. P1030695

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