How we work together is changing; how far behind are the ways we build and manage teams?

August 4, 2021

Gallium are using playlists and the humble "CUPCAKE" to manage their people in the post-lockdown hybrid office. Chris Merriman spoke to Heather Delaney, founder and MD, to find out how she's adapting her to leadership skills to the new working environment.

No-one is an island. Even the most hardened control-freaks eventually realise that they can’t do it all, and they have to trust in a group who can share your vision. But it’s not as simple as finding someone that can fulfil a role. A successful team - one that’s greater than the sum of its parts - is about how they interact together, what they bring to the wider group, and how you work with them to create the most cohesive, productive and yes, darn it, most fun team they can be. 


As with so many things, fostering a team is at a crossroads, caused in part by the pandemic and particularly by the rise of technology. The way we work together is changing, and yet, the way we create and manage teams hasn’t evolved at the same rate - there’s a way we’ve always done things that’s hard to break free of. 


Gallium Ventures has made that break. The multi-award winning, full service PR and Marketing agency has been built from the ground up with the future in mind. Its clients from across the world are often start-ups with whom Gallium can become part of the team, providing a learned friend and a hand to hold in bringing a product or service to market and beyond. 


The brains behind Gallium Ventures is Heather Delaney, a transatlantic industry stalwart who founded her new company when she moved back to the UK, intent on ripping up the rule book. Heather talked to us about how she’s doing teams differently. 


“The PR industry has not always been the most diverse in the past. What we do is try and break that cycle. Sometimes the right candidate may not have had the opportunities for one reason or another, and for this reason the highest priority in looking for a candidate is finding someone with an interest in the space and subject matter you work in. The rest can follow. ”


To do that, the instinct is always to look for someone with previous experience, but that just propagates the old way of doing things, so instead, Heather Delaney looks at the bigger picture: 


“The important thing for us is that you’re a person with a genuine interest. It’s not always necessary to look for previous experience, we look for potential. We can teach you the role, and how to write, but we can’t teach you enthusiasm and actual interest in the subject matter. If you’re not enthusiastic about the subject, you won’t be able to give it your best.”


There’s always a challenge of finding a balance between the position you’re filling and the need to find a seamless addition to your team and its culture. Many companies claim to keep your details on file - Gallium actually does it: 


“Sometimes we’ll speak with someone who is perfect for the team, but not for the role we’re advertising at that moment. For those that left a lasting impression I’ll stay in touch with them and perhaps months later offer up the right position when it opens up.”


Another way that we often stumble is that concept of having a  “job for life” is a myth in the 21st Century - yet many people hire with that in mind, afraid of investing in someone only for another company to reap the benefits. Heather explains that there’s another way: 


“I don’t expect people to stay with the job for 20 years, as although this would be wonderful, it would go against the industry norm. What I try to do is mould the role around the individual, take time for training and development, and offer a springboard to the next level as working together to create a unique knowledge base means people not only continue to learn but also rise above the competition should they decide to move on.”


So, you’ve found your a-team. How do you make the best of them? If you really want to make a functioning, effective office, there’s no point in plonking them all in separate cubicles and acting as a conduit - working together means working together, across roles, across departments, across the company as a whole. A team can become a hive mind, constantly helping each other to progress, both as individuals, and in the company’s work:


“A really great team is one where we can break down silos. When a group of co-workers is well cultivated, there’s a breadth of experience that everyone can draw on by working with each other, even those who, in other circumstances, they wouldn’t come into regular contact with elsewhere”. 


Sometimes it’s just a matter of switching seats....


“Each week we arrange a shuffle hour where members of the team are partnered up at random as a chance to catch up with colleagues. Again this has no agenda, and allows people to either chat through whatever comes to mind, the news, life, or even work. It’s simply a chance to allow staff to connect with their peers in ways that have been missed while people work from home. “


Talking about teams without talking about the ongoing pandemic is impossible. It has changed the game in so many ways, and in some cases, those changes are for the long term. Gallium Ventures has been working remotely for 18 months now, but Heather Delaney has come through with lots of ways to keep the team together while apart: 


“The pandemic was a huge challenge at keeping a team spirit, but we found several useful ways to keep that contact and unity. One thing, for example, was the creation of Gallium Ventures Open Mic which is an audio only calendar invite. 


“There is no agenda, no pressure for video, but simply the opportunity to work with colleagues as though they are sitting alongside you. By having an informal audio only chat it allows staff to work in a more natural atmosphere where you could ask questions of colleagues, just as if they were on another desk, or catch up round the ‘watercooler’. 


“What was created as an informal hour during the working day often means people are on it throughout the day working with their peers and discussing daily activities or simply working quietly together while listening to the typing of others in the background. You still get the togetherness and some of the ambience of the office environment””


Having fun together has a proven positive effect on team togetherness. Even before the pandemic, this was at the heart of the Gallium culture: 


“We have regular Gallium Games Nights - during the pandemic these have been over video calls as it’s a great way for everyone to get together and enjoy a socially distanced snack, drink, and game in order to let off steam and just enjoy the company of others. 


These games nights have meant bringing in people from other industries in order to allow those attending a chance to meet new people outside the home and work and socialise in the ways you would have during a normal year. In fact, I recently started a Dungeons and Dragons group. Having never had the chance to play before, I found fellow novices and an experienced Dungeon Master, and we’ve had a ball. I don’t always think the Dungeon Master always appreciates our adaptations to the storyline, but that’s all part of the fun and allows stretching the creative muscles.”


Although it seems counter-intuitive, there’s a logic to the idea of bringing in outsiders to team events: 


“Sometimes bringing an outside person into the team works really well. We might invite a friend or acquaintance to our game night as it brings a fresh perspective, prevents conversation from being simply about work and allows people to meet new people and make friends.”


As Managing Director, Heather acknowledges her duty of care to ensure that her team are happy, as well as productive. By creating a flat structure, she is able to get to know each member of the group as an individual and look for the best ways to make the most of their skills, their working style, and how to compensate for any weaknesses. She has several strategies to ensure that the teamwork, works - with music forming a significant aspect: 


“Over the years I have built music playlists for various staff as a way to give them not only tunes they would genuinely enjoy, but a playlist to help with stress levels. If I can see someone is struggling for whatever reason, I’ll quietly put their playlist on as music is an incredibly powerful tool which can help with stress. 


“There is nothing quite like listening to your favourite music when you are having a bad day, or writer's block. As the music plays you can then see the person relax a bit as they get into their favourite jam, start singing under their breath or tapping their toes. After a time the music can be brought back to what the larger group is interested in, but it’s a subtle way to hopefully help someone. Nobody has worked that one out yet!”


With a bit of lateral thinking, you can revolutionise the culture of a group of people who, lest we forget, are likely to spend more time with each other than with their families - that’s just a reality of full time work. Not all these ideas will work for every workplace. But the spirit of what Gallium has created is what has kept them not only existing but thriving and expanding during the enforced separation. All you need to do in your teams is ask yourself “Am I doing it this way, because we’ve always done it this way?”. By breaking out of those regular management paradigms, you can find yourself with a happier, healthier office. It doesn’t need expensive extra resources. It need not take up more of your time. But the results can be game changing. 


The ideas Heather and her team thrive on, can come from any aspect of your work. That’s why we’re going to finish with another tip from Heather Delaney - this one is about how cake can help reduce office stress - without any calories: 


“In order to both limit the panic-inducing emails that can often arrive within the average inbox, and a way of forcing people to consider whether their message is urgent or not I’ve banned the words “URGENT” and “EMERGENCY” from emails. 


“The tendency for people to overuse these terms can be extremely aggravating to mental health, and is often not a genuine emergency. Instead, should an email be a bona fide emergency then the word “CAKE” is to be added. The reason for this is that it stands out in any inbox, and who doesn’t love cake? 


If it’s a situation that can wait for the morning then the word to use in the subject is “CUPCAKE”. The result of this simple change is that people have to assess whether the email is actually time sensitive, which is often not the case and urgent emails are used less overall - and if they are used, who gets stressed by the idea of cake?”


Maybe it’s time you looked at your processes and see how you can adapt them, Gallium style? Make a start first thing tomorrow. Sorry, I should say, make a start - CUPCAKE!


For more information on Gallium Ventures, check out the website: www.galliumventures.com


Article by Chris Merriman

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