Of teams and dreams
If you've ever worked in a 'dream team' you'll just know. You've felt the excitement, the passion, the disappointment, the reward, the eagerness and all kinds of feelings a full time position can offer to an individual, who's part of something that occupies a significant part of their daytime and still feels it’s worth it.
A great team is so much fun and motivating to work with, it can achieve an incredible outcome; much better than an average team; even on bad days; the really bad ones... At the end of the day, it often feels like group therapy.
"Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team", John Maxwell said and how damn right he was. There are so many disappointing 'teams' consisting of unskilled or unwilling members, led by arrogant, with no substance, uninspired and uninspiring leaders that is sad, almost heartbreaking. The nightmare becomes a bad reality, not only for the members of such teams, but also for the whole organization; even their external partners.
Of course, everyone wants to belong in a winning team, but all people being part of a team -any team- know it's not an easy task. Success requires a lot of struggle, in depth research and never ending hard work from everyone involved.
The elements of a dream team
Common and clear vision
When a team shares a common vision, a secret bond is formed between its members. The feeling of having the same purpose, the realization of having the same mindset makes the members of the group feel like they belong in something bigger, they become more inspired, re-energized and the workspace is transformed into a happier place.
Pixual's vision is to bring to life meaningful projects and products that meet the stakeholders’ hopes and expectations, while respecting their audience's valuable time and attention. We achieve that through designing clean, creative yet functional user interfaces, developing cutting edge, well-served and well written -to OCD level- applications, managing effectively while being communicative and considerate. We all strive for the same goal. Designers bring their best, most creative self, they talk with developers to confirm what's possible and what's not, get inspired from new geeky things from them in order to reach the highest possible user experience level, while keeping in touch with project managers in order to fulfil each project's goals. Developers get the design and treat it like treasure; pixel perfect result is the obvious and only accepted path to follow as an appreciation of the designers' efforts. Running tests again and again, nit picking each time minor to major changes to get even a few milliseconds better performance or even 1% better insights score; that precious "1" that makes them nod their heads as a sign of their contentment. Mediocrity is not an option here. Managers confirm the expected results; they keep the team on track, the partners happy and deal with the occasional Karen when they get extravagant, as the myth of ‘the client is always right’ is not something we believe in here.. They set things in order.
Vision element? Check ✔️
Positive and constructive team culture
Charismatic individuals are great, but collective intelligence is the real thing. Every member of a team has and must use their own voice. Knowledge, experience, creative ideas, different perspectives on a certain issue, all blend to give each project the boost it needs to make a difference.
Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team
At Pixual we all have a voice; a loud and clear one (often used to sing Disney or pop songs while working, but that's for another, more cringy post I guess...). It is getting stronger through a lot of trust and respect to the professional and the person behind it, through a lot of effortless bonding, when we all have a brunch together, when we go out for drinks, when we play games, when we share personal experiences (even the embarrassing ones), when we share the same concerns. And how much more productive it really is. One can realize that by just looking at our work. Every project is a product of collaboration and each one varies significantly from the previous one. That's the result of a combined effort. No single person can have infinite ideas, even the most creative ones. This is managed through team effort, discussion and some crazy, inspiring ideas that pop out from each one's words.
Be careful though: team brainstorming is very different from group final decision making which can lead to a deadlock. Design by committee is a proven road to disaster, so this is where diversity, personality, uniqueness, skills and strengths kick in.
But before we move on... team culture? Check ✔️
Understanding of roles and strengths
Each ingredient serves a higher purpose and a significant role in a Michelin starred menu; an all star football team consists of a solid-as-wall goalkeeper, bleeding defenders, balanced midfielders, blazing fast strikers, a true captain and an inspiring coach. Individuals that focus on their strengths and capabilities reach higher productivity levels and deliver beyond ordinary quality products. When these members have the confidence to make their own decisions according to their role and have a strong sense of accountability, the results are exceptional.
Pixual is blessed to be a place full of skilled and capable team players. Each one has a well defined role and has the final say when it comes to its field of expertise. The dev or the manager won't design (for the sake of designer's sanity...). The design or the dev won't talk to the partners in terms of day-to-day communication to be totally focused and uninterrupted from their tasks (except scheduled meetings or kickstarts when we feel it's a necessity). The manager or the designer won't write a single line of code (no, I mean just really don't, please). Even the front-end developer will avoid to put their hands on the back-end and vice versa to keep things clean and clear. Skills should be acknowledged and used. This is also a matter of responsibility. None can do a work better than the person that's well trained and has the experience to do it and no one else can fix something in their field easier and faster when things go south.
A certain check ✔️
Desire to constantly learn and evolve
Knowledge is power. It is infinite, limitless and so self-fulfilling. For everyone working in digital -and strangely enough loving it- this is a common truth. You either evolve fast or die hard. It is the reason why many in-house teams suffer from stagnation, tend to lack real talent and have really low retention rates.
At Pixual we strive to be up-to-date to the latest tech trends, we attend seminars and conferences, and we try to be active in the communities of every specialty. We have a library that grows bigger month by month with all kinds of books (and games but that's part of that cringy post I talked about). We have even established a day-off task each month to learn something new, either on our own field of expertise or on someone else's in the team (at an entry level) so that we have a better understanding of the challenges and difficulties our team mates face daily.
It is both a pleasure and an obligation to our ever evolving selves so... check ✔️
Willingness to share and communicate
Knowledge gained should always be knowledge shared to value the most. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be NBA's MVP, but not without his team players' assists and creation of opportunities for him to dunk. All coworkers should help and encourage each other, through their personal skills and experiences, in order for the whole team to achieve greatness. We all have moments when we get stuck. It's only natural to give a helping hand to the person who needs it. It is only then that trust and openness will be formed, allowing each individual to communicate even at their hardest times at work, raising the flag and asking for help and guidance or discussing their concerns and opposition in a specific situation.
Not much left to say here. We talk, we help and boost the morale of each other. There is no information kept for ourselves, for we won't move forward, if we stay secretive. We are honest on the things that bother us, we discuss all our hesitations and concerns, we disagree on a productive level but most of all we get wiser all together.
Team players? Check ✔️
Recognition, credits and reward
Every team player has to acknowledge the role and value of each other, should praise and honor their effort, should be happy with a teammate's win and celebrate it as if it was their own. Everyone deserves to be treated that way. It's the healthiest, most natural expectation a productive individual can have, it's that little bit of satisfaction and drive everyone needs from the people surrounding them for such a long part of the day.
For us effort is everything. It's bigger than the result and the success, because even a failure that's been the outcome of serious effort, is a lesson learned and a soon-to-come success. We give credits to each other for the time and mind substance consumed, we celebrate even the slightest victories, we value each one's talents and potential and we always appreciate and reward constantly the hard work, trying to show it with all means we have at any possible chance.
Check ✔️, check ✔️ and check ✔️
Solid team processes and feedback system
Established tools and processes, regular team and personal meetings and specific workflows are all paths leading to an effective way of working productively together. They also ensure that everyone will have their time for deep focus, explicit responsibilities and well defined expectations. Feedback as part of the team's processes helps everyone, making them eager to want to improve and motivates them to work more on their weaknesses and strengths, all in the right direction.
That's a really tough one for us, even if it seems it's not. When people are the top priority it's sometimes challenging to keep solid processes, as they can collide with some people's tendencies and personalities. It's a matter of self-discipline for all team mates, at any level and role and definitely organisation which sometimes is hard to keep up with when reality takes over. We use specific tools on a daily basis, we have team meetings, which tend to be on a more abstract level, since the connection between each other is at an excellent state. Detailed documentation is a thing we 're working on and trying to get better at. We do give feedback though to each other, so that we know when we had a success or when something went south in order to avoid reproducing it in the future.
Alas, a check is in progress...✔️
Humble but silently present; accountable yet empathetic leadership
“To lead people, walk beside them... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate... When the best leader's work is done the people say: We did it ourselves!” was Chinese philosopher's Lao-Tzu approach to leadership.
I can say as honest as I can ever be to all Pixuals, present and forthcoming: You should know we will be here, no matter what, almost by your side -standing just one step behind, to push and let you grow, facing every challenge together, through hard choices, acknowledging our and your weaknesses, empowering your strengths, celebrating your wins, sharing the knowledge and experience we have, learning everyday something new from you, fighting for what seems right when times need it. Yes, it seems like marriage vows -a little over-dramatic someone would say- but that's what this is all about and it's the most important, number one priority in Pixual; an ever growing co-existence, with its ups and downs, teaching and learning, achieving loyalty and trust, sometimes losing but always winning at the end.
Not the one to judge, but hopefully check ✔️
Who is this article for?
If you 're an existing or potential partner -not a client, we hate the word 'client' and we will use it in some really formal statements or when we feel our relationship has reached a bottom- you should know we are not the typical, formal, politically correct, 'comme il faut' team. And this is not a bug; it is a feature; a painfully obtained choice. We all get inspired when a new interesting project comes in. We overdeliver when we feel the appreciation of our hard work. We get overly excited for your success and do everything in our power to reach an even higher level as we believe sky's the limit. We become frustrated and angry with our -not so frequent actually- mistakes. We are weirdos and rebels when the circumstances demand it. To sum it up, we know our shit and we know when we are shit.
This is also a wholehearted 'thank you' to all the people that contributed somehow, through fire and water, to who we are today; to Paris, Kostis, Konstantinos, Charis, Nikolas, Sotiris, Athina, Nicole and Phaedra. A team gets better and grows older and wiser when it learns from past mistakes, when it gets 'something' from each member, each partnership, each project.
But above all, this goes to Aris, Dione, Despina, Sofia, Frida and my partner in crime Thanos, the team that draws the dream :)