Go teams, go!

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By Aimée Eubanks Davis, Founder & CEO of Braven

sjsu huddle

This year, we have Braven Fellows at two schools–Rutgers University in New Jersey and San José State University (SJSU). To our current Fellows: you’ve all reached the part of the semester when you are tackling your biggest project yet–the “Capstone,” in which you work as teams to solve one of the most important questions in the professional world today. (The question itself is known only to you and our staff right now–we’ll release it publically in December.)

On Monday and Tuesday nights,  I visited the SJSU teams and was blown away by the progress you’re making. I saw team members collaborating on powerful ideas and talking through complex disagreements–and I was drawn to reflect on what made last year’s winning teams a success.

Last year, our Fellows took on the question:“How might we diversify the workplace?” This is a question that leaders have been grappling with for a long time, but it’s come into greater focus in recent years–and with good reason. So like this semester, our Fellows last year were taking on something high-stakes, something that’s been baffling some of the most successful people and groups nationwide.

Every single cohort was powerful, hard-working, and creatiSJSU Capstone Winnersve–but the winning team had collaboration down to a science.

The winning cohort–Billy Emmel, Robert Medina, Arthur Hoang, Sana Rahim, Sarah Souksamphanh, and Tiffany Vuong (pictured here)–figured out how to make teamwork work. They knew that in order to have a strong presentation, they had to leverage the strength of each individual and come together as one. After talking with their coach, Shannon Birk Jibaja, and our staff, I’ve come to see the following three factors as keys to their success:

  • Everyone felt and was “on the hook”:
    • Their roles were clear (Billy was a great project manager!); and
    • Participation by all was assumed and each individual delivered.
  • Dissent and commitment went hand in hand:
    • They weren’t afraid to disagree and learned most from some of the more uncomfortable moments.
    • Things weren’t perfect all the time–so they accepted that there would be roadblocks and disagreements and took them on with creativity and optimism.
    • The best ideas won and the people whose ideas didn’t surface to the top committed to the winning idea as if it was their own.
  • The personal and the professional collided:
    • They made a point to get to know one another as people, not just as colleagues.
    • They strived to have fun while working together.

And this approach paid off. The presentation they came up with was robust, concise, and compelling–and it tackled one of the root causes of the lack of workplace diversity. If a workplace doesn’t feel welcoming and inclusive, it’s unlikely to have prolonged diversity, because when folks feel like they’re being treated unfairly or aren’t supported in their identity, they’re likely to leave. That reduces diversity and productivity–so our winning team created a system to take it on.

They proposed implementing a Managerial Advocacy Program (M.A.P.) that pairs employees with managerial advocates to discuss moments of unfairness in the workplace. The ultimate goals of M.A.P. were to shift the culture toward an open expression of identity, reduce workplace unfairness and voluntary departures, and improve workplace interpersonal dynamics.

We were impressed by the ways in which our winning Fellows took on one of the sources of the lack of workplace diversity, and came up with a creative, feasible solution. We were also impressed by the way they were prepared to field questions and explain their project as a group–their teamwork really stood out.

There’s a lot all of us can learn from this team. As we hone our leadership, as we answer the tough questions, as we strive to be the best professionals we can be, we’d do well to look at Billy, Robert, Arthur, Sana, Sarah, and Tiffany and their coach Shannon for what they can teach us all. As the CEO and founder of Braven, I know I’ll be taking notes about teamwork from all of this semester’s cohorts and especially the winning teams. Good luck; we’ll be cheering you on!

minions cheer