Authenticity makes a team stronger

Oana Filip

I’m Oana, and for the last cou­ple of months I’ve been lead­ing our cus­tomer ser­vice team. It might sound like a big twist, but it’s not. I high­ly believe that mar­ket­ing and sup­port have a lot in com­mon — like build­ing trust among our cus­tomers.

I start­ed this jour­ney with the fol­low­ing assump­tion: I know how to han­dle a hand of peo­ple to achieve great results. I came to the con­clu­sion that the road is paved with chal­lenges. Some of them were more than unex­pect­ed. They were like aster­oids com­ing from nowhere.

As Tom Kel­ly from IDEO would say: “It’s hard to be “best” right away, so com­mit to rapid and con­tin­u­ous improve­ments.” It was time to lev­el up the game.

This arti­cle is about what I’ve learned along the way, and how this jour­ney shaped my val­ues as a pro­fes­sion­al. Just to make it crys­tal clear — I’m still in the mid­dle of the process, so if some thoughts seem to be incom­plete or naive is because I haven’t come that far yet.

The best team is the one where every­one grows in a healthy and car­ing habi­tat.

#1 — Leading people implies commitment

We live times when 20 years old folks believe that they can men­tor some­one else. Every­thing around them high­lights the fact that if you’re a bit more famil­iar with a par­tic­u­lar top­ic, it auto­mat­i­cal­ly means you can teach. You can be a grow­ing com­pan­ion and a role mod­el that peo­ple will praise.

I’m quite at the oppo­site side of the spec­trum. My under­stand­ing is that you need to face some expe­ri­ences to be able to han­dle men­tor­ship or to act as a link inside a team. More­over, you need to watch your­self in the mir­ror through clean and sin­cere lens. It might sound like a game that every­one can play, but it’s not true.

I learned that I could often be pow­er­less in front of three peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent back­grounds and ways of look­ing at the world they live in. It has almost noth­ing to do with empa­thy (a new hit key­word these days), but a lot with my inner-why. Only when I accept­ed to have an open dia­logue with myself, I learned to active­ly lis­ten and be an authen­tic ver­sion in front of my brave team­mates.

#2 — Coaching brings clarity

It might sound arro­gant, and I will glad­ly sup­port the con­se­quences of this state­ment, but with­out Laura’s help, I would have been pret­ty lost dur­ing this bold mis­sion. Con­sol­i­dat­ing a team in a healthy and safe envi­ron­ment is one of the hard­est things I have ever done. Not only because the goal itself is high­ly demand­ing, but also because I real­ized I knew so lit­tle about people’s behav­iors, beliefs, and pro­fes­sion­al liaisons.

In a way or anoth­er, I’ve been work­ing with Lau­ra since August 2016, but when I came with the idea of coor­di­nat­ing the cus­tomer ser­vice tribe, I felt that I need­ed to dig deep­er. There’s no arti­cle out there that can sub­sti­tute the way this coach approach­es my strug­gles.

Thanks to her I can now cel­e­brate at least two big wins. One is relat­ed to the fact that we have a sim­i­lar com­pre­hen­sion regard­ing expec­ta­tions and the way we get things done. The oth­er one is that almost every­thing we do inside our team (but also linked to our cus­tomers) is more con­sis­tent and bal­anced.

#3 — Trust as a source of growth

Anoth­er thing that I thor­ough­ly embraced was that work­ing togeth­er is not enough any­more. It can be eight or 12 hours a day. It can cov­er the week­ends and the hol­i­days. It doesn’t weight much regard­ing how live­ly are the con­nec­tions between peo­ple.

I found out that spend­ing qual­i­ty time and gen­uine­ly car­ing is far more impor­tant and rel­e­vant. Talk­ing warm­ly and sin­cere­ly can lead to beau­ti­ful results, both con­cern­ing rela­tion­ships and busi­ness objec­tives.

And yes, this means get­ting rid of the fear of con­flict, speak­ing out loud, learn­ing non-vio­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion, iter­at­ing the same mes­sage over and over again, assum­ing the role from top to toe, and so on.

It is not a walk in the park kind of job, but I guess noth­ing mean­ing­ful can be accom­plished by the blink of an eye. Peo­ple, more than busi­ness strate­gies and finan­cial goals, are far more com­plex and they require dif­fer­ent resources (often the emo­tion­al ones are the most com­pli­cat­ed to han­dle).

#4 — Reset the knowledge

I’ve been liv­ing with the impres­sion that I’m good at deal­ing with peo­ple. In a cer­tain way, I am, and I suc­ceed­ed to devel­op good skills in this area. How­ev­er, since wear­ing the new hat, I realised that I had a weak per­spec­tive about what it takes to build up an inde­pen­dent team. One that is ready to grasp the unknown, to go the extra mile, to give its best. I became aware that I lacked a deep under­stand­ing of what moves peo­ple in the right direc­tion.

My com­pan­ions, as the major­i­ty of us, are far more inter­est­ed in non-mate­r­i­al things, such as appre­ci­a­tion, bal­ance, grat­i­tude, and moti­va­tion. These trig­gers make them hap­py and per­for­mant.

Peo­ple work­ing in cus­tomer ser­vice relate in a more thought­ful way. Most­ly because they give their best to keep all the cus­tomers cheer­ful, but they receive so lit­tle in return. A smi­ley face or a five* rat­ing mean some­thing, but they are abstract ways of recog­ni­tion and sat­is­fac­tion.

#5 — Connect with the present

I guess it’s the first time when I live in the present, and I’m ful­ly aware of today’s real­i­ty. This allows me to bare in mind that peo­ple change and orga­ni­za­tions change too. Tak­ing for grant­ed someone’s pres­ence and involve­ment is always a dan­ger­ous thing to do. On the oth­er hand, believ­ing that the years spent in a place equals the curve of learn­ing and the open­ness to reach the next lev­el is also quite tricky.

I’m hav­ing reg­u­lar chats with my cus­tomer ser­vice team­mates about being hon­est with our­selves and the rest of the team. It the actu­al job the one we would love to have in a cou­ple of years? Do I find pur­pose in what I’m doing as a cus­tomer agent? Is this the right play­ground for the actu­al moment in life?

Answer­ing with frank­ness leads to clar­i­ty and makes room for free­dom and evo­lu­tion on mul­ti­ple lev­els. At the end of the day, this is the only way to con­nect with the present and avoid regrets lat­er on.

The last months taught me that if I want to go far with my sup­port team, I need to con­tin­ue the process of lead­ing and help­ing my team­mates, and vice-ver­sa. It takes two to tan­go, and to win the prize. It requires a huge amount of time and ener­gy, but I know that it pays off at the end of the day.

I’m grate­ful I have this tremen­dous chance to start unleash­ing my laces and become free and true-to-myself. Now I’m quite con­fi­dent I’m ready to help my team do the same and achieve results that make us proud.

Would love to find out your insights regard­ing how you suc­ceed to man­age build­ing con­sis­tent rela­tion­ship. Don’t hes­i­tate to write down your thoughts at Stay awe­some! ❤️

Oana Filip
Oana Filip

Digital storyteller @Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place.