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The Nonconformist Guide To Building The Most Successful Remote Team.
"Ekwueme" and other simple principles to help you manage a distributed team and break new grounds.
Hello, June here. I am a Product Design Assistant at TVP Games where I work with an amazing team of creatives to bring gaming ideas to life through quality design. Business of Play is the newsletter curated by team members at TVP Games. As we design games and build toys, we write about our insights here. Subscribe and share this newsletter to join a community of people who love toys and games, and want to get all up in the business of play.
At TVP Games, We are building a brand of toys and games to help adults and kids discover the world. We know that we require a creative team with a global outlook in order to grow into our vision. That's why we have designed processes, tools and techniques to build a team of daring go-getters. In this article, I will share these processes with you. I have found these tools to be useful for remote teams, especially in young and growing companies. The essentials are simple, organic and provide immediate results of unity, morale and effectiveness.
If I believe in diversity and inclusivity, then I must first practice it. I've heard people preach the importance of the right team in building out a visionary company. But how do we get the right team when we are working remotely with people we have never met and who live in different parts of the world? Inclusivity allows us to create an environment where all voices are heard, all ideas are listened to and examined appropriately. The camaraderie that we share with every win and every milestone makes us feel like we are part of the same vision. But you see, our advantage comes from our decision to welcome our individual uniqueness and needs in the way we structure our daily activities and expectations. Our team is made up of people in different time zones, from different cultures, life experiences and capabilities, and we have made it a culture to build the strengths of our team on these differences.
For example, I have another commitment that requires me to be unavailable for a chunk of hours during the day. This means that while the rest of the team works on design during the day, I am often asleep or working on this other commitment. My team has adjusted my schedule to accommodate these responsibilities, allowing me to be productive in a way that works for my personal schedule as well as the team's. When our illustrator has a creative block, we adjust our schedule to allow him recharge. On our team, we value the all-round well-being of our team members.
Another example comes from "Thirsty Thursdays", one of my favorite team activities. Every Thursday, each person comes to our meetings with a non-alcoholic drink and we learn something new from one another. On Thursdays, we quench our thirst for knowledge and growth. It is a safe space for self examination, learning and laughter. A new team member leads Thirsty Thursday every week. So you see, when the company you work for is truly inclusive, you naturally gravitate towards giving your best and when each member of the team gives their best, they become unstoppable.
Our goal at TVP Games is to design games and toys that change the way adults and kids discover the world through play. This is a vast and noble goal, however, is it enough to get the best out of a team? I don’t think so. Since the individuals on the team have individual aspirations and no immediate obligations towards each other, it is important to find a common ground on which they can build in harmony. The dream team requires more than self-interest or a "here for work" attitude. It is important, therefore, to provide clear context of a vision, and communicate how each team member fits into that vision. In this sense, individuals can come together as a unit, feeling comfortable because they are a part of one whole unit, and their role and space in the growth of that unit is crystal clear. In my experience, transparency of thought, vision, plans and even finances, has helped create an environment where everyone feels like this vision is theirs.
Encourage Duty of Care
Do you know how your teammates feel about their work? What motivates them? What challenges are they facing? Do they battle 23-hours of no power supply or do they have a desire to transition to Human Resources in the near future? Every team lead has a duty of care towards their team members. In addition, each team member has a duty of care to other members. It is important to provide support and ensure that everyone feels seen and valued for their work. It also ensures that team members can trust the process that is required to sharpen one another's skills. I find that where this is the norm - as it is on our team - everyone is more than willing to extend themselves so that we can achieve better results.
How do you practice this, you ask? Here’s an example. Our team lead sends surprise care packages that have personal meaning to each team member. I shared access to my Skillshare account to other team members so they can get learning resources that will help their personal and professional goals. Another team member encouraged me with prayers and words of affirmation when I was going through an ordeal. Others call in to chat about random shenanigans that have nothing to do with work.
Funny how most team members have not met each other in person yet the sense of oneness exists between us. So when we come to work, we come knowing that we are cared for and that our uniqueness adds to the success of the team.
Practice Pro-active Leadership
Proactive leadership involves deliberate communication, planning, improving and laying out the building blocks for a successful team. The creation of any process helps us deal with challenges when we face them. The culture of any team filters down from the leadership and a proactive leader begets a proactive team.
The Igbos call it 'Ekwueme' which loosely translates to "one who does as he or she says." Our team lead embodies this on a daily basis. I find it a pleasure to hear the ‘clickety clackety’ of her keyboard typing ideas into reality as the team discusses it, or how she schedules new meetings into our calendar right on the spot without procrastination.
It has become a culture for us to make clear committed plans and follow through with them. We now see the results of proactive thinking and action as each team member is empowered to ideate and profer solutions on the go. It makes for a more efficient product design and development process.
Shower Affirmations and Acknowledgements
“Oh my gosh, you guys, look at what we did.”
“Guys, I can’t believe we pulled it off, thanks to everyone for believing in this vision.”
“Ahn ahn, see skills now.”
Statements like these are everyday occurrences on our team. It has become second nature for us to recognize, affirm and reward excellence. This deliberate action builds up morale and creates space for each member to desire growth, and a willingness to raise the standard of their work. It also means that we can make statements like:
“This is not your best work and there's still more inside of you.”
"Ah, but we did this in 5 days the other time. We can cut it down to 4 this time."
"We are excellent, we cannot run with this. Let's try again."
T-shaped Folks are the Strength of Small Teams
Our team is still very small and dynamic so we make the most of this dynamism. T-shaped people excel in their core responsibilities but are also able to contribute to and perform other tasks effectively. This ability highly boosts problem-solving and productivity in the organization. For instance, I as a Product Design Assistant also perform logistics duties, seeing to it that we get the best quality production of our games and toys, after which I moonlight as a writer, documenting easy to read project reports and design processes.
Recently, we needed to sync Google Sheets with Adobe Illustrator to finish up one of the designs for an upcoming game. If we did this manually, it would have taken us a week to finish it. However, we knew that it could be done yet we couldn't seem to figure it out. After doing some research, I was able to learn the function, teach my team members, and we solved the problem in a few hours instead of a week.
We find that our different experiences, professionally and personally, have earned us cognitive skills that allow us to receive, understand and manipulate information in order to carry out tasks across the organization. This collaborative effort is part of our daily successes as a team.
Determine the Most Effective Technology for Your Team’s Dynamics.
I would like to emphasize this: It is important to use technology that works with the dynamics of the group, the size of the team and the needs of the business. This is important because not all technology is appropriate for success. Much can be achieved even with free workflow platforms, as long as you learn to make it work to the team’s advantage.
A typical day for our team begins with a morning meeting scheduled via Google Calendar, using Google Meet. While the meeting is going on with our Google Sheets open and the designer working with Adobe illustrator, WhatsApp comes in handy for note taking, tasks updates, banter and meme-sharing. WhatsApp really has the best stickers and gifs.
The synchronous use of technology keeps the team momentum going, our tasks completed quickly and the team relationship strengthened.
If you would like to join our community of explorers, sign up for our weekly newsletter at TVP Games. Every week, we will share our design processes and our upcoming games and toys. You’ll be the first to hear about deals and steals. Every member of our team will contribute to this newsletter and you’ll get a chance to tell us what you’d like to see us create.
TVP Games is the modern brand that designs games and puzzles for adults and children to discover the world. Our bold and creative games turn adults and children into global explorers and cultural discoverers. We are building the world’s most diverse community of people who explore the world through play.
Have a good play,