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StrategyJan 24, 2012

Five Principles to Cultivate Teams

Credera Team

“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack…” a classic quote from Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book. As a former collegiate tennis player, this was one of our team’s mantras.  In a successful team, each individual must be viewed as an asset and by relying on the individual, the team benefits. However, individuals gain just as much from the team as the team gains from them. The team as a whole can make the individual stronger or weaker.

As I stepped into the real world several years ago, I was searching for an opportunity where a similar mantra could be applied. A job that fostered individual growth yet encouraged cohesive collaboration and unity by working in teams. What I found was a company that in itself was a team, a “corporate pack!”  Recently, I read an HBR article that served as a great reminder of five principles (including practical examples) of what I discovered to be the success behind Credera’s “corporate pack” culture:

1. Investing in signature relationship practices: Executives can encourage collaborative behavior by making highly visible investments that demonstrate their commitment to collaboration.

Our CEO put it this way, “We don’t give to ministries or charities, we invest in relationships.” This year Credera was able to give significantly to meaningful relationships where our employees have in turn invested their time. From a special needs ministry to water well building efforts in Africa, local hospital fundraising to a center for autistic children, and many more. Credera plans to meet periodically with many of the organizations to offer business guidance and understand the evolving visions for how the funds are being used.  We are corporately and communally collaborative in our commitment to investing in relationships and purposes greater than ourselves. This mindset proliferates into our everyday business where our consultants are more concerned with collaborating to serve our clients and foster ongoing relationships than implementing a particular technology or strategy.

Another demonstration of this principle is the investment that Credera has made in its office environment. The U-shaped layout has team rooms lining the perimeter of the space each with a specific project name on the door “ABCD Team”. The concave section of the U is called the “bull-pen.” Everyone (Partners are the only group that have their own specific offices) not assigned to a team room sits in the bull-pen. This is an open space, no closed off cubicles here, where conversation and cross project guidance is encouraged. A group meal/snack friendly break room sits in the middle and a ping pong table and X-Box Kinect station are on the wings.  This office was specifically designed to ensure that our people are highly productive by engaging formally and informally.

2. Modeling collaborative behavior:  At companies where the senior executives demonstrate highly collaborative behavior themselves, teams collaborate well.

At Credera teamwork begins at the top. The five Partners of the firm have a scheduled call every day at 8 a.m., meet twice a month over lunch, hold monthly Leadership Team meetings (composed of senior managers and above) and go yearly on Partner and Leadership Team retreats. In these settings company culture, vision, direction and goals are all topics of vigorous, yet healthy, debate and discussion. The Partners also host quarterly new hire lunches that engage new employees by establishing an open question/answer and suggestion forum. The most effective form of recognized collaboration is exhibited during the monthly company meetings, “Fireside Chats.” During these meetings, Partners and Practice Leaders have an open discussion about the firm’s client interest, financial status, recruiting status, etc. while providing employee recognition and reminding us of our vision and why we do this. This type of shared communication establishes a feeling of mutual ownership and responsibility for client successes and company issues.

3. Creating a “gift culture”: mentoring and coaching – especially on an informal basis – help people build the networks they need to work across corporate boundaries.

This notion runs deep at Credera. People are the “gift”; our knowledge and work ethic is the engine that runs the company. The “Mowgli’s” (Indian child adopted by the wolves in the Jungle Book) must be cared for and nurtured by the “Akela’s” (the revered wolf pack leader in the tale).” Credera assigns new employees a mentor, Day 1 on the job. This mentor is responsible for providing formal feedback through career goal and performance reviews, but even more importantly, by informal interaction through lunch conversation or offering deliverable advice.

My “Akela”, a senior manager, is especially passionate about coaching our mentor “pack” or “family” as we like to call it (composed of 1 senior manager mentor, 2 senior consultant junior mentors and 2 consultant mentees).  She often sends quick emails with interesting articles, what-to-expect lists from her experiences and even organizes conference room lunches where we can share tips and tricks that we have learned… nurturing growth and collaboration at its finest.

4. Supporting a strong sense of community: When people feel a sense of community, they are more comfortable reaching out to others and more likely to share knowledge.

Executives at Credera have made this principle a top priority. As consultants, we have teams working on various clients in various locations, so creating formal and informal events where the entire company or subgroups of the company can be together are critical “unity opportunities.” Happy hours always follow the monthly “Fireside Chats”, service projects are organized every quarter, the CWN (Credera Women’s Network) was established to unify the few women in the organization to share ideas and the occasional cocktail, a summer night at the ball park allows for entire families to mix and mingle, casino night brings out a whole new level of strategy and competitive spirit, a pitch-in potluck lunch is a favorite holiday season tradition along with the Christmas party where the coveted Core Value award is given , co-ed baby showers are thrown for expecting mothers and oh how we love the all expense paid, spouses included, yearly company trip (last year we went to the Bahamas). Similar to mentoring, the formal/informal mix most certainly applies to building community.

5. Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity: Cooperation increases when the roles of individual team members are sharply defined yet the team is given latitude on how to achieve the task.

Credera has done an exceptional job of outlining role responsibilities and expectations in the CPM (Career Performance Management) Framework. Employees are reviewed every four months  in five core areas: Client Service, Consulting Skills, Technical Skills, Company Development and Business Development. Though responsibilities and expectations are clearly defined, the extent to which these goals are achieved and surpassed is dependent on an employee’s ability to capitalize on opportunity. Every project presents new challenges and there is always more than one way to solve a problem. Credera champions those employees and teams who are innovative in their approach to providing solutions to client problems while remaining committed to our core values of humility, integrity, professionalism and excellence. It is no wonder our clients come back to us and recommend us time and time again. We are disciplined in fostering the growth of the individual and maintaining the cohesiveness of our “corporate pack.”

Remember it’s a Jungle out there……so start putting these principles into practice at your company. Strengthen and empower your “Mowgli’s” to be collaborative and turn your organization into a unified “corporate pack.”

If you would like more information on career opportunities at Credera, click here. We would love to talk to you about joining our pack! If you are interested in partnering with us, and want to learn more about our people and our service offerings, visit our website.  We would love the opportunity to work AS a team on YOUR team.