CONVERSATIONS on scaling team spirit

Jeremy Lizt is a Technical Advisor to Datavant, and former CTO and Co-founder of LiveRamp (NYSE:RAMP). Holly May is Head of People & Operations at Datavant. We converse on topics of company culture and organizational development.

Holly May: Hey Jeremy, thanks for joining me in this conversation about organizational development, culture, and recruiting. I’m excited to see where we go. Here’s my first question: At Datavant, we want to maintain our team spirit as we grow. We’ve had the opportunity to hire great people across all teams and grow fast, but it means we’re a little light on the connective tissue between people and teams. What have you seen work well to foster a sense of “teaminess” through fast growth of personnel?

Jeremy Lizt: Hi Holly. Before I address your question I’d like to express my excitement kicking off this conversational experiment with you. As in any good experiment, it may or may not be successful, but I love the idea of capturing our conversations in this way, both to give each of us an opportunity to be thoughtful in our dialogue, and also to be able to share it in case others may benefit. I’m bullish on Datavant’s mission and potential, and I believe (as I know you do) that setting a solid foundation for people and culture is perhaps the biggest lever to maximize the company’s chances of long-term success.

Now onto team spirit. I think that at its heart, team spirit is about two key things: common mission, and trust. Everyone in the group must have a shared understanding of what the group is ultimately trying to accomplish. I’m pretty sure everyone on the Warriors knows their goal for the year is winning the NBA championship, for example. Secondly, people need to trust that everyone else has the motivation and ability to pursue the group’s strategy. Without a shared goal or trust in each other, you’re not going to have team spirit.

Holly May: Ok, that breakdown is a useful way to think about it. Do you recommend any particular tactics to promote it?

Jeremy Lizt: At a small company like Datavant, all-hands meetings provide a powerful mechanism to strengthen a sense of shared mission and trust between teams. The key value of the team meeting is not that an individual learns the company mission. It’s that the individual observes that everyone is getting the same message. Building trust takes time, so create opportunities for company leaders to demonstrate their goals, competencies, and vulnerabilities (e.g. What didn’t go well? What are they worried about? What don’t they know?). Leaders should take turns at company meetings communicating their views of the business, and you should encourage a culture of questioning and dialogue (perhaps by seeding a handful of questions by junior folks in the audience to get things rolling).

Holly May: Any particular pitfalls to be aware of?

Jeremy Lizt: If you put yourself in the shoes of an individual employee, shared mission and trust of others aren’t sufficient on their own. The individual must feel that they are a valuable and valued member of the team; that they belong. This translates to two key things:

(1) First, everyone must understand how their efforts contribute to the company’s success; this isn’t always as obvious as you may think, so it’s important for leaders to help their people make the connection.

(2) Second, ensure people are recognized for what they do (both what they do well and what they can do better). Recognition may take many forms, and should come frequently from a person’s manager, as well as from elsewhere in the company.

Holly May: So if I’m understanding your perspective, if you’ve got trust, a shared mission, and people feel a sense of belonging to the organization, then team spirit will organically emerge?

Jeremy Lizt: That’s right. Of course, a company cheer can also be effective.

Holly May: Gimme a “D…”!

Datavant team at our summer ranch adventure, August 2018

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Head of People & Operations @ Datavant - rebooting what it means to be a People person

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Holly May

Head of People & Operations @ Datavant - rebooting what it means to be a People person