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What should our company look like? Which culture do we want to live? How do we resolve conflicts? How do we manage to find the best employees and offer them a fulfilling work environment? machineMD worked on these questions at a very early stage because we are convinced that these factors are important for success. That's why, during the past year, we not only dealt with prototypes, investors, business plans, evaluations and the like, as all startups do, but also focused intensively on our corporate culture and Conscious Leadership together with our coach Sibylle Stamm.
What is your approach to coaching?
I coach purpose-driven leaders from all around the world who are keen to build thriving and conscious work cultures. I was trained as a Co-Active Coach (www.coactive.com) and am currently in further training with the Conscious Leadership Group (www.conscious.is).
What fascinates you about conscious leadership?
I always had a particular interest in the hidden how of things. What are the unwritten rules that govern us as human beings and as a society? How does change happen? How do relationships work? How does a system function? How is peace made? Originally, I studied political systems and got my MA in Political Science. Following that, I spent nearly 10 years in the Middle East supporting people to communicate constructively and transform conflicts. It might look like my work at MachineMD is a far cry from Beirut or Cairo – and in some sense of course it is! But here and there, human beings interact and want to learn how to handle stress and pressure, how to be successful in reaching goals, how to create something meaningful, how to live a life of purpose.
We spend so much of our lifetime at work, and most of us learned to focus all our attention on the “doing”. Whether we develop products or provide services, the point is always “to get stuff done”. But what about the “being”? What about “how we are”, with ourselves and each other, at work? Why is the workplace not designed as a place that purposefully develops human minds and hearts?
What are the benefits of conscious leadership for a company?
On the journey from an idea to a successful market launch, a fast-growing startup faces major challenges. To master these, we need a working environment that allows each individual to develop and the team to develop and articulate a common culture. In short: we need a world-class teams. But a company culture doesn’t just happen to us like some kind of God-given fate. How we are at work matters. A fulfilled, focused and healthy human being is more pleasant and more productive to work with than a frustrated, stressed, and unmotivated colleague. We can take responsibility for how we are. We can learn how to shift from states of mind that are closed, defensive and based on fear, to states of mind that are open, receptive, and based on trust. The tools are available, and they are effective. All that is needed now is a commitment to apply them – no small thing, I admit. To my mind, this is the most sustainable and profound work we can do as human beings at work – for ourselves and for our colleagues. Personal development therefore is not an individual matter, it is a collective responsibility.
You became involved as a coach at machineMD at a very early stage. What was the mindset behind that?
I was looking for a team to work with on an experiment in building a work culture from scratch and who was willing to test the hypothesis that the workplace can be the community that supports personal growth. The five co-founders of machineMD were open to this on their journey from five to many multiples of five.
What are the main areas in which you are currently involved?
At machineMD we are training our awareness of how we are with each other as human beings. We are building a culture where psychological safety, authenticity and integrity are not just written on paper – but are actually brought to life. But what does that mean? Psychological safety means that at machineMD you can make mistakes and own them without the fear of being shamed or punished. We can take risks and it’s ok to fail. We speak with candor and we say what we feel and think - and we know that our colleagues are open and receptive, and they really listen. At machineMD, we make impeccable agreements and when we fail to keep them (which happens, of course) we clean them up. At MachineMD, we have tensions and conflicts (because we are human) but the difference to other work places is that we address them very early and pro-actively with an open mindset that enables learning and personal growth. In a nutshell, my work helps us develop a common language around the “how we are as human beings with each other”. We learn how to be with discomfort individually and collectively.
What is important for a startup like machineMD to thrive?
We face constant uncertainty. This is a basic ingredient of a startup culture. We know that everything can change practically overnight. In order to succeed, we need the courage to try things that might not work. We know that we make our path by walking it. It requires creativity, trust and a lot of “ease with discomfort”. Every day. There is always more to do than we have capacity for. We need to be world champions at letting go and getting rest, recharge, re-focus… and then take one step at the time. This is a daily practice, not a once-in-a-lifetime-insight.
Having the best employees is very important for machineMD. What do you think it takes for employees to feel comfortable and to be able to grow and develop in an ideal way?
All of the above. One common theme in a start-up culture is that it is really fun and exciting in the beginning. And then it suddenly gets very serious: deliverables, investor commitments, pressure to release, compliance issues. In these situations, it helps to stop and remember not to take ourselves too seriously – especially when it seems really serious - and reconnect with the playful and creative energy from the beginning that is required to make this work.
What did your approach look like specifically?
Over the first few months of the project, we were meeting weekly for an hour in a group coaching format with the entire team. We practiced mindfulness, we learned how to distinguish facts from stories and how to process emotions. We worked on the recognition of personal patterns, on articulating appreciation and giving and receiving feedback. We learned how to recognize the “flow” and wonder how to support each other to actually live and work from that place. This was like a warm-up before the actual workout J. After this stage every team member signed an Individual Coaching Alliance with me. In the next three months we discussed subjects of personal development in our coaching group and defined a sprint: a period of 3 months during which each individual commits to making progress in one particular area that they select for themselves in “how they are” at work and are ready to get feedback on about the progress they make from their colleagues. We are at the end of this sprint now. We recognize the progress we have made and we now ask ourselves: How do we want to grow from here, as individuals and as a company? What are we aligned for? I am curious to see where this journey will take us next.
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