WHY BLACKBULLION WENT SWINGING
On Monday we had our first away day. In the last 12 months the team at Blackbullion went from 2 to 8. We’ve tripled our revenue and entered new markets, we’ve released new features and seen students undertake tens of thousands of hours of learning undertaken on our platform.
We’ve held OKR sessions and done drinks and lunches and breakfasts and dinners but we’d never done an away day!
This week we changed that and it was epic!!
Like with all things we do, all the things we espouse and all the things we believe in, there are lessons to be learned and truisms to uncover and share.
HAVE A PURPOSE BEHIND THE MADNESS
I stewed over this one. I’d never planned an away day before and I intended to make it a 360° experience. Yes to the bonding, and breakout, but also I had this idea that it could be an opportunity to get comfortable with uncertainty.
The uncertainty of a start-up can make people feel as though they are on unsteady ground 24/7/365 and that level of uncertainty leads to bad decision making and haste when consideration is called for. Obviously not an ideal situation. I agree with the author David Levithan that “The mistake is thinking that there can be an antidote to the uncertainty” but while we can’t conquer uncertainty we can get (more!) comfortable with it by doing new things, and doing them with gusto. This is truly empowering.
Throwing people into an uncertain situation, especially one a bit scary and totally out of their comfort zone can help people realise that where there is fear there can be greatness. Awesome rarely comes from the predictable mundane.
DON’T GET SCARED TO GET CHEESY
You might say it’s cos I’m a female founder but really I just think people like to feel valued — not just by me, far more importantly by the team. I have long held the belief that people who feel part of a community will give more to that community and will feel better in doing so. Because they feel it is reciprocal and that with the collaboration comes the magic.
So I never miss an opportunity to get cheesy (sometimes to much eye rolling behind my back — yes, I see you!). Whether it’s unexpected praise (just because) or whether it’s forcing everyone to tell everyone else what they are doing which is awesome or inspiring. I’m also a fan of the kind of surprise treats that make people feel appreciated — a random duvet day, ice-cream just cos the sun popped out or a blind date with a book (left) can give that hit of “I’m appreciated” which is so very valuable!
Building a culture of cooperation, collaboration and gratitude is easier and more native when there is the occasional dollop of cheesiness and cliché.
And the truth is it works. Every year John Lewis spends big money to put together a Christmas advert especially designed to tug at the heart strings and make up cry. Tapping into that emotion is powerful and we never tire of hearing we belong and are valued.
TAKE WORK OFF THE TABLE
I’m fond of saying that ideas need times to percolate. Our brain is an incredible piece of machinery and it is problem solving, and creating, in the background all the time. When we are focused on task, with no breaks, we don’t give our brain a chance to install new updates (it’s also the reason we burn out).
Innovation is the lifeblood of start-ups in the tech space but you can’t just allocate time to get creative — to be effective it must be organic. We must nurture our creative self and this is nearly impossible when we are focused on defined tasks. I realised this when I left finance.
Before founding Blackbullion. I never felt creative — sure I was thinking about solutions for clients, and presentations, but there was no truly innovative thinking.
Stepping out of the office, flying through the trees, encouraging each other to take that next step and being supportive - we are best able to focus on our adrenaline, our fear, our elation at success… in short we can tap into all those emotions which have nothing to do with our brain processing our daily work.
The kindling of those ideas constantly fired in our brain will die if they aren’t exposed to the freedom, and abundance, of oxygen they need to create fire.
In start-up land team away days are part of the year’s cadence. And like all “standard” activities in our ecosystem I take a step back to judge it on its merits not its popularity. By every metric I set - our away day was a great success; the new thinking, the suggestions and the “vibe” (which we are still riding!) I would say that away days are worth their weight in gold… and then some.
FYI: we went to Trent Park GoApe