From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Secrets of Successful Teams

Written by
Anne Brassier
Published on
July 12, 2021

SVP, VP, head of marketing, brand expert, leadership mentor, business advisor… These are some of Florian Klaass' credentials. Rubens chatted with Florian (who we met as a client) about teams - building them, nurturing them, helping them in times of crisis. And why your luggage might go missing if you travel through Munich airport:

Florian Klaass

What’s the magic formula for a winning team?

The very short answer is be authentic and don’t be an a$$hole!

First for me is respect and empathy. They're a great start to a winning team. Humans mimic emotions; we synchronise, we’re dependent on each other. So, realise and acknowledge that.

Secondly, teams need a purpose, clear direction and vision. Be 100% clear about why the group exists and what its goal is, and communicate that or the team won’t work. We spend many hours at work, as part of a team, away from loved ones so be very clear about why people should spend so much time at work! At Red Bull, it was clear: Red Bull gives you wings. My job was to find talent, foster ideas, bring them to life and give people an experience.

In times of crisis, clarity is even more paramount. Any organisational restructure puts people under stress – some may lose their jobs and things will change. Tell the truth. Tell everyone and get them involved. Uncertainty and anxiety are toxic. Acknowledge and celebrate the successes; with champagne, a party or a team offsite, even with internal comms – put the team on a pedestal and say a simple thank you.

Third, create a safe psychological space where people can be themselves. You know when you sit in meetings and don’t dare ask something for fear of seeming stupid? You worry more about how you’re perceived than you do about solving an issue. A few years back, Google researched the parameters of great teams. Aside from goals and clarity, a safe space was the other major requirement. Let your team feel safe enough to say what they want to say. Allow them to let their guard down, be who they are, be true, be raw. When you’re a newcomer, you try to impress and demonstrate why you deserve your place there. The hardest work I’ve done in the past couple of years has been making people comfortable and letting them be who they are to get the best out of them.

In moments of crisis, is it harder than usual to build a team?

I recommend the same rules as on any other day! I adhere to these 3 principles:

  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Vulnerability

Trust is self explanatory – enable trusting relationships. There’s an interesting study by Harvard where they looked at asking for help. If you’re in a situation where you hit a wall and need help, who do you ask? It turns out that people don’t ask the most competent or the most accessible person, they ask the most trustworthy person because they say “I won’t be laughed at”. So, provide trust.

Honesty can be more difficult. Sometimes people have to talk about uncomfortable things at work; admit they're wrong or tell someone else they’re wrong. Either way, people in a team benefit from knowing where they stand so learn to have those difficult conversations.

Vulnerability. Gone are the days when managers had to be tough all the time. It’s ok to show emotions, but it’s also important to admit when you’re wrong or emotionally affected by something. Many struggle with this. It’s the ego at play; it tells you what to do and how to represent yourself in work. I’ve learned that it’s not about impressing others, showing how great and impeccable you are – it’s more about authenticity and dealing with your mistakes. If leaders do that, they're modelling great leadership.

What’s your secret to working with global and diverse teams?

I’ve worked with so many people, from different countries, ethnicities, genders, etc. There's so much diversity and variety in the world. What worked well for me was listening and learning then leveraging what was gained. Observe, look at the world around you, see how people interact and operate. The main lesson I’ve learned in the past couple of years is to be humble, not take myself too seriously. Regardless of job title or salary, stay receptive, curious and eager to learn. Another thing is never, EVER, assume that your perspective or your way of thinking applies to everyone else! It doesn’t. A sign of appreciation in one place can be offensive in another, a joke in one location is bigotry in another. Here's a simple example from German culture – you can point your finger at someone and it’s fine. But do the same in Japan and it’s highly offensive! Your behaviour is the same, but the perception and reaction is different. So, be thoughtful about your behaviour.

What magical moments have you had in the past few years?

I did an event in Reykjavik and Iceland is magical anyway, it’s a different world. So, combine a magical landscape with a crew of 20, from 15 different countries, solving a problem together over 3 days… Bright minds using their brain power – that’s a most magical experience. You get their intelligence, their wiring, their experiences, their upbringing, their everything!

What’s your superpower?

Probably listening. I’m really good at shutting up and listening! Sometimes that’s all you need to do. People tell you things and very often they have the solution themselves, they just need the canvas to paint on.

Tell us a secret…

When I was at school in Munich, I worked at the local airport driving the small luggage lorries. If you’ve ever wondered why you didn’t get your baggage, it was me! I mixed the terminals up… Now I travel extensively and every time I see those guys, I really respect them because it’s quite a tough job. And I NEVER check bags – cabin bags only!!

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

I’d erase social media! The whole thing, including its great sides, has failed. It highlights negatives in humanity. And sometimes you have to break things to make them great again. So I’d shut it down and come up with something new.

Thanks to Florian for taking the time to talk to us. See what he's up to now.

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