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SVP / VP / Head of Marketing – Brand expert | Leadership Mentor | Business Advisor – FMCG, Entertainment, Culture, Social Responsibility – ex RED BULL… some of Florian’s credentials. Earlier this year we chatted with him about teams. Building them, nurturing them and helping them in times of crisis. He also told us why your luggage might go missing if you travel through Munich airport…

What’s the magic formula for a winning team?

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

There’s a couple of things I feel strongly about. First of all, we’re social beings so if everyone understands that when a group works or plays together, then certain rules must be adhered to. Humans mimic emotions. We synchronise, we’re dependent on each other. So, realise and acknowledge that. Respect and empathy are a great start to a winning team. Also, the team needs a joint purpose. Be 100% clear about why the group exists and what its goal is or else the team won’t work. Think about how many hours we spend at work, as part of a team, compared to time with loved ones… So, be very clear about why you’re spending so much time there at work! Have clear direction and vision. 

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. Another example of such clarity that I love is Apple. Their purpose and their why is very clear. In 2001, the first iPod launched at the same time as another company’s MP3 player. The latter was, in some ways, better, but the big difference was the creative – the PR – claim. One sold itself as a 5GB MP3 player. Meanwhile Apple said 1,000 songs in your pocket. You have to be very engaged and motivated as a team to use that statement rather than the techy sell. But when you have a clear vision and formulate in a way that everyone understands it, people embrace it and live up to expectations.

In times of crisis, clarity is paramount. Organisational restructure, whether it’s shutting down or reforming, puts people under stress. Some people will lose their jobs and things will change. So, give clarity. Cut the BS. Tell the truth. Tell everyone and get them involved. Uncertainty and anxiety are toxic. Celebrate the successes, acknowledge them. That can happen many ways – champagne, a party or a team offsite. Even internal comms work, put the team on a pedestal and say a simple thank you. 

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. It’s the same for work as in life generally. 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… “I won’t be laughed at”. It’s safe to ask that person. So, provide and receive trust.

Honesty: this can be difficult. Sometimes you have to talk about uncomfortable things, admit you’re wrong or tell someone else they’re wrong. Either way, people in a team need to know where they’re at.

Vulnerability. It’s ok to be vulnerable. Gone are the days when managers had to be tough all the time. It’s fine to show emotions. That’s widely accepted. But it’s also important to admit when you’re wrong or emotionally affected by something. Admit weakness! 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 about authenticity and dealing with your mistakes. Then you have a team that is empowered – an independent team conscious of their responsibilities. They don’t need direction, they know where they’re going.

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

I’ve worked with so many different people, from different countries, different ethnicities and genders, etc. There is so much diversity and variety in the world. What worked well for me was listening, 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, salary etc, 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. Remind yourself of this. A sign of appreciation in one place can be an offence in another. A joke in one, discriminating in another. 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?

  1. At RedBull, we did a festival in NY for our global music programme. It was an amazing show with Solange, at the Guggenheim museum. There were around 40-50 black women in her choir. What a celebratory event for women and black culture in music. That felt magical, it gave me goosebumps.
  2. I work with international teams – great and different people. We did a workshop in Reykjavik. And Iceland is magical anyway, it’s a different world. 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.

Favourite song?

Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want 😉

Do you need to spark magic in your team?

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