Chapter 1


As with most discoveries, this one begins with a problem. As part of my job I often found myself managing teams, a role that I had to learn on the fly. This story takes place in Beijing, but might be similar to yours.
While managing teams at a creative agency in Beijing, I confronted a number of challenges — feverish work schedules, lack of organization, conflicting expectations and more. At first, I chucked this to this being China, a country that modernized in thirty years to most western nations' 300 years is bound to have fitful side effects. Then one 4AM morning as our team finished a pitch deck, I thought: "we probably could have done one, or twelve things that saves us from watching this sunrise today."
I got to work. I thought about the attention to organization epitomized by my former boss, a brilliant information architect and designer. I started reading. Literature on management clustered around leadership. Some were helpful. My challenges were validated. They weren't the domain of "this being China." More of it didn't sit right, I felt no kinship to Jack Welch, and the emphasis on miracle leaders who were "disciplined, diligent, and determined" (Collins, 2001) felt like a lot of pressure.

Still, after educating myself, I focused on streamlining organizational processes for higher efficiency and better communication. After some months of reorganization, productivity was higher and there were fewer deadline collisions. Personally, I became more "disciplined, diligent, and determined." So what was the problem? Simply, we were working faster, but not necessarily better. Engagement-level remained low and brainstorm sessions were unproductive. I overheard being on my team felt like "working for me" and "not with me." After striving to pull resources together to better execute projects, I was at a loss with what to do with people. Books focused on tasks, leadership and the individual, not enough on how teams work.

That's how I came find Hyper Island, a creative business school where "innovation" and "culture" are uttered in the same breath, where concepts like experiential learning, reflection and feedback became fundamental blocks for enabling creative work in teams. For the first time, I was working with people in a deeper and more meaningful way. It went beyond system and processes and revealed the power of purposeful interpersonal communication.

Better Teamwork in China is inspired by these learnings. It is an attempt to share the knowledge, and test to see it might work across cultures. This process has led me on a journey to talk with practitioners and test out ideas on the ground in China. The end deliverable — a field guide and conversation cards — are made for people like me who could have used a concise text that outlines ideas on effective teamwork, the cultural context in China, and finally, how we can take these learnings to practice.
This project could not have happened without the love and support of many people.

To all the industry leaders who took time out of their day to meet and chat with me, your honesty and insights endure. To my family at Hyper Island DMM crew 6, we lived through a strange and special six months of flat whites, post its, and taking human-centric to heart. Don't forget true love. Tash, Lauren, David, Max, Catherine, Minnie, Becky, Sarah, Jon, Koen, and the rest of the Hyper staff, I've never been good at small talk in the kitchen, but you guys are the realest and sometimes talking isn't needed to say respect. My colleagues and friends at JOYN:VISCOM, reconnecting with all of you back on planet China, especially Shanshan, Siyu, and Youzi, is the best thing any alien could hope for. To all my other friends and acquaintances who have been on the receiving end of "so here's the thing about effective teamwork…!" thanks for your profound interest. Contact me for a workshop anytime.

Or talk to my team at Northern Quarter: Trishal, Rita, and Dominic, who have been with me through this project overcoming timezones, VPNs, madness and greatness. I vouch for all of them and their grandchildren.

Finally, thanks to my dad, whose work I'm only beginning to understand, and who spent days with me on a former working title for the project, and edited my Chinese translation not by just proofreading, but making it more structurally sound. Thanks to mom, who I got to spend some time with during the writing of this project and has shown me a crazy, hardworking ethic and that she never stopped being an immigrant. I hope we all never stop being immigrants. To Ken, who is at least "50% more influential," for your brilliance, generosity, patience, kindness, feedback and keeping up with my maoxuewang habits.
Collins, J. (2011) Good to Great. London: Random House.
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