When we launched Etc. a year ago, I set out to achieve two main things; to build products and services that make people’s everyday lives easier, and to create an environment where my team could do the best work of their lives.
Let me start by telling you a bit about us. Etc. is the startup incubation hub of BT Group, and we exist to create, amplify and invest in startups in new and emerging categories. Whether connecting those in need to the right care at the right time, leading the charge for drone innovation in the UK or changing the way that people pay, we’ve spent the last year focusing on building and accelerating products and platforms that change the game for people and businesses.
In the beginning, we were a team of five product people, all united by the goal of solving real world problems for our customers. A year on, I’m proud to say we are now a team of over 100, working with some of the world’s leading startups to transform the drones, healthtech and fintech sectors (to name a few) to disrupt for good.
A lot of people talk a great talk when it comes to culture, but I’ve seen too many companies lay out a few beanbags or set up a ping pong table and believe that the job is done. But if a career in product has taught me one thing, it’s this: just like with products – the work is never finished when it comes to culture.
The subject of how we as business leaders can build a genuine (and lasting) team culture is something I’ve discussed at length over the past few years with team members, colleagues and peers. I see it as absolutely at the heart of building a winning business and believe one cannot exist without the other. But it requires time, testing and learning and a real drive to understand your people to do right.
One of the best tools I’ve come across to help do this is allocating time for regular internal check-ins and feedback sessions. Within the Etc. team, we dedicate a portion of our monthly team meetings to temperature check how the team is feeling and discussing what we could improve culturally. Each month, we ask them to anonymously answer a series of questions about how they view Etc.’s culture and any recommendations for how we can continue building a positive, collaborative environment. This feedback has been crucial for decision making, helping form our very own internal ‘Culture Collective’ who have since organised a host of social and educational events, as well as inspiring us to hold sessions with industry partners celebrating female, LGBT and black founders.
Outside of the Culture Collective, we have also developed a unique internal ‘Community’ which invites people from every walk of the business to get involved in proposing new product ideas and providing feedback on our current prototypes and ideas. The Community is open to the whole business, not just Etc. – built from the understanding that delivering the best work of our lives comes with testing, reviewing our work and being willing to change our approach if something isn’t right the first time. With this approach, we aim to empower employees across BT Group by demonstrating how their feedback and ideas can contribute to the creation of game changing products.
For the people that sit on the boards, in the leadership teams and at the helm of the business, I believe we should be focusing on one thing – clearing the stage for the stars to perform. For me, that means giving my product leaders the opportunity to be the CEOs of their own parts of the business. That means creating an environment that celebrates the wins, allows for mistakes and creates a safe space to try new, out-of-the-box ideas. And if we are to build products that truly work for all, we need people with different experiences, backgrounds and points of view in the boardroom asking questions and challenging traditional ways of doing things. As leaders, ensuring our teams are truly representative of the customer bases we are trying to serve is essential for success. And no matter what level they are, it’s absolutely central to me that my product teams feel empowered to make a call on where the roadmap should go. That’s why we set out clear strategies and goals to make sure we’re working towards the same endpoint no matter what the product – the outcome for the customer.
To have been shortlisted for a UK Company Culture Award has been a brilliant and quite humbling experience. Whilst the category is named leadership, it genuinely wouldn’t have been possible without the brilliant team of disruptors, innovators, and friends around me – as well as the members of the Digital at BT board that inspire me every day.