The moments when your team gets together are precious; there is no denying that. At CoSchool—an education start-up in Colombia that runs character and leadership development programs for 10–18 year olds—we do this through “Town Halls” on the last Friday of the month and 30 minute “Team Huddles” on Monday mornings. With news to share, information to deliver and deadlines to reach, every second counts. Keep moving, right?

Stop the mad, dizzy dance of startup life for a few hours every now and again to radically reflect. Tweet This Quote

It felt like it might be a waste of this precious time when, a few months ago, my team and I went up to “The Balcony.” We had done a few “Balconies” before, but just with the leadership team of five people. What is “The Balcony”? The idea emerged from a conversation with my coach and good friend, Diana. She suggested my team and I would benefit from zooming out—stopping the mad, dizzy dance of startup life for a few hours every now and again and moving, upstairs, to the imaginary balcony. The point was to observe the dance floor—to look down and radically reflect on what is going on down there for each one of us. No mention of results, KPIs, sales or iterations allowed.

How are we feeling? What are we finding hard? What is holding us back? What are we hoping for? What are we scared about? What’s going on inside? These were the kinds of questions we were allowed to ask.

Leaving laptops and phones behind on a normal Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. in North Bogotá, Colombia, we gathered around on our big comfy cushions. A handful of directors, managers, coordinators, assistants and our graphic designer—Team CoSchool was there. On the Google calendar invite, I had put something about ‘a space to talk through our emotions,’ but I definitely hadn’t been clear.

If you give your team a chance to share, open up, listen and learn, the results are electrifying. Tweet This Quote

As I sat down amongst my colleagues, I was excited but worried. What would Diana say? Am I going to be able to set this up? What if this totally sucks, and they go home wishing they worked for a CEO who actually knew what he was doing?

To explain the idea of this space ahead of us, I kicked us off by referencing a time I had expressed my vulnerability. (About 18 months ago, I broke down in tears, microphone in hand, in front of over 100 people saying I missed my family—a pivotal moment for me.) It’s not easy to talk about things like this in Spanish, and I needed some help from my colleague Laura to set the activity up. Then, it began.

What followed in the next 90 minutes was electrifying. My colleagues began to share, to open, to listen, to learn. Brave story followed brave story, as the group seemed to inspire each other to push a little deeper, to be a little more authentic with every account:

“Honestly, I’m feeling a bit lost right now. I’m not sure what my role is here, and I’m worried about the future. I can’t see where I’m going to be in a few months. I’m stressed about my financial situation.”
“This year, I set myself a target. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but I’m not that comfortable around people. I seem confident and everything, I like to make jokes, to mess around, but actually I’ve struggled to make long lasting friendships and relationships. I can’t seem to get into meaningful relationships.”
“I’m not ready to share this with you yet, but the next time we do this, I want to tell you about the therapy I’m taking.”
“I know I’ve mentioned this before to a couple of you in here, but CoSchool kind of saved my life. A year ago I was depressed. I was lacking motivation. I would sit at home and do nothing. I used to sit on buses on the way back from class and just cry. I was crying for no reason at all. Just depressed. I thought about killing myself. I was in a hole. CoSchool, and working with you guys and your optimism…it’s changed me. I’m motivated now, I love working here.”

We smiled. I felt energy and love connecting my team that I had never felt before in CoSchool. I was thinking: this is a strong team; these are strong people. These are people I want to work for. Far from being a waste of time, this was a phenomenal experiment.

Trust isn’t an action or a set of behaviors; trust is the result of authenticity. Tweet This Quote

In 2015, as we started to grow and achieve some good early results, I spent a lot of time talking about Patrick Lencioni’s famous five dysfunctions of a team—absence of trust at the bottom and inattention to results at the top. “CoSchool is an organization built on trust,” I proclaimed many times to whoever would listen. I’m the trust guy. Trust is my thing. It sounded nice, for sure. However, I had a revelation during this activity.

Trust isn’t an action or a set of behaviors; trust is the result of authenticity. If we want trust, we must first be authentic; we must be honest and vulnerable. CoSchool is an organization that is relentlessly authentic, and we’re building trust. Now that sounds amazing.

“I’m so proud to work here. Sometimes, I look around and I’m actually terrified I might not be the right person for this job. But when I see you guys, I hear you, you talk about your weaknesses, yourselves, I feel I belong. I feel like anything is possible for us.”

That last quote was from me.

Henry May

Author Henry May

Henry is the CEO of CoSchool, a startup that challenges the status quo of education in Colombia by providing a range of programs (lasting for one day, one week, four months) that build character and leadership skills in students. He has lived in Colombia for the last 5 years, and has also been involved with the NGO, The Huracan Foundation, which he set up in 2011 following a story involving the power of football (soccer) to connect people and transform lives.

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