Four years! The pace of a startup is so rapid, that it's difficult to stop sometimes and look back at how far you have come. When we suddenly realised that NEO Academy was reaching our fourth birthday, we decided that it was the perfect moment to stop and reflect.
What should we be feeling? Is this a milestone? Are we still a startup? Perhaps we should look at what four year olds can do for some inspiration. Yes we already know how to use door handles, and we're not "starting to get a little bossy" as the article suggests.
Maybe that was a silly idea. The point of slowing down to reflect, after all, is not to try to fill that space and run forward again. Reflection means stepping back, and so we decided to just that. We each asked ourselves one question: what is the most important thing I have learned on this NEO journey so far.
It's no surprise that we start with "why". The most important question to ask and one which gives meaning to everything. Asking "why" isn't a one-time event, and the question should be revisited. Often.
Purpose is the glue that holds teams together. Our culture is one that is driven by empowering each team member to excel. Micromanaging is not our style, and why would you need to exert such control over everyone and everything if you're all on the same page and pulling in the same direction?
Whenever things get blurry, or we are unsure of the way ahead, reconnecting with purpose and values will always show us the way. More alignment means less friction, and that makes sense to us.
Communication has to come next. Understanding what needs to be done and why is great, but pointless if you don't tell anyone! It's not just about being good at explaining things, or persuading others. Communication to us is something that makes us feel like a team when we are in different corners of the world.
Things get stressful in all organizations, but regardless of how busy we get, we always take care with how we communicate. Listening, respect, and holding space for our colleagues to share; that's how we reduce the sense of distance. A 20-minute chat about nothing much, and a few silly jokes, and we feel energized for the whole day through a shared sense of connection.
We also learned that smooth and efficient organization actually makes communication so much easier! Everyone is up to date, knows what they should do, and knows who to reach for if not. We are still learning each and every day, but that feels like a shared journey and not an uphill struggle.
From good communication comes effective teamwork. Well... kind of.
What we have learned in these four years is that teamwork is also about really knowing yourself. Telling others when you're struggling or asking for help if you need it. Saying no if you don't think you can get it done, and looking for alternative solutions. Being accountable to deadlines, and supporting others to get there without piling on the pressure.
It is all a delicate balance, but we think we are doing ok. We have looked at some projects and been quite intimidated by how much work they involve and how many new things we will have to learn, but we always get there.
It has taken a while but we can honestly say that we have learned to roll with whatever comes around the corner. With a strong team around you, there's nothing to fear.
We wanted to finish strong. A growth mindset is a powerful thing. When adversity becomes a learning opportunity, and you learn so many ways of doing things from your colleagues. When you realize deep inside that "we've got this" and embrace the challenge, the result is hugely empowering.
When you look back and see how much you learned, and compare that to how you felt beforehand, you can see the same pattern over and over. Having the courage to say "I can", even when you're nervous or a bit intimidated, is something that has got us through some challenging moments.
Four years, four people, four important things we have learned. Despite the reflective mood, we are firmly looking ahead again. Here's to the next four years, the opportunities to learn, connect and grow.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of NEO Academy's story so far. We are honoured to have you with us, and we can't wait to see what comes next.