Creating the Best Place to Work? It’s All about the Intangibles

We use the word “team” in business all the time.

We schedule “team meetings.” We ask in interviews whether a potential employee will be a “team player” if she’s hired. But to me, it’s more than just empty business-speak. The sports analogy means something to me. It’s about the importance of keeping an open mind, building a diverse group, nurturing personal and professional growth and winning together.

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As someone who believes there are a lot of similarities between athletics and running a business, I saw the camaraderie and perseverance of my own team at mobile data and analytics firm Ubermedia, rewarded recently when it was named one of LA’s Best Places to Work by the Los Angeles Business Journal and a Best Place to Work by Ad Age. Perhaps sports analogies speak to me because I played basketball in high school, ran track at Caltech, or because I am an LA Lakers fan, but most likely it’s because I’m passionate about watching my own kids play basketball. Overall, a lot of the things I see at play in sports are at play day to day at my company.

Time off and massages are great, but so are the intangibles.

This wasn’t our first time on a Best Places to Work list. How did we get here? Well, benefits including unlimited personal time off are important for attracting and maintaining top talent, and things like subsidized lunches and chair massages are welcome ways to ensure your team is fueled, recharged and running on all cylinders. But, if you’ll allow me to get a little deeper into sports talk, I believe it’s the so-called intangibles that got us to this place.

Here are a few of the intangibles at play in my company that are worth incorporating to develop a winning workplace:

Listening

It may sound more like something a Zen master than a stereotypically demanding coach would say, but smart and caring team leaders make an effort to listen. When in a meeting or collaborating with colleagues, I want to make sure team members are heard. I keep an open mind and truly listen to what others have to say before sharing my opinion and engaging in a dialogue. Listening is imperative to clear team communication.

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Diversity

It’s great to have star players, but having five Kobe Bryants on a team wouldn’t automatically mean a victory. The same goes for constructing a strong work team. The best ones include a variety of players, each with his or her own strengths and skills. While diversity in ethnic background and gender are extremely important in building a group, ensuring a team reflects diverse capabilities, personalities and knowledge is key to developing the right chemistry.

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Empowerment

Yes, I realize the notion of “empowerment” can seem grandiose. But in my day-to-day as a leader of a company, I empower my team in a simple way: I don’t over-lead. I allow employees to manage their approach towards accomplishing a project goal on their own. By not micromanaging every step of the process, I give team members the power to execute, affording them the ability to be rewarded when they succeed – and be held accountable for and learn from less-than-great decisions.

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Caring

The best coaches and teams in history don’t just care about the team or the players on the court or field, but the individual behind the jersey. When a coach, manager or team leader shows empathy and caring, people know they will be treated fairly, and that, in turn, encourages team members to be their best selves. That translates to a desire to win in the game. At UberMedia, we laugh and we have fun together, but the team also knows I am serious about results and they deliver on that.

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Fostering Growth

Nurturing the growth of our employees is tantamount to developing and retaining talent. We ensure that employees have a very healthy work/life balance so that people can make big contributions at work, but still have time outside of work for themselves and their families. But part of that balance is learning. I aim to make sure employees are always learning and expanding their knowledge and skills in their areas of interest. This might come in the form of a continuing education benefit that helps employees earn a higher degree or take individual college courses. But even companies that can’t afford to pay for outside courses might offer internal educational opportunities. An engineer might give a tutorial during lunch about algorithms to the sales team, for instance.

All in all, I am privileged to work with a team of people I learn from every day. Fostering a great work environment where colleagues feel welcome, respected and rewarded isn’t always just about foosball and free snacks. It’s about keeping an open mind, encouraging diversity, allowing people to make decisions, empathy for others and nurturing personal and professional growth.

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About the Author

Gladys Kong, CEO of UberMedia.  is a well-known tech expert in mobile and data solutions. Prior to becoming CEO of UberMedia, which was just named a Best Workplace by Advertising Age for the second year in a row, she served as CTO. Additionally, she was CEO and co-founder at GO Interactive, a social gaming firm. Prior to that she was VP of Engineering at Snap.com, and VP of R&D at Idealab, where she helped create numerous companies, including Evolution Robotics, Picasa, X1 Technologies, and many more. 

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