Last year, I was asked to lead Handshake’s University Support team. Transitioning into a support leadership role from a community management background inspired me to share a few key learnings from my experience about 1) how to build a connected team and 2) how previous roles can unexpectedly serve us as we advance throughout our careers.
Before joining Handshake, I developed and managed communities reaching thousands of global higher ed professionals and K-12 teachers at Google and Remind. If someone ever told me that I’d one day be leading a distributed support team at a startup I would have laughed! I’ve discovered that leading our Support Team requires a blend of creativity, operations, and community-building.
Building a team is building a community. Community brings people together to share new ideas, successes and challenges, and to create opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise come to fruition.
In my past community management roles, I learned the importance of establishing meaningful connections, choosing the right platform to facilitate conversations and connections, and setting the right tone and model for how community members should engage with each other. My greatest fulfillment was when a community reached a point where it was able to live on without me. This foundation of community management has been fundamental in building and nurturing the Handshake support team.
Here are some examples of how I applied community building to my team at Handshake, a framework that can be used for any team:
1. Communication and Platforms
Asynchronous communication builds community, so we should be thoughtful about which platforms our teams use to communicate, connect, and collaborate.
Our team uses Slack for work and non-work related happenings. We have an open “Support Huddle” Hangout linked to our team channel that anyone can hop into at anytime, and we leverage team chat during video meetings to facilitate a reflective backchannel and fun commentary. These backchannels allow us to build relationships, provide more fluid conversation and ideation, and facilitate an inclusive environment where everyone can be heard and seen.
Community has similar elements to tribes and you’ll notice brands, people, or movements develop a unifying symbol to rally around.
I wanted to acknowledge and celebrate our unique team culture especially during busier times (like our back to school season!). Last year we made team shirts incorporating our Party Parrot mascot with matching yellow headbands and mugs. The great thing about these symbols is that they were inspired by team members and our unique activities. Give weight to core values and rituals by making them symbols for the team.
While it’s important for your team to have a core purpose for work and communication, it’s critical to let the team breathe and bring their full selves to the table.
For us in Slack, it’s a generous use of emojis and nicknames, plenty of memes, and incorporating personal ice-breakers and affirmations in our team meetings. Community provides a powerful platform for people to express themselves and feel celebrated for who they are. Over time these repeated habits build our values, our culture, and helps to clarify what we look for when growing the team.
It’s been a fun and rewarding last 6 months building a rich community on our team. You never know how the skills and experiences you learn today will serve you and others tomorrow. Don’t box yourself in by function or past work. Your role, work, or idea can take many forms — ones you might not even imagine! And lastly, at the end of the day, everything is about connections — find ways to allow them to be cultivated authentically and you’ll have a thriving community and team. If you’re interested in learning more about Handshake or joining our team, please holler or check out our careers page!