The Secret Ingredient of Highly Innovative Teams Who Change the Game

For a unique twist on #FunFriday during #InsuranceCareersMonth, let’s go inside the cultures of successful tech companies. Because insurance organizations are in a state of flux as they evolve to become more data and analytically-driven, I thought it would be helpful to expose a few trade secrets of game-changing teams.

Innovators on the leading edge have some common personality characteristics. Bravado, moxie, and irreverence are a few words that fit the bill. Naturally, everyone in business must be resilient and tough to succeed regardless of the type of company – being competitive and remaining on top is not for the faint of heart. Yet, there’s something different and special about technology leaders. When I use the term ‘leaders’ in this context, I don’t mean people with executive titles. I mean individuals who have the smarts, the vision, and the gumption to change an industry. When these individuals organize into teams, they become pioneers, they push each other to go rogue and defy the status quo, and they are proud of it.

Teams that push the envelope live the mantra, work hard and play hard. Working hard and driving an industry to new heights requires brutal honesty with yourself and your colleagues. You have to trust each other and push back on one another – which usually means there’s a healthy dose of sarcasm flying around in email, IMs and internal meetings. Poking fun and prodding each other definitely serves as a release valve in the pressure cooker environment of leading tech companies. Early on, work-life balance is a laughable joke. A great leader I admire is Andy Zurcher, who I worked with at HomeAdvisor. HomeAdvisor (previously called ServiceMagic), changed the home improvement industry by building the predominant online marketplace to connect homeowners with reputable service providers. Andy led the product team in HomeAdvisor’s formative years, and he used to say, “Every Friday night I go home completely drained from the week’s work. When I look back at what we had accomplished since Monday, and I’m always amazed at our progress. It’s truly remarkable.”

For this #FunFriday question, why is the ability to banter with your colleagues a key secret ingredient to innovation in the workplace? When it’s reciprocal in a team that enjoys mutual respect, it’s a sign of authentic trust. When evaluating any team, I always look for signs that they have a good time with each other and don’t take themselves too seriously. In my view, it’s a pivotal key to success.

The play hard part of the equation is important too. Valen’s parent company, Insurity, just rolled out new core values – and one of them is to Celebrate Together. We fully embrace that value at Valen, and just last week had a memorable outing to celebrate record-breaking sales growth in 2017. We enjoyed a real treat staying at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, tore it up at bowling and the singing piano bar, the Golden Bee. The next morning, while a tad slow from the previous evening’s festivities, we enjoyed an incredible private tour at the USOC Training Facility from their VP of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, Charlie Huebner. Given the Olympics just kicked off, the timing and meaning of the visit was special.

For next week’s #MondayMotivation, I’ll share leadership insights from Charlie Huebner that will inspire you – he is remarkable. In the meantime, enjoy your #FunFriday with some good-natured humor with your team members! It just might catapult your company into an industry leader.

Kirstin Marr is CMO of Valen Analytics and has a passion for building great tech companies and promoting the impact of the brightest marketing professionals.