Be the Change: How Fraunhofer spin-offs can become high-impact teams
Fraunhofer researchers have an outstanding expertise and technology portfolio - but to turn these assets into successful companies, they need to develop skills and mindsets beyond tech and theory. Lisa Gius is team development coach in the AHEAD program and works with AHEAD teams on their »social launch momentum«: teamdesign and teambuilding for successful young companies. We spoke with her about the challenges of Fraunhofer spin-offs and the special »joy of development« that drives researchers in the start-up process.
Lisa, how did you get into professional team development? What can you bring to the table?
I originally studied economics. During my studies and several internships, it became clear to me that a key success factor for teams and projects is given far too little attention: How people work and communicate with each other – though team success stands and falls with the people.
I wanted to find solutions to this glaring deficit of many conservative business structures, so the first thing I did was to turn my own studies and career around. My future focus should be on the human factor and collaboration. Thus, the classical study of economics turned a focus on business psychology and my projects became team development or leadership development. With additional training in holistic coaching, I then deepened my personal coaching approach.
The Team Readiness Level is a core focus of the AHEAD program. Why are these soft factors so important for start-ups?
Because they are not soft factors, even the contrary: with a vivid team, you can overcome almost any challenge - with a team that doesn't really work together, you are very likely to fail, even if the technology is perfect and the expertise outstanding.
Good teams outgrow themselves and are much more than just the sum of individual skills and talents. Take an example from the world of sports: Italy became European soccer champion this year because they were the best team, even though many players were not among the best of the tournament. If it had been up to the skills of the individual players, the Spanish, English or Germans would have won the title.
However, team building is not a finished process, but one of permanent reflection and improvement. Only when teams achieve this team dynamic, they can develop their full potential. A team that lives this active communication and learning culture, continuously improves itself and grows from the common challenges. That’s what we call a high-impact team. High impact means that teams integrate the diversity of competencies and personalities without trimming the personalities and develop a powerful, positive momentum of their own out of discussions and controversies, which we accompany iteratively.
How do you implement teambuilding in the AHEAD program?
We start with the individual personalities, because you can only develop a team into the best possible dynamic if each individual recognizes himself /herself, his / her motives, his / her strengths and weaknesses. Clear motives of individuals are crucial for a motivating and inspiring team culture and are therefore on the agenda of our program from day one. Knowing your real »Why« also decides whether teams will spin out, license, or remain in their research jobs and enter into collaborations with startups for technology exploitation. On this basis, we find out whether the teams have the necessary skill and competence set for their particular challenge and create longer-term team development plans or look for the right personalities to compensate identified deficits. In the AHEAD program, we have developed a parallel coaching process for our teams as part of our regular check-ins. Our goal for the future is to provide each team with a permanent team coach who can be called in as needed - this would be a real USP for our AHEAD program that few comparable concepts can offer.
What special challenges, that teambuilding poses for Fraunhofer scientists?
In addition to their outstanding technical expertise, researchers also bring with them many characteristics that predestine them for agile working in start-up mode: They usually have a basic curiosity, do not allow themselves to be fobbed off with commonplaces, but want to understand systematics and also act on them if concepts or feedback seem plausible to them. They are usually very grateful for valuable insights, even if they force them to change. It is this special »joy of development« that distinguishes the teams that make it into the AHEAD program.
Of course, there are also special challenges in the high-tech and deep-tech areas: Our teams are very diverse. Many researchers often work together with finance or sales experts for the first time. Combining these different perspectives into a lively and progressive work culture is a challenge - but one that motivates me every time I see teams turn diversity into a strength and develop that special energy with which they really create »high-impact« together.
Thank you Lisa, for your time and insights – see you on the Bootcamp!