Employee Spotlight

THE POWER
OF TRUST & KNOWLEDGE

– MY JOURNEY OF BUILDING WINNING TEAMS

Article by: Sari Tolosa

Leadership can be a booming presence, a ‘leading the charge’ approach with panache and pomp or it may be a single clear voice of reason and conviction in a sea of uncertainty. I am the latter - the leader that climbs into the trenches of discovery, learning with my teams, guiding them through the process, with the determined commitment in our collective growth and success. It is this style of leadership that led me to successfully mentor and grow the Latin American teams at Blanc Labs.

I’ll be honest: my transition to Blanc Labs was filled with apprehension as I was coming from a much larger company. I was hired as Head of the Project Manager Office and this was my chance to apply my knowledge and build and grow a small team of three people to a unified band of 20. While I wondered what I got myself into, I realized that in front of me, was a tremendous opportunity, to grow as a leader.

Leading through Agility

Agile was the answer to my question. My goal was to implement a Delivery Agile Framework at Blanc Labs. The Agile Manifesto declares that we value “people over processes, working products over comprehensive documentation, team collaboration over contract negotiation and responding to change over an intial plan.” It is about building an incremental product to always provide value to the client and working with a cross functional team to achieve sprint by sprint the desired results of the project.

In the words of Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, it is a way of “organizing human endeavour”. The term Scrum originated from Rugby where the team works together to advance the ball. “Careful alignment, unity of purpose, and clarity of goal come together. At it’s root, Scrum is based on a simple idea: whenever you start a project, regularly check in, see if what you’re doing is leading in the right direction, and if it’s actually what people want.” If there are improvements to be made, identify and eliminate the roadblocks.

From a project oversight perspective, there are three main roles in our Delivery Agile Framework that works with the cross functional team: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Business Analyst. You could potentially perform all these three roles at once, and I have successfully done so. The product owner defines the product, speaks to the business stakeholders, confirms the business priority, and defines the tech requirements. The Scrum Master orchestrates everything from organising and conducting the ceremonies, setting the meetings, providing people with what they need and removing any obstacles of the project. The business analyst is the link between the product owner and the technical team wherein they extract, anticipate, evaluate, safeguard, simplify, and manage the technical requirements of the project.

The idea with Agile is to keep the project moving and never stop. Though the team did have an agile framework in place, they would work for 2 weeks (sprints or short-term timeframes of work) and stop for 1 week to plan and after which they would begin another sprint before stopping again to make adjustments and adapt the product. True agile never stops delivering a product that is usable.

I knew Agile. Technically, I was ready for this when I first began my career at Blanc Labs. I was trained and certified and working on the Scrum Agile Framework for more than 7 years at that time. I remember our CTO asking me to prepare the framework and when I presented it to him, he replied, “You don’t need to review this with me. You are an expert. This is why we hired you.” I was so happy. The company believed in me. That trust gave me the motivation to begin my journey in not only introducing a new framework that was going to change the way we did business, but in uniting a team and preparing them for the next stages of growth. Agile to me, has always been about people and I care about people.

Leading through ownership

I’m a strong person. If I want something done a certain way, I do not hesitate in letting that be known and I don’t sit in it – I’m decisive. Above all, I value respect – from our team members, the leads and our clients. So I began to organize the team and train them and any resistance that I faced at the beginning slowly evaporated as the team began to trust me and my leadership. When things were hard, I was even more determined to focus and never give up.

The culture that I slowly built in the team is about being helpful, collaborative, self organized autonomous and responsive. We don’t do things just to deliver them. There is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment and that is infectious. The validation of a job done well is what I expect when I put in the effort and when my team puts in the effort.

Good leadership isn’t just providing support but to recognize your work, supporting you through it, empowering you to take ownership of what you do, come to your defence when things don’t go well, and teaching you how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. People trust me and I’m invested in them. I plan team initiatives, educational or social, to engage everyone and make them feel like we’re all part of a tribe. We are a unit and that is important to me.

My career values permeate into my personal life. I am a competitive person and I like to do things well. I like to run 3-5 kms. It’s a great way to clear my head and set my day in order. I also enjoy time with my family. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d travel a lot more, but these days you’ll find me catching up on movies at home or cooking a great meal. In everything I do, there is a focus on delivering excellence and leveraging systematic approaches to organize thought, creation, and delivery.

Leading in the future

When I think about the type of leadership that resonates with me and the type of leader I want to be always, the phrases: “lead by example” and “always be prepared” come to mind. If you are a good person, you transmit that to your team. Every team is a reflection of the qualities of their leader. I have been very fortunate that I have had great leaders in my life – always. They have helped me and empowered me. This is what I want to pass on to the future. The ability to be autonomous, to take ownership of your role, to relish it. Opportunities come when you are prepared. My advice to future leaders is to be prepared, be strong and stay focused on what is most important and true to your principles.

It is amazing what the power of trust, knowledge and mentorship with the overlaying value of respect can accomplish in building winning teams and leading the successful delivery of tech solutions. I gained trust through my knowledge of Agile, earned my team’s respect and that respect is absolutely reciprocated. It is this mutual regard that has taken us to new levels and will continue to propel us, I am confident, to new heights in growth and success.

I welcome you to explore the guiding principles at Blanc Labs that has empowered my path to success and leadership.

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