This is a story about Teampreneur´s (entrepreneur+team member) Power Field, Finnish Summer and enthusiasm for learning and team working.
From the book ”Tiimiakatemia – How to Grow into a Teampreneur” (Timo Lehtonen 2012)
It’s been a hot day. All morning the sun blazed in a cloudless sky, but now little drifts of cotton- white are gathering over the lake. I took several breaks while kayaking, and I went ashore on a few islands on the way. I love diving from a cliff and swimming deep, where the water is many degrees colder than on the surface. Occasionally I just floated in my life jacket for long periods, as the water supported my relaxed body. I was in no hurry. I made coffee in a sooty pot over a fire. Now it’s evening, and I’m camping at one of the many island camp sites built to serve boaters on the lake Puulavesi.
There’s chopped firewood, room for a tent, and a tidy outhouse here. I pitched my tent a little farther away from the shore on an amazing moss mattress. The soft moss actually made my sleeping pad unnecessary. It’s the third night of my short summer holiday. I set out in my canoe on Monday, and I’m going to spend the whole week out here. June and July sped by while I was working on my team’s summer project. I often worked around the clock and sometimes all weekend, but now it’s time for a holiday! After a challenging year at Tiimiakatemia, my body and mind need restoration, and my experiences start to ripen into thoughts, insights, and memories. For this, I need solitude.
It’s interesting that my thoughts about Tiimiakatemia and my team follow me everywhere I go – here, too. They’re deep in my subconscious, and they surface suddenly as if someone were yanking them up with a rope. Then they sink back down and disappear. Perhaps Tiimiakatemia is on the uppermost layer of my life right now, along with the people there. In the future, that space will most surely be taken over by something else, and these lived years will follow me as know-how, skills, attitudes and a way of thinking about things, situations and people. It probably isn’t larger than life, but it’s definitely the very life that I’ve been hoping for. I walk into the water, up to my neck, and only my head is on the surface. Far off in the horizon I see a lonely kayaker heading straight for my island. The sun is low in that direction, so at first I can only make out the blades of
the paddle taking turns making spraying arches in the air. The blades don’t make a sound as they slide into the water.
The stranger’s paddling technique looks good. He doesn’t only use his arms, but his whole body from the stomach up twists in the direction of the stroke while the opposite side leg supports the movement under the spray skirt. He lets the kayak slide through the water at its hull speed, not forcing it faster, thus minimizing drag. The bow slices through the calm surface of the lake, just like it’s supposed to do. I don’t recognize the kayaker as he slides past a few metres off, greeting me in a friendly manner. His cheerfully yellow cap fits his tanned skin and orange kayaking life vest. His long, thick, blond hair has been bleached by the sun, and I can see some strands of grey here and there. A couple of strong strokes and the kayak slides high enough on the sand that he can step out without getting his feet wet.
We chat and share our day’s travel accounts. We note that both of us have a long journey behind us, and that we haven’t had much to eat. I have a petrol cooker, a couple of kettles, and two kilos of potatoes with me, so I suggest that we roast some sausages on the fire and boil some new potatoes. My idea sounds good, but he says that he has something even better in his kayak. He digs out a one-kilo lake trout that he caught in the afternoon. It’s a beautiful fish, and it only takes a moment to clean it. Soon we have fillets stuck with wooden pegs on a board, slowly cooking by the fire. The petrol cooker is burning hard, trying to bring the potatoes to a boil.
“You’re from Tiimiakatemia, aren’t you?” he asks suddenly.
“Yes, I am,” I answer. “I just completed my first year, and my second year is coming on strong. How did you know? I mean, we haven’t even introduced ourselves properly yet. Could you see an invisible stamp on my forehead?”
He smiles, shifts the fish fillets closer to the embers, and supports the boards with rocks.
“Let me see,” I say, scrutinizing the stranger. “You’re a skilled kayaker, traveller and outdoor- person. I can see that you’ve been able to spend the summer outdoors and in the sun. But that’s all I can say about you.”
I let my words hover in the air along with the smoke from the fire. The answer lingers, but finally he says, “I’m a coach.”
I’ve never met him, so he’s not one of us at Tiimiakatemia. I’m not sure how to continue. Finally I come up with a sophisticated question, “Are you a coach with a capital or lower-case C?”
“Excellent question, but I don’t want to answer it,” he says. “You have to decide for yourself.”
A big chunk of butter, boiled new potatoes, a little sprinkle of dill and a piece of trout from the board, seasoned with a little crushed sea salt. The taste is heavenly. I try to banish my hunger slowly, savouring the meal, so that every forkful carries me toward fullness, but I don’t get stuffed. The wine is French, bought from a vineyard in Angers. The vinedresser gets up in the middle of the night, when the moon is in the right position, and creeps into his cellar to turn the bottles in a precisely determined position so that the wine matures in the right way and gets its unique taste. There was once a Tiimiakatemia in that village, but then it was reborn in Strasbourg. The wine is cool – the perfect temperature – because it has travelled all day below the water level, at the bottom of the kayak. After our maritime dinner, we sit down on the sand to eat some strawberries. Because the night is cool, the coach is wearing a big wool sweater, looking fresh, like a happy mermaid.
The Teampreneur’s Power Field
“Have you ever come to think that at Tiimiakatemia, you’re living in a kind of Teampreneur’s power field that looks like a starfish, or perhaps the mandala pattern?” he asks. “It has eight points, and the opposite points form pairs, energizing each other.”
I watch carefully as he draws a big, eight-pointed star on the sand.
In this first pair, one point is the individual, and the other point is the team.
“You must know by experience that becoming a team takes a lot of time and shared challenges,” the coach says. “That’s why inspiring successes and bitter failures are important. Without work and emotion, the team gradually regresses into a mere chatting group of friends. In such a case, individuals don’t really commit to anything and are active in the group only when it serves their own interests.”
“How much time should you give to the team, and how firmly should you commit to the team’s objectives?” I ask.
“The team’s results depend on how the individual members are committed to it,” the coach an- swers. “There are often pseudo team members who know how to appear as good team players and fruitful workers, but they’re actually free riders. They often have good social skills, but they’re really playing an individual game, motivated by their own, personal interests and benefits. You need to be able to identify such pseudo team members and bring their true motives out in the open.”
“I’ve noticed that in the long run, team members that at first seem quiet, shy, and introverted, can prove to be very social and committed team players,” I say. “Talkative people take a lot of space, but down-to-earth, silent workers get a lot done and can be very skilled and diligent team players. Right from the start, I’ve been wondering what it is that’s so attractive about team work. A lot of people say that it’s much easier to work alone, and that the results are better, too. And I’ve seen that our team can often be inefficient, and we don’t achieve much.”
“Exactly: here in the middle is the individual and his or her personal desire to learn by doing and reading,” the coach says. “Together, people with the right attitude form a team with performance that can be, at its best, much more than the sum of the individuals’ performance. At its worst, the team’s performance can collapse. It is a group phenomenon in which friction and poor organiza- tion cause inefficiency, at least in the early stages of the team.”
“So we’re looking for a balance, a win-win situation for both the individual and the team,” I say, summarizing my thoughts.
In the second pair, one point is theory, and the opposite point is practice. You can generate practical skills through practice and the theories and teachings you read.”
“My coach has said that theory has a significant role in learning,” I say. “She said that it’s good to study already crystallized knowledge that opens new viewpoints and ideas through a carefully planned reading program. However, theory doesn’t come alive or turn into a moving power until it’s applied into practice. This helps you really adopt what you’ve read and improves your work. Your level of learning rises to the power of two.”
My new friend has heard that we all have an ambitious reading program with the goal of 120 book points. That’s quite a challenge.
“Have you been told that those book point goals are part of Nonaka & Takeuchi’s theory of knowledge, in which knowledge and learning take on four different forms, arenas and viewpoints?” the coach asks. “This adds depth to learning, and different characters to knowledge.”
I’m still a bit unfamiliar with those “Siamese twins” and their teachings. But I do know that each one of us has already acquired tacit knowledge and professional know-how in many different fields, even before our studies. However, we still often start off from almost nothing. The team members’ beliefs and mental models are also still hidden.
“Have you noticed that, compared with traditional schools, learning arenas at Tiimiakatemia are broad and challenging?” the coach asks, looking a bit excited about our conversation.
“Yeah, doing and experiencing things together is important,” I say. “Our skills and knowledge are first revealed at our home base, the office, where there’s lots of discussion in the early stages. But in my experience, the interaction is still quite reserved, seeking direction and a shared understanding, or what do you think?”
I take the last and largest strawberry from the punnet.
“That’s right,” he says. “I’m sure there are ‘masters’ in every team, who have more knowledge and experience of teams, work, and business than the others. They become the unofficial leaders and opinion influencers in the early stages of the team, but they don’t necessarily ever become team leaders or members of the management group.”
“Team members share knowledge and experiences more formally in the form of debate, pon- dering, metaphors and stories at training sessions,” I put in. “Our goal is to find a shared under- standing of the issues at hand and creative conclusions, and to shape the knowledge into a form that’s easy for everyone to understand. We make a memo of every training session, and every team member summarizes the most important things they learn in their learning diary.”
“That’s how it goes at Tiimiakatemia,” the coach says. “Building a theoretical framework of knowledge is the individual’s responsibility. As far as I know, every team member has to read around 60-80 books during their studies, which I respect very highly.”
“I don’t think reading books is all that difficult,” I say. “It’s easy to find good books, and many of them are very interesting. For me, the biggest challenge is writing essays about them. They’re supposed to be personal documents that reflect on the acquired thoughts and ideas. Perhaps I’m too critical about my own writing, and it makes it all the more painful that everyone can read the essays in Tiimiakatemia’s Essay Bank. Learners read and comment on each other’s essays a lot, and they can be written and read together in reading sets.”
“Well, hey, the only way to learn reflective writing is by writing,” the coach says. “Books are an excellent user interface. Nothing has been able to replace them yet. The Internet is a good comple- mentary source of information, but it can’t be the only one. Books help you understand the ‘big picture’, and they bring out information ‘unchewed’, and usually in a rather reliable form. Just think how much valuable documentation a community the size of Tiimiakatemia produces, written and recorded in many different forms – and the knowledge is available for everyone. In your case, you can really speak of a learning organization that produces, analyses, shares, makes use of, and ap- plies knowledge, and can build systemic entities from individual issues, information, and theories.”
I gaze at the empty strawberry punnet. There’s nothing more to share there, but the coach seems to have a way with words and summarization. Too bad he can’t conjure more strawberries.
“Essays can’t really be mere reflections of the contents of a book,” I say. “They should also tell how the obtained knowledge has been applied into practice in the team company and different projects. I take it that’s what you mean with the word pair ‘theory and practice’. We’ve tried to do it the other way around, too – creating our own theories and models from our practical experiences.
It’s really fun! Once some older team members built a hermeneutic circle out of a Pringles tube, a stick of wood, and a paper spiral. The stick went through the spiral, and you could move it inside the tube. It depicted the development of a team member’s leadership skills in a restrictive corporate culture. The team member’s skills developed on the spiral to a higher level, but on every new level, he or she bumped into the same old problems. Making the model had other benefits, too: first we had to eat the Pringles and borrow a support stick from a lady’s yucca.”
The coach laughs heartily, and I can’t keep my face serious either.
“If I recall correctly, there was a guy named Nixon making the model,” I give one more interest- ing detail. “Not the old president, but a Junior Finnish Champion in hammer throw!”
The coach apologizes for taking my time to test his model. It doesn’t bother me because our dialogue is helping me organize my thoughts and experiences of the past year.
We’re already at the third pair, and the night is still young. I think this one’s the most fun: How can the team help turn an individual member’s creativity into an innovation?
“I’ve given a lot of thought to innovations and their creation in communities,” the coach says. “Your teams could be incredibly good at this, even though individuals are the most vulnerable and sensitive to criticism in the beginning. Bodil Jönssön (2002) described this beautifully: the same principle applies to both physics (innovation) and poetry – no darkness is powerful enough that it couldn’t be conquered by one little light. This doesn’t apply to places where thoughts meet and interact, because darkness can easily smother the light, as it often does. Two kinds of ideas are particularly vulnerable to darkness or desolation: first of all, the new-born ideas that have barely taken shape before they shyly come out; and secondly, the ideas that are so provocative that it takes courage to speak them out loud. They demand a lot of strengthening feedback, or they’ll blow themselves out.”
“That was a beautiful metaphor,” I say. “I do feel that my creativity and creative productions are very personal. That’s a great description of an idea that burns with such a small, flickering flame that it’s easy to blow out. That can happen to anybody. If you reveal your ideas to others, you’re placing yourself under scrutiny, open to criticism. The budding excitement, putting yourself on the line, and bold stepping forward can lead either to emotional bankruptcy and smothering the flame, or at its best, to a team innovation, when the whole team blows the flame into a blaze.”
“Do many beginning team members already have their own business idea that they want to develop in their team?” the coach asks.
“Often they do, yes, but sharing your business idea isn’t easy,” I answer. “It’s like a little baby that you want to cherish and raise on your own.”
“But working in a team broadens your perspectives, doesn’t it?” he asks. “Through a painful growth process, ‘me thinking’ evolves into ‘we thinking’ when the internal obstacles for teamwork are overcome. You realize that your dreams and plans can come true with the help of the team. Team discipline helps you set clear objectives for your business idea and to carry it out in practice. Team-mates are an excellent workforce and know-how resource when the business idea is launched and when it’s making a real breakthrough on the market.”
“We’ve thought about that a lot,” I say. “We understand that you learn to be a Teampreneur in your team company, but if someone wants to develop their business idea alone, it’s a completely new situation. It’s mainly about your attitude. Top products and services are seldom created in a
researcher’s chamber. Few of us even have the money or resources to invest in product develop- ment. With the support of teams, many incredible business ideas have been invented and put into practice. Panu Remes saw wood discs thrown away beside a tree stump, which gave him the idea of diagonal cross-cuts of a thin birch tree used as plates. They ended up in the presidential palace, as President Tarja Halonen used them to serve food to her state visitors. They’re even sold in Paris.”
“The birth of Jukka Hartikainen’s Muutosryhmä Oy was strongly influenced when the team was helping with the first massive superstore renovation in Mikkeli,” I give another example. “Johanna Soilu’s Fashion Unit organizes Fashion Days that are noted on the national level. This event concept was created together with her team-mates, through experiments. Anu Mantere’s Zestmark is help- ing marginalized young adults with the training program she developed. Tiimiakatemia teams have created interior design and clothes stores, advertising agencies, and studios.”
“Are you really claiming that an individual can actually work in a team and, at the same time, develop his or her own business idea?” the coach asks in a challenging tone.
“Yes, it’s possible,” I answer. “However, we believe that running a business alone isn’t as fun as running one with a team. Team members have to digest the crust around their ideas and share them. Only then can the others be of help and bring their own input to the table. This is also a special power field where an individual’s business idea gets an additional kick and energy from the team, and the team company offers a good platform to start the business. In this case, it’s a resource, not a hindrance.”
Hey, this brings us at last to the final pair: How can enthusiastic dabbling create real business?
“The Teampreneurs at Tiimiakatemia get excited about everything and boldly put their hands on the plough, don’t they?” the coach says. “But I’ve often wondered if your operations are ever more than mere dabbling. Are you really accomplishing anything? I believe it’s really nice to spend time in your pleasant facilities, surf the web, brainstorm and make awesome plans for future projects.”
That is definitely true. It’s nice to stay in your comfort zone, and you experience stress and pow- erlessness in the discomfort zone, but it’s not all that bad at Tiimiakatemia.
“Well, that danger is definitely real, and the Fatboys are very comfortable,” I say. “But our coach has explained to us the team’s tasks quite thoroughly. We know how to get good results. We need disciplined work. When someone makes an initiative, we have to further develop the idea together. A lot of dialogue is needed before everyone understands what it’s about and commits to the project. We proceed in the following order:
- The initiative or great idea of a team member
- Developing the idea into something viable
- Organizing and planning the work: schedules, tasks and responsibilities
- Production and piloting
- Control and monitoring
- Renewing and product development
In addition, there’s always someone in our team who takes responsibility for budgeting and fi- nances.”
“Are you really so disciplined that you can actually abide by that list?” the coach asks.
“Well, I’m not saying that the work always proceeds exactly in that order, or that we can get through all the tasks successfully,” I answer. “Some of the ideas never take off; some become plans; and a small portion of the project, product and service ideas are realized and piloted. That’s how it works in the corporate world, too. Our advantage is that we can boldly experiment with all kinds of things because we have the support of the community and our team. Experiments are encouraged, and failure is part of the process.”
I gaze out on the lake. A local is rowing along, pulling a lure. The lake is calm as a mirror. Here and there, vigorously leaping fish break the surface. Some of them fall on their sides, and we can hear little splashes. On the neighbouring island, there’s a cottage and a sauna with smoke rising from the chimney. Steaming sauna-bathers jump in the lake off the dock, splash around for a while, and head back into the sauna. I can make out the sounds of sauna-whisking. I start when the coach kills two blood-thirsty mosquitoes with one smack. He looks satisfied.
“How well do you know your finances?” he asks. “Do you learn book-keeping and accounting, or are the businesses so small that it’s not necessary?”
“Our businesses aren’t small, that’s for sure,” I say. “Last year, we broke our two-million-euro revenue objective, and this year, the total revenue of all Tiimiakatemia teams seems to be growing. I don’t know why people doubt our financial know-how. Everyone has to price their products and services. Value-added tax also has to be taken into account. We learn to make invoices and to col- lect our claims. Budgeting and monitoring expenses aren’t problems, either: we know how to do sound business and to save. We make both team and project-level budgets, and we monitor our cash flow. We prepare our financial statement together with our accounting firm. We know how to pay salaries and advance taxes. There’s a lot to learn, but we’ve survived the financial side, too. How else could so many of our teams have gone on their Trip Around the World?”
“That sounds good,” the coach exclaims. “Based on this evening, I am happy to state that you have passed the first test, and you can declare your Penguin stage completed. You’re now a Team- preneur, and the power field is opening for you to use in all its wideness. You’ve understood how it works and how to use it. You must remember, though, that life-long learning is always at the core of the power field.”
I’m surprised and taken aback.
“Was this the first year’s test?” I ask. “But Tiimiakatemia doesn’t have exams, lectures, or teach- ers.”
“It doesn’t,” the coach is quick to answer. “That’s why we encounter each other and learn to think and reflect together on a personal level.”
The sun sets beyond the lake, and it gets dim. I’m totally exhausted after a long day of kayaking and the evening’s in-depth dialogue. There’s one more thing that the mysterious coach wants to show me. We get up from the beach, and he digs out an oil lamp from his kayak, fills the bowl and lights it with a long match. The light is yellow and warm. I follow the coach as he walks carefully amidst the rocks of the shoreline and finds a familiar path that leads to the highest point of the island. He walks fast, with his feet barely touching the ground. When I get to the top of the hill, he’s already standing by a big rock, gazing out over the lake.
“Can you see that seagull flying so high that it’s barely visible?” he asks. “It’s a mere speck against the dark sky.”
I search the horizon, and for a moment I doubt that I can see it. Then I make out a little spot in the sky that suddenly plummets toward the water and almost crashes, but just before striking the water it spreads open its wings, levels out, and snatches a fish.
“We call that bird Jonathan Livingstone Seagull,” the coach says. “It always flies and fishes alone.
It’s a real master at it.” He tells me that Tiimiakatemia learners have visited our island before. Years ago, a certain group
paddled here on kayaks, and one evening they climbed this hill to admire the scenery and the sundown.
“On their trips, Tiimiakatemia people have had the habit of naming rocks according to signifi- cant people,” he says. “For example, Etienne Colligno, Tiimiakatemia’s European Ambassador, has his own rock on Kebnekaise in Sweden – ‘at toppen,’ as Johannes has described the place. Coach Lehtonen has his own signature stone in the wall of the Kastelholma castle in Åland.”
“And as you can imagine, this rock on which the oil lamp is burning, was named after Johannes Partanen,” he continues to amaze me. “There’s a little roll of paper in that crack over there. Take it, but don’t open it until the morning.” I put my hand in a little crack under the rock, and I find a piece of paper, nicely rolled, and closed with a seal. We stand silent in the still of the night. Finally we head back to camp with the fragile light of the oil lamp flickering over the path. Our steps downward are careful, groping, as we try to go around the stones and tree roots.
Finally we get back to the field of moss, and the coach pitches his little tent close to the cliff, where it will be sheltered from the morning wind. We hug and tap each other on the shoulders. It’s been a fantastic summer evening, and the sounds of the night gradually take over. I crawl into my sleeping bag and fall asleep.
After a cool night, the sun rises. First it evaporates the moisture from my tent and then its warmth starts gradually descending toward the sleeping Teampreneur. Through my eyelids, I can see the soft light, swarming with stripes, arcs, and circles. It’s time to get up. I peak out of my tent entrance, but I can’t see the coach’s tent. I go to check the place where it had been pitched, but there isn’t a single sign on the moss mattress that anyone had slept on it. I run to the shore. My kayak is still where I pulled it to shore yesterday afternoon.
There’s no sign whatsoever of the visitor’s kayak, even though its bow had climbed high on the sand. The place where we sat talking about the Teampreneur’s power field looks smooth, and the diagram has vanished.
I go back into my tent and lie down, baffled. I’m trying to understand everything we talked about, and what has happened to me during the last year. Then I remember the roll of paper that I found under the rock. I open it and read the text many times:
”19.1.2018 Tiimiakatemia, glocally blasting 4.0. transteampreneur.”
I must take this paper to the coaches in the fall: maybe they’ll understand the cryptic message. But I’d better not tell them anything about my encounter with the Coach – yes, the Coach, with a capital C. Besides, who would believe it – or this whole story, for that matter?