Centaur Stage is a weekly video series produced by Cosmic Centaurs, and this second season is all about the magic of teams. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 3:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs, is joined by incredible guests who share insights, opinions, and perspectives about what makes teams cohesive, high-performing, and happy.
This season is structured in four chapters, and the first one is all about team dynamics. For the last episode of this chapter, Marilyn hosted David Munir Nabti, CEO & GM of Bloom EMEA. In their conversation, Marilyn and David explored the topic of nurturing teams, discussing the importance of values and purpose, learning and experimenting in teams, as well as happiness and well-being at work.
Watch the full episode here.
About David Munir Nabti
David Munir Nabti, (referred to as Munir in this part of the world), was a returning guest. Last July, in the Future of Teams Conference Warm Up Special, Marilyn spoke to 2 team leaders (or captains as we like to call them) about their ability to successfully lead their teams even during the most challenging of times and Munir had a lot to share about the topic.
Today, Munir supports economic transformation efforts via entrepreneurship, tech, social entrepreneurship, and public sector innovation. He co-founded Bloom, an organization that runs online and hybrid entrepreneurship programs in 7 MENA countries and builds tools for SMEs and accelerators and other project-based learning programs. Munir is affiliated with the AltCity non-profit organization which launched in 2015 with related efforts going back to 2008. Since 2016, these efforts have engaged around 500 to 600 enterprises and helped top SMEs raise over $5m in follow-on financing. Programs include collaborations with the EU, UNICEF, the Global Forum on Migration & Development, Asfari Foundation, Alfanar, the UK FCO, Swiss SDC, telecom/cell providers, banks, Techstars, and universities including MIT, Stanford, AUB, and Lebanese University, amongst others. He graduated from UC Berkeley in Political Science and International Economics, and previously worked for the UN/FAO, Stanford University (Graduate Program in Journalism), Google, and the UC Berkeley Service-Learning Research and Development Center.
About the Topic
Happiness at work is something that both Marilyn and Munir are passionate about.
To Marilyn, wanting to create happier workplaces is a meaningful enough pursuit in and of itself. Marilyn often shares that she created Cosmic Centaurs because she herself wanted to be part of an organization where she would be happy coming to work every day. And the bottom line is that not only are happier workplaces, happier, but they are also more productive, impactful and innovative: a 2019 study by Oxford found that workers are 13% more productive when they're happy, but some estimations evaluate the productivity boost to be up to 21%.
Purpose & Values
Marilyn kicked off the episode by sharing a quote from Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand in an HBR article: “Purpose is the key to motivation—and motivated employees are the key to realizing your purpose. Get this symbiotic relationship right, and your organization will thrive”. She asked Munir about Bloom's purpose and how he makes sure that his team members are aligned to it.
Munir answered that by communicating their mission and values online, they strive to attract people who are similarly mission oriented and really excited about what they’re working on - and that is created to have a positive impact economically in the MENA region. Those people won’t just ‘fit’, they will also contribute to developing and enriching the organization’s purpose further. He clarified, “As the world changes and as our organization changes, we want to keep growing, learning, and evolving with each new input. The team that comes on board is definitely one of the most important inputs, we don't just want them to comply with the vision of the founders. We want them to come and help us all collectively learn and grow”.
Marilyn wondered, “Whether it's in the recruiting process or in the ongoing team life, how do you engage people around those values?”
Munir highlighted the importance of celebrations, being aligned in the same direction as the team grows, and the empowerment of the creativity and individuality of each person - really helping everyone on the team experiment more, creating space to have multiple leaders on the team. He mentioned that they are currently using a process to align on organizational objectives, called the four disciplines of execution. By trickling down the main objectives from the organization, to the teams and then to the individuals, It helps team members get excited about accomplishing things, experimenting, and having flexibility. By keeping everyone aligned, this process enables creativity and independence.
Uniformity & Diversity of Values
Marilyn raised a question from the audience, about whether team members need to have the same personal values as the team and organization.
For Munir, the answer is yes and no. He said that there are some core foundational values that need to be shared, such as respect, support, positivity, not being negative, not demeaning others, not being racist or sexist. Beyond that, there are organizational values that are great to share, but to some extent it’s not necessary for all of them to be shared. Munir elaborated, “I actually think it's better when not everyone is the same. Having diversity on the team, with people bringing in different opinions, different life experiences, and different cultural upbringing, is really helpful, especially if you're trying to build an organization that has relevance in many different cultures and places. You even want to nurture that, you want to learn and see how that helps everything become richer because of some of those differences. As long as there are enough shared elements, you can be a really positive team working together”.
Marilyn agreed with Munir, and shared her experience with her team when four new members joined, and they ran an exercise about values where they got to discuss what those words meant to them, and how they would express them on a day to day basis. Not everyone felt as strongly about all of the values of Cosmic Centaurs, and some values generated a constructive debate within the team.
Team Members as Leaders
Taking another question from the audience, Marilyn asked how Munir makes team members feel like leaders.
Munir answered that his organization is at a slightly odd interim phase: it is too big for people to be working on everything closely together, yet too small to have departments and Vice Presidents. There are teams and clusters or subgroups, and Munir wants to empower people to be leaders by helping them experiment and grow, regardless of how many people they manage.
Munir went on to explain, “I think one of the hardest things that organizations deal with is around clarity and delegation. When you're really small, then it often happens, and it is often necessary for the Founder or the Co-founders to be working in all of the different areas. As you grow, both Co-founders or leaders don't want to be involved in everything- and it is not possible for them to be If you're hiring people who are good, you really want to nurture and support their strengths, and realize that they can do some things better than you can do in that domain”. He reminded the audience of the importance of being aligned, and added that for the next few months he is going to spend 80% less time with his team members on their work. Instead he wants to support them and help them grow, which can only happen by getting out of their way and focusing on what only he can do to help the organization.
Lessons from Leadership
Raising another question from the audience, Marilyn asked Munir if he had any stories or anecdotes to share about an instance when he learned a meaningful lesson about leadership from one of his team members.
Munir spoke about how he learned about balancing time. As he mentioned earlier, he is trying to spend less time with the team on the team tasks, however he is trying to spend more time on one-on-ones with team members - as that feedback and reflection is very important, and helps him in evolving the organization.
He then said there isn’t a moment where you just “get the culture right”, and elaborated: “The world is constantly evolving. The team is evolving, the situation is evolving, the seasons are evolving. So you need to keep adapting. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing when it starts getting darker, people's moods change. How do we respond to that? If you figure out whatever is the perfect thing for this time, in a month or three months later, that thing could be old and stagnant.”
He said, “It’s about having an ongoing process of knowing how to keep things fresh and dynamic, and really help everyone feel like we're regularly growing and learning. There is no perfect, but there is great for the moment. I think perfect is just really being responsive and evolving as both life and the team evolve.”
Marilyn asked: “You have a very supportive learning environment. Talk to us about how you facilitate learning for your teams? Do you have clear processes and practices? What are the ways in which you keep yourselves moving, and stay aware of your context while learning how to do things in new ways?”
Munir talked about the various rituals that they have in place. His team writes daily reviews about what they have learned and what challenges they are facing. By doing so, he wants to encourage them to think about what they’ve learned and share it with others. It also helps him learn how he can support them through those challenges, whether they are related to work or not. He mentioned that they have a learning channel on Slack. They also have regular reflection sessions after events and program cycles, to learn how they can keep improving, and that team members sometimes take company sponsored courses. Munir said, “The world is evolving quickly, the work in each domain is evolving, we wanna see how to evolve as fast if not faster, so we can be a positive contributor to these learning trends, and not just be reactive.”
Happiness at Work
Marilyn moved onto the next topic - happiness at work- a passion that she shares with Munir. She mentioned a data point from a 2018 AT Kearney survey led by Siegel + Gate, which found that there is a joy “gap” at work - while 90% of respondents said that they expect to experience a substantial degree of joy at work, only 37% reported that such was their actual experience. She then asked Munir, “What are your thoughts about happiness at work, why is it important to you?”
Munir started by talking about how happiness is important because it makes life more enjoyable, and people feel more productive and energized at work. It also helps people learn better. He then shared a story about how humor can help overcome trauma, an insight he gained from a program they started running before the Beirut Blast, and continued after: “Humor is really a really powerful way to deal with trauma and to overcome it, because we can learn and grow from experiences that are sometimes beyond our control. That way, we can convert them into positive life experiences, things that we can grow from, and not just get brought down by. We work to cultivate those things.”
He then shared some of the fun activities that he and his team take part in: they sometimes play music and use props to freshen things up, and now that they have gone into a hybrid work model, they have started organizing hiking trips, and are headed to Istanbul for a team retreat.
Regularity, Habits, & Experimentation
Marilyn then mentioned that as a leader, you need discipline to always be on top of the various activities, rituals, and new ideas that are required to keep the organization alive. She asked Munir how he stays on top of things?
Munir uses a calendar for habits that are repeated daily, weekly, or monthly. Him and his team also use reminders on the platform they have built in Bloom. Regularity takes effort, and he often thinks about how to implement it in a way that works. “Maybe I need to remind people more frequently, maybe I need to put it on the calendar, maybe it's a combination of these things”, he said. He elaborated that building habits takes time, reminders, and efforts, and highlighted the importance of experimenting.
Munir explained, “If this is something that is important for you as an organization, don't give up, keep experimenting until you get it right. Even when you get it right, there's still going to be experimenting to keep evolving it. That's just the nature of building an organization.”
Marilyn agreed with his point of view - “I think that openness to the fact that the world is always changing and this change is good and is an opportunity instead of constraint is actually amazing.”
Marilyn then asked Munir about Bloom’s webinars and overall content focus on the issue of well-being - why did he choose this theme, and how do the people that he supports benefit from these initiatives.
Munir shared that the town he grew up in, in Silicon Valley, and the school he went to, had higher rates of depression than the general US average. He also found out that the Lebanese village his family is from, also has higher rates of depression than the average in Lebanon. This led him to realize that places that have higher expectations of success, education, and impact, tend to also have higher rates of depression.
Another insight was that entrepreneurs tend to have higher rates of depression than the general population, as the choice of starting something can add a lot of pressure and stress.
Munir said, “As things got more difficult in the world and in Lebanon, we realized that we needed to double down and triple down, because this [well-being] is really important for our community, for our team, and for the future of our country and region. As this was affecting lots of people, we realized that people can be more generous and supportive of their communities and their teams when they are also taking care of themselves. You can't give if you've totally depleted yourself.”
The one thing every team needs is…”Hugs! If you’re virtual, then virtual hugs.”
The one thing a team needs to avoid…”Negativity and toxicity”
A good team leader is…”A listener”
What’s your favorite team ritual?...”All hands call on Mondays, and our other daily calls and really quick check-ins”.