I asked, you chose: this is how to ensure a team’s success

Two weeks ago, I challenged you, my friends, to pick a September resolution for me. You voted (thank you), and I’m pleased to announce the results.

The winner — with 44% of the vote — was “ensure the team’s success”. The question, therefore, is: how do I, as a leader, ensure my team’s success? Both now and in the future. How do I ace my succession plan?

To address this challenge, I naturally turned to my mentor. As many of you know, I’m not based in the UK, but do spend a lot of time here (our developers are at Silicon Roundabout in London) so I managed to persuade IABC UK to let me be part of their flagship mentoring scheme – available to IABC members. I got introduced to the wonderful Constance Marianescu — some of you met her at my session at the IABC World Conference in Montreal. But I digress…

Constance gave me some great advice which can be summarised as L-E-A-D.

L stands for ‘loosen up’. In her experience many bad leaders go for a ‘corset’ management style. That is: loose at the top (they are vague on objectives and goals), tight in the middle (they expect to be cc’d on every email) and loose at the bottom (woolly evaluation and measurement). But surely the ‘reverse corset’ is a more effective technique? Be super tight about the strategy and rules (top) and awesomely accurate on evaluation and standards (bottom), but let your people make decisions — and take responsibility — on implementation.  Hold them accountable for results, not activity. This will help them grow and develop.

E is for ‘expand’. Constance told me that the best learning and development opportunities happen at the liminal zone of people’s experience. That is: at the edge of their comfort zone. Too ‘in the zone’ and it is easy. Too ‘out of the zone’ and no learnings are possible. So expand people’s horizons gently and push them carefully step-by-step.

A is for ‘allow to fail’. Early in my career, I complained that my team checked in with me for everything — they seemed unable to make a decision without me. But Constance told me that it was my fault, not theirs. I should give them responsibility and decision-making power. This means that maybe they will fail or do things in a different way that I would. The key for their success is for me to reward lessons learned, as much as big wins. Sure, I’ll rescue them from a big mistake or doing something illegal. But if it is a minor mistake: let them make it and learn. That’s how they grow.

D is for ‘designate’. Who is your successor? Early in my career I worked in a company which had a policy: no matter how good you are, we won’t promote you unless you have groomed a successor. I know who is ready to take the baton when I pass it on. Do you?


There you are. Four tips on how to make a team successful.

Oh, and by the way, if you would like to have your own mentor, be sure to join IABC and sign up for their mentoring scheme. And of course if you would like to explore these issues — maybe as part of your team’s Christmas party — please get in touch.


How can I become more strategic? – A Carmen Q&A

IMG-20180727-WA0018Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Cari Simmons, Senior Communications Consultant, Worldwide Sales Enablement at Citrix. 

Carmen: Tell me more about your your work?

Cari: I’ve been working with Citrix for five years in October and I’ve always had a communications role. I originally did communications for our Americas sales audience (about 1,000 people in North and South America). In January I moved over into a worldwide position.

We have sellers from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North and South America.

So it’s an interesting transition. It’s definitely been a nice learning experience.

Carmen: That’s great. And when when you you’re not working at Citrix (and not playing Corporate Snakes & Career Ladders)?

Cari: I’m a big Netflix fan. I like to catch up on the latest shows with my husband. My dog is also a key priority in my life. I like taking her on walks.

Carmen: Nice. Now, you participated in our game at #IABC18. Have you been to a World Conference before?

Cari:  This was the first time that I had been! It was awesome.

I would say I went into it pretty blind but it was a great learning experience. I didn’t anticipate that many people from around the world coming to this event. But it was amazing to learn from other people’s experiences about what worked and didn’t work for them in terms of communications.

Carmen: And you also participated in Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. Tell me more about that?

Cari: My manager encouraged me to sign up and go to that conference – and also recommended that I start it off with Snakes and Ladders. I didn’t really think we’d play a game; I thought that was just a description.

But I was very pleasantly surprised when I got there that it wasn’t the typical conference session where you’re sitting down and listening to a panel or somebody speak, and share their perspective for 50 minutes.

It was truly interactive and very eye opening. Not to sugarcoat anything here; but our team was not to the top team… I think that was interesting to see, because it altered my perspective of how I was normally thinking.

Carmen: Interesting, how so?

I needed to shift my perspective a little bit and the Snakes and Ladders really helped me to do that. It helped me start thinking ‘how can I become more strategic?’.

Carmen: That’s great. And then what surprised you the most about the experience?

Really how relatable a lot of the situations were and how different the opinions from people were. I think we had about five people in our group. Some were adamant on one answer and some very set on alternatives. It was interesting to hear the rationale each put behind their approach. We talked about this in the larger group too, agreeing that in real life, sometimes a blend of two answers might work best. And sometimes, also in real life, you might need to blend three answers. So it’s just good to chat and learn about everything.

Carmen: Has your approach at work changed?

Cari: Yeah, I don’t remember all of the classifications but we talked about how you look at different tasks. I think there was a nurse and a physician and stuff like that. So I’ve really taken that to heart and look at how the different tasks that I work on.

That’s helped me execute some tasks on my end better – and it helps gets my message across better to my key stakeholders.

Carmen: What other resources do you draw on to learn?

Cari: I’m always working on expanding my communications knowledge. I love getting different perspectives, and that includes following Carmen Spinoza on Twitter.

Something that we work with a lot here at Citrix is having that growth mindset, which I felt a lot playing a game. You don’t need to be afraid to fail. Sometimes failure helps you – and failure is the way to learn and move into the next step.

I’m going to pitch the game to my manager soon. Our team interest just grew by about 3 folks and I think it would be good for us in a corporate setting with a lot of different stakeholders and people who have their skin in the game. It’ll help us be seen as strategic leaders and partners.

If you would like to learn more about getting a growth mindset, as Cari has, why not connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her @Cari_Swerty 

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.


September is the new January

There’s something about September that makes me think of new clothes and fresh starts. It might be a childhood of going to school in Connecticut, packing my new bags, and wearing new shoes as I walked into a brand new school year. Everything felt possible. Even now, after all these years, come September I go into work with a renewed motivation to make changes, and make a difference to my team, my organization, and my career. Somehow these resolutions feel more realistic than New Year’s ones. So, September is my silent, personal, creative new year.

Now, watching from my window, I feel the season change again and, I wonder: is this is the year where my private resolutions go public?

It is.

This year is different.

This year I have you, my key strategic advisers.

In that vein, here are four September resolutions. And this is where you can help. Tell me which one is most important to you by September 12 I’ll then do some research and on September 17 I will publish the winner and will share expert advice on how to make it happen.

  1. End the war with the Finance team. For almost three years Globocorp’s CFO, Buck Greenback, and I keep going at it. He keeps shooting down all my ideas, dismisses me as the “comms lady” and I feel my blood boil whenever I see him. This must end.
  2. Ensure the team’s long-term success. I have a great time, but how do I make it sustainable when I decide to move on, or get promoted. How do I give them a chance to shine, and develop a talent pipeline?
  3. Spend more time on ‘me’ – I work all hours. I travel all the time which means I never find the time to give back to society after all this privilege. I keep breaking promises to spend time with my nieces; I haven’t spent quality time with my parents. This year it must be different.
  4. Get my CEO to increase my budget. I can see great potential in what comms can do for Globocorp, we could do with a proper rebrand and I’ve always wanted to develop a campaign with women fashion designers. I need to find a way to sell it to my CEO, Isobel Ching.

Which of these are most important? Vote for your favorite then I’ll publish the advice I get on how to make it work.

You can vote for your favourite on my Twitter poll 

Or, As usual you can tweet me (@CarmenSpinoza11), or email or WhatsApp Stephen and Casilda. Or even leave me a note in the comments section.

We’re easy to find.

By VectorOpenStock [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Perfectly you

Last Sunday, in the Qantas business class lounge in Singapore, I spotted the cover of Time Magazine. It read “Perfectly Serena” and had a picture of the most famous working mum of the moment. Unsurprisingly, because I think of you often, my mind turned to my closest strategic advisers. You know who you are, you have helped me harness my professional reputation while choosing what was best for Globocorp: paths that are sometimes — but not always — mutually exclusive.


Serena’s path, since her return from maternity leave, has been both bumpy and stellar. On the court, she’s had some losses and has yet to return to her flawless self. But off the court, you cannot find a better example of owning her story and making an asset of her flaws. Her patchiness makes her authentic, her ups and downs anointed her as the comeback queen, the poster girl for working mums and second chances. 

As I kept reflecting on her story, it made me think about yours. There is one thing that distinguishes the good advisers from the absolutely indispensable ones: authenticity. There is a certain wisdom and gravitas that come with owning your weaknesses and sharing how you overcome them, however imperfectly, whatever your gender or circumstances. 

Serena Williams, in every game and every business move, is selling a 21st century commodity that is so hard to grasp and yet impossible to resist: human reality. Don’t misread me, we still have to wear our work personas. But they are no longer wearing the 1980s power suits or playing unbreakable alpha heroes. It is much more complex than that. Today, we must ace this balancing act: be professional, deliver, be human, be authentic, fit in and stand out. This is the paradox I face as I travel the world and guide my company’s corporate affairs. 

So let me finish with a challenge to you. Be like Serena and bring some personality to the court or your team, leave the personal drama at the door. Inspire me with your humanity but try not to drop any balls while you’re at it. How? I have no immediate answers. However, I think I know where the next Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders scenario might be. If you want to play or, even better, help me develop it, let’s connect on twitter @CarmenSpinoza11.

“The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this instalment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Kimberley Rose, Director of Strategic Communications at University of Florida Health in the United States.

“No talking at each other, but really collaborating and engaging. Under pressure I might add. The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life.”

C: Hi Kim! Let’s start with telling our readers a little bit more about you and the organisation you work for.

K: Hi Carmen! Well, I’m the director for strategic communication at University of Florida Health. It’s an organisation that brings together higher education with first-class hospitals. In Florida we have two main campuses, six health colleges, nine research institutes and centres, nine hospitals and a host of physician medical practices and outpatient services, as well as affiliates statewide. So it’s a very, very big academic health system!

I’ve been with them for over 20 years. I was first hired by the corporate health care system and now we’re integrated with the university health system, so I joke that I work in a “corporademia” setting. This combined setting plus the fast pace of a hospital network makes my job very exciting. I love what I do. I’ve been lucky to evolve and reinvent myself over the years.

C: So what do you do now?

K: Today I lead a team that does strategic comms – internal and business communication, issues management, crisis and emergency response. In addition to supporting the hospitals through crisis – from responding to major mass casualty accidents to hurricanes -my team also has a lot of clients in the system, we develop and roll out together strategic comms plans and provide strategic comms counsel to execs and leaders.

C: Much like you, I also provide strategic communications counsel to senior executive team. In that line, how would you describe a successful strategic adviser?

K: I love talking about being an “intrapeneur”. I want my staff to always be entrepreneurial within our structure. We deliver what our clients need and we are always looking for ways to stay positive and creative and tackle challenges and have fun along the way. That was partly why your game, Carmen, resonated so well with me.

C: Tell me a bit more about your your experience of playing Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders?

K: I took part at the launch of the game in New Orleans in 2016. I was struck at how polished and professional it was. I remembered being a little daunted because I only knew two people at my table . But it turned out great. The game forced us to get to know each other and collaborate really quickly. It was remarkable how when you play, you get to hear other people’s perspectives and ideas for handling situations with a different approach than you would have taken. It was an incredible learning experience.

I also realised that, although part of a communication conference, the game was really about business. It was all about understanding what the ultimate goals and the needs of the audiences were. It got us to ask questions in a different way that in other sessions. No talking at each other, but really collaborating and engaging. Under pressure I might add. The time-sensitive element of the game made it feel like real life.

C: Did anything feel differently after playing the game?

K: It set the tone for my IABC World Conference experience. Because it was a about ideas and how you apply them, it helped me become a better listener and helped me build consensus.

During the game, I established relationships with people I didn’t know. At our table we had a very international group representing all different industries and backgrounds. The nature of the game helped us get to know each other and appreciate our professional expertise and how we’d actually apply our expertise. When playing, you need to show your strategic decision-making skills and knowledge. For example, when explaining why would they chose an option, they would illustrate with examples from their world. So it gave me insight to the kind of work they do in other industries.

Corporate Snakes and Ladders makes you put your elevator pitch into action.

C: What advice would you give any advice to future players?

K: You really need to participate and be unafraid to speak up and ask questions. You are going to learn quickly just how many ways there are to approach comms challenges, and that your usual way may not be the best. So, I’d say: “go with a really open mind and be prepared to be wrong, connect, shared ideas and go with a sense of fun!”.

C: Anything else you liked about the game?

K: I loved that at the end, we all bonded because we were intellectually connected and exhausted! It was like having run a marathon together. The competition angle worked really well. I don’t think there was even a prize, but we really wanted to win.

C: Thanks for your time Kim!

If you would like to learn more about working in health communication or reinventing your career in the same company, as Kim has done, you can reach her via LinkedIn.

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.