5 lessons I learnt trying to build an agency A-­Team

Old Vintage Classroom.

A half-decade of reflection

When I reflect on my experiences in growing S1T2 over the last five years, more often than not, I’ve caught myself wondering: what is the feeling that drives staff to go above and beyond?

That notion of responsibility to come in on the weekend and finish a project, or that drive and determination shown in the late hours of the night to make sure an activation works. No doubt there exists an intangible force of sorts, one that compels people to strive for success and share a sense of duty. What exactly it is though, is difficult to define, and even more challenging to harness.

In my limited years of business I’ve had the privilege of growing a team of two – myself and my business partner ­- to a group of ten. This feat may be considered small to some but I can tell you that it was no walk in the park. Along the way there were plenty of mistakes made, but for every misstep, we recovered and took two steps forward in the right direction. Altogether, these experiences have helped us to create a better digital agency, one that we believe has the people and the team to be able to accomplish great things.

I can’t pretend to know everything required to run a successful business, but I can share some of my learnings I’ve had to date.

1. Lead by example

You’ve heard the expression ‘actions speak louder than words,’ well this could not ring more true when applied to building a team. As managers, we are in a privileged position to be able to instruct, advise and even order. However it is only in acting that I feel the most influence is imprinted. When you act you are showing the team what you perceive as the right thing to do, and they interpret this as what you want out of them. It can extend to how you treat your peers, how you dress, your character, and much more. Therefore I always believe it is crucial to be self aware of your actions and the influence you have as a role model in your organisation.

2. Character over experience

When I am looking for a new team member I always view a candidate’s cover letter, portfolio and resume in that order. This is because we’ve always valued character and talent over experience. It is no coincidence that the average age of our team is 25 ­ we prefer individuals that have not had their ideals contaminated by workplaces with bad habits. We know that to stay ahead in our industry we will need to always challenge ourselves to constantly innovate and evolve, and it is because of this that we focus on the attributes of a person that will remain valuable today, and tomorrow.

3.­ Allow failure but only if there is learning

Failure is always difficult to swallow, it comes when you haven’t achieved what you set out to do and it hurts. But for every failure there is a potential lesson to be learnt and an experience to be gained. Part of empowering your staff with the ability to make their own decisions is being able to accept when they fail and helping them through the tough times. At our company we judge people not on their failures, but how quickly they get back up, learn and improve.

4.­ Foster the culture you want

Culture is the air your company breathes, if it's polluted the company will become corrupt and withered. It governs everything from beliefs, values and conduct, and has a direct relationship with the team’s morale. The most difficult thing about creating a positive company culture is that it doesn’t happen overnight, and so the effect of actions, processes, and systems you implement are sometimes only realised a lot later on. Even today we are constantly tweaking the things we do in the hope that it will change our company culture for the better. Everyday we strive to cultivate a culture and organisation that ourselves, our team and our clients will be proud to be associated with.

5. ­Create a sense of purpose

Great leaders have always been able to inspire their followers through the rhetoric of language and speeches but they have also all had one thing in common – the ability to create an overarching sense of purpose. Our organisation is unlike many others, we don’t have titles or hierarchy so there is no ability to move up the corporate ladder. Instead we have a team that is working towards the common goal ­to be Australia’s most sought after digital agency. This is the ambition that we want to instil in everyone that walks through our doors – by becoming the best individual you can be, you will drive us to achieve this goal together.

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