- Anne shares the inspiration behind District C, and what the organization does. The group discusses the value of group project work, and how District C has developed a framework that unlocks the strengths of a diverse team. (0:58)
- Anne explores the District C framework, and shares the real stories and reactions of students who have been through the program, and the business leaders that those students have helped solve real life problems in their businesses. (6:14)
- Anne shares the fundamentals that are taught at District C, and the group discusses the implications for those learning from their own careers. (12:51)
- Tracy and Anne talk about the differences between leadership and teamship. (20:00)
- The group continues the conversation on leadership, and both the challenge and importance of developing true thought diversity within a group setting. (25:06)
- Anne shares how companies can engage District C, and the mindset that’s required for companies who would like to get involved. The group transitions into how businesses, coaches and students can get involved (31:00)
- Do you want to learn more about District C? Visit their website here!
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If you liked this podcast, be sure to check out our podcast with Kaleb Hupp, who shares his experiences in both Teamship and in Leadership as an army officer, as a consultant, and now as an entrepreneur.
Listen to Episode 39
Episode 39 Transcript
Tracy Eames (00:17):
Hi, everybody. Welcome to this week's episode of Building Teams with TEAMES & CO. Today we are thrilled to welcome Anne Jones, the co-founder of District C. Anne, to the show.
Anne Jones (00:35):
Thanks so much. Excited to be here.
Mike Vaggalis (00:37):
Anne, it's awesome to have you in on the podcast. I was looking through District C this morning, and I just think that there's so much mission alignment between what you spend so much of your life focusing on and building the system to equip and empower high schoolers. It's amazing, and it's so aligned with what we do with TEAMES & CO. Would love to just kick things off with understanding what was the inspiration behind District C, and how did you get it started?
Anne Jones (01:06):
Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, Mike, and I couldn't agree more, so much great work that you all are focused on as well. It's work that's hugely important. I mean, I think the biggest thing is the school world and the real world are just getting too far apart. I mean, you think about the kinds of things that you all are focused on, and companies are saying, "We want to get better at."
They want team players and they want thinkers. They want a team in their company that when things like COVID hit, that they can pull together and pivot and find a way. And then that's a big-problem example, but there's lots of little things that happen along the way.
And I think for us, the reason that we started District C was the things that students are getting the opportunity to do in school isn't like that. They don't get opportunities to really work in a team to solve a messy problem like you do all day every day in businesses.
And I think when that is the case, then fast forward through that young person's life. Even if they do everything right, they take all the right classes, get great grades, the test scores look awesome, then you get to a job interview, and what's that employer going to ask you? "Well, tell me about a time that you worked in a team? Tell me about a time that you really had to solve a complex problem?"
And for a lot of our students, they can talk about a sports team that they were on, or maybe a group project they did in school where it wasn't that great and it was hard. But these students need chances to do more things that look more like what we do in the real world, where they're working in teams and dealing with complexity and messiness. So that was our motivator, honestly, was that early talent pipeline, honestly, for what you all do, kind of how I'd say it.
Tracy Eames (02:54):
Well, we really appreciate that work. I think it really resonates with me. I chose an MBA program in business school that specifically most of our grades were based on group projects. And it was interesting because the US model, I actually studied in Spain, and the US model is very, kind of competitive. You're kind of always trying to get the highest grade in the class.
And I specifically chose a program that was very focused on entrepreneurship and very focused on collaboration. So my colleagues and classmates were from 46 different countries. We all worked constantly in teams, and they switched every three months, so you'd have a team for a quarter. You did all of your work with that team in all of your classes.
And it was amazing, because the way that the school did it, we were all from different countries, we were all from different backgrounds. So maybe somebody was from accounting and somebody was from marketing and somebody was from finance and somebody was from sales, so we all had different expertise.
And it really set us all up well for, what does it feel like to be in a cross-functional team? What does it feel like when you're in accounting class and yeah, there's one person in your group who really knows accounting and they have to basically teach everybody else accounting? Or when it was the time for the marketing and branding projects, then I got a great opportunity to talk through what does it mean to be in marketing and branding?
Tracy Eames (04:07):
But I found it was such a great setup. So learning about District C, I've been super excited because I had to wait all the way until I was in business school. I had already gone through a portion of my career. I had left my career to go back to school full-time. And that was the first time really intentionally any school said, "You're going to work in a team."
And I just find it really great that you guys are starting so much earlier, because I think it will help those students, and would love to hear maybe some of, A, the framework of your program, and then B, some of the feedback you get from the students who were involved?
Anne Jones (04:42):
Yeah. I love that question. And the framework, I want to start where you left off. As I was kind of mentioning before, there's two things we're really focused on. How do you leverage the strengths of a diverse team? Which is what you've just described, diversity in all of the senses of the word. But how do you do that to solve a complex problem?
Now, step back from that framework for a second, because I want to actually appreciate how complex and challenging this is. It's hard enough to be in a team and manage personalities and dynamics. It's actually hard enough when there are differences, and you're trying to figure out how to use those as strengths, and how do you bring those together? And then it gets even harder when you're dealing with a complex novel problem where the right answer is not in the back of the book.
So that's our frame. How do you leverage the strengths of a diverse team to solve a complex problem? And I love the fact, Tracy, that you're saying you went after that, because again, it's not easy. But when you have a chance to be coached through a process of how to do that at a high level, which people do know how to do this work, and people can do better at this work.
I really bristle when you hear company leaders talk about the importance of teamwork and problem solving, but say, "People just really can't get better at that, so I just have to hire the people that are already good at that." I just fundamentally disagree with that. So our framework is about building a point of view on how do you help people get better at that with the belief that you actually can?
The second piece, then, to your question is the feedback from the students. I also want to talk about the feedback from the businesses. But the students really begin to say back that this is working. They know they're getting better at this.
And what are the stories they tell? They say, "Oh, my gosh, before District C, I hated group work. I always ended up doing everything myself. Nobody else wanted to be there. It was terrible." That's their team group work experience.
They're like, "I cannot believe how quickly I got to know these people on my team, how everyone was so engaged and so helpful. And everyone had all this stuff they could do that I couldn't do. And I can't believe how fast we actually figured out this problem for this business, and actually gave them an insight on why it's happening and what they could do about it." Like, they're stunned.
And there's some real basic things that we coach them on. I mean, not to undersell what we all do here, but I mean, it comes down to some pretty foundational, basic-type stuff that high-performing teams do. And so that's the feedback from the students. They can't believe it. They're like, "Wow, this is great."
The businesses are also kind of like, "Are you kidding? How old are these kids? How long have they been working on this stuff?" I mean, we've had CEOs of companies, at the end of the pitch, the first words out of one, Nate Spilker, from his mouth, "You're hired."
Mike Vaggalis (07:48):
Anne Jones (07:48):
That was the first thing he said. We've had other founders and CEOs say, "I'm sorry, I've got to text the company. We're having an all-hands meeting first thing in the morning to go over the solution that you just suggested we do, because we're doing this."
Mike Vaggalis (08:05):
And just for all the listeners, this is high-schoolers that are the people that are...
Anne Jones (08:10):
Mike Vaggalis (08:10):
They're the engine that's powering these insights, that's causing CEOs to say, "Hey, let's have an all-hands meeting tomorrow, because we need to discuss the work that this diverse group of high-schoolers has put together," in how long, how long are the projects? How long are the typical projects, Anne?
Anne Jones (08:27):
It really varies, and so I will say anywhere from... Imagine a one-week intensive. This is a great kind of summer model, Monday through Friday 9:00 to 5:00. It's pretty short, though, so you're talking 40 hours. We've even done a three-week sort of after-school-type model, where the students are meeting like a full day Saturday, they meet then three times in the evenings each week, one hour at a time, doing work virtually like this. They come back and pitch.
But I'll tell what, my favorite model is, and this is really where we focus most of our time, is we are trying to prepare coaches of this work to take this back and offer what we call teamship, that's the name of our experience, to offer teamships to students that are at their school, that are a part of their organization, again, whether that be a nonprofit or something like the Y or something like that.
And when they do that, like let's imagine, for example, you get to offer this, like one of our high schools does, Research Triangle High School, they offer it as a full-year course. These students do five different problem cycles, five different teams solving problems for five different businesses. Imagine when you've had that many touches on the ball, how good you get at this work.
So by their fifth cycle, the students are actually picking their own teams, finding their own businesses, sourcing their problem with that business, and then going through the process of understanding the root cause of the problem, coming back to the solution, and pitching it back to the business.
We talk about, as coaches, what we're trying to do is teach them to fish. I mean, there's some gradual release involved in all that, but they get so good at this work so fast, it's awesome.
Tracy Eames (10:08):
Yeah. It sounds really exciting. And the thing I love about it is we... I was kind of chuckling when you said that people don't think that you can invest in building teams, because we hear that as well. And it's like, "No, that's entirely what we do all day," right?
Anne Jones (10:24):
Tracy Eames (10:24):
"Is, we help you build a team that's empowered and agile." And it is a built skill. I think a lot of times people think of this, teamwork is like a soft skill. It's actually the most critical thing we do. If you think about it in an organization, there's very few times you deliver something all by yourself, like no input from anybody.
Anne Jones (10:45):
Tracy Eames (10:45):
That's a very, very rare occurrence. So sometimes it will happen, but not very often. And we say the same thing, which is it comes down to those fundamentals. It's the same thing where, when you're playing on a basketball team, you have to learn how to pass, you have to learn how to shoot. You have to learn the basics before you can put it all together.
The thing I wonder about with the projects is how do you see that? We usually say there's phases to teams, and you've probably heard the old adage, "Storming, norming, forming, performing."
Anne Jones (11:16):
Tracy Eames (11:17):
How do you start to see teams kind of come together? And how do you see the team members themselves start to build that leadership skill of individual leadership, of like, "Hey, when I'm on a team, I don't need to be the manager to be able to be a leader"? How do you see that kind of progress through this year that they may do?
Anne Jones (11:38):
Yeah. Let me go back quickly to a comment you made, too, about the fundamentals. So there's a really important piece that we do here that's related to how they come together and how this work works, so thanks for teeing up the sports analogy there.
Tracy Eames (11:53):
We use them all the time.
Anne Jones (11:53):
So let's talk basketball while we're at it. So I do think there is something to dribbling drills, left-right crossovers, all of those things, passing drills, shooting drills. But imagine if that's all you ever got to do. You wouldn't be very good at the game of basketball.
So I think a great thing that we can learn in education and the learning world, whether that be in schools or through professional environments, people need, yes, you need practice on the fundamentals, but you need opportunities to put them in action and be using those fundamentals in context, with coaching feedback, and very much in the spirit of a coach feedback. Like you can't play the game for them. You've got to let them play, but you can still give feedback. That is very much our approach in terms of supporting students to get better at this work.
So to your question, the fundamentals for us, I'm going to just give three tools, and I know tools is kind of the language that you all use too. But tools are behaviors. Tools are things people do in high-performing teams. That is our version of dribbling, passing and shooting.
So I'll give you three tools that we talk about. The questioning tool, again, I know this is not rocket science, but we'll dig into that a little bit more, because there's dribbling and then there's like Kyrie Irving dribbling. I mean, so there's that.
There's a tool we call take five, which is literally just teaching people the discipline of staying with one person on the team, even up for five minutes, and just being invested in them and their ideas and their perspectives, and trying to get into their head. And that, again, it's a super simple tool, but you've got to fight our instinct, which is we're always so in our heads. Same problem with questioning, you're so in your own head, you're really asking questions to make a point.
So those tools, questioning and take five, help start shifting people to begin to learn how to come together, which is your question, how do you do that? Well, we teach people new behaviors, new ways of working. They practice those a little bit. We introduce them, we explain them as tools and how to get power out of the tool. But most importantly, let's get in the game. Let's start working in a team and solving a problem for business and using these tools, and we'll coach you along the way.
The third tool is solo flight. This was sort of inspired by Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. She talks about introverts being their most productive and creative in solo flights of thought. So we create this tool that says, "Hey, look, create that space for, if anything, the introverts on your team if you want to leverage the diverse strengths of everyone on your team."
Those three tools, huge. It's dribble, pass, shoot. I mean, boom, there it is. So that is how they start to come together, is developing those new habits, those new ways of working, but understanding it not as a compliance exercise, not as, "My teacher told me to do this, so I am doing this," as, "My coach is coaching me on how to play this game better, how to play this game at a high level."
It's a huge shift. And again, that's why I say, why are we doing this? School world and the real world, too far apart. School world, do what you're told, follow instructions, all laid out for you. That is not the real world. So we've got to make that shift and give kids more opportunities to do that.
Mike Vaggalis (15:22):
Anne, I think that's so impactful. And something you said earlier really resonates, where you said, "It's simple, it's not rocket science," but just because something's simple doesn't make it easy. I heard an analogy recently where somebody said, "Well, running a marathon's simple. You just put one foot in front of the other, it's just you do it for 26.2 miles."
And it's simple, but it's really challenging. That's something that takes a lot of training, and it takes a lot of practice, and it takes getting in the game in order to actually have the ability to do that.
And I was thinking as you were talking about my transition from college to the corporate world. And I had a tremendous college experience, but I got to college, and I was very much conditioned to sort of look for what's the syllabus? I want to be an A player. What does that look like? And going to my boss, as almost looking at him like an instructor. What do I need to do to get an A? I've always really cared about my grades. I've always really tried to perform well. What's that look like in this role?
And what I learned over time was, one, exactly to your point, it becomes automatically less about us as individuals in the real world, and it becomes more about how and where do you understand your position within a team, and how do you work effectively with other people to deliver a really quality, innovative project, to be a great player for the team?
And that rarely comes from somebody in the organizational hierarchy above you saying, "Here are the things that you need to do. Go do them." It comes from being a thought leader in our own seats.
So I think that's really powerful, what you're talking about. And I can just say from my experience, I've seen it from both sides, and it does take a lot of development early in a career almost to break some of the habits that traditional education teaches you.
Anne Jones (17:21):
Yeah. Mike, this is reminding me of a story, actually, that illustrates your point exactly. Was speaking to an executive at a very successful pharmaceutical startup around here, around talent and looking for talent. He said, "Yeah, people will say the students don't have the sort of skills and competencies they need." He said, "It's worse than that. We actually don't just have to give them the skills they're missing. We have to untrain them."
And this is exactly to Mike's point. I mean, it's they say, "Look, we show up in a meeting. They're all sitting around the table. Something's going on that we can't figure out." What students have been trained to do is be the smartest person in the room, the loudest voice, argue against any points that do that, or to your point, sit back and say, "Well, tell me what to do."
Neither of those orientations is at all helpful, and companies are really having to untrain that behavior and, again, build back these habits, which is the work that we all are focused on. And yeah, and again, this belief that it can, the belief that we know a little bit of something about how high-performing teams work, that it is a behavior. It's a new way of forming a habit.
Tracy Eames (18:38):
Anne, that's great. And I think one of the things that we talk a lot about with organizations, to your point around building the foundations and the skills with the students, is also that leadership muscle. So how do you build your leadership muscle? And one of the things that we find, especially with first-time leaders... So you guys have all heard us talk about TEAMES GLOBAL, and a lot of our trainings on TEAMES GLOBAL right now are focused on empowering first-time leaders, because it's something that a lot of organizations don't have the ability to invest in.
And so what we wanted to do is create a solution that allowed it to be more accessible and more approachable and a little bit more real world, just Mike and I chatting with leaders around, to your point again, not this completely new system but, "How do I just put small things into practice each day? How do I build that feedback loop? How do I improve my communications? How do I have those one-on-one interactions with my team?"
And one of the things that we find, and I'd love to hear your perspective of the student's journey in this, is a lot of times when you start that first role or you take on that first management role, you're like, "I now have to give people directions. I have to be very prescriptive." And a lot of times in the workplace, it's not like that.
But because in school you say, "Okay, my teacher gives me very clear instructions, and I follow them point by point," the assumption is, "Okay, if I become a leader, I should also be doing that."
Where in the real world, it's like, "Yeah, we have goals, and they actually may adjust and shift throughout the year. And as a leader, I need to adjust and shift with my team and be supportive in that process, like not micromanaging, but I do need to be present enough that I can help them navigate all those changes and all those shifts."
And so how do you speak to the students throughout the process around, "Hey, you're a team member right now, but when you get into leadership, here's how you can become a better coach"? How do you instill that model of coaching and let it live beyond the program?
Anne Jones (20:38):
Well, it's interesting, because when we first started, we actually talked a lot about the work that we did as leadership. So if you go back to some of our early stuff and our early videos of students talking about their experience, they use the word leadership a lot, because that was kind of an orientation. So I want to start there.
The first, I think, shift in thinking that happens for the students happens not as like a coach or as a member of a team role. And they all come to this because they see themselves as leaders and they want to be great leaders, but they really do realize that they were thinking of leaders as being the person that tells everyone what to do, as you're saying.
And what they realized with District C is, in the teamship model, is that to be a high performing team, that's not what you do, that you're really trying to leverage the diverse strengths of your team, that you're really trying to create space for all voices and build what Anita Woolley talks about as collective intelligence, that you're really trying to build psychological safety, a phrase from Amy Edmondson.
So going back to the fundamentals by teaching the students some of these tools, these habits, by being sure they understand the why, the purpose behind these, what it should get them, they really start being able to use these tools. And they see, "Whoa, this is not like any group experience I've ever had." And they will say at the end of it, "I think of leadership differently now."
So I think there's a really important first step there, is to understand. And literally what they'll say is, "What I realize is that what you want is everyone to be a leader on the team." That's amazing, like that's a big jump, right?
Tracy Eames (22:19):
Mike Vaggalis (22:20):
And that's hugely different from the way that a lot of teams run, especially in the educational ecosystem, and I'm going to speak in what I think is probably representative for most high school groups, where you have one person that says, "I'm the leader." And that looks like, "Put the team on my back, I'm going to get everything done," which facilitates the slackers in the group to then do nothing. That's not the way to be successful in any sort of real-world experience.
Anne Jones (22:47):
Yeah. But that's what they've learned to do quite well, and they'll say, "It's my grade at stake. I don't want to get that messed up." I mean, and honestly, probably if they're on a team of four, there's probably at least one if not all of the other kids looking at the one that's doing everything saying, "Great, if that's what you want to do." I mean, so that dynamic has to... Yeah, I mean, it has to shift.
And I think that the next step then is, as you imagine, sort of high potentials in the company, they start out as a team player, a team problem-solver, but when they get promoted, now all of a sudden, they're in what we would traditionally say is a leadership role, where they have direct reports or a team that they're responsible for managing or those sorts of things. And that relationship to leadership is a next level of transformation.
And as you said, Tracy, for us, that word is coach. So when we train our coaches, the first thing they do is experience the work as a problem-solver on a team. The second thing they do is begin to understand their work as a coach. And as we say, being a team-based problem-solver, being a coach, two different things. So the kinds of habits and practices, the tools that we're learning, the ways of working we're doing as a team-based problem-solver, when you shift into that coach hat, it's a whole new set of stuff.
And at the heart of it are words you both used earlier. It's like you need to see your role as a coach, as empowering your teams to be high-performing teams. How do you do that? And again, there's a way to help coaches get better at that work. But that is a whole other shift. We're working with 30 different coaches right now from across the US in our Coaching Institute. And just this morning, one of the coaches said, "I'm really trying to shift from my teacher mindset to my coach mindset."
And what she means by that is, "I keep wanting to tell the students, 'Here's how you should solve the problem for the business, here's why they're having it, here's the solution.'" And you can't be that leader in the classroom, and that's not a good leader in a company.
Tracy Eames (24:59):
Mike Vaggalis (24:59):
Anne Jones (25:00):
It's a big shift though, again. It's kind of a two-step process a little bit, I think, from what we're seeing.
Tracy Eames (25:05):
We often say that to companies, because we find that also when you're the coach or the leader of a team, that one of the hardest things that you have to realize is, okay, there's delegation. So we always say, "Hey, you should set team goals first, and then each individual gets goals from the team goals, so you're all pulling in the same direction. And as the leader, your goal is the team is successful, so your goals are basically the team goals. You might have some other projects that you're responsible for from a leadership level, but that's your success, that's your litmus test."
And what we find is if an organization and leaders can start to make that shift where they don't feel like, "I have to solve every challenge by myself," you actually get better solutions, because you do have that diverse team innovating and thinking of things. So if the leader's always saying, "Oh, just do it this way," then nobody needs to think about other ways, right?
Anne Jones (25:55):
Tracy Eames (25:56):
If the leader's like, "I don't know. How do you all think we should do this today?" then it kind of opens that door to have that conversation and test some things out. And maybe there's three or four ideas, and maybe we agree as a team to test two of them, and we see how it goes.
But that's where the learning... And people are like, "Oh, how do I build innovation? How do I become more agile?" And we always say, "Well, it starts with you as the leader. If you open up that dialogue, that's where innovation starts. It starts with you not trying to solve every problem, but actually engaging your team."
Anne Jones (26:25):
This is the thing we all love to say, is, "How do you achieve the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?" And the example you just described, if it's a team of three and a coach or a leader of one, that's one plus one plus one plus one equals one if the leader just said, "Do this."
So then how do you get that to equal five or six? And that's where the coaching comes in. And what are, again, back to the behaviors, the fundamentals as a coach that you can help dribble, pass, shoot? What are those?
But it's too counter-cultural. There's too many companies that just don't... They're not there yet. They're not operating that way. And I think there's a lot of interest and desire. I think there's a gut-level understanding that diversity leads to more innovation. I think there's like a head-nodding around that, but there needs to be some more intentional work around that.
Mike Vaggalis (27:23):
And I think that's such an important point, Anne. And going back to, if I put myself back in high school, I always loved being the person to say, "Okay, I want to get the A, so I'm going to go and do a lot of work." And we all can look at that and say, "Well, that's a terrible behavior to build process and structure around, because you're not engaging any more diversity of any kind. It's just that that is one individual working hard, and that's not long-term successful."
And then the next thing is it's much easier to surround yourself with people that look like, sound like, think like you. So it's easier to form homogenous groups where we say, "Oh, well, here's a bunch of my friends from one pocket of society," who largely think in the same way.
And what you're doing is so much more challenging, where you're saying, "Hey, we're really intentionally saying we want to form truly diverse groups, because we know that there's so much more goodness and richness that comes out of true diversity that leads to better problem-solving and better innovation."
And to your point, I think people generally understand and aspire to do that well. It's just really hard to do. So what lessons would you have for our listeners who might say, "I'd love to get more diversity in my business. I'd love to have more innovative problem-solving." What lessons could you share with those people from your experience with District C?
Anne Jones (28:54):
Yeah. I mean, to borrow from Manteo, a District C student who's now a senior at UNC Chapel Hill who was on a panel recently and speaking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and the question to her was the same. "What's your advice to companies who say they care about this, but who really want to live into that?"
She said essentially, "They need to do it. Words are great. Where's the action?"
And I think, Mike, to your point, if companies are saying, "Well, I don't really know what to do," well, there are people who do. And there's levels to this. I mean, I think really spending time understanding historical context, unpacking structural racism, there are pieces that need to be done that are really underlying all of this. And I think that is not work that District C does, but that is work that we would be happy to connect you with people who do a really wonderful job at that.
But that's action oriented. That's a willingness to say, "Let's have those conversations. And if we need help, let's bring the help that we need to have, then." I think then building that culture, those habits, those ways of working that really do leverage diversity, that are strengths-focused, that are team-based, you can build on some of those values and belief systems and really start building in some of those habits and those practices.
And, Tracy, as you were saying earlier, you'll get there. I mean, you can build those kinds of cultures, and then you start to see the innovation. That's the outcome of it, is that when you really are getting the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you're not just getting one person's thinking. You're getting that magical collection of four people's thinking that somehow all of a sudden became like the value of six.
Mike Vaggalis (30:38):
Tracy Eames (30:40):
Yeah. I like what you say there in terms of it's like the ultimate leadership lesson. If you don't know how to do something or you don't know where to start, ask other people who have that expertise. And be willing to listen. Be willing to have the conversation and be able to listen and take advice and hear other perspectives.
And I think that goes for so many things with leaders as if they can admit that they don't have all the answers. We all have to admit we don't know everything. It's one of the truths we all live with, that we can't know all the knowledge, but being able to have that conversation and really being able to listen to your team, to other experts, to other groups.
And be willing to reach out. It does take a certain level of confidence and humility to reach out, and if it's you, then say, "Hey, Anne, you know what? I don't know how to solve this challenge. Can you help me? Can you help me understand? Can you help me find other experts who could give me more insights?" And that's a really valuable leadership lesson, and it sounds like you're teaching the students that, which is amazing.
I know that we're going to get to the point of how do people get involved with District C, so as a preemptive question to that is maybe you could tell us about some of the types of projects that students have worked on? You don't have to give super details around company confidentiality, but if you just have examples of, hey, what kind of range of projects are these students working on as a team? That'd be awesome.
Anne Jones (32:02):
Yeah. The first thing I'll say to your point about you don't have to share company secrets is I just want to acknowledge that for businesses to come and share real problems — not stuff that they're thinking about or maybe they're worried about, we ask them for stuff that's really keeping you up at night — does take a certain amount of vulnerability.
And I just want to honor that. It's kind of sort of saying, "We don't know this, we can't figure this out." And to your point, they really are listening. That's got to be where it all starts.
I would say the types of problems that businesses bring, some of them are sort of operational process oriented. Let me give you an example. Fleet Feet Sports was our very first business partner. They have brought I think over four problems over the course of the last few years for students to solve, and one of them was really around their onboarding process. So for their staff, their excellent customer service is core to their brand, and they were really looking at what is that onboarding process, and how can we ensure that the folks that are on the ground helping customers with running shoes and that kind of thing are just top-notch?
So those kinds of operational process things. We worked with a restaurant in downtown Raleigh named Raleigh Raw that really was looking at some flow issues, so again, operational process.
Lots of stuff around marketing segment growth, so how do we reach Gen Z? Our referral rates are tapping out. How do we get that curve tipped up again? So new markets, product growth, those sorts of things.
We've had some interesting ones too around culture, speaking of. A company came to high school students, and really asking and saying, "We have different verticals in our company, corporate vertical, landscaping, maintenance. The only people that come to the holiday party are corporate." That's a culture problem. They brought that problem to high school students, and they dug in.
So they tend to fall into those different places, but the key for us is they're real. We say to businesses, "Don't make this up." Too many times they're like, "Oh, they're high school kids, so we should give them a problem they can solve." Don't worry about that. They'll be fine. Let's talk about what you are really concerned about as a business. What are you really worrying about as a business?
And again, I just have to say the vulnerability is just nothing short of inspiring. They care about their business. They care about their employees. They care about their customers. They want to do better, so they're willing to put it out there. And the pitches that we do are public, I mean, so this isn't just sharing with the eight or 12 students that they're working with. This could be whoever happens to show up at that particular pitch.
Again, great leadership, and sometimes we'll even say, "Thank you so much for modeling the kind of listening and the kind of vulnerability that it takes to be great."
Mike Vaggalis (34:59):
We like to call that confident humility.
Anne Jones (35:02):
I love it.
Mike Vaggalis (35:02):
Confident in yourself, whether yourself is an organization or an individual, but humble enough to say, "I don't know it all. I'm looking for diverse perspectives." And I think that that model is so cool, and you're instilling that in both the students and in the organizations, and fundamentally that's teamwork.
Anne Jones (35:24):
Mike Vaggalis (35:24):
So that is amazing. And to go from Tracy's last question, Anne, we'd love to know, how can our listeners engage with you?
Anne Jones (35:33):
I mean, we'll start with the student level. I mean, if you know of a student or you're a student that's in high school, or we also have middle-school programs, we'd love for you to be sure that your school knows about us. Teamship again, we can train a coach. That coach is a teacher at the school. They can offer teamship as a semester class, as a full-year class, as an afterschool program, as a summer program.
For parents and young people out there, see if you can't get a coach trained so that they can begin offering that, not only for you but for future leaders to come.
For businesses out there, if you're willing to be vulnerable, we'd love for you to come and be a part of this work. We ask our businesses, "Have you or will you use something, implement something that you had from these students?" 90% say yes, and this is real value back to the companies.
We call this two-way value. It's hugely valuable for students, no question, but it's going to be valuable for you as a company as well. So come on board, and go to our website and sign up. We'll get you onboarded, and you can partner with schools in your community, and you can work with those coaches and bring real problems into your local schools.
Obviously we are a nonprofit, so if you are interested in contributing, sponsoring a coach, and if you're interested in being a coach, come on board. It's not a light lift, like the Coaching Institute's 50 hours. This is an intensive process where first you learn it through the lens of a problem-solver, then you learn it through the lens of a coach, as I mentioned earlier. But got one kicking off in January, so by all means...
We certainly work with a lot of educators, but we work with nonprofit leaders, we've worked with entrepreneurs, community leaders, people that care about this. And they're going to co-coach maybe with somebody in their school. They know that there's a teacher offering it at the local high school, they're maybe going for a problem cycle that lasts a month. They're going to go in and co-coach with that.
That's their give-back. That's instead of going to paint a house for the day, they're going to co-coach students and make them better problem-solvers. So those are the kind of avenues.
Tracy Eames (37:44):
Awesome. It sounds like anybody nationwide, right?
Anne Jones (37:47):
Tracy Eames (37:47):
So as teachers, no matter where? Awesome.
Anne Jones (37:50):
Yeah, no matter where. This is the beauty of virtual. Our Coaching Institute is all virtual, and then when you take that back to your school, you have the flexibility of creating an in-person program, creating an online program, or creating a mix and match that works any way.
Tracy Eames (38:06):
That's awesome. We will definitely put your contact information in the show notes, Anne.
Anne Jones (38:09):
Tracy Eames (38:09):
So folks will reach out, and if you're interested, we recommend you get in touch with Anne and District C. Mike and I are already brainstorming the problems that we could potentially share.
Anne Jones (38:20):
I love it.
Tracy Eames (38:20):
So look forward to a submission by TEAMES & CO. I think there's such great alignment, and we've been talking about how excited we are about your approach. And it just makes so much sense. We all go through this idea of onboarding new team members, making sure team members know our processes and our procedures, and to have an organization out there teaching students all of those things, even before they get to our organizations, it's so valuable.
It makes it easier for them to make the transition into corporate life. It makes the transition for leaders easier, to be able to say, "Hey, this person's already had some experience working with teams. This is awesome."
Anne Jones (38:59):
Tracy Eames (39:00):
So we're excited. We can't thank you enough for being on the show today. And we will definitely share your information on social media and on the show notes, and hopefully our listeners will reach out from far and wide.
Anne Jones (39:13):
I appreciate it. I just want to thank you all too. I mean this, really, because for us, as our students are preparing to enter into these companies that you're working with, I tell you what, they want to be in a company where they feel heard, where they feel listened to, where they are being asked to think as a team.
And so to know that you all are out in the world building those kinds of companies and help companies who care about this, I hope our students find their way to those places, because that's where we know they will thrive and that company will thrive. So thank you so much.
Mike Vaggalis (39:45):
And I don't want to leave this conversation without thanking you for the work that you and the District C team are doing. And also, I just want to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of what you're putting into practice, everything that we've been talking about, recognizing a deeply rooted problem that is very visceral and so many people experience on both sides of this two-sided market, both as contributors to the workforce and as businesses, and taking a truly innovative approach and entering into that conversation.
I think what you and the team are doing is a great use case for the different things that you are teaching, and not just teaching but coaching students how to do well. So thank you for what you're doing in our community. I can't wait to see the growth of District C and to continue to engage in hopefully lots of different ways here in the coming months and years.
Anne Jones (40:44):
Thank you so much. No, I really appreciate the opportunity.
Tracy Eames (40:46):
Well, we appreciate everybody tuning in again for another episode of Building Teams with TEAMES & CO. We hope you follow the podcast. You can subscribe, leave a rating so other folks know what you've been enjoying about the podcast, and also check us out on YouTube. We share videos over there as well.
So you can find the recordings anywhere you listen to podcasts, the transcripts are on our website, and YouTube. We'll have some fun videos where you can see all the things that we're talking about each week, and just some shorter clips too. So if you just want to kind of dive into some very specific topics, you can find those there.
So Anne, thank you again, and we look forward to staying in touch.