Working together: Have you unlocked the hidden potential of your team yet?

We have shared a lot of success stories (and failure stories too) in the past along with the strategies we used in projects, but rarely have we ever covered what goes behind the scenes. In this narrative piece, we cover what goes through the mind of a team lead, when working on a high stakes project, the kind of project even our director of sales was willing to pass on. This time we thought to provide a glimpse of the thought process of our Manager – Muzammil, it would surely give you a fresh perspective and newfound respect for analysts and Managers doing the work. 

It’s a sunny morning, a regular day. I did my morning gym routine and was searching for fresh juice.

Lately, I have started going to the gym regularly, after all, the work I do is patent analysis and oh boy! is it brain-wracking,  so I need a way to refuel myself. Some time back, there was a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, in which relation was observed between regular aerobic exercise affecting the heart pump rate and boosting the size of the hippocampus, a brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.

Back to sipping some good ol’ fresh mixed fruit juice.

This is typically a time of the day when I don’t get office calls or emails. My client is on the west coast in US and I am in India. It is probably 7 PM PST. It is tiring but exhausting to work according to our client’s time zone, but then I am never a morning person.

As soon as I decided to open my email – what do I notice?

22 new emails!

The one that caught my instant attention and the email was from my west coast client with the subject ‘URGENT’.

I had to open this immediately. Here’s what it said:

“Muzammil, we want you to stop everything you might be working on for us and concentrate on this project. We need an infringement study against this list of patents. This is a high stake project, and we are sending this to multiple vendors, and we’ll only pay you if the results are relevant.”

Well, the last line is not a subject of rejoice in any manner.

I knew this style of engagement, which depends upon contingency, doesn’t align with our business model.

The next emails in the loop were from the Sales team – Chakshu (Singapore) and Alpana (New York). Different views, different geographies, diverse experiences and yet one goal — What will make sense for the client and GreyB.

I knew today is going to be an exchange of different scenarios and a lot of discussions.

This is one part about GreyB that I relish – we have people with different experiences, and the discussions help me better understand the perspectives of business. Something which is imperative for growth as a leader.

As expected, the first point from Chakshu was related to his past experience in such cases and that he was reluctant to pick up the project. He is the guy who has coined the phrase on our homepage: People pay us to find information. Alpana was also concerned about the quality that we are promising in short turnaround time. We never compromise on Quality – no matter how big is the deal.

But I had a completely different thought here – The risk in this project is the price that I’ll pay to quadruple the growth of my team. However, my very next thought, which I didn’t voice out loud was – What if my team doesn’t find the best results?

This is an environment where we analyze the business situations and issues from multiple dimensions and even though I have less experience than my managers, I get an equal chance to present my views and share feedback.

Keeping aside all hush-hush to the final decision, I was orbiting the past scenarios when my teammates would outperform in a project, break new grounds, and deliver in ultra-short turnaround times. Even the team members want to outperform when someone throws a challenge to us.

Because challenges are beautiful, they help us see something differently than before.

And this is not just me, the organization GreyB in its very DNA holds the love for challenges and literally searches difficult assignments to test itself.

It became pretty clear to me. I will vote yes for this project.

We outvoted the company director on the project veto and we committed yes to the client. Little did I know that the client sent an email and made it explicit that we will meet the deadline. I said yes, but felt jittery. I had made a  commitment, but what if?

This is also what I learned here at GreyB — You can always get in a cycle of what-if this fails and lose confidence, however, if you have proper planning, focus and work hard, the dinosaur of what-if-it-fails could never bite you.

Looking back, I think there was a consensus that if we don’t help the client when he or she says URGENT then we truly are not a partner. Wondering what I am talking about? Well, at GreyB we strive to be the best search partner for our clients, not just a vendor. Read more about our client-centric search approach here.

The next thing I know is that we were in the conference room discussing the details of the product against which we needed to find infringing patents from the pool. While we were deeply engrossed in studying the product features on a tech spec document, we got the input that this approach is slower. Knowing the product based on document vs. using the product to develop technical understanding are two different things.

The path became clear as soon as we had the epiphany – we needed the product. Yes, we needed the actual product at our offices so that we could touch it, play it, use it, and study it – and confirm infringement. Don’t forget ‘Urgent’ was the subject line so we could take all our time to get the product we had to think of something that can get us the product quickly.

This is just one example of how deeply we get into a project and make our life around it. Without losing time, one analyst started checking with all other team members, who have this gaming product in their home, if they have this product that we are looking for. The other teammate was finding ways to rent it or even buy it from the store. Yes, we would buy it.

Now within GreyB, we have the culture of helping each other. Within a few hours of asking internally, we started getting replies. It is like everyone collectively cares about project success.

The response we got internally to all our queries was fast, and the product was on our discussion table.

During the next couple days, we were testing the product in the conference room of our office during the day, and visiting shopping malls in the evening to see if the newer version of the product had the features we have been investigating. To be honest, the most difficult part of it was going to a store and without telling why we had to work on the system and ask so many questions. Sometimes, the tech sales guys at the store used to ask us – Why are you asking so many questions, you want a job here?

Anyways, the days were passing by, and we were increasing our efforts. On one of those days, I was driving back home from the office, with my favorite playlist plugged in. However, I could not get into the rhythm. Stress is one thing, but I was getting anxious about all the information that we were discovering and what we are going to do with it next. As I parked my car and looked at my phone, it was flooding with messages.

Taking a quick glimpse, I scrolled down and I could see multiple discussions on the features and specifications of the product. I had become an active participant of these conversations till the time my elevator stopped on the 7th floor.

As I sat on the dinner table, something struck me from the original email from the client and I immediately opened it again on my phone. I read the word ‘multiple vendors’ from the client email again, and figured out that the client has no idea what we are doing every day on the project.

What if some other vendor finds out the same result and the hours spent to find it instantly dissolves? The horror was real.

The first thing I did the next morning was – Send an update to the client with the results found so far. Step 1 completed.

During the search, we found came across some information in the Chinese language and needed some translation verification. I called our team member in China and started validating some of the information.

Right from the upgraded versions of the product to the features which were not available in India, absolutely nothing could lower our spirits as we had internally taken it as a challenge. Sometimes you enjoy the tough path just because you know that nobody has walked through it before.

All of this dance around the fire, the endless discussions, and the energy spent to think about the case while at home, at the gym, in the market was completely worth it.

My team produced six claim charts by the end of the first week. Yes, first week.

This is one aspect of delivery, but more interesting was how younger team members, even with less experience, contributed. In our team and company, everyone wants to participate even if the experience is one month or 10 years. Nothing stops us.

The young lad, Kshitij found the maximum number of patents, and we sailed smooth.

The project was done, results were sealed, and the package was delivered to the client successfully.

When I shared this story of how we worked as a team, how people contributed etc. our client shared with us some of his feedback about people:

“In my experience, you (i.e. GreyB) will not find the top talent unless you provide difficult challenges to your team and give them the freedom to decide how much they want to give of themselves. The very best will rise to the occasion and reveal themselves as being capable of far more than anyone thought.”

This is so inspiring and moving for us. This aligns with our strategy of hiring and working in the company. Now I know why Deepak (our big boss of operations) always says – We need people like us to work in our team and we need people like us to be our clients. Once this equation is achieved, we become successful. So true.

In one of the internal huddles after the project, I asked young Kshitij – How were you able to pull this project with low experience?, and he responded: “I was not working on it because it was a regular project delivery, my goal was what I need to do to make my client win.”

Right from the point when it started for us like a do or die situation, where, if we didn’t provide the desired results, we won’t be paid,  to the point when we got so much engrossed in the project that we forgot the initial situation – it was a journey in itself.

For me, this project was an experience unlocking the hidden potential of my teammates. These challenges also make me wonder that if the IP industry wasn’t this intricate, how could we push our limits every day?

Authored by: Muzammil Hassan, Manager, Infringement and Kanika Sharma, Research Analyst, Market Research

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