Having a business is exciting, yet it can be stressful. Especially when your business involves change and innovation. Embrosa being a startup, innovation, and change are our everyday business. And to be honest, I find our startup exciting, fun and empowering most of the time, but stressful basically all of the time. Stress on its own, that’s okay. You find ways to deal with your stress. And stress isn’t always ‘bad stress’. It can be happy stress, being anxious about new things happening, new deals being made. Adrenaline, YES! But, you’re not alone. And how you deal with your stress, and how your co-founders and teammates deal with their (and your) stress, influences your company’s ability to change and innovate.

So how can you spin up the flywheel of innovation if, amongst other things, stress is always pulling on the brakes and bringing your change to a grinding halt?

The stress monster

First, you must realize that stress makes people tense. Stress alters their reaction and it, therefore, influences the energy and interaction within a team. You have felt examples of this too, I’m sure. I’ll tell you how I react to stress by sharing this one example: It was during one of our daily Embrosa stand-ups. I’d just had a meeting with one of our team members and to be frank: I wasn’t happy about the performance of this team member. In our one-on-one meeting, the tension rose. But after this one-on-one meeting, we both had to enter the group meeting, our daily stand-up. Although we work remotely, the tension reached every Embrosa office across the globe, instantly. Just by opening our Google Meet.

How did this tension show? I was snappy, impatient, agitated, perfectionistic and unpleasant. And everybody responded to it, in a different way. Team member A had to demo a new piece of software, he fell silent. He left the room so to speak, still present yet drawn back completely. Team member B, who I just discussed the unsatisfactory performance with, was overcompensating by showing off. Team member C, trying to balance my agitation, snapped at me. And me? I felt attacked and as we say in Dutch: a cat in the narrow makes strange jumps. This proverb basically says: desperate needs lead to desperate deeds. I ended up making myself big and bossy, throwing punches and calling the shots. Very productive, right? Well, definitely not. On the contrary. But once the evil genie is out, it’s hard to get her back in.

How to put the genie back in the bottle

There is no I in TEAM? Well, there is in Team Interactions. My stress (or maybe even anger) resonated with the others, but in all the wrong ways. Sparking their stress levels too, and activating them to respond differently. So there are two ways to stop this from happening:

I should not bring my stress and emotions to the table.

The others around the digital table, should not respond stressed to my stress.

Easier said than done, right? I mean, can you recognize it the minute you start to get stressed? What is stress? Is it a feeling? Is it an emotion? Is it a sensation? So, since this is quite difficult, I think it’s an illusion that you can always prevent feeling stressed out... At Embrosa, we therefore strongly believe that it’s a little more nuanced:

  1. I want to feel when I am stressed, I want to understand how I react when I am stressed, I want to learn to actively lower my stress and not get swept away by my stress.
  2. My teammates should be able to recognize my stress, they want to feel if my stress affects their stress and they also want to learn how to lower their stress and even learn how to lower my stress.

So it all comes down to consciousness and self-awareness. I practice this by meditating and learning about the Enneagram.

Ennea-what and Ego-Wise Leadership

You should know, I met Rogier, my Embrosa co-founder, at a leadership course years ago. We had this magical click right from the start and were fantasizing how we’d one day in the future be working together. In 2016 our dream came true when we co-founded Embrosa! During this leadership course, Ego-Wise Leadership, we were introduced to the Enneagram. There are so many different ways to indicate personality types, the Enneagram is just one of many tools out there. For me, The Enneagram doesn’t only offer a way to optimize our team dynamics, it also provided me with a tool for personal growth and it allowed me to ‘become’ who I am. This might sound very spiritual and totally vague, but don’t we all long to be who we are, instead of the person the outside world wants us to be? Well, understanding the Enneagram helped me do just that.

The Enneagram also taught me how, as a leader, I can invite my team members to be true to themselves and to fully discover and embrace their talents. If the team is aware of their talents, if they can be who they are within our team, and if they are invited to grow their potential AND grow personally … they can use all of their energy for Embrosa and keep the organization moving. Simple to understand, hard to execute on, if you ask me. But when you start to master this, you grow as an Ego-Wise Leader, as an Ego-Wise team member, as an Ego-Wise person!

The Enneagram: 9 different heroes and 9 different monsters

These insights are not the merit of Rogier and me. We are simple students, just starting on this Ego-Wise path. You could fill every hour for the rest of your life learning about the Enneagram, so I’m not going to attempt to provide you with all the available knowledge in this one blog post. In short, basically it comes down to this:

There are nine Enneagram types. Every Enneagram type has a different talent (a hero so to speak), and every Enneagram type has a different way of responding to stress (creating a monster). So knowing your Enneagram type helps you to go from acting out as your own monster back into acting as your own hero, so to speak.

Plus, what puts a fire in the belly of the one Enneagram type completely demotivates the other Enneagram type. So if you build a team consisting of all 9 Enneagram types and you learn to understand each other, well prepare for the fireworks, because that will be magic.

Get the innovation flywheel spinning

The coolest part is, and this is where the innovation flywheel flies in (thanks for making us aware of this, Albert Kamphuis), when an Enneagram type 1 is ‘happy and healthy’, this type passes the ball to Enneagram type 2. The Enneagram type 2 adds his little touch of magic and passes the ball to Enneagram type 3. The Enneagram type 3, again adds her secret sauce and passes the ball to Enneagram type 4 … Well, you get the picture.

The results just get better and better, and the speed of the play increases by learning to play together. And every Enneagram type continuously adds their own super power to your project, increasing the power or your company and the self-propelling force of the team. Do this often enough, with enough Ennea-wise heroes and you become untouchable (or at least, as untouchable as you can be). I am now thinking about a movie quote, “We’re superheroes, what could happen!” Uh oh…

But, on a serious note, Ennea-wisdom helped us build our business and one of the results is a highly innovative team. And again, once a team gets the flywheel to spin, the company can really excel, going from Good to Great (like described by Jim Collins). But, as you might know from watching or playing sports, players only pass on the ball in the game if they feel that the team ‘ups’ the play by playing together and if they believe that the team result is better than scoring as an individual. And to do this, every team member must be aware of their ego. Again, if you and your team are conscious and self-aware, you can see your ego for what it is and prevent it from pulling the brakes on your companies flywheel. At Embrosa we decided to welcome every new team member with a book: The Wisdom Of The Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. (Riso, D.R. & Hudson, R. (1999). Publisher: Bantham). By doing this, we start our team work 'on the same page' with every member of our team. It gives a language to what we do, a deeper understanding of what we're all about and how we prefer to work as a team. For Embrosa, this works. We're all different 'types' by the way, and together we make a piece of art!

I hope that, by showing you our way of (team) work, we could inspire you… And so, after reading all this, do you wanna know what Enneagram type you are?? Take a quick online test or read more about the 9 different types. Have fun studying yourself!

Melanie van Norden, Co-Founder Embrosa

P.S. This is a non-spon blog post! ;-)