The heart of teamwork: Interaction, mindset, agility, and taking risks

Tackling one of the most critical challenges of our time

Last year, the Heartcore Tribe kicked off a huge culture change project with energy network company Alliander. As one of the five energy networks in The Netherlands, and with over 7,000 people in the organization, Alliander faces one of the most critical challenges of our time: the Energy Transition.

While The Netherlands has one of the most reliable power grids in the world, it is not equipped to deal with the rapid developments we are seeing today. Advances in sustainable energy consumption, sustainable generation, and electric transport and heat are well happening simultaneously at a rapid pace, causing a bottleneck in the power grid.

It’s a massive challenge that requires massive solutions. In other words, this challenge requires a very different way of thinking and doing. teamwork, interaction, true collaboration, and risk-taking.

Being risk-averse wont get you anywhere

To help them with their culture and organizational change efforts, I initiated and co-designed a series of “Innovathons” for Alliander, hackathon-style events in which people come together to solve existing problems.

In Alliander’s case, the central challenge question for the most recent Innovathon was: “How can we radically accelerate together so that we can meet our customers’ energy needs smarter and faster?”

As a semi-governmental organization, Alliander has acknowledged that being risk-averse is not always the right way to go and that is where Heartcore comes in.

My professional purpose is to take risks, not only as an entrepreneur but also in my work in change management. I am asked to break barriers. To lead people the way where others don’t dare to walk that road. My can-do mentality and no-nonsense approach in organizing the Innovathons are already helping to shift Alliander’s mindset towards a joint attitude of ‘Let’s do this’.

True collaboration

At its core essence, the Innovathons are designed to bring people together in a demonstration of true collaboration and innovation. We kicked this off even before the Innovathon by setting up an internal team of intrinsically motivated people that believed this movement should happen.

The first eight-hour, online Innovathon took place in March 2021. It brought people and teams from within Alliander together to collaborate to solve the problem around data challenges. It was a huge success and from then on, we knew we needed to step up our game and go on!

The second Innovathon took place on 18-19 November 2021. This time, the 24-hour event also invited external partners – consultants, customers, families – to bring in different knowledge and perspectives to help solve the problem. We had 40 teams signed up, each of them working on different challenges to tackle the energy transition, such as the lack of electricity grid capacity, scarcity of space for new energy infrastructure, and shortage of manpower and materials.

Agile mindset and teamwork

Five days before the Innovathon start date, we had to shift to an online event due to the new COVID-rules applied by our government. This was hard to swallow as everyone was really excited to have a physical event with more than 200 people. We had one weekend and three days to adjust our entire program, logistics, communications, and way forward to adapt to the online reality. 

We made it work. As a team, we knew this was a possibility. We discussed the different scenarios we’d set up from the beginning and we all knew we had to go online. Even a hybrid scenario was not doable in such a short amount of time. 

This was a shitload of work for the team. But we did it. The team showed a massive amount of flexibility and professionalism in making this work. We knew: the world won’t wait so we need to proceed with this event to tackle this major organizational challenge.

Following up the 1st and the 2nd event, the 3rd Innovathon will take place in 2023 and will be organized as a collaboration with all five energy network organizations – because we can’t face these challenges alone. There is interdependency and these organizations should collaborate on doing what is right: collaboration over competition. This also entails inviting partners, innovative start-ups and scale-ups, universities, students, governments to join this movement.

My message in navigating change through chaos and uncertainty

Change comes from within – within yourself, within organizations, within your ecosystem. There are badass people in every organization. It’s up to you to use the power of the crowd!

I chose to initiate and design a series of Innovathons for Alliander because they are the ultimate form of interaction that crosses boundaries. They are also totally different from anything Alliander has ever done. My style is to make some noise, push it to the edge, and always seek growth instead of comfort.

Navigating change is exponentially hard in times of uncertainty and chaos. In the midst of chaos and challenges, it is key to stay centered. If something isn’t working, change your direction, change your mindset, change your attitude. Even though you might have the desired end state, you’ve got to be prepared for whatever happens (because it probably won’t go as planned). How do you keep the energy alive in your organization and trust that whenever you need to pivot, you pivot? Teamwork is about trust and communication. If you’re really a strong team, then it doesn’t matter what happens – you’ll know what to do and how to move forward.

I just came across this new video of Simon Sinek. However I always prefer to work with a defined Endstate, it is also key – depending on the goal you want to achieve – to stay open for that possible unimagined vision. I believe this is true innovation. 

This vision is also related to this quote saying: 

“Life is what happens, while you are busy making other plans”. –

-John Lenon

My basic trust comes from knowing that the reality is always going to be different. Be open to the unexpected. Trust yourself and your team members that you will find a way. You just have to figure out what to do – and do it with a big smile on your face! And when shit hits the fan, deal with it, talk it through, get it out of the system, and move on. That is the heart of teamwork.

Create to integrate

My end state is always to create impact. I can’t own the right that this or that thing created the change, the shift in mindset, or the desired impact. Maybe I just invited something at the right moment in time that gave people the platform to actually be the change themselves. 

I don’t only develop creative ideas, but I create to integrate. So, what is the follow-up? I give a lot of credit to Alliander for surrendering to the process and showing enthusiasm for this company-wide interaction. They showed commitment, decisive action, and belief in my first idea that I co-developed with a team of highly skilled professionals that were intrinsic enthusiasts about manifesting this. True commitment is not only saying, but doing what needs to be done.

An Innovathon – or any creative form of company-wide interaction – should be part of every company’s culture because it brings people together – and culture happens between people. If you want to change the biggest problems in your culture, bring people together. Facilitate interaction. Integrate other people’s perspectives in your biggest challenges. Even if you don’t come out of it with concrete solutions, the energy and electricity of the event will stick with people and it will set a new tone for your company’s culture. So, I’m curious: what is your upcoming creative endeavor going to be for your organization?

Want to catch the vibe that we created during our 2nd online Innovathon? Check out the short version of our after movie. And watch the long – even better – version here.

www.innovathon.nl – Innovathon powered by Alliander

A massive thanks to Martijn Koning – former CIO IT Alliander for giving Heartcore-Lab the chance to manifest this enormous idea as a part of the organizational change kickstarted by the IT department. A very special thanks to Marijke van Elk – Jansen, Ideation and Innovation designer, my peer at Alliander Innovation, and buddy with who I kick-started and co-created the Innovathon sequences. A big shoutout to Veerle Tammer who is unbelievably skilled and a great high potential who covered me and Marijke when we were out of office at the same time. Without you, the website and – biggest data collection ever -would not be as good and workable for all the participants. Pascal Gulikers, you prove your worth by being our team-hacker, hacking a lot of good stuff for the website and in Microsoft Teams that made our way of working before and during the event way easier. And huge gratefulness to the entire core team that stood with us from the beginning: Miranda, Leonie, Roelof, Bart, Jorrinde, Suzanne, Simone & Kee. Last but not least much kudos to two members of the Heartcore-Tribe – Bob and Marike – for being badass Event Managers, joining Heartcore on this project to make it happen during this crazy pandemic time.