Building your own foundation
Pioneering projects are dynamic and full of challenges. Good teamwork is always crucial for success. Since the beginning of the year, SINGA founder Seraina Soldner and Tina Erb have shared the management of the factory. Instead of traditional leadership, they have a contemporary and courageous approach to management. The two explain in an interview how this works.
They could stand for the same development: the transformer hall on the Sihl and the young female entrepreneurs. In both cases, something old has been turned into something new. The factory has been given another life as the “Kraftwerk” (power station) for innovation. The two women have succeeded in establishing a new corporate culture within a few months in their organisation – networking people with refugee and migration backgrounds together with locals and preparing them for the start-up market.
“We are well on our way,” says Seraina Soldner, co-founder of the SINGA Factory. The autumn sun falls diagonally through the industrial windows, illuminating the shipping containers and wooden modules that serve as meeting and conference rooms.
“Sometimes, you should also be able to say: I’m not feeling well today.”
Tina Erb nods affirmatively and lists some of the business ideas of her programme participants. There is the sustainable tourism project from Kyrgyzstan, where travellers live in yurts and make felt carpets. Or the Indian catering business with cooking courses. Since this cycle, ideas are also permitted that don’t have a direct link to the tech world. An expansion that fits the new team spirit.
One of your most important credos is to meet the projects on equal terms. How did you apply that to yourselves?
T. E. We work in flat hierarchies and communicate non-violently.
T. E. It’s a process developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. We have learned to communicate according to its principles. And it really works: there is more happiness and trust in our daily work.
S. S. I feel the same way. You shouldn’t have to give up being human in the morning. Tina has contributed a completely new openness with this process. It’s not always easy to meet all needs, especially when pressure and workload levels are very high. But we want everyone to sometimes be able to say: I’m not feeling well today.
Do you have special rituals for this?
T. E. Quite a few, actually. For example, there is a “jour fixe”. And it goes like this: always in pairs, people from the team do something small together. Like going for a swim or an ice-cream. In emergencies you can postpone the meeting, but you can’t ever cancel it. The goal is to learn and get a feeling for each other. In addition, there is a confidentiality agreement about the content of the conversations. In this way, we were able to learn a lot from each other.
S. S. That is very important: not forgetting to look after yourself and the team during the hectic start-up routine. Especially when you work as closely with people as we do. A quick check-in before meetings started also proved very useful. Everyone tells us where they stand just now, how they are doing and then, as a way to transition into the meeting, they present a task for which they need support this week.
In an earlier interview, the Singa founders advised all young entrepreneurs and founders to hire a coach during the start-up phase. Yes. Despite the stress. Despite the pressure. Despite all the demands. Or to put it another way: that's exactly why. Because only once its foundation is strong can a company withstand storms later on. An investment that pays off. Even if you have to invest just a few weeks more.
Which topics were important to you?
T. E. We gave a lot of thought to management culture. After a survey, it quickly became clear: just “top-down” is not possible. I then noticed that a consultative management style is much more appropriate for me.
S. S. The feedback culture kept me very busy. This is essential for project-related work. However, it is often difficult to pass on one’s own concerns and impressions empathically and productively. One cannot simply avoid the difficult topics.
“Most importantly: looking for solutions together. ”
What’s the perfect feedback?
T. E. You send an “I-message”. Actually always. Unless a serious reason justifies an exception. Then you have to explain what your observation is, what you decided and why. The right tone plays a decisive role here. And most importantly: looking for solutions together. In principle, feedback should be nothing more than a gift.
What advice do you have for other founders?
S. S. Nurture team spirit right from the start. Because it’s the driving force behind your company. Stay open, check your focus regularly. And again: use a coach. We also did a lot of co-funding work. Valuable support for this was provided by Jana Nevrika, who also just wrote a book on the subject.
What was learned flowed not only into the team, but also into the project level at the SINGA Factory. This makes the 1:1 support for participants more intensive. Dedicated specialist coaches work together with SINGA exactly for this reason. The workshops, which are optional, have been moved outside office hours and to the evening. This lets everyone participate alongside other engagements. By the way: children are welcome. Coworking hours, where projects are driven forward in teams, are also becoming increasingly popular.