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EP: 69 – How Volunteer Teams Really Work with Maria Mileder

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Maria milder game of teams podcast tara Nolan

Introduction: Maria Mileder is PayPal’s Global Head of Innovation. Maria owns the innovation strategy and its execution, she oversees the Global Innovation Ambassador Program and she is responsible for driving PayPal’s contributions within the financial services industry and the field of innovation in general. Maria’s prior professional background is in Regulatory Compliance & Risk Management. Maria lived and worked in her native country Austria, Ireland here in Dublin, The USA in California and The UK in London. She holds an MSc in Economic Policy from Trinity College Dublin and a BSc in Sociology from Karl-Franzen’s University in Graz Austria.

 

Podcast Episode Summary

PayPal lives by four values, Innovation, Collaboration, Wellness and Inclusion. Maria gives us an incredibly candid insight into the ways PayPal emplys its Distributed Innovation Model to bring this value of innovation to life. The episode is littered with insight and gems for any team.  Maria shares her immutable laws for teams, best practice insights she has gleaned from the many Volunteers who have participated in her Innovation Labs over the last six years.  

Points made over the episode

  • Maria starts our conversation by sharing her passion for innovation and how she accidentally fell into this field
  • Curiosity, Empathy and Resilience are core skills that most people have and can be learnt & cultivated to support innovation
  • PayPal wants to be different in the Innovation space. It employs a model it calls the Distributed Innovation Model 
  • PayPal has a belief that everyone has what it takes to be innovative and it also shares a desire that innovation be everyone’s business
  • Practice is key. In the innovation lab innovation skills are discovered, trained and practiced. 
  • 30,000 employees at PayPal. Harnessing the innovation power of every employee is part of PayPal’s mission. 
  • Three engines support the delivery of the Distributed Innovation Model at PayPal. There are Innovation Champions with innovation sites or Labs, The Innovation Ambassador Program and the Global Innovation Tournament where all employees can participate. 
  • The Innovation labs started about 6 years ago and at any given time about 10 teams are working to solve Innovation problems all manned with Volunteers
  • Why Volunteers? PayPal takes innovation very seriously and believe innovation is everyone’s business to cultivate. Volunteers get an opportunity to practice the skills of innovation 
  • The first condition of success for Volunteer teams is passion. Passion helps people prioritise and be sufficiently energised to connect, contribute and be willing to fail. 
  • Some Immutable laws exist for teams to flourish. 
    1. The context needs to be clear, getting clear on Mission & Vision for a project. Teams do not necessarily find the exercise of clarifying their mission and vision as sexy and often it is lofty but it provides a North Star that gives direction 
    2. Humans expect to be led, especially at the start of any initiative 
    3. Team Dynamics exist and are important to understand. The Volunteers are not obliged to work with each other, they volunteer their time so it is important that they are set up for success. This means helping everyone know each other, their motivation for the project, their strengths and weaknesses and their desires. 
    4. In the Voluntary space (and I would add in every space) you have to display empathy, to be curious to get to know your colleagues. 
    5. Empathy is frustrated by a bias for action, premature action, it is frustrated by fuzzy expectations or unspoken expectations  -Maria shares an example of the difference between experts coming onto a project and novice learners. 
    6. Recreate the physical space in the digital space. The virtual space has become transactional
    7. Encourage fun on teams-Maria shares an innocent Team Building Exercise where asking a team of 15 people to come up with the things they all have in common facilitated openness and energy, a currency that lasted the life of a project and beyond. 
    8. Give time and space for teams to learn, to grow and also to rest. Allow time for being off. 
    9. Silly or being silly is a great skill in innovation. The innovation lab encourages this spirit. Important that Leaders show the way, model behaviours that give people permission to be silly. Similar norms or ways of doing things are important to be shared. 
  • What surprised the most was the amount of personal development people, volunteers got from the various programs they have been a part & how people have been able to use that Personal Development as a by-product of the program. 
  • Volunteers have been able to share the skills they have learnt with their colleagues in their professional teams 
  • The Innovation labs and other engines together comprise an important part of a cultural transformation at PayPal. 
  • Helping the Professional and Volunteer worlds to collide means remembering we are human. Team dynamics are essential to the success of a team. Time and space has to be given to the practice of what Maria calls a team’s immutable laws. 
  • As a final thought Maria shared how she has learnt to become outspoken and to be vulnerable. Teams are not going away and they take time and work to make them successful. 

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