Written by Zainab As we were preparing for AJ’s temporary departure from SoJo, I gave a lot of thought to the support. Because we are in the office the most, I speak mostly from my observations of Jesse, AJ, and myself – especially over the past few months. This is the first post from a two-part series. Stay tuned for my post on finding support outside of SoJo.
At most organizations I’ve been involved with, I have found at least one person who is the pillar of support I automatically turn to. It’s almost always been a mutual relationship and often it’s the person or people you share an office or desk space with, simply because of the vicinity. Though everyone at SoJo is so wonderfully supportive, I certainly have some go-to people – at least one because of the fact that we’ve both been with SoJo for a year, and then Jesse and AJ, because we work on SoJo full-time.
It’s interesting to note that in some ways, you end up sharing a lot with them because you see each other on a very regular basis. You’ll certainly share the life events and the big aha-moments, as well as the day-to-day events that are tiny and just need to be shared, whether they are related to work or not.
I should emphasize that support isn’t always about work complaints or office gossip, though we have the occasional issues and bad days too.
Here’s just some of the wonderful ways we support each other at Team SoJo to help grow our work, our impact, and each other:
- Sharing resources to improve our skills. I once mentioned how working with our development student made me curious about learning coding and Jesse told me about http://www.codecademy.com, a free website to help people interactively learn coding.
- Sharing ideas. AJ and I will often share ideas in the morning when we come in together, because we know that it often helps to just ask someone else what they think about an idea or change from the usual.
- Keeping each other accountable. Marc and I have been at SoJo for around the same amount of time and so we often kept each other accountable for our weekly goals. This month, I know Jesse and I will both be keeping each other responsible for our individual projects.
- Understanding different perspectives. Often, if I’ve struggled with managing the editors, Kanika has asked me to consider other perspectives and encouraged me with ways that I can address the issue at the source.
- Providing validation. Before AJ left, she and I had a few conversations where she imparted her words of wisdom on running SoJo, and how she knew she had faith in me to manage it all with Jesse. I didn’t realize it but those words definitely going to stick with me as we undergo some new activities this month, while ensuring our site is always working in the best interests of our users.
How else do you support your colleagues? Tweet to us @The_SoJo
with the hashtag #support.
Written by AJ Tibando
Team SoJo is made up of a few full time paid members, but is mostly run by part time volunteers. We call them volunteers, but 'part time unpaid employees' is really more accurate: they are the backbone of our operations and provide input to decision making and shape the face and the future of SoJo, like any other employee would be. Unfortunately over the past few months, we've had a number of team members leave the family or go on a leave of absence because of scheduling challenges. It's always sad to see people go, but its all part of the job...
The flip side of losing people is the excitement of adding new members to the team. In the past two months, we've added four new members to Team SoJo to fill roles that we've badly needed to fill for some time.
We've been on the hunt for Community Builders - people who are experts at using social media and storytelling to really engage with our users and build a sense of community around SoJo - and found them in our two newest team members, Shauna Trainor and Keerthana Kamavasalam. They've already impressed all of us by diving right into the work and building a strategy, and it's refreshing to have some new voices at the table taking another look at some of our old social media practices.
We've also added a new Research Assistant named Myra Khan to the team who will be helping me with Operations and Business Development. She's going to be researching partners, applying for grants and tracking all of our web analytics to help us better understand what we're doing well, what isn't working and what we should be doing next. Our final new team member is Sabrina Triapani, an accountant by trade who will be joining us as a Finance and Policy Assistant. Sabrina will be bringing new knowledge to the team to help organize our books, develop corporate policies and procedures, and enhance our organizational capacity - something we need to start doing now, so we're well prepared to grow in the future.
A big welcome to all of our new members of Team SoJo!
Written by Zainab Habib
It’s been some time since Kanika has been away from the office. It was right around then that AJ joined us full-time and was thrown into the position of juggling between Kanika’s commitments for the next few weeks and
beginning work on organizational development and outreach for SoJo on a full-time basis
One would naturally wonder how things are going at the office and how we have handled it as a team. This comes at a point where we are continuing to expand our team and focusing on particular aspects of SoJo, as we continue to work towards being the leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.
Yes, it definitely feels like something is missing. It is certainly not
the same without Kanika here. She may be The Boss but she is certainly not
bossy. Unlike the stereotypical Queen Bee, she has been supportive and she treats each of her staff without hierarchical bounds, allowing most of us to work directly with her on different projects for SoJo and to develop ourselves professionally and personally with her assistance. She is also the face behind the SoJo brand and has been at the forefront of it all. Her time away then has certainly created a shift in how we view SoJo from the inside and out then, knowing that she isn't here.
However, Team SoJo has really banded together to make sure we continue business as usual. Our partners have been very understanding and many have offered their help with whatever we may need. Our core team has continued to work on our individual projects and support the teams within our respective areas. We have also started a routine of working together as a team more formally; for example, we now have scheduled in weekly meetings between the full-time team every Monday. We are also now in the midst of assembling a team to focus on building SoJo’s community.
All in all, SoJo is definitely buzzing with activity. Even if we are missing the Queen Bee.
Written by Zainab Habib
SoJo has a great team of staff members. We have brought people on board because we identified their potential and fit with the organization and the roles at hand. Our passion for SoJo’s vision and our commitment to use our skills towards that vision are the fuel necessary to keep SoJo moving as we continue to grow.
However, we were able to recognize instances where some team members were "underperforming". Goals were not being met, and deliverables and deadlines were falling through the cracks.
By taking the time to understand their strengths and limitations, we were able to adjust responsibilities and roles where they could take ownership and
that were better aligned with their capabilities and interests. These minor changes included focussing one team member exclusively on one project and entrusting another with organizational work that had to get done in a different area. We then noticed visible differences as we watched the transformation from “underperformance” to full potential and flourishing in these tasks and roles.
I later came across this article on hearing too many questions
on the site. One of the main reasons leaders hear too many questions from their team about their work is because they might have “delegated tasks rather than results, vision, and resources”. We let team members take charge of the tasks by letting them know what we were expecting at the end (vision and results), while ensuring they had the know-how and resources to get the work done.
Here is what I learned from that experience:
#1. We constantly have to re-evaluate and identify when changes need to happen, and to recognize that we cannot be shy to act on the changes necessary to keep SoJo moving forward.
#2. We want to move away from delegating tasks to owning the vision of what those tasks should lead to. In our case, we couldn’t have done this without Step #1.
Rather than working harder, I work smarter with the limited time I do get with each of our part-time staff. Working with staff on things they take ownership of is what helps develop them and SoJo to their fullest potential.
Today is my first day back at the office since our team meeting at the beginning of the month. I've been travelling overseas, for the past 2 weeks, but consciously decided to disconnected entirely from the Internet for most of my travels. While my hectic travel schedule did not feel like a vacation, being disconnecting from the daily inflow of work communications was desperately needed. My last Internet detox occurred 7 months ago.
The difference between this detox and last detox -- was last year I created detailed workplans for every team member before leaving. Aware that the team required guidance and direction, I took it upon myself to pre-orchestrate operations and team outputs.
I left the office a few weeks ago with a different type of confidence. While I had high-level discussions of expectations of deliverables with some of the team members, I really left it up to everyone to see what they were able to accomplish without my guidance. This laid-back approach happened for two reasons: (1) I didn't have the mental capacity or time to micro-manage everyone's schedules, as I could hardly keep up with my responsibilities (2) I wanted to see how the team managed without my direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of SoJo.
My phone number was given to our key team members to get in touch if emergencies arose. Never once while I was away did I doubt our team's abilities to handle whatever came their way -- giving me piece of mind that I haven't yet experienced. It was great.
I'm now slowly catching up with the team to check-in on their status and progress. I was pleased (but not surprised) to discover that most things continued to move forward. Albeit I identified inefficiencies and know that some outputs would have increased had I been there to catch the bottlenecks, but all in all, the team did very well. Rather than get caught up on the things that didn't go well, I focused most of my feedback on what was learned and how things can be done differently next time.
My hands-off approach over the past few weeks is proof that the team is equipped to handle daily operations, providing me with the space needed to scale and grow SoJo.
Rebecca working on SoJo's website
In September SoJo welcomed two high school co-op students. A risky decision that paid off with great rewards. Today is one of our high school students' last day with SoJo. Rebecca was responsible for publishing 100s of articles online, writing unique content, research activities and following our daily news feeds. We got accustomed to seeing her in the office everyday, with a bright smiling face and great work ethic. We're happy to know that SoJo was a formative experience for Rebecca, as she begins her career as a writer. Read her thoughts and reflections on her experience working as a junior editor with SoJo:
Before coming to SoJo, I had no idea how booming the startup world was, or what social innovation really meant. I was just your average high school student, harbouring unrealistic hopes of doing my co-op internship at a fabulous magazine.
But when the idea of SoJo was brought to me, I was definitely intrigued. And now, after four months of writing, editing and learning, I’m really glad I took this opportunity.
Working as a junior editor at SoJo, I learned a lot. My supervisor was Zainab, SoJo Editorial Coordinator. She was smart and supportive, someone I’m really glad I got to work with. I was inspired by Kanika’s work ethic; seeing how much travelling and work she does. Her commitment to SoJo is outstanding. Jesse, the Product Lead who manages the website, was also helpful, fixing bugs and helping me navigate through technical issues as I learned how to publish content online. Everyone else on the team in general was really friendly, and welcomed me with open arms.
I’ve had so many highlights during my time here. The team meeting in November was fun, eating chocolate, discussing SoJo’s next steps, and meeting new people. Writing my book review was also a highlight for me, it being the first real, professional piece of writing I’ve published. Working with Robleh Jama of Busy Building Things was interesting, being able to collaborate with him and get my feet wet doing real journalism. It was definitely a learning experience.
I also really loved working from SoJo's office in the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) ! The DMZ is a multidisciplinary workspace for research and learning, home to many startups in downtown Toronto. It’s such a bright, open workspace with fun, smart people. It was not what I expected from an office, which I thought would be cubicles and deadlines. Everyone is working on something cutting edge and new, and everyone is supportive of each other. Working in a space with forty other companies seemed daunting at first, but it’s been fun meeting new entrepreneurs and learning about what they’re working on. I’m also definitely going to miss the food! Around the DMZ, there’s always cake, snacks, pizza and other assorted foods. We’re always celebrating and encouraging!
As for the future, I’ve recently applied for a teen editor position at an online magazine. The gig entails writing content/blog posts, making playlists, writing book reviews, etc. With my new experience at SoJo, I think it will really give me an edge over the other applicants. Digital publishing is obviously a big part of online magazines, so I’m glad I got some real life experience with it through SoJo. Wish me luck!
I feel really lucky to have been able to do my co-op placement somewhere as unique and new as SoJo. Even though it wasn’t a trendy magazine, SoJo was even better, providing me with new skills and new experience in the world of startups. It’s been a long ride, but I’ve definitely made enough memories, friendships, and experiences to last a lifetime. Written by Rebecca Mangra
The following post is written by Sheva Zohouri - the individual responsible for setting up SoJo's Profiles section
Interning at SoJo – a Sublime Glimpse into the Human Condition and Potential
It was Farch, a friend’s word I adopted to help me through the dragging tail end of a Toronto Winter. I was unemployed, a situation I didn’t like but accepted as a Writer – searching. For some, time can be an enemy where others see it as an opportunity.
Before this, I worked six years straight out of University and before that school and competitive figure skating took it all. I was free at last, to dream – a terrifying prospect. My fear looked at me and I looked at it and said ‘screw you’. I wanted to write but I also wanted to give back, a post on Charity Village was my first introduction to SoJo.
SoJo catapulted me in to the disruptive and revolutionary world of ‘social innovation’. Perusing the website I thought ‘I have to be part of this’.
Fast forward to my first interview with Kanika, Chief Catalyst and Visionary of SoJo. I remember sitting across from her as she told her story, moved and already infected by her fearless ambition. I felt a spark of something extraordinary – my creative food. This was my ticket to explore the depths of human potential and the human condition. We shook hands and with a look, I knew this was the beginning of something bigger than us.
My role as Associate Editor was to develop and manage the Profiles of rare individuals who took the road less traveled. I would meet radical thinkers with true grit, hear their tales and try to do them justice with my words. I had to capture both the personal and entrepreneurial sides of the journey. Kanika empowered me to follow my gut and act, a rare trait in a leader.
I had total creative freedom to find the voice of SoJo – how to embody the disruptive and fun loving spirit of social innovation with words. It is to this day I believe, an ever-evolving adventure and language. The voice of struggle, courage, boldness, fear, determination, creativity…the list goes on and on.
There was the journalism, listening, thinking and writing; and then there was development. Development was daunting and there was so much I wanted to do but I had interviews and posts to keep on top of. Like many of my subjects I had to keep all the balls in the air while learning how to juggle.
This is probably a good time to mention that I had a new demanding full time job. Farch came and went, I was building relationships, writing and learning the platform. With the launch of the site in August I was determined to stay on, I knew somewhere inside I was spreading myself too thin but my passion and the passion of the community drove me on.
I was learning and growing with my subjects, building up the courage to go after my dreams, facing my fears and as Theresa Laurico would say, dancing with them. It was easy for me to ignore my fears and dreams as I tried to live vicariously through my subjects – isn’t that what most of us writers do?
The time had come. I started asking myself those difficult questions, looking for my untraveled road. As this Farch approaches I’m overcome by nostalgia and a hint of melancholy reflecting on sublime times at SoJo. I got to work with brainy visionaries, attend conferences, strategies and geek out over word press at the DMZ, an entrepreneurial incubator in the heart of Toronto. But more than that, it showed me that anything is possible if you dare to dream.
Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.
The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.
I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.
The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!
In many ways, SoJo flat organizational structure has contributed to the strong team culture
that we've built over the past year. The team is SoJo's greatest strength, and when some of our team members are asked what they appreciate most about SoJo, many have mentioned their appreciation of not having a pronounced hierarchy -- where they felt like an equal to everyone else on the team. We're all collectively working towards the same goals and up until now there hasn't been a need to formalize the internal team structure.
A result of having a flat organization was having almost everyone report up to me. Being the only full-time team member, I was naturally the most accessible and fully present to everyone, and culturally people became comfortable and accustomed to reporting to me. I was directly involved in more activities than what I should have been, and as a result stretched myself thin
to the point that led to a burnout. I also grew frustrated as I wasn't able to provide certain team members the individual support that they needed to excel in their roles.
The solution: Share responsibilities and accountability among different members, and introduce a hierarchy to remove the dependency everyone had on me to advance their own responsibilities. As SoJo enters its first phase of high-growth
, it is important that the team and organization change accordingly.
A hierarchy was challenging to integrate before, as the other part-time team members did not have the capacity to assume the responsibility of coordinating and managing another team member. Now that we have some full-time team members, there is a greater ability to accommodate a change in structure.
In theory, I thought it'd be easy to divide the team up in key focus areas, assign a team lead and place members in their appropriate section. However upon further development, the structure became more complex. Reporting relationships do not always match functional relationships. Even with defined responsibilities, SoJo operates in a very fluid manner and team members collaborate and interchange roles among different functions regularly.
Knowing this would be a difficult exercise, I began by writing out everyone's name on post-it notes and moved them around (many times) until I finally settled on a structure that made sense. This is not static, and will evolve as our team evolves. That being said, I foresee our greatest challenge keeping to this structure, as many team members will need to re-condition themselves to working with different team members.
As difficult as it is to transition a flat organization into
one with a hierarchy, I'm hopeful that this change is a necessary step in building out the infrastructure to support SoJo through this exciting growth phase.
Trevor working on SoJo from Latin America
This post was written by founding team member, Trevor Gair.
Although not my idea, SoJo became my baby. I am so grateful to have played a role in its early stage creation. From the outset, my primary role evolved into building SoJo’s community. This was appropriate. I love to connect people, learn about new media and own a licence to experiment.
From Guatemala, on March 8, 2011 I sent SoJo’s first tweet
. From there I tackled Facebook and LinkedIn with a goal of spreading word of SoJo’s mission to make new friends and inspire action. Later my duties would include the monthly SoJo e-Journal newsletter and several rounds of feedback solicitation from early adopters.
Building an online community is the underestimated pillar of successful internet business today. Inspiring individuals to believe in and actively support an avant-garde concept is challenging. Engaging them deeply enough so that they become advocate users even more so. I am so pleased to acknowledge that already thousands of changemakers are making good on their passions through SoJo and that the budding community is one of the contributing elements.
I have never lived in Toronto and so always worked with the growing SoJo team remotely. In fact, it was eight months working with Kanika virtually before we actually met in person. This had a profound effect on my relationship with and outlook on the venture. I believe it helped me to think like a typical SoJo user – somewhat isolated, dreaming big and working hard
. In essence, I have lived one of the core pillars of what SoJo seeks to foster – that there are no barriers to building what you are passionate about seeing exist.
This October I made the decision to pass forward my responsibilities
within the SoJo team and embark on an international voyage that I have been dreaming about for years. My decision to depart bears no reflection on my belief in SoJo’s mission or direction. Since our public beta launch in November 2011, the venture’s momentum has continued consistently in a positive direction - oscillating only intensity during different periods. I believe the future brings with it accelerated growth and success for SoJo. The world is ready for what we envision and the SoJo team will deliver.
As I left home for new adventures on November 1st, I was able to route my flight itinerary to the Middle East through Toronto. A brief 22 hour window enabled me to share laughs and engage in constructive team building without the need for a virtual Google Hangouts. It was special and truly brought to life the quality of individuals that Kanika has assembled to help make SoJo a reality.
I wish the SoJo team all the best going forward. I will be following closely. I can’t wait to see my baby all grown up!Follow Trevor's international adventures through Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India at www.trevortravels.weebly.com