Digital collaboration tools and work resources are on the rise making it possible for high-performing teams to achieve greatness without ever being in the same place.
MEDIA 7: You’ve received prestigious recognitions such as one of Oklahoma’s 30 Under 30 and Tulsa World’s 40 under 40 leaders. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
AMBER VANDERBURG: I have been extremely fortunate to have people in my life that have helped to champion my success both professionally and personally and try in earnest to pay forward the support to champion the success of others. I love sports and have worked towards a career in football (soccer) but due to a series of head injuries, my dreams of performing in a contact sport were cut short. This led to a pivot in my career as a ‘Division I’ athlete in track and field (athletics). I loved performing in elite athletics and working with my team to perform our best.
I earned an undergraduate degree in organizational communications and a graduate degree in organizational dynamics which specialized in team development and leadership. I was able to use these skills and knowledge to work in corporate human resources in the United States - building and leading teams to better performance. In 2016, I left corporate America to work with elite sports teams and athletes internationally. This remarkable cross-cultural opportunity was another way to challenge teams to improve - to raise the standard of performance.
When I returned to the United States, I started working as an HR Director for a leadership development company and traveled across the country meeting with people from all walks of life - facilitating the learning of critical team and leadership skills. Around the same time, I started traveling around the world meeting and challenging teams in organizations to improve their performance through innovative training programs. I built action-focused, gamified, and engaging programs that were inspired by educational, athletic, and corporate methods of learning. I founded The Pathwayz Group and today our team has facilitated workshops and training programs for companies and organizations from every inhabited continent. The adventure is only beginning.
M7: How does The Pathwayz Group help businesses create more efficient, effective, and enjoyable workplaces?
AV: The Pathwayz Group has some extraordinary facilitators that lead action-focused, engaging workshops and training programs to improve team performance. Our workshops are unique because they are centered around action steps within workspaces. These sessions are designed on a foundation of practical experience, case studies, and data presented in an unconventional fun way. For example, participants learning about performance feedback will engage in a series of high-energy games to clarify performance expectations, give and receive feedback, and share feedback challenges in real life. I love how our participants respond during training programs with laughs and smiles and enthusiastically share that they will apply the team leadership skills in both professional and personal life.
Life is too short to work at a miserable place, let’s make workplaces awesome. We do that in our training programs that focus on three major areas:
● How to create more effective workplaces with training in areas such as leadership development, performance feedback, and remote team collaboration.
● How to create more enjoyable workplaces with training in areas such as team building, diversity and inclusion, and emotional intelligence.
● How to create more efficient workplaces with training in areas such as time management, organizational agility, and data-driven decision making
We equip leaders and organizations with the tools they need to make workplaces awesome.
Professionals (especially young professionals) gain a vast majority of their knowledge from their peers - watching, listening, asking questions, and building relationships with others
M7: According to you, how can teams improve their performances?
AV: Teams can improve their performance by first clarifying performance expectations. Too often, I see talented team members stumble because of a lack of clarity. Unclear expectations lead to unmet expectations.
Then, step back. There are talented and innovative teams that are limited by a lack of ownership. I encourage leaders to clarify expectations by communicating the what and why (goal and purpose) and then allow opportunities for ownership within the how. This approach can lead to higher performance and competitive advantage. While every team is different and can improve in unique ways, this act of creating a culture of collaborative ownership can create an environment for better performance.
M7: What do you see as the most noticeable change right now happening in the workforce, encouraged by the rise of digital technologies?
AV: The most noticeable change in the workforce right now is the rise of remote work. This trend was accelerated by COVID-19 but was already growing in popularity prior to the pandemic. Digital collaboration tools and work resources are on the rise making it possible for high-performing teams to achieve greatness without ever being in the same place. While some companies are planning on returning to the office or considering a hybrid workforce, many states that remote work is here to stay.
Due to the rise in remote work, many companies are becoming more globalized. I’ve heard many recruiters and leaders respond, “If an employee doesn’t have to be at the office, then why should I hire exclusively local?” With a rise in global teams, networks are expanding, and cross-cultural teams are becoming even more commonplace. This is leading to a need for more intentional development of cultural competency, effective team collaboration, and shared remote resources.
People come to work, receive a task, and wait for instruction. Opportunities for ownership within teams establish opportunities to be uniquely better.
M7: What do you believe are the top three challenges for businesses in the post-COVID-19 era?
AV: With a massive percentage of employees working from home, there is a challenge distinguishing one place from the next. The top three challenges I believe that workforces are finding, all lie within this new paradox of work. Many companies are challenged to establish a cultural competitive advantage. I often ask leaders, “What is the difference between me sitting at home working for you versus sitting at home working for your competitor?” The answer must be more than salary. Cultural competitive advantage is really important and traditional, and it is being challenged in this evolving workforce. Google’s elaborate workspaces and on-site perks were sizable efforts in distinguishing themselves from some competitors. Coming to the office on your birthday to find balloons, cake, and a little celebration was appreciated and increased engagement. Jeans Fridays were a big deal in some formal companies. However, foosball tables, birthday cake, and jeans Fridays are not as relevant in today's evolving workforce with remote work and some in-office employees still hesitant about germ sharing activities (like small birthday gatherings). The first big challenge that businesses are facing in a post-pandemic world is establishing a cultural competitive advantage.
The next big challenge is relationship-building. Gallup studies have consistently shown that having a best friend at work is the number one factor of engagement at work. I’ve posed many remote companies with the question, “What does remote best friendship look like?” and “How can we cultivate an environment conducive to creating “best friendships”?” Best practices in engagement and retention will be reimagined as we move forward in this post-pandemic world.
Furthermore, professionals (especially young professionals) gain a vast majority of their knowledge from their peers - watching, listening, asking questions, and building relationships with others. Many professionals are entering the workforce for the first time in their living room. Onboarding and training new and freshmen employees look very different. Many are experimenting with new ways to include new employees into the company culture through relationships, traditions, and training. Whether fully remote, hybrid remote, or returning to the office - chances are the employee demographic has changed and the next big challenge companies are facing in a post-pandemic world is to establish, maintain, and grow relationships.
Ironically, the final challenge I believe that employers will face comes from a natural knee-jerk reaction to the first two challenges - screen time. There was a concern at the very beginning of the pandemic among some organizations that work-from-home employees would not get their work done - what we discovered was the opposite. Today, employees are more productive than ever...and at risk of burnout. Expectations by leaders to log in after hours, time zone differences and owned hours leading to notifications outside of traditional work hours, and ease of access to work at home during weekends can lead to more stress, errors, and burnout with a pressure to always be available. This is stemmed from a slew of many factors. I encourage my teammates to turn off their notifications and switch to “Do Not Disturb” when out of work. I practice this in my own life as well.
In addition to work screen time, many parts of the world are still only able to access features like workouts, concerts, and family communication via screen time. The world is starting to open up but it’s not fully open to everyone. An online happy hour or game night might be the last thing that teammates really want or need. Sometimes, the best thing to do is allow space to unplug and relax. This makes things like competitive advantage and relationship building extra challenging which creates space for innovative solutions.
M7: Your book, Uniquely Better, will be releasing soon. Could you please tell us a little bit about it?
MV: In 2016, I left my corporate job to become the only American, only female, and only blonde Academy football coach for the Paris Saint Germain Academy and Adidas Gameday Academy in Bangalore, India. As I emerged into the land of masala and chai, I found remarkably talented and driven players that were operating under a strict command-obey dynamic. Players would stand in a line, kick a ball, wait for direction. While this may be an efficient way to teach a skill, in a game scenario it was disastrous. I witnessed players kick the ball exactly the way that was taught during matches then turn to the sideline for future instruction. I noticed that the players had mastered tasks but didn’t understand game applications. We see these parallels in our business life every day. People come to work, receive a task, and wait for instruction. Opportunities for ownership within teams establish opportunities to be uniquely better. This book is a powerful story of transforming a team from lines, laps, and lectures to one of creativity, collaboration, and captainship! I share four specific opportunities for ownership and address the challenges, triumphs, setbacks, and rewards of leading a team to higher levels of performance.