Following my colleague’s lead, I have a confession of my own to make. In a former life, I was a cheerleader.
I cheered with the St. Ambrose Angels and the Brunswick High School Blue Devils. I spent my adolescence jumping and tumbling and flying in stunts, chanting and cheering and dancing to clips of “Work It” and “Come on Eileen.”
I decided not to pursue cheerleading in college, but I didn’t stop cheering. Instead, I joined the Ohio State cheering section Block “O.” During football games, we used plastic cards to form pictures and words in support of the team.
People who’ve only known me as an adult find this history surprising because I’ve landed in a profession — design — well-suited for the introverted kind. The opposite-of-a-cheerleader kind. But in my role as a designer, I’ve found ways to integrate principles from cheerleading into my job, especially in regards to teamwork and client relations. Here are some ways I add a little pep to my work day.
Know when to lead and when to follow
At the beginning of a chant, the cheer captain initiates a cheer with a call that tells the squad which cheer to start and when to join in. At this point, the cheerleaders will follow her lead and join in together. A cheerleader must know how to take that direction but also be comfortable taking the lead themselves. It is called cheerleading, after all. The role of the cheerleader is to lead by example, building the enthusiasm of the crowd by getting them to join in on the cheer to support the team.
In my job, I must also know when to lead and when to follow. I take the lead by offering to help colleagues, by making my own task lists without a director telling me what to do, and by communicating directly with clients. I follow when another team member leads a client meeting, or when I’m extending a design system with the direction of another designer. I may not always be the person leading the show, but I’m there to support, chiming in and helping out however I’m needed.
Keep morale high
When the team is losing the game, it’s hard to not throw in the towel and give up. How do you keep up the excitement when it seems like there is zero possibility for a turnaround? But that is the job of the cheerleader. Despite the odds, their commitment to their role keeps them confident and positive.
Just like sports teams, business has its ebbs and flows. When you’re down, it can feel like it’s impossible to get out of the slump. But the most important thing to do in times like these is to stay positive (but still realistic). It’s impossible to be cheery 100% of the time, but it’s important to be diligent about minimizing complaints in front of coworkers and to come to work with a good attitude. Stress and negativity are incredibly infectious. I try to avoid negativity to keep my own spirits high — which I hope rubs off on my colleagues.
Stay in sync with your team
In cheerleading competitions, the squad needs to keep their performance synchronized. Every movement and voice should be executed in unison to deliver a powerful routine. This requires a lot of preparation. Timing is practiced and skills are rehearsed in order to nail it on the day of the performance. Team cohesion is prized above all else.
Similarly, our team at Happy Cog needs to stay in sync about client meetings, pitches, workshops, and the various projects we have going on. All team members should know the status of client feedback and where we are in the timeline of deliveries. To achieve this, I practice proactive communication and prepare for meetings with input from all team members. This unity ensures we will deliver a solid presentation. No single individual makes a team successful; the collective efforts of all members is how we make good work.
Celebrate the small victories
Cheerleaders find a reason to celebrate just about anything. They even assemble people together at pep rallies before a game is won! The purpose is simply to encourage support for the team and build up school spirit.
I believe in celebrating the small victories in my job, too. High fives for a successful first meeting with a new client. Streams of emojis for delivering amazing work. Gifs for navigating a tricky call. Bell rings when we launch a new website. Celebrating these victories boosts confidence and paves the way for future wins. It demonstrates appreciation for my coworkers. It’s simple but it makes a big difference.
If the day-to-day routine starts to feel like the doldrums, I encourage you to keep the above principles in mind. At the end of the day, our job is to delight clients and audiences. The easiest way to get there is with a happy team that works together. And spirit fingers.
Originally published on the Happy Cog blog, Cognition.