I’ve never been trained in management. And I’ve never been trained in innovation.

This week I realised that I really don’t know what I’m doing. It was a gut-wrenching moment that literally took my breath away. My eyes went wide, and I’m pretty sure the team heard me make a noise that sounded something like a wail but in a deeper voice. So more like a troll with a cold.

We start every week with a quick meeting that serves to basically say hi to everybody, acknowledge that we all exist, and for any major announcements to be made, or any calls for help to be made. On Thursdays, we have a group meeting that is for anything from letting people know about a recent mission, to talking through new ideas, to personality testing (we did that two weeks ago, I’m apparently veering towards authoritarian, which apparently is not good). On Fridays, we bookend the week with another team exercise of lessons learned. What did we observe, what did we learn, what would we change, and what will we as individuals, do to bring about that change in the next seven days. Any team going through change that I’ve managed seems to respond well to this sort of structure. In between, people reach out to me whenever they need to have a bilateral meeting. It’s a space for anybody to raise personal issues, to seek advice, and to ask questions without the rest of the team. It’s more intimate. I get to ask for their advice on issues that I’m facing, and I get feedback as a manager. I keep trying to improve how I manage, I keep failing, and I keep improving, and the cycle continues.

This week started with a briefing to the EU, continued with putting a plan in place to use AI to find a new boss, had a big disagreement with a Director, met with one of our largest corporate partners, and so on – it was a busy week, but not particularly out of the ordinary.

But one thing that stopped me dead in my tracks, was circadian rhythms. It’s the latest spanner in my works. Another thing that I now need to read about management, and to take into consideration. And there’s a lot to take into consideration.

On Monday morning I reminded myself of the diversity and inclusion agenda that we’ve had as a team for the last while. I reminded myself of the tactics that I need, and some of the tools I need, to get the best from everybody in the team. I was on the bus trying to listen to Arabicpod, whilst also reading a news update, whilst also trying to make sure my gym bag didn’t slip off my shoulder onto the guy who got the seat. It’s something we need to be serious about, so I’m thinking about different channels of communication that people may or may not be comfortable with. Midway through the week, I realised I haven’t been giving enough time and attention to one of the team members, who just needs a bit more time and attention, a bit more dialogue. Today’s Friday, so I’ve been wondering how I did this week as a manager – did we get to where we needed to get? Did I set the example I should have set? And then circadian rhythms arrived and ruined the whole thing.

Apparently, you should do things at 10:30, and don’t get surgery in the afternoon because everybody stops washing their hands then, and they can’t be bothered anyway, so don’t bother. The article just sent me down a rabbit hole of circadian rhythms. Should we change our group meeting from Thursday at 14:00, to Thursday at 10:30? Should we all just give up mid-afternoon, and go to the pub? I don’t know. But then I got irked, because you know what, I have never been trained in any of this stuff. I’m not an innovation expert, and I’m not a management expert. I’ve taught myself both of these things, which probably means I’m not particularly good at either.

But I’ve learned a few things along the way about management through mistake after mistake after mistake, and they occurred to me this week at the end of my circadian rhythms panic.

Management is all about diversity and inclusion.

On our team, we speak about 14 different languages; we’re from 10 different countries. The youngest team member is 28, the oldest, plus 40. Our socio-economic backgrounds are extremely diverse. If I can’t get what’s in their brains, out of their brains, then I haven’t done my job. And this part of my job means having multiple communication channels that multiple comfort zones can plug into. It also means that I need to get over myself, and not judge people’s thoughts. Diversity of thought is what drives this team, so I need to make sure everybody’s thoughts are valued, by myself, as well as everybody else in the team, and beyond.

This is a little bit tricky, and you’ll understand if you meet our team. One of the team talks to a duck called Paul, and harvests what she calls, her data babies. Another just said, ‘have some pomegranate’. Another doesn’t like to communicate via Slack. Another likes to communicate via giphys. One talks around a subject and takes a while to think things through before reaching the main point. Another swears a lot, another broods, another laughs and I don’t know why. It’s a team of superstars, and all for very different reasons, and with very different qwerks. We couldn’t predict internal displacement in Somalia one month ahead of time, if we didn’t promote diversity of thought. We couldn’t have zoned in on science-based communication, we couldn’t have an Innovation Fellowship, the Instant Network Schools programme, the Higher Education Accelerator, the Innovation Fund, nor boda-boda talk talk, sentiment analysis, we couldn’t start looking at AI to find new team members, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Hire smart people. And people who are smarter than you.

There’s not much more to add to this point. But bury your ego, admit that you’re not that smart, and go hire people who actually are, and support them to flourish. Dina is a case in point. She was hired as our Office Manager, but went on to run the Innovation Fund; she’s automated many of our office processes via Calamari, Formstack, and Slack, and now works out how we should make decisions, and how we should project manage. Lauren is another. She was hired to support an ideas management platform – UNHCR Ideas. Now she is pushing the boundaries on how we persuade, and how we influence, and how we can counter anti-refugee sentiment(s), alongside the day to day management of our social media accounts. You can’t hire smart people, and keep them in a box, or silo. Hire them, then push them to do more, and let them drive the agenda.

Admit when you’re wrong.

Just do it. Everyone knows anyway. Don’t be that person who ignores it. People want to follow people who are honest, transparent, and humble. And that starts with you. I made a catastrophic mistake at the beginning of the year, which was not to communicate my needs clearly to one of my most trusted friends and colleagues. Admit it, don’t put it on them, admit your faults, and they’ll likely come back and surprise you with another brilliant piece of work, or approach. You have to communicate what the mistake was, what the impact was, and what you’re going to do to 1) fix it; 2) avoid making it again in future.

There’s a lot of stuff you just don’t know.

There’s a lot of stuff you just don’t know. Including Circadian rhythms. I think the key here is to work out if it’s relevant, how it’s relevant, and what you can do to make it happen, within reason. Anything else should just be disregarded. The Circadian rhythms thing I actually do think is important, but it’s not important enough for me to do a massive overhaul of how we work. It’s more to take into account when I’m scheduling new stuff. Other stuff I just disregard because it doesn’t resonate, or it’s simply common sense that we’re probably doing anyway.

I don’t know really why I wrote this blog but thought there might be another faux manager in the innovation sphere out there that might benefit from this brain dump.

So, there you go.




We’re always looking for great stories, ideas, and opinions on innovations that are led by or create impact for refugees. If you have one to share with us send us an email at [email protected]

If you’d like to repost this article on your website, please see our reposting policy.