The reason that ᒪᐯᑎ can stimulate co-creation within the Leuven ecosystem is because of its young and motivated team members. It is HR operator Thomas Hendrikx who forms one of the main forces behind the shaping and sustaining of a healthy work environment. As the so-called ‘Nestor’ of the group, he elaborates on the foundations of a thriving team dynamic.
Thomas, as co-owner of ‘Serendipity 4 you‘ and working for an accountancy firm, you must be a busy bee. Besides the fact that it gives you a lot of satisfaction, they are also very demanding roles. Have you ever had a period or moment where you could not live up to their expectations?
“‘Before answering your question, it might be useful to explain you what Serendipity is about. In short, it is a career coaching business which I co-own with my mother. She focusses mostly on the coaching practices, while I overview the back end of our company like, for example, the financial administration and marketing. To return to your question, there were definitely moments the past year which have been really hard. Concerning the ‘not living up to expectations’; it was mostly towards those that I created myself. It has been a tough year on that front, also because I stopped working with a longtime client of mine as my mental health was deteriorating. So yes, I could not live up to my own expectations and I had to tell myself that it was not working for me anymore. With the result, that I had to take a step back towards the end of 2019.”
You state that you could not live up to the expectations of your work environment because of your deteriorating mental health. Would you say that your precarious situation was established by the job itself or because of external factors?
“‘Well, it was a mixture of both actually. It is good that you discern that yourself, because I think that those two factors are inherent for most burn-outs or depressions. In the first place, there is the environment that you’re part of but there is also the way you respond to it. I often hear people say ‘it is my employer’s fault’. However, in the end it is also your own responsibility: ‘What can I do to thrive in this environment so my mental health doesn’t get affected negatively?’ Speaking for myself, I had to learn to be more assertive and demarcate my boundaries in order to show what I really was willing or able to do.”
Even though you had a lot on your plate already, you still joined ᒪᐯᑎ almost a year ago. What was your initial motivation to become part of the organization?
“‘In all honesty, I was initially looking for a project to get my life back on track. At that point, I was at home for a few months already and I knew that it was necessary to take on new challenges and responsibilities. It would help me to eventually build up towards a fulltime job again. So the main motivation was to engage in a new environment and re-establish my confidence. But the reason that I stuck around for so long, is that the people are passionate about what they do and are fun to work with.”
As you’re part of the HR team, one of your activities is to onboard new members yourself now. Which pathways do you usually follow in order to do that effectively?
“‘One of the most important things, especially during Corona, is to find these bits of time for small check-ins. It feels better to have a more personal conversation rather than solely focussing on big team meetings. Of course, there is also the more technical part to grant all the necessary tools, like logins, to the new members. But the more important issue is to make people feel at home as soon as possible. For example, one of the new interns has a passion for cars. So I think it is nice to have a small chat every once in a while like ‘Hey I have seen this nice car what do you think about it?'”
Switching towards a different topic, ᒪᐯᑎ consists of members who work on a voluntary basis. Do you feel that it is more challenging to keep them motivated by the lack of financial incentives?
“‘That’s a very good point, as it is often one of the challenges you see in non-profits. How do we attract people and also what kind of profiles do we attract? Actually, the answer to your question lies within that thought. We don’t attract people looking for a job. Most profiles are searching for an internship and can identify themselves with the ᒪᐯᑎ mission and vision. As a result, they already have the intrinsic motivation to contribute to the organization in every way possible. They don’t have the expectation to be financially rewarded. Most of the people here, are already working or about to be graduated. We try to focus on giving them a lot of opportunities to contribute so they can feel proud: ‘Hey, I created this!’. Of course, we actively enforce the inner dynamics and offer new members a learn-and-development track so they still get something out of it.”
Besides the voluntary connotation, the team has only an average age of 25. Would you say that such a young minded working sphere has inherent advantages or disadvantages?
“‘It does definitely have some clear advantages. All the people have this, without wanting to sound condescending, naive sense of changing the world. That doesn’t mean that I am old or cynical ofcourse (laughs). But it is something very prevalent in the team which only contributes to that young and dynamic vibe, with the result that it gets things done. That’s also the power of start-ups which are less static than entreprises that have been established for a longer period of time. Of course, there are times that I think that I would have done things differently based on the past experiences that I’ve had. But in the end, I’m a really big fan of the spirit of getting things done that is intertwined throughout the whole team.”
So, you don’t feel that ᒪᐯᑎ also has to attract more aged, or call it experienced, people within an environment where co-creation and networking are central? Or is the young minded perspective also a sustainable way to keep on growing?
“‘Well, if we want to transform ᒪᐯᑎ into a true business, which is kind of a public secret that we are aiming to do so, then we’ll need people with more business experience and more years on their resumé. In fact, we are already working on that as an advisory board is being formed, comprised of profiles with 10 to 20 years of experience. So the strategy team, consisting of the teamleaders and our founder Jente, is guided by the advisory board while they advise our intern volunteers on their turn.”
ᒪᐯᑎ is known to boost co-creation and networking within the Leuven ecosystem. Are there strategies you wield, to improve collaboration within your team that can be used to stimulate co-creation on the macro- or ‘Leuven-level’ even more?
“‘Well, I have read a book a few days ago that said: people do business with people. So what does it mean in practice? I think the frequent check-ins, the idea of ‘people first’ and other things we employ within ᒪᐯᑎ, can be done on a higher level as well. For example, we will always pursue a stable contact with partners like Leuven MindGate or UCLL. In order to maintain our contactpoints, we keep stimulating a two-sided dynamic where everyone contributes to the other’s growth. The philosophy of getting the right people in the room and seeing how we can help each other, that’s the way to go. However, there is ofcourse room for improvement by, for example, delegating the part of the macro-networking. At the moment, those contactpoints are mostly overseen by Jente, which is logical as he tries to manage the organization in the most personal way. But it might be interesting to also engage the other teamleaders more to maintain our contacts, as he is a very busy bee too. If we multiply our circle of potential influence, our added value will only grow.”
As a final question; I wonder how do you see ᒪᐯᑎ evolve in the future, based on the way it exists today?
“‘That’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure that I can make a valid prediction though. Look at twelve months ago, when we thought that Corona would be a one or two months quarantine thing. What will remain the same is the vibe we have going. Thereby, we also survived corona and managed to pivot our business model to a digital one. That only happened because of the young and energetic team which wants to get stuff done and contribute to a higher purpose. On the practical side, we will probably have more offline events again and maybe offer courses for young graduates, however the latter is not concrete at all. But all of those things, will be based on the ᒪᐯᑎ identity, which is the only thing that I would dare to predict at this moment.”