Building a strong team can help build strong membership


These are challenging times for Associations, membership numbers are falling and maintaining relevance is a big problem faced by many.

Rather than talk to you all about how Custom D can solve all of these problems — whilst making your coffee and picking up your dry cleaning — I want to talk about the impact and value of building a strong team within your organisation. And how this can help you solve some of your own problems — as the saying goes.... heal thyself!

The tech industry is chock full of high-achieving millennials, they’re smart, well educated and on the move. With the tightening labour market, attracting them is hard... hanging on to them is even harder.

The bulk of our team are under 35 — AKA millennials. And we work hard everyday to make sure they’re not tempted to look elsewhere.

The average tenure for a millennial is around 2.5 years. Most of our team have been with us for 5 years or more.

How do we do it?


Our team want clear career opportunities — that’s what drives business growth at Custom D.

We need to feed our emerging leaders with clear pathways for career progression. If we want them to see a future with us, we have to grow ... creating new roles and opportunities.

Our team want quality work — so that’s what drives client selection

Not every project, or client for that matter, is a good fit for us. We try not to jam a square peg in a round hole. We evaluate our skills and the way we work against new projects to make sure we’re delivering the right type of work to our team.

Our team want continuous learning — so we provide regular R&D sessions

Learning and taking on new challenges is a big part of what keeps our team engaged. And we don’t always want that learning to happen within the constraints of a project.

So on Friday afternoons the chips and beer get broken out and the team get to get their geek on and investigate some sort of new tech topic or tool. Our team love it... but those sessions are not for everyone.

Our team want to work collaboratively — so we source work that lets them work closely together

We’re lucky that web development lends itself to working in groups. Developers by nature are mostly introverts which makes it surprising that they thrive when asked to build something together. We actively look for opportunities for them to collaborate.

Our team want something to believe in — so that keeps us honest

According to Gallop 70% of Australians are completely disengaged from their job.

If we want our team to be authentic and passionate then we have to be more than just about the money. We have to deliver a message that resonates — we have to give them something they can get behind.

We listen. We care. We prioritise them. Basically...


It’s all about them.


But we certainly do not always get it right. At the foundation of Custom D are hard-hitting engineers, tackling tricky stuff and the trickier the better. But function isn’t everything, we also want to give our users a great experience and for that we need good design.

We’ve always had a designer on the team, but of all the positions it's the one that we’ve struggled to get stability in. We’d have someone for a couple of years and then they’d leave (or as we like to say... they died). It was always a sad time, grieving the loss of a workmate.

For smart people, we were a bit slow to twig to the fact that what works for developers won’t necessarily work creatives, and more than that, they need their own tribe. We have three on the creative team now and we’ve done a lot to promote them as critical to the successful outcome of a project and not just the guys that apply the lipstick to all the real work.


Creatively, we are now producing the best work we ever have and it’s making an enormous difference to the overall quality of what we deliver to our clients.

Make no mistake — it’s a lot of work.

Why do we do it?

Good question. Sometimes I wonder.





Strong culture is built on trust and over time

Developing a culture of stability, caring, integrity, fairness and fun has a direct correlation to the way our team think about and interact with our clients and with each other.

This takes time and its foundation is trust and is established by the way we act and behave when times are tough or stressful or pressurised.

The best relationships are developed over time

We operate in an industry that celebrates workplace perks — like nap rooms, lego tables, catered meals and limitless supplies of snacks and fizzy drinks. All with the express purpose of enticing the best people and keeping them at work.

High staff churn is more prevalent now than ever... long gone are the days of having a ‘job for life’ and to a certain extent that’s good... people can become complacent and stale. Fresh blood helps to shake things up.

According to the Foundation for Young Australians the average teenager will have 17 different jobs and 5 careers.

But if you want continuity and to build rich, long-term partnerships with your customers (or in your case members) as well as within your team — and at Custom D we most definitely do — you need a stable workforce.

A deep understanding of shared purpose is created over time

Probably one of the most important aspects of a strong team is having a common purpose. Something that we all believe in.

At Custom D, we want everything we do to add value. From the software we build, to the articles we publish on our website... to this talk that i’m giving today. We want to offer real and genuine value.

When you overlay that purpose on the things that we do, people can be more autonomous, decisions are easier.

And it's my job to make sure that everyone has bought in to that vision.


When Rob Fyfe took the reins of Air New Zealand in 2005, the airline was in trouble. It was struggling financially and its customer service was pretty bad. Changes were needed.

So he turned the company upside down and rather than offer scripts and oppressive rules around customer interaction ... he shared a vision.

He wanted the airline to show more personality and for employees to show their Kiwiness. He encouraged them to use their initiative and judgement rather than rely on rulebooks.

When AirNZ staff understood their purpose was to enjoy their job and infect their customers with that joy, it gave way to a cultural shift that was absolutely game changing.They have gone on to win airline of the year on countless occasions.

When we understand what the higher purpose is, we feel empowered and in control.

And creating that sort of belief works best when developed over time.

So what’s my parting message to you?

1. Invest your time in your team rather than the draining process of recruiting replacements

2. Understand your purpose and share that with your team, repeatedly

3. Your team will reflect you, they will for the most part follow the tone and culture that you set


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