The Art of Building and Maintaining Effective Teams

by Silke Brandt-Schmidt, VP Program Management

It has often been said that a company’s most important asset drives home from the office each evening. In our brave new world of remote and hybrid work, that analogy may need to be updated to read, “Your most valuable asset logs off each evening.”

But it rings just as true today, including at Affimed, where—for all the focus on technological innovation—our secret sauce remains the caliber and commitment of the individuals who make up our teams.

But how can you build, lead, and maintain an effective team in today’s environment?

It has been a question on my mind throughout my career, both earlier in roles at a much larger biopharma company and today at the comparatively nimbler organizational structure of Affimed. The organizational makeup was one of the selling points for me in taking the leap to join the team. I was on the hunt for an organization that checked exactly every box that Affimed checks—somewhere that is fast-paced, pioneering new solutions to medical challenges, and innovating rather than relying on conventional wisdom. In short, I wanted to help build a plane while it was flying.

The culture and tone set by leadership was an important reason I chose Affimed. I felt confident I would be supported, empowered, and trusted to build and run a team in the way that best enabled performance.

My department is focused on project management, driving and executing a wide range of programs. My position as VP of Program Management was newly created, and my initial marching orders were to essentially build the department and pull in new talent to meet evolving business needs.

Right away, I was confronted with the challenge of finding and keeping the best people in a competitive landscape. There’s plenty of good talent out there—so you can’t win with just the basics anymore. People expect a lot more and are focused on much more than compensation alone, though that remains an important factor. You also need to ensure that you are offering opportunities for their personal growth and development. Money alone isn’t enough to move the needle these days; they also need support to help get to the next level. Professionals want their managers to care about them as people, to help them develop and get to the next phase of their careers.

When it comes to building and sustaining a high-performing team for the long haul, I keep these tenets in mind:

Hire with “win-win” in mind. I try to always remember that a job interview is a chance for the candidate to interview us as well and to ensure that we are the right mutual fit. We want candidates with the right attitude and skills to do the job that we need to have done—and we also want to be able to offer those candidates the opportunity to achieve their own career objectives. It’s a two-way street.

Encourage experimentation and iteration. We strive to create an environment that allows the team to thrive with a degree of freedom and autonomy. That means prioritizing flexibility, the free exchange of opinions, and a safe environment for the inevitable failures and mistakes.

Walk the walk. I’m always keenly aware that as a leader, one of my most important tasks is modeling the behaviors I want to see on the team and across our culture. We can’t just talk about flexibility in the wake of the pandemic; we have to actively model it, as just one example. If my goal is to create a safe environment for people to share opinions and to disagree with one another, it’s crucial that I set the tone by being a leader who isn’t afraid to be challenged. I’ve learned to be true to my own leadership style; for me, that means not being afraid to show my vulnerability in the room and admitting when I don’t have the answers.

The world has fundamentally changed in the wake of the pandemic. Like never before, professionals are thinking through what really matters to them at work—flexibility, the opportunity to grow, the ability to make an impact. The organizations that will win in the future will be those that are adaptive, inclusive, and set the right tone and conditions to enable their teams to collaborate. It is an ongoing work in progress anywhere, but I’m proud that we are on the right path at Affimed and will continue on the journey.