RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Culture

A truly Great Team OR only a Great Company?

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Great Team OR Great CompanyThis is the season of several business magazines publishing lists, their own versions, of great companies to work with. And very soon, we will have surveys of employee engagement being administered across companies, gauging the engagement of the employees across verticals and teams in each company – the quintessential annual exercise.

And here I am, bemused all over once again at this very concept! All these years of being a part of the corporate world and some great companies, I could never understand the concept of a ‘great company’ or a ‘not-so-great company’. To my mind, there can be no such thing like a great or not-great company. In fact, there are ‘great teams’ and ‘not-great teams’ that are more of reality, as far as engagement of any employee is concerned. Think of it, if you were working in a ‘not-great team’ inside an otherwise ‘great company to work’, would you be really engaged and productive? No, right? On the other hand, if you work in a really great team, chances are that you’d be far more engaged and involved, even if your company is not really appearing amidst rankings of the great companies. If you agree, then I wonder why is there so much fuss around a ‘great company’ and so little or less meaningful concentration and effort around building & nurturing great teams, consisting of high-performing, well-intentioned and competent employees!

In my experience, organizations must focus on identifying and nurturing ‘great teams’; there is a dire need to learn from what those teams are doing right, what is the culture and ethos and though I really not like the term, what are the ‘best practices’ that can be imbibed and used to turn around the ‘not-so-great teams’. And one of the key things great teams focus upon is that whether each & every teammate is getting right opportunities to use their strengths every day; that they get chances, challenges and encouragement to demonstrate their best every day. That’s the bottom line of creating a successful organization and that’s really where companies should focus upon.

When I look back in my own career and reflect, I see some superb Indian and global organizations I worked with. And yet, what I more vividly remember are the teams I was part of. Some ‘great teams’ I worked in, and on a rare occasion, also found myself in a ‘not-so-great team’. While I fondly remember the great teams & great people I worked with, I also equally remember that when I was part of a ‘not-so-great team’, I wasn’t able to use my strengths, and give my best every day. The very fact that the company I worked with was really world class didn’t make any difference to my motivation and energy levels during that phase. And I am sure, many of you would have experienced the same predicament one or the other time in your career.

Best companies are not ‘great companies’ merely by some survey or rating or ranking. They are a unified whole, a superset of several ‘great teams’ replete with ‘great individuals’, who give their best every day. And that is what modern organizations must try to achieve. That will really make them a ‘great workplace’.

I would any day prefer working in a ‘great team’ vs. a ‘poor team in a great company’. Now it’s your turn. Which of these views speak most to you? I am sure you too worked in some great as well as not-so-great teams; what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments below – and here’s to all of us building great companies.

myTeam

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Leading a team is some interesting work! Specially, when it comprises of individuals that are as bright, capable and strong as the ones whom I lead. Here they are, in the adjoining image…

I built this team from the scratch – from a two-member unit to now a 24-strong one…took me more than 3 years to do so. True professionals that they are, each one of them is a leader in his or her own realm. Highly engaged and committed, they are proud recipients of several awards and accolades in last few years and have grown from one strength to another.

Many a times I am asked, what keeps them together. What is the trick, the magic wand…

Let’s see what make this team ‘work’ together:

  • We hire for attitude only; train later for skill. Personal integrity, high energy and passion are must-haves to join us.
  • We trust each other – one hundred percent. 99% is considered as good as 0% here!
  • Heard about the term ‘boundary-lessness’? Meet us…you’d often note the one based at Amritsar calling the one based at Lucknow to learn something new! Doesn’t matter if he could have called five of us in Punjab itself. What matters is who would’ve known the best answer…
  • We disagree vehemently – it is allowed in this team and conflict isn’t viewed as negative behavior.
  • If convinced, you can tell your manager that she is wrong – high chances she may accept it!
  • Well, we know it is OK to make mistakes. When we fail, we simply raise our hand and someone is around to help. You must see us working on our best-failed ideas some day!
  • We are honest, simple fellas and treat each other as equals.
  • There is no Boss! The leader is considered as a common connecting point.
  • Aged 24 and 36 and all others in between – gel alike. Yet, no two of us are are same. In fact, even if you ask us, we would find it really impossible to identify any two who are similar people!
  • Every member who is more than 6-months old in the team has surely trained a new member and owned his or her deliverables for first 60 days.
  • We stand by each other, in good, bad and worse. Heard about the old ‘friend in need…’ piece?
  • Do we have fun? Well, see us dancing together sometimes, or singing as a chorus! Favourite quote of ours – “Aap kaisa bhi gao, hum achcha hi sunenge” 🙂
  • We love learning and improving and do so as a religion.
  • We lovvve eating out – at the dhabas and the Taj alike! And only the Boss(!) pays 🙂
  • and many more…

Aptly put in by one of us, “This team also celebrates everything, be it professional accolades, personal triumphs or even just plain well being…with an energy level to be proud of!” Another one said, “We keep each other on our toes!” An older team-mate remarked “we are truly proud of our team’s bonding.” And the youngest one of us opined that we enjoy a candid and open culture!

Above all, we love our work and our roles in making everyone successful – believe in it every day and strive to be the best, in all we do…

Amused after reading this? Well, didn’t I say at the start that leading a team is some interesting work?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own and not of the organisation he is associated with.

What Makes A Team ‘Work’?

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All through our lives, right from the formative education years to the working years, nearly all of us get to become part of several teams – local cricket or football team, school choir, family events, Lion’s Club, societies at college, functional and cross-functional teams at work, et al.

I too have been a part of many such teams all my life, sometimes as a team-member and sometimes as the leader. However, over a period of last decade or so, I have followed the dynamics of teamwork very closely and with an albeit higher curiosity. I tried to follow patterns in behavior, codify the dynamism of team-skills and attempted to make sense of the conflicting views & outcomes thereafter. Time spent while at management and law school and several years of working thereafter helped me gain some very interesting insights and perspectives on what makes a team ‘work’ together.

While there is no dearth of literature available on this subject, one would agree that achieving near-perfect teamwork is a far cry from reality, especially in the corporate arena. The jury is still out on what actually makes a team click together, work together and subsequently achieve a common goal, each and every time. Interestingly, I also noted that many times, even great results or goal-achievement cannot conclusively state that the team did ‘work’ together as a cohesive unit or as a whole!

In my view, under-mentioned are some very crucial elements that make a team ‘work’:

Making of a Team – Willingness and Passion:

  • Clarity of purpose of the team – what is the goal and what is it worth; why and how do I fit in; what’s there for me in it…all of the three questions should be answered in order to get individuals together as a team.
  • An individual’s own willingness to be part of a particular team – you don’t need ones who don’t want to be there.
  • Passion quotient of individuals – lack of it in even one of the teammates could be a real killer. If only a few deliver upon the team’s need of passion, the team may deliver results, but will surely not hold for long as a unit.

Competence:

  • Only Competent Individuals On Board. It is quintessential for the team’s leader to define the necessary skills needed and ensure only the competent individuals are hired/selected. Compromising here will have a simmering, yet long-term ill affect, not only on the results and performance, but also on the team’s bonding. Good talent always wants to work with only other good talent.
  • No room for displaying poor ownership or lack of competencies – slackness, poor learning agility, lack of participation, are big NO. They not only adversely impact results, but also lower the overall team-engagement and pull it down. Conceding here would only invite discontent from other members.
  • Existence of complementary competencies amongst the teammates. A heterogeneous team is better than a homogeneous one; once each team-member knows and believes in the reasons of their own as well as others’ roles, responsibilities and strengths.

Culture, Respect and Connect:

  • Culture – that ‘conflict is not equal to negative behavior’. Often, we mistake genuine conflict as unwarranted and discard it. However, in my view, healthy conflict is the root of all progress. Having said that, due caution should be exercised against turning the conflicting views into negative display of emotions.
  • Culture – that it is good to disagree with each other, as far as you do not disregard. Debate and fight the idea, not the person.
  • Culture – willingness to praise good work and thank for contributions. “We are all great pals, where’s the need to thank each other?” – this is one big piece that most teams miss.  Teams that learn to praise commendable work and thank each other connect far better than a team of ‘otherwise great friends’.
  • Respect – towards every individual. Each one has a role to play and despite the professional differences that may occur, respect for each other’s personal self mustn’t go down.
  • Respect – for each other’s talent and contribution. ‘Know it all’ attitudes won’t make a team ‘work’ together.
  • Absence of personal insecurities – this one is a true make or break element. It is very hard for a team to ‘work’ together in presence of insecure behavior, demonstrated or otherwise. Insecurity amongst the teammates inspires spite and poor connect, and while the team may still achieve short-term results, the team won’t ‘work’ together for long.
  • Having fun together. How boring and disconnected a team would be, if there were no fun? Remember ‘Fun’? From amongst the pursuit of goals, seriousness of efforts, data, analytics, homework, et al, fun often takes a beating. Ensure the element of fun stays in all you do, the team would ‘work’ together. Celebrate birthdays, achievements, outings, even farewells; create avenues of having fun together.
  • Connect holistically. This works very well, especially in the context of Indian culture. We love to connect on the personal note, share personal challenges and happiness alike. I am of the view that while the team-leader has a larger role to play here, every team member can chip in with genuine interest in each other’s lives. Think of it, how strong the bond would be when each member of the team knows in his or her hearts that everyone is standing by, in the hour of need.

Leadership:

  • Leader’s absolute interest and willingness to lead the bunch is crucial. Who wants to be led by someone who isn’t willing to lead? Leader of the team must be strong enough to see the bigger picture and wise enough to identify with his or her teammates, play the role of a coach & guide and build a culture for all to succeed.
  • Team’s unflinching trust in the leader’s authenticity, abilities and competencies – brilliant individuals won’t agree to be led by a poor or incompetent leader for long.
  • Team trust on leader’s fairness towards all – a real test of character for any leader. The leader has to ensure establishing a fair and impartial performance yard-stick for each individual member, and doubly ensure that it is visible too to all team-mates.
  • Be there when needed! Leader is required to demonstrate courage by standing up for the mistakes of his/her team. Once established, this works brilliantly in keeping the faith of a team on their leader and goes a long distance in building a well-knit team.
  • Talk, Communicate, Share – surely a leader’s most crucial job in making a team ‘work’. Seamless communication, of information, praise, feedback, ideas, goals, even failures, builds a strong internal network within the team. And mind you, by communication I don’t mean one-way sermons from the leader – I am referring to open connect and communication across levels. Failure to achieve this leads to conjectures, surmises, doubts, et al, leading to poor performance and lower team engagement.

Courage and Managing Failure:                           

  • Belief – that it is OK to fail at times. Every team that concertedly documents their ‘best-failed’ ideas quickly and builds a method around each failed attempt stands the test of time longer.
  • Absence of blame-game: “We know why we failed and we will work around it next time” instead of “I did it right, only if you had not failed…”
  • Demonstrating Courage – in taking feedback without being defensive.  Well, it is easier said than done. However, when a well-meant feedback is taken in right spirit and worked upon, it not only boosts up the capabilities of the recipient of the feedback, it also does wonders to the overall capability of a team to continuously improve as a unit.
  • Displaying Courage – in giving feedback, in an unbiased, timely and constructive manner. No point in trying to beat around the bush or appease each other when the contribution and/or level of performance is lower that expected. Individual who are courageous enough to speak up their mind, without intending any personal assault, build foundation of a sustainable team effort.

Over a period of last few years of my working in teams, I believe above are the key determinants of what makes a team ‘work’.  When well-meaning and competent individuals get together as a unit, have & display faith in each other’s abilities, learn to praise and motivate each other; when the team stands by the leader and vice-versa and don’t waste time in blame-game and/or only thinking about credit, the team ‘works’ wonderfully together. As a team-member and a leader both, I understand teamwork is a journey and not an end. Thus, I have trained myself to carefully watch for all of above factors and keep implementing them as a ‘work-in-progress’; leading to continuous improvement in ensuring better individual & team effort, connect, bond and attainment of results. I would say, ‘it works!’


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Photo-credit: xtremeleaguetrivia.com

Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

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I have often been amused by the fact that everyone calls himself or herself a leader these days. Fancy designations and titles have crowned nearly all middle and above management roles as that of a ‘leader’. Everyone is being projected a leader, without knowing what is leadership all about in the first place!

Does the fact one has become a senior manager and manages a team make him or her a leader? Does one become a leader just like that? Or there is more to it…?

To my mind, leadership is more about knowing and managing self and not only managing others. It starts with asking some hard-hitting questions to self, before embarking on the journey of leading women and men…

Twelve such questions all leaders and leadership aspirants must ask themselves and find answers for, are:

  1. Why do I want to be a leader?
  2. Am I an authentic person and appear one too?
  3. Do I prefer hiring people stronger than myself under me?
  4. Am I a teacher, a coach; genuinely like working towards making everyone successful?
  5. Do I possess and demonstrate strong learning agility or do I behave as if a ‘know-it-all’? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  6. Do I genuinely take and manage well-meaning criticism without my ego overtaking? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  7. Do I allow myself to fail at times, and document each failure, thereby creating a method around it for others to learn?
  8. Do I allow my team their fair share of mistakes?
  9. Do I like being popular, and thus avoid giving feedback?
  10. Do I genuinely give credit to my team for all good they do? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  11. Does my team know that even if all goes wrong, I will stand ahead of them in facing the music?
  12. Have I ever told my people, “As your leader, I am with you and not above you”?

If you do not have clear answers to each one of these yet, just ask another question to yourself…

Why should anyone be led by me…?

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Photo-Credit: photographyblogger.net

Managing Diversity at Workplace

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Last week, I was discussing the subject of gender diversity at workplace with a bright management student, who is specializing in human resources. During the discussion, I shared with her how I believe gender-diversity is a key business imperative and not a mere fad.

However, she expressed her doubts on the overall subject of organizational initiatives promoting gender-parity.

According to her, an organization’s prerogative should be to promote meritocracy and establish processes that induct and manage talent irrespective of gender. She vehemently asserted, “To provide a pedestal to women and promote their cause in order to maintain gender parity would result in the male workforce feeling threatened and maybe even frustrated. A business has to be lead by people who have proven their worth and allowed metrics, numbers and tangible results to speak for them. Hence, ideally an organization should only make sure that equal opportunities are being provided to both genders and that women are supported and given an environment where it enables them to compete and prove their merit just as well as their male counterparts.”

She also raised the subject of female employees balancing the role of ‘care-giver with career-builder’ and raised an argument of it being matter of choice of the women. She asked, “please help me figure why should it be a business imperative to ensure gender parity at leadership roles, give that the organizations should necessarily be unbiased against any gender and provide equal opportunities?”

I am sure many of you may opine sharply to the thoughts expressed by the student above. Some of you may also say, “How dare she say all this?”

However, her confident argument and thought process behind it made me think. I am an HR professional; as a leader of several bright young women and men, I am responsible for hiring, building and promoting talent at all levels across functions. In all my years of working, I never observed any kind of bias towards any element of workforce diversity, including gender diversity. I worked with some of the great organizations of India and the world, which promoted & extended an inclusive, fair and open work-culture to all their employees, and always advocated & promoted talent and merit. Thus, I didn’t face any such situation where I would have experienced any undue bias towards any gender whatsoever.

Having said that, I am aware that this isn’t a universal phenomenon. We do keep hearing issues like ‘glass-ceiling’ that may still exist in some sectors and organizations. We do observe there exists certain discomfort with women working in manufacturing facilities or sales units. Often, this discomfort is not expressed in words, but a careful perusal of the body language of the hiring manager says it all. I have infact seen job-descriptions, which clearly say, “Only males apply”.

I often feel surprised at such discomfort or classification of gender, for I always thought Sudha Murthy broke the myth way back in ‘70s, by knocking the doors of a famous manufacturing company and opening it for women employees on shop-floor.

The difference of attitude of the society towards the women-folk has always left me confused. As a school student, I grew up with my female batch-mates studying much harder, being more sincere towards education, and participating in all events – indoor and outdoor, and competing with equal passion. However, right after the Class 10th, we could observe the change in society’s approach – boys aspired for engineering and girls often ended up taking ‘Bio’ – the aim being an apparently safer, or less riskier career in medicine! In those years, a very miniscule section of women applied and studied at the engineering colleges. This was way worse in pre-‘80s, where home-science and humanities were the key subjects for the girls. Either no career at all, or teaching or government jobs were the limited careers women aspired for! Thanks to this mindset, only a small creamy layer of women-folk pursued higher education or even joined the ITIs to pursue technical qualifications.

The late ‘90s and early 2000 changed it to a considerable extent. We witnessed a lot of women applying to and studying diverse fields like engineering, law, hotel-management, etc. Gradually, the percentage of women in such courses increased. The management colleges too started to have a good one-fourth and more of the batch as females and society started to change the outlook towards women opting for ‘riskier’ careers. However, largely this change remained confined to the metros and other large cities, and more so in the upper-middle class families.

Hence, the disparity in workforce remains at all levels to this date. Our factories do not employ women – they are considered a male bastion – due to the so-called physical labour required, perceptions of safety norms and also due to the mindset of the employers. So, at the workmen level, we don’t see many organization employing female workers. Law of the land doesn’t help remove the disparity either. It still doesn’t permit a large section of female employees to work before 6pm and after 8pm, and hence, poses a strong challenge towards organizations that aspire to promote work-force diversity to its fullest extent and benefits. Also, at this stratum of the society, male-members are still considered the breadwinners, and women run homes and look after children and elders.

I could never understand this dichotomy, for the fact that all our Indian homes that could afford a home-help, women of only the above mentioned stratum of the society work as maids, earning a substantial potion of their household incomes! Our farms always employed women, engaging them in harder physical labour than our factories merited! I always wonder if women can move around the town till late hours, why can’t they work inside offices and factories till late? After all, providing safe working conditions is what law and order is all about, and restricting the working hours only appear unfair to me.

On the other hand, at the knowledge and management workers levels, disparity is certainly decreasing. We see women performing exceedingly well in such roles. However, the numbers still do not stack up at all levels in the same manner. There are two broad reasons for this – one, still the number of female candidates studying in professional courses is far lesser as compared to their male counterparts. Blame the fact that old societal norms still exist in a large part of our small towns and rural areas. A very large segment of women do not get parental/societal approvals to move out of hometowns to pursue quality education elsewhere. Even those who do, often move back to hometowns, either working at whatever is available or yet again applying to ‘safer’ public-sector jobs, banks, et al. Hence, the modern, private-sector organizations get to receive a very small amount of applicants, and thus the poorer gender ratio at workplaces in lower and middle-management.

The second reason is that the women who get to obtain quality education, receive family support to pursue careers, join, work & perform in organizations, face another challenge – managing the dual roles of homemaker and career woman. Ironically, the age between 25 and 35 years when one can and has to concentrate on the career the most, most women drop out to get married, give birth to and raise kids. While both law and organizations extends support in such cases, this support is often inadequate. The pressure from society is often back breaking, many a times not allowing women to continue with their careers. Of course, this varies from family to family and society to society as a whole. However, we often see that such women resume work, if at all they do after a long break, only to find their roles being replaced by others. They are offered to take up whatever roles are available at the hand, which may or may not suit their skill or liking. In this hyper-competitive era, such gaps can be terminal for any employee, and thus jeopardize the rise of an otherwise competent performer with even higher potential. Consequently, we see furthermore skewed gender-ratio at senior leadership levels.

Keeping in view the above aspects, it becomes imperative for all well meaning organizations to encourage gender-diversity by employing focused strategic initiatives and provide cultural & infrastructural support to all female employees. In my view, these initiatives & opportunities in no manner subjugate the interests of and opportunities available to the male employees. Human capital is way too precious an asset to be forsaken at the altar of any diversity-initiative. In order to support diversity, no sensible organization would blindly entertain unacceptable quality of talent on its rolls and the subsequent loss of productivity.

I strongly believe that merit and talent is primary and cannot be compromised upon at workplaces. Having said that, creating an unbiased culture of opportunity, consideration to the physical and personal attributes of the female workforce and building concerted & innovative working possibilities that support women across ages and work-levels is an organizational imperative and must not be viewed as any special favour towards them.

I am reminded of this small piece I read very long ago in a book based on World War-II. It still holds a lot of meaning in the current times, when the value of partnership is even higher for both genders. Quoting here:

Rosie keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little frail can do,
More than a man can do,
Rosie, the riveter.
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie;
Charlie, he’s a marine.
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the riveting machine.

I rest my case…please do let me know your views.

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Photo-credit: McKinsey Report

Unusually Excellent

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by John Hamm

I recently completed reading this excellent book on leadership. In last 9 years, I have read several books on the subject; this one is arguably the best one.

‘Unusually Excellent’ provides an effective framework – 9 necessary skills required for the practice of great leadership. John takes you through each skill in a well-structured and elaborate, yet simple and compelling manner. He makes you think and ponder on your leadership style, without sounding preaching. He builds his case strongly for each skill, his stories make you identify your gaps, without making you feel miserable about them.

What made me read this book with considerable attention was John’s immaculate presentation of the 9 essential skills – unlike the rules that many other authors of leadership arena insist upon. I have always believed there aren’t any rules of leadership; leaders are born, not made. However, we can always acquire the quintessential skills of this art, making us more effective leaders by the day.

In recent past, many authors have stressed on leaders not focussing on basics; John explains this in a very effective manner through an excellent example of TaylorMade adidas Golf’s Performance Center in Carlsbad, California – ‘The Kingdom’. It was really an ‘Aha’ moment for me to read how great golfers, when face failure, learn to revisit basics of golf at this state-of-the-art facility. John builds a strong pitch here for CEO’s, by comparing them to professional golfers, and asks them to keep revisiting their basics. Really good…

This book is meant for both experienced and aspiring leaders, and is highly accessible & practical in approach. For me, there were some very compelling stories and examples featured in the book, and I picked up some great learning from each one of them:

  • Page 5, Carl’s story teaches us humility in a special way, a must have skill leaders often take for granted
  • Page 16, Jim’s story is really insightful…as a leader, “I am not above you. I am with you…”
  • Page 49, how a digital camera teaches us to fail, and do it better next time…
  • Page 61, “There is no such thing called bad weather, only inadequate clothing…”
  • Page 67, message from a great leader, “Connect with me. I know what to do. Together, we will accomplish something great that you will look back on with pride.”
  • Page 68, Born-again employees – this one is this incredibly important – “to keep your employees engaged, you must regularly re-create the original passion, simulating the reasons they first joined the team.”
  • Page 158, David’s story on ‘Talking Trust’ – how to resolve audience’s reluctance to ask questions when there is power in the room

and many more…

A key factor that John insists on is leaders’ personally spending considerable time hiring their team. He argues that “hiring great people is the highest leverage activity that leaders undertake.” I fully second this part. This is the first and biggest investment any leader would make in creating a great team, a worthy investment that has far-reaching effects and results.

Another great insight I picked up was on Page 134 – concept of “84 Great Things.” Superb example of ensuring flawless execution and very implementable…I have already started to practice it.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on John Adler’s story, on page 167-68…the Solitary Touch…how every word that a leaders speaks makes an impact, how their all words carry a message, an actionable for all…

‘Unusually Excellent’ is an unusually excellent work on the subject. This book is for the leaders, and not on leaders. It helps you build a perspective on leadership over a long career, and does not offer any tricks to be a leader. I have really benefited from this book…it has made me think, reflect, improve…I am on the path to being a better leader and will keep coming back to consult this book. I am sure, this will be one of the most thumbed books in every well-meaning leader’s library.

Highly recommended…

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Photo-credit: endeavor.org

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