E2A 68: Orchestrating (and Writing) Team Harmony with Ilona Vass 

 January 2, 2024

By  Scott A. MacMillan

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan speaks with Ilona Vass, founder of ilonavass.com, an expert in interpersonal communications, for leadership, within teams, and author of Team Harmony: Striking the Right Chord - A Guide for Leading People in the Modern Workplace.

Ilona shares her expertise in interpersonal communications for leadership within teams, discusses her background and inspiration, the writing and publishing process, and the business goals for her book. She also provides advice for aspiring authors and tips for orchestrating an effective team.


Ilona Vass is an expert in leadership and team communication.

Ilona is inspired to improve how humans speak with each other and handle challenging conversations with ease and dignity. Her focus in training, coaching and facilitation is taking the pressure off around communication for people leaders, striving to build champion teams, and tackling challenges and changes with a positive outcome in mind.

She helps people leaders discover and expand their full communication potential and teams to build an excellent everyday communication infrastructure, always keeping human originality in mind.

After studying, working and living in China for many years, her interest in communication was stimulated, and she experienced the many facets of intercultural communication in private and business settings.

In her first career at Austrian Airlines, Ilona held managerial positions leading teams worldwide. She always pursued a collaborative and inclusive approach with teams and saw the benefits of working in harmony.

Her last posting with Austrian Airlines brought her to Australia, where she currently resides in Sydney with her son. She now runs her business helping companies and individuals to better their communication.

She works with clients in Australia, Asia and Europe, offering a range of programs, workshops and retreats, including coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and speaking at company events and conferences, both in person and virtually.


Free Resources ilonavass.com/free-library


Email: ilona@ilonavass.com

Book Website: ilonavass.com/book

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ilonavass/

YouTube: youtube.com/@ilonavass





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Episode Transcript

Please note: The transcript is produced by a third-party company from an audio recording and may include transcription errors.

Scott MacMillan

You're listening to the Entrepreneur to Author podcast.


Welcome to the Entrepreneur to Author podcast, the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now, here's your host, Scott MacMillan.


My guest today is Ilona Vass, founder of ilonavass.com, an expert in interpersonal communications for leadership within teams, and author of Team Harmony, Striking the Right Chord, A Guide for Leading People in the Modern Workplace. Ilona, it's great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for being here.


It's my absolute pleasure Scott. Thank you for having me.


Of course. Look, I shared a little bit about you in the intro, but it would be really helpful for our listeners if you could provide a bit more of a detailed overview of your expertise and the work that you do.


Thanks, Scott. Yeah, it's an honor to talk about myself. I usually love to talk about other people. But yeah, as you might hear from my accent, I'm originally from Austria, so not from Canada and not from Australia where I'm currently residing. I have been growing up in Vienna, in the city of music and being part of going to concerts and visiting the opera, going to dance school was very normal. And I never knew that this actually at one point will inspire me to write about that. Yeah, my other background, I had always an interest in China.

So very early on in my youth, I was feeling the calling to learn Chinese. I always wanted to be able to read the signs and characters which you see on these beautiful landscape paintings. And I was very determined, that's what I did. And I worked and lived and studied in China for many years. I'm fluent in Mandarin.

And I worked for Austrian Airlines in China. So that was kind of my starting, the beginning of my airline career. I worked in sales management and then in general management. And that took me a bit around the world. And my last posting was Australia.

We had to do a brand change so I was sent on that kind of mission to come to Australia which I call home now and I had to finish my airline career because I had a baby, as life plays out sometimes and I really thought, What did I love about my managerial career? And it was getting the best out of the individuals in a team. And I really loved focusing on communication. I had a lot of experience with cross-cultural communication. And as you might know, Australia is a very multicultural country. We have workforces who come from all different kinds of cultures. So this knowledge I found very useful. And I really wanted to become an expert in that.

So, I did a lot of professional development in that aspect and yeah, that's what I do now.


Wonderful. That's such a unique background. And I love all of the cultural influences, everything from your home country of Austria and the music culture, of course, in Vienna and the influences from China and of course, from Australia now. That's wonderful. And listen, so you've just published your new book, Team Harmony. Would you share a little bit about it? Who is it written for? And what's your goal for your reader?


Yes, so this book is a very hands-on book. It's kind of a guidebook for mainly middle management who are mostly the people who lead teams and sometimes it's a department head that they might lead multiple teams or what we call teams of teams and they are the ones which often really have a lot of pressure. They have the pressure from top, and they also have the pressure from down, managing people.

Whoever I speak to who works in that field says, oh my God, the most difficult part of my job is the human side of things. And this really prompted me to give them a guidebook to analyze quickly, where is my team at? What do I have to do now?

Sometimes managers get so bogged down in fulfilling the goals and meeting the KPIs, and then they have the humans to deal with, so, they often lose sight of where is my team actually at. And this is what my book is aiming for.


Wonderful. Now, talk to me a little bit about the writing process, if you would. A lot of us have expertise, right? And we have success working with clients and running our businesses. But it's an entirely different thing sometimes to get that expertise out of our heads and onto the page. How did you find that process of writing?


That's an interesting point you make here, Scott. It is different from writing LinkedIn postings or what many of these small business owners do. You have to really find a structure on how you start. It's very easy if you don't have a guided process to just ramble on and go into so many tangents.

So I found it really, really helpful with this writing process to follow a structure. And I found the Expert Author community with Kelly Irving as super helpful. So I've signed up with a program for them. And when you get stuck, you just follow this process. And it helps you really to consolidate the things you know in a good way.

So I never felt in the writing process that I was wasting time in going off on tangents. And you all of a sudden while you're writing, you also expand your knowledge on certain things and you also expand on how do I actually want to get certain messages across.

So start with a structure, but then when you are writing, follow sometimes these kind of bubbles you get in your head and bring those down on paper as well. You might all of a sudden have this grand idea, oh, that is how I'm going to structure it.

Yeah, that was the writing process for me. It was actually quite quick. I didn't find it too difficult, but I couldn't have done it without that structure.


Yeah, yeah, that I really…that's a really good insight, I think, for people, you know, on this podcast, I talk a lot about the importance of structure and how it really makes everything else go so much more smoothly. But I think a really interesting insight that you shared is once you have that structure and you start writing, you know, have some flexibility to kind of work with, you know, the tangents that kind of come up as you're going and be flexible enough to alter that structure as you're figuring out the things that are important, the things that aren't important. That's a really, really helpful thing.

Tell us, tell us too a little bit about the publishing process. What did you find perhaps interesting or surprising once your manuscript was going from a Word document through to published book?


That was the biggest learning curve. So I would say a book writing process comes in three big chunks. The first chunk is the writing as such. And I always thought that would be the most difficult part, but it wasn't. Then comes the second part, which I see as the editing process where you design the thing, the book cover comes here into play.

There is quite a learning curve and you have more surprises on how your book unfolds. So when you finish your writing you think that's it, but then there are more nuances coming in addition. I found it very inspiring, I have to say. It was really interesting to see how the experts deal with your book and I had a lot of fun. So this was a very enjoyable part of the process.

And then comes the publishing part. And that was a complete new field for me. I had the steepest learning curve here about how to publish a book, what version of publishing to go for, how the publishing industry works. It's different in different markets. It's sometimes quite upsetting, I have to say, when you find out what can be done to your book when you feel like, oh, this is my baby, and now I have to hand the control over to some other entities.

And yeah, it was a very, very interesting journey. Took longer than I thought it would take, the whole publishing part. But I also have to say I was so glad and so happy and so lucky to have chosen the right publisher for myself.

There was guidance from A to Z on everything, there was consistent communication and that made it a lot easier, but I found that was the hardest part in the book publishing. And now I'm still haven't finished because the marketing is now the big thing for me to do.


Yeah, very good. I love those different phases that you've highlighted, because those are all very important. I think you're not alone that a lot of authors feel like, or have the impression that once the book has been written, that the work is done. And of course, like you've highlighted, that's certainly not the case. But I also appreciate the point about how surprising the publishing process is, because it is a very dynamic, and sometimes opaque industry and it's difficult for people to sometimes grasp all of the different moving parts. So you know what we try to do at Grammar Factory is try and lift the curtain as much as possible to help educate our authors through that process. So thank you for sharing that. That's really wonderful. Tell us a little bit about your business goals for your book. How are you using it to support your business?


I think it's kind of an additional business card, which gives you credibility in the market. It establishes you more as an authority in the field you do. Australia is not an easy market, so if you haven't grown up here, if you come from another country or you're kind of an immigrant, what you might be labelled as and you don't have all the connections, it can be a tough market to penetrate if you have your own business. So the book is an excellent way to segue into that and get more known about it, about what you do and about your expertise. So it's an excellent business card for your business.

And that was my main purpose, also to write the book next to the purpose to really help people to navigate the modern workplace and bring some harmony to our world, which is currently a very unharmonious world.

And if I may expand a little bit on that title, I think no one walks around and goes into workplaces and feels like, oh, I'm going to war. I want to be in war. I want to fight. I think people actually normally have that aspiration to work with great teams, to work in harmony.

And when I researched the literature, it was interesting. There were some opinions who thought harmony is actually damaging teams. And I wanted to clarify that. I think it's not about not saying things or being friendly and smiling all the time and constantly pat yourself on the shoulder and say how great you are.

Team harmony also incorporates a lot of how do we handle the challenges, the difficult conversations when you have some animosities with the team colleagues. So these are things which are part of harmony and yeah..




…so Sorry, I've expanded here a bit


No, I'm glad you did, because that was one of the things that I found most interesting about the music analogy that you bring into your book, and that notion that harmony isn't about everything sounding perfectly in tune all the time. There's this concept of dissonance that you talk about in your book, and how that's actually an important thing in music, and tying that into the notion that you were just talking about, where sometimes there is some important things that come out of conflict and working through things with people. So that was a very worthwhile tangent for sure.

Because you've been through the writing process, a lot of our listeners are considering writing a book, but they haven't taken that leap yet. What advice would you have for them?


My advice would be check out your doubts. I know there is a lot of internal talk and we call this a self-sabotaging communication. My topic isn't new.

I'm not good at writing, what are some other things, I don't really know where to go to, I have two topics in my mind. So the list is long of things which are holding people off. And I say, get a structure, find someone you trust and then just start writing.

Many people say, oh, I want to write about this, but I also want to write about that. I say, pick one and start writing, stick to it. You can always write a second book. So I think once you have been through it, nothing's holding you back to write about the other topic. It's more about trusting in yourself, trusting also the experts. So it's not only on you, it's also on the team you have around you, who either helps you with the writing process or with the publishing process. And yeah, that's my biggest advice.


Yeah, good advice.


Don't think about this self-talk.


Very good, very good advice. Well, we're on the topic of advice. I'd like to go back to your area of expertise specifically. What is your best advice for orchestrating an effective team? Whether it's a corporate environment or a small business, what's something that you can share with our listeners about how to go about that?

Ilona (15:55.085)

Yeah, oh gosh, tons of tips here, as you can find in my book. But I think the most important thing is that you often as a manager or leader, you have to take yourself to the next level up. So you have to go into kind of what people call a helicopter view, bird's eye view. So there are lots of terminology around that.

And really, honestly, perhaps every week or every month, see where is your team at, and then follow the process, what are the most important steps I have to do now to come closer to team harmony. So it's more of a very quick analytical perspective, and then set the interventions you have to do as a leader to get the team closest to harmony.


Wonderful. And of course, that's a great sampling of what listeners could expect in your book. So we'll be sure to link to your book as well. On that topic, how can people get in touch with you, Ilona, to learn more about what you do and if they need some support in this area to reach out and connect with you?


Oh yeah, I would be absolutely delighted with anyone to reach out to me. You can do that best on my website. It's www.ilonavass.com. You find a free library there. You find a sample of my book. You find all my contact details. And you find also the type of work I do.

Yeah, that's the best way. Obviously, if you are in Australia, you can call me on my mobile phone. It's also in the book and there is also email available. So these are the best ways. But I would say the one-stop shop where you find everything is my website.


Wonderful. We'll make sure that that's in the show notes so that it's easy for people to access. Ilona, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today and also for sharing about your personal experience of authorship. It's a journey that many of our listeners hope to take themselves and I know that your insights will be invaluable for them. So thank you again.


Thank you so much, Scott, and your team at Grammar Factory really made step two and three very easy for me. Thank you so much.


Wonderful. Thank you for that.

As we wrap up this episode of Entrepreneur to Author, remember this. Now is the time. Time to write, time to publish, and time to grow. I'm Scott McMillan. Until next time.

Scott A. MacMillan

Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

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