Getting teams right is critical to organizational success. Nothing is more important.
I recently sat down to talk with Matty Wishnow, founder of Clearhead, headquartered in Austin, Texas to talk about Matty’s model of team success. Clearhead began with less than a million dollars in annual revenues and sold to Accenture, a large International consulting firm.
Matty has developed an effective team model for 21st Century organizations.
Getting teams right is not only not easy, getting teams wrong has sunk many organizations with large burdensome employee headcounts and ambiguous directions. You have experienced this if you work on a team. How do you interact with the people on your team? Is there close coordination? How dependent are you on each other? If you didn’t connect with one of your team members for a day or for a week, how much would that matter?
Business teams are what organizations today call groups with similar work functions that work together regularly or from time to time. Sometimes groups are really teams, but all too often they’re just groups called teams. Matty’s model speaks to these questions.
A Weird History of Teams and Transparency–the Death of Hierarchy
Pre Technology Office, Cerca 1989
Here’s a little background on office life before teams, and their explosive impact.
Feature it’s 1989. You walk into your corner office past the typing pool and a secretary gives you a handful of cheery, small pink note forms with the heading, “While You Were Out,” with the written names of the people who had called you (Voicemail was not in common use). You’re glad for some and groan at others.
On your desk there are a stack of paper documents you need to read, approve, and sign that came down the hall on carts from other departments. Now that you’re back in your office, there is a line of employees waiting to see you. They’re bringing in letters for you to sign and getting approvals.
And then there were Teams
In a matter of a couple of years, into the early 1990s, that way of doing business–which was the norm for hundreds of years–is gone. The personal computer destroyed the hierarchical organization. The age of teams is born.
Organizational teams were the biggest shift in the history of organizations since the industrial revolution. As far as I can tell, nobody knows who first began to call groups within organizations by the term “teams.” But teams exploded like a tsunami on world business with aftershocks that still are creating major upheavals today.
A small piece of equipment that sat on individual desks–the personal computer–created the team environment, not gradually, but immediately. Able to produce your own documents, aided by internal networks, connected by email and websites, users were suddenly connected to the world.
Hierarchy became meaningless when managers were no longer necessary to connect and coordinate workers who suddenly interchanged in nanoseconds documents and data that once flowed through people and down halls.
Self Directed Teams to Directionless Groups
Suddenly the workplace was declared to be a collection of teams–but the problem was that nobody knew what that meant–the buzzword was “self-directed teams.” The first teams often brought an identity crisis to organizations. Who had the last word? Who was in charge?
A famous incident (perhaps legend) was the manager who announced to a group that they were now a self directed team. Their response was, “Well, so we’re a team? The first thing we want as a team is for you to get the hell out of here!”
For the last 30 years, the relationship between top down directive management and self-direction has often been like making soup with two different recipes–the two approaches often don’t work together.
Matty Wishnow’s Approach to Team Transparency in the 21st Century
Here are some components of Matty’s team model for the 21st.
Teams are an integral part of the way organizations do business–but how do they function? Matty believes that teams and transparency are the necessary reality of organizations today. The speed of transactions makes traditional management impossible. How can you manage online processes that happen in milliseconds, not days and weeks as in pre-technology days? Maintaining a veil of secrecy in an organization is difficult because today’s knowledge worker can usually find out most things about clients, revenues, profit and loss. Lack of transparency and openness slows processes and demotivates employees.
The question still remains in the established era of teams, “Who is in charge? How can the power of team members be best unleashed? How do you determine outcomes? Who has the last word?”
These are the questions about teams that Matty Wishnow built into a working model that is widely applicable to many organizations.
People Focused Transparency. Matty launched three start-ups and deeply believes in the most transparent organization possible. A Myers-Briggs ENFJ, Matty is about people and their needs. Matty spent up to 50% of his time with people, focusing on their issues and their success. The cost of remaining connected to teams in terms of time and emotional energy is high, but staying connected with the team resulted in a better than 95% retention rate, almost unheard of in a work environment where short tenures are the norm.
Goals Come From the Top. The biggest issue that comes with self-directed teams is their ability to set goals. Matty believes in the autocracy of goal setting, which are non-negotiable and come from the top.
The Tuesday Report is in strong agreement with Matty. The success of the organization depends on goals, and individual team members or individual teams do not have the perspective of setting those goals. One of the biggest reasons for the failure of teams has been setting goals within teams that do not relate to the overall strategy of the organization. It would be like, using a baseball metaphor, the third baseman deciding on what the pitcher pitches.
Focus on Accountability. In Matty’s model, Team metrics are measured against the goals, and productivity is assessed by the numbers. Everyone in the organization is aware of everyone’s productivity and compensation is based on productivity as well as other factors.
Team Process is Determined by a Combination of Team Input into Organizational Structure. The teams work on projects driven by established processes that are improved through team members’ input. Team members are encouraged to give their input into process that will be judged by the merit and effectiveness of the input.
The Organization is Always Open to Ideas. Ideas from team members can be an important resource for the improvement of the organization or new directions. In Matty’s model, team members are encouraged to bring their ideas, and they will find serious consideration.
Matty Wishnow’s model emphasizes individual and team effectiveness based on the effectiveness and flow of team projects to their completion. The success of Clearhead could be seen in the reality of teams that accomplish their goals and feel they have input and are part of the outcome. At the same time, Clearhead surged in its ability to serve clients by accomplishing their goals, and to grow exponentially each year in profitability with a high level of employee and team engagement.
There is no perfect balance of team and individual self-direction, but Matty Wishnow’s model is effective in balancing the need for individual self management with the goals of the organization. This represents real progress of the effectiveness of teams in the digital age.