LabTech Automation Nation 2015: CEO Nachtrab Keynote Touts Team Building

LabTech Software calls its annual user conference Automation Nation, but this year CEO Matt Nachtrab put the focus on the human side of delivering technology during his keynote address to attendees at the 2015 event.

Jessica Davis

June 3, 2015

6 Min Read
LabTech CEO and INTJ Matt Nachtrab
LabTech CEO (and INTJ) Matt Nachtrab

LabTech Software calls its annual user conference Automation Nation, but this year CEO Matt Nachtrab put the focus on the human side of delivering technology during his keynote address to attendees at the 2015 event this morning.

And the human side of this technology business is a central theme for the entire Automation Nation 2015 event – from Nachtrab’s keynote to developers making themselves available to interact with users in person to the guest keynote speaker Don Crawley, aka The Compassionate Geek whose focus is helping technology experts master great communication and customer service.

But it all starts with Nachtrab’s keynote. He used the platform to talk about the value of teams and team building in driving a business’s innovations and profitability.  Teams that work well together innovate faster and implement action items faster than teams that don’t work well together, he said. It’s an even greater challenge in this always-on electronic age.

People vs. goldfish

For instance, Nachtrab said, on average we each pick up our mobile phones 1500 times per week. The new attention span is now 8 seconds – for adults. That’s one second less than it is for goldfish, he said, which have attention spans of 9 seconds.

“We have fallen below goldfish with our inability to focus on a single task,” he said.

To improve how LabTech Software’s senior leadership team works together, Nachtrab embarked on a series of team building programs over the last 18 months and from those he has put together a Team Building Toolkit. LabTech is sharing the toolkit with its platform users, and it’s available for download. It’s made up of three sections – Meetings, Interactions and Exercises.

Improving team work

“We have a lot of barriers to working together as teams,” he said during his keynote address. “Seventy-five percent of teams are ineffective in their natural states.” But that doesn’t mean that you are stuck there. Groups of people can learn to work together better. One of the first ways to do that is to build more trust within the team. Lack of trust is one of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, according to the Patrick Lencioni book. Nachtrab told me in an interview later today he considers this book to be team building 101.

To build trust Nachtrab invited his leadership team to his house as part of the team building series. During today’s keynote, he told attendees about some of the stories shared in one of the exercises in which team members shared experiences from childhood that shaped their futures. For instance, John Timko, VP of marketing, who many readers know had a career as a pro baseball player, went 0 for 33 during his first season in little league. He wanted to quit, but his mom made him keep going. Then when he was a junior in college he was drafted to the Detroit Tigers.

Myers Briggs: Guess the type

In another exercise, LabTech’s senior leadership team members completed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator before a meeting. At the meeting itself, each team member tried to correctly identify the “type” of every other leadership team member. Team members said Nachtrab was an ENTP. The E stands for extravert (as opposed to introvert). But Nachtrab is actually an INTJ, demonstrating that even though he may appear to his colleagues as an extrovert because he can present to groups on stage, he is not. CTO Greg Buerk is an ENTP (or maybe an INTP). (Director of Development Brett Cheloff got “the Artist” type or ISFP).

Nachtrab told me that the team building 201 class is Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser. One of Nachtrab’s take-aways from this book is that our brains can process 750 words per minute, but the average person can only speak 150 words per minute. So when someone is talking to you, you (and your 8 second attention span) fill in the other 600 words with a story you make up. This story isn’t actually correct. But you tend to use it to come to a conclusion about the other person. And those conclusions aren’t always favorable. So you can end up with an incorrect negative impression of that person, and one that’s hard to break away from.

Reserving judgment

“Once you come to a conclusion that a person is a jerk, it’s hard for you to back off from that conclusion,” Nachtrab said. So the better approach is to not judge. Don’t come to those conclusions. Stop yourself before you get to that stage.

Nachtrab also talked about the ratio of positive versus negative interactions. If the ratio is 1 to 1 or below, it means certain divorce for a married couple. If you have 5 positive interactions to every one that is negative you are likely in a stable marriage. Happy couples have a 20 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.

And the same rules apply to work teams. Teams with higher positive to negative interaction ratios performed better. With the positive ratio, people are more likely to listen to each other and like each other and help each other. But it doesn’t mean that ideas aren’t vetted. A case in point, Nachtrab described Green Light and Red Light meetings.

Green light, red light

Here’s how it works. In a “Green light” meeting, team members brainstorm the best solution to a specific problem. All ideas are welcome. No one is shut down. Then the organizers of the meeting take the ideas to a “Red light” meeting. In this meeting ideas are vetted by all the team members with the goal of coming up with an action item or items by the end of the meeting. But you don’t want to leave anyone out.

“You are in the meeting with people who are important,” Nachtrab said. “There is a reason they are in that meeting to give input. It’s important that everyone’s ideas are heard.”

So at the end of the meeting, facilitators should do a roll call of each person in the meeting, asking the following question: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how onboard are you with this plan?” And then find out why some members may have doubts about a particular plan.

And here are two other communication tips for positive interactions:

1. Don’t use the word “But.” 

“Don’t say ‘you did a great job, but…’ That completely derails what you said in the beginning,” Nachtrab said.

Do: use the word “And” instead.

2. Don’t say: “this is disappointing.”

Do say: “what can we learn from this?”

In an interview following today’s keynote address, I asked Nachtrab what inspired him to make team building a focus of the message today. He said that as a leader of a company, even as far back as his MSP days, he was always called upon to settle disputes among the staff. At first he’d take the approach his parents took when he fought with his brother: “Work it out yourselves.”  But he found that team members didn’t really work it out. Instead they created silos. They tried to solve problems themselves. They didn’t leverage the knowledge and skills of their fellow team members.

Since he’s started his leadership team building exercises, his team has worked together better. And that was an approach worth sharing with LabTech Software’s community.


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About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis is the former Content Director for MSPmentor. She spent her career covering the intersection of business and technology.  She's also served as Editor in Chief at Channel Insider and held senior editorial roles at InfoWorld and Electronic News.

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