Getting Out of “Violent Agreement”
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In this episode, I speak with Terrence Donnelly and Joshua Imel, co-founders of Teeps, and we talk about how to NOT allow people issues to take down your business. Specifically, we discuss how to break out of “violent agreement” and reach true alignment, and how by changing their individual patterns they have managed to grow their business while employing sustainable balance (yes, even as a start-up!), and helping each other grow as leaders and business owners.
[:24] Intro: In this episode, I speak with Terrence Donnelly and Joshua Imel, co-founders of Teeps, a growing business here in Orlando, FL that transforms business through mobile. I asked Terrence and Joshua to come onto the show and share their story, which fascinates me, because they are a really great example of how a co-founding team did NOT allow people issues to take down their business. They share how they went from being in a band, touring the country together,
JOSHUA: It was interesting. We had long hair.
LAURA: Wow. Long hair. Really? Oh man, how have I not seen pictures of this?
TERRENCE: Well, um, they’re out there. Probably on Facebook or maybe Myspace.
to going into business together. We talk about how their different perspectives, backgrounds and philosophies at one point had them in regular arguments that they later realized were pointless,
TERRENCE: And I would say, “Okay, well then we need to shift the team.” And he would say, “Okay, well we can’t shift the team.” And, and we would literally just go back and forth for hours.
[1:29] and how changing the way they communicated enabled them to break out of a pattern I call “violent agreement” to reach true alignment.
TERRENCE: And so, yeah, that’s been a big shift. And honestly, I don’t think we’ve had an actual argument in probably like four to six months.
They also talk about sustainable balance as a core value, even for a start-up – what?? I know, awesome, right?
TERRENCE: like I kind of quantified what was happening around me when I was in a situation where it was not sustainable. Um, and just watched the damage it can do to an organization. Not only on the people and especially on the people that, that didn’t realize they were doing damage until it was too late.
And how by genuinely listening to one another, they each contributed to the other’s growth and development as leaders and business owners. So let’s get into it – here is Teeps.
LAURA: Alright, so, uh, thank you so much both of you for being here on the show. I would love to give you each a chance to introduce yourselves.
TERRENCE: Sure. Um, I’m Terrence Donnelly. And I’m the CEO and co founder of Teeps.
JOSHUA: And I’m Josh. And I am the co founder of Teeps. I handle the business and marketing.
LAURA: Awesome. So great to have you here. Okay, so tell me more about Teeps.
TERRENCE: Sure, um, yeah. We’re a mobile app development agency. Um, companies hire us to transform their businesses through mobile. Um, so, for instance, companies like Orlando Health, um, companies like The Orlando Magic, they need an innovation team to build a mobile app for them and create a mobile experience, um, but they have too much going on internally to be able to do that. So they hire us to be that team.
LAURA: That’s awesome. I love how you said that. ‘Cause your first answer to that was you transform business through mobile. Is that what you said? I love that. Oh wow.
TERRENCE: That’s, that’s in our work with Fervr.
LAURA: Oh, very cool. Fervr.
TERRENCE: Understanding, you know, how to communicate what we do a little bit better.
LAURA: Yeah. Oh wow. Well done. ‘Cause I was– yeah, that’s really compelling and the listeners maybe remember we had Shay* from Fervr on an earlier, an earlier episode, so awesome. You all have worked together too.
LAURA: Okay, and so, just give me a little bit of history about Teeps. When did you all open the doors?
JOSHUA: It started in 2012 but the story kind of starts before then. I’d say 2009. And Terrence and I met while performing in a band. So we were actually signed to, uh, a record label together. He joined my band by leaving his nice job in Boston, safe and secure job, to fly down and be a musician with me. And then we realized we weren’t making any money and so—
JOSHUA: –that kind of faded away but we decided to start a company together. And all the skills that we had in the band really applied to business very well. And so in 2012 we kind of made it official and then 2014 is when we moved into an office, quit our jobs, and started full time.
LAURA: Wow. That is a really, really great “How we met” story.
LAURA: Like, we were in a band together.
JOSHUA: It was interesting. We had long hair.
LAURA: Wow. Long hair. Really? Oh man, how have I not seen pictures of this?
TERRENCE: Well, um, they’re out there. Probably on Facebook or maybe Myspace.
LAURA: Myspace! Oh, yeah. Well, Myspace is still around for the music scene, isn’t it?
TERRENCE: Oh yeah.
LAURA: Alright, awesome. You know, I feel like, at some point, I’m gonna ask you guys for pictures with the long hair and then we’ll put links on the website–
LAURA: –so if any of the listeners here wanna, wanna see just like I do then they can see.
JOSHUA: We’ll be glad to.
TERRENCE: Yeah, we have them.
LAURA: Alright, well, I wanted to– there’s a lot of things I wanted to ask you about but you’ve, you’ve done a lot of evolution and almost iterations with your business and the way that you do things and I was hoping that you could share a little bit about what was going for you all with Teeps when we connected and we started to do some work together.
TERRENCE: Sure. Yeah, I think, um, it was, it was a really interesting time. I mean, we were, I think we had just finished implementing Agile in our organization and so that was, you know, kind of an arduous process to, to get the whole organization bought into Agile. Um, sometime around then, we might have been in the middle of it, but, uh, you know, we were having, uh, interpersonal issues and communication issues throughout the organization. Um, Josh and myself, we weren’t always on the same page about things. We were, we were rowing the same direction as far as the, you know, the ultimate goal and what we wanted in the business but, you know, micro conversations we would go off on tangents and get into kind of, um, you know, I guess black holes if you wanna call them that. And sort of go into no man’s land of, of conversations that we really shouldn’t be having because they’re not productive for the business. Um, and so we engaged you and reached out to you to kind of get a little bit better at communicating and get a little bit better of realizing when we’re not communicating and recovering faster.
LAURA: Okay. Well– so and then one of the things that I hear about a lot and when I’m talking with entrepreneurs is making decisions about equity. So, you guys went into this 50/50, right?
JOSHUA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: Mm hmm.
LAURA: Yeah and so that, that creates a lot of unique challenges versus an organization that’s done either like a 51/49 or 60/40 or something like that. So, would you say that was a factor?
TERRENCE: Um, sort of. I think, I think for the most part the 50/50 hasn’t been as much of an issue as I think it is in other companies because, when it really comes down to it, if something is my expertise, Josh knows okay, this isn’t really something I should make the final decision on and vice-versa. So like, I won’t try to make a final decision on marketing things and, and Josh ultimately won’t try to make a final decision on, on code and Agile things.
LAURA: Okay, so once you got really clear about decision making authorities then percentages didn’t really matter.
JOSHUA: Yeah. I would say that it wasn’t so much who has the final say. I think we kind of got caught up in almost like the philosophy behind certain decisions that we may never agree on. But at the end of the day we’d make a decision. We’d just get so caught in the trenches of like the details that actually don’t really matter. And there was that still underlying trust where we knew, I would know if it’s a technical decision, Terrence is making the call anyway. So, it still worked out nice and I think we’re fairly unique compared to other 50/50 companies that we at least have read about on the internet–
JOSHUA: –so, so far so good.
TERRENCE: Yeah. We realized it could have been way worse. So, I think, I think, um, even working with you helped us identify, you know, what lanes we should both be operating in primarily. And once we had that a little bit, you know, more, more understood by both of us I think it made us, it gave us context to conversation so that we didn’t’ just go down those, you know, black holes.
LAURA: Okay. So, sometimes I think leaders or entrepreneurs decide to not invest in anything that’s gonna help them shift their, their communication. Right? So you mentioned that, at times, it felt like there were some interpersonal challenges and I’m wondering if you can elaborate on your experience of what was it that actually shifted?
JOSHUA: Uh, for me, I’ve realized– I think Terrence is a good communicator and my wife, her degree from UCF is in communications, and so, working with you and then being around them always, I’ve realized I’m not that great of a communicator. And sometimes the things I thought I was conveying and the words I was using was not clear at all. And then I would really have a difficult time understanding why the message wasn’t being received.
LAURA: Do you have an example that comes to mind?
JOSHUA: I can’t even give you an example because some of them are so ridiculous that I, I would say something and then if I were to read it written out, I would read it myself and be like, “What the heck is he talking about?”
JOSHUA: So, next time I have that happen I’ll let you know. But I’ve gotten a lot better at it, um, and just being really clear with what I am trying to say and what I expect from that and then, and then clarifying if I think the message wasn’t received. Um, we worked on paraphrasing a lot. So when I’m receiving communication from Terrence, kind of reciting it back so I know that I’m hearing him correctly.
TERRENCE: Mm hmm. Yeah and I think, for me, it was I had to do a lot of work on being patient. I think, you know, I would communicate pretty directly, um, and to the point of being blunt and rude. Um, and like if it wasn’t received the first or second time that I would say something, I would just go to this next level of like okay, I’m irritated now and I’m gonna say it even shorter and even more direct and actually a little bit aggressive.
LAURA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: Um, and so that was, that was probably a big thing for me. And so I think the dynamic between Josh and myself was he was, he was communicating in a way that he thought was very explicit and very communicative and I was communicating in a way that I thought was very explicit and communicative and we still weren’t hearing each other because of that dynamic and it would just kind of escalate things and we would get into pointless arguments and debates about things. You know, fortunately, we were never one of those companies or those, you know, co founder pairs that would just scream at each other. Um, I’ve witnessed some of that and it’s, it’s, you know we were pretty mild in comparison to what I’ve seen out there–
LAURA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: –but I think it was still, yeah, so my biggest thing that I kind of learned was, was to be more patient and like realize that just because I’m communicating something doesn’t mean that everyone’s gonna pick up on it right away.
LAURA: Mm hmm. So, if you guys could, um, think of, think of an example or a situation, I would love for you to take us to the scene and really– I wanna, I wanna know what did it actually look like? Especially when you were first, first working on changing the way you communicated. What did a conversation or a dynamic sound like as you were working to shift that pattern, using techniques, what types of things were you saying and doing?
TERRENCE: I think it sounded a little bit like, “Hey Josh, we need to do these specific things in this order, um, in order for us to be following a process, like maybe Agile. In order for us to actually be implementing this process and this discipline practice the way that it’s meant to be, we have to do A, B, C, D, and E. Very specifically.” And then, you know, Josh might say, “Okay, well right now our team can’t support that. So, we can’t really do those things.” And I would say, “Okay, well then we need to shift the team.” And he would say, “Okay, well we can’t shift the team.” And, and we would literally just go back and forth for hours. I don’t know if that’s a good example for you. And it’s like we both want the same thing, right, but we’re not communicating. So if, if the conversation was something like, “Hey. What strategy do you need to put in place to make our team support this process, to get our team to support this process?” That would have been productive. But we never got to that point because we were not agreeing on the fundamental that our team needed to shift.
JOSHUA: I think, even more clarifying than like that example, ’cause it still happens but we’re better at it, it’s, that example– “We need to do one, two, three.” My feedback is, “Hey, I think one, two, three may not be able to happen in this timeframe.” And that sometimes is perceived that I don’t want one, two, three to happen. And so now we’re getting better at “I hear you. I want that. How can we do that?” And there’s no underlying, um, concern about position. And for a while I think we didn’t even realize that that was the dynamic. So like, he may think I’m opposing, I may be super confused as to why he’s thinking that, and we just try to figure it out for three hours.
LAURA: Sounds like fun. So, I love that so much. Okay, so I want to put some, some words to what I’m hearing what you’re doing. So, where, in the beginning, it might have felt more like okay this is my position. This is my position. These positions are in conflict and so we’re just gonna continue to talk about this for three hours and it feels like we’re at an impasse. So, what you described is, well, a couple things. So, Terrence, what I heard from you is saying, “Okay. This is a solution that I want. This is the end game. This is where I want to go. How do I get there?” And so it’s being clear about that future state but then it’s asking a question that’s very collaborative. And that feels, to me, very different than, you know, “I need, we need, A, B, C, D, E” because that can feel like a demand and that might create for somebody, oh, like a little bit of rigidity back. And then what I was hearing from you, Joshua, was an immediate support of that. So, whereas before it might have been “Okay, here’s your position. Here’s my position. Hear me. Hear me. Hear me, hear me.” Sort of that back and forth. Taking the extra step to be like, “Well, let me be really explicit. I support that. I want to make that happen. Okay, cool. Now let’s talk about some of the things that might get in the way of us getting there.” Those little things can make such a big difference.
LAURA: Such a big difference.
JOSHUA: It’s crazy.
TERRENCE: A huge difference. I mean, there are times now where he’ll do that and, like, I feel it. Like we’re about to get into one of those debates and I’ll be like, “Okay, so this is something, um, it’s gonna really help this. I think we should do this.” And I’ll, you know, my language is a little bit better so I’m showing up in less of a impatient, an impatient way, if that makes sense. And so that kind of allows Josh to say, “Okay, I agree that we should do that. And I think that maybe we can do that sometime over the next three months.” And as soon as he says that he agrees or says that he’s onboard or open to it and then puts, like, a timeframe around it, I’m completely disarmed at that point and I’m like, “Okay. Cool. So, let’s collaborate.”
LAURA: That’s so powerful.
TERRENCE: And so, yeah, that’s been a big shift. And honestly, I don’t think we’ve had an actual argument in probably like four to six months.
JOSHUA: It’s been like–
TERRENCE: It’s been like that.
JOSHUA: It was really weird. It’s almost like we just woke up after one weekend and then it was just fine.
LAURA: What happened on that weekend? Where did you go?
TERRENCE: Everything that we did to work together, like, sank in.
JOSHUA: I think, also, starting your own business is extremely difficult and I think we were equally just burnt out to the point where, like, we just didn’t want to do it anymore. We didn’t want to not do the business anymore but we started to get in a fight about something and we’re just like, kind of look at each other like, “Do you want to do this?” “No.” “Okay.”
LAURA: Let’s not fight. Make this so much easier if we weren’t fighting on the way.
TERRENCE: There were times where I remember literally looking at you and going, “This is literally a pointless conversation–”
TERRENCE: “–We’re fighting over nothing and I’m gonna walk away.”
LAURA: And how was that for you, Joshua, when he would do that?
JOSHUA: I’d agree.
LAURA: You’d be like, “Yeah. Good call.”
JOSHUA: Cool. And I think that, uh, I think that the big key takeaway for me was that once we figured out the dynamic, we almost agreed on every single thing anyway. That was what’s so weird–
JOSHUA: –is, like, every decision we were completely in the same page. It was all the minutiae to get there.
LAURA: So, one of the things I just wanna highlight that you said is, um, in addition, so Terrence you said, in addition to you, Joshua, saying, “Okay. Yes, I agree with that and…” It was and, not but. And I think that makes a really big difference. Because it’s “I agree with that but–” That negates everything you just said. It’s like–
TERRENCE: Oh, yeah.
LAURA: –“Okay, so you don’t agree with me, basically.” But to say, “I agree with that and I think we can get there in this amount of time or if we have these things in place” and I think you said it was very disarming. It’s like, yeah. Okay. Like your body can even relax a bit and be like, “Alright. Cool. We’re on the same page about this.”
TERRENCE: Yeah, and was huge for me. I remember even telling Josh a few times, I’m like, he, he’s, he would get to a point in a conversation when he’d get there and he’d be like, “Well, I’m agreeing with you.” And I’m like, “Yeah. But it doesn’t feel like you’re agreeing with me.”
TERRENCE: And, and honestly I think the operating word there or, like, the differentiating word there is but versus and.
TERRENCE: Honestly. And, like, I’d be like, “But it’s like, it’s like you’re just coming at me with all this opposition but you’re telling me you agree so I don’t–
TERRENCE: –feel like you agree.”
LAURA: Yeah. I call that violent agreement.
LAURA: Yeah. And I’ve seen this. I’ve seen this is teams. I’m, I’m listening and I’m watching the dynamics and there’s tension. It’s actually going up but I’m listening to the words and I’m like, “I think we’re saying the same thing but it feels like we’re arguing. What’s happening?” And so it’s the little language tweaks that can really make a big difference.
JOSHUA: Yeah. I think, I think using the word “but” in society, I feel like that that, is, we’re kind of programmed to know and wait for it and when we hear it, then we shut off whatever came prior to that.
LAURA: Yeah. It’s such a sad, sad thing. It’s like that negating of everything I just said.
LAURA: Totally agree with you. You’re really awesome to work with but–
LAURA: –Like, what? Don’t say that.
TERRENCE: It’s like, “You’re awesome to work with but I don’t agree with you at all–”
LAURA: Exactly. That’s probably the message that they get. Alright, cool, so it sounds like you were definitely able to make shifts in the unproductive patterns that had emerged in the dynamic between the two of you which, as co founders, is really, really critical. Um, can you talk a little bit about some of the other work that we did as well, um, around alignment, around things like your why and the what you do and what you don’t do, values, strategy?
JOSHUA: Yeah. I think the core values we worked with you on kind of developing and defining, when we first wrote them down I, you know, I think that we felt good about what they were and– but we were still kind of unsure how they would play out over time with our team. And as time has went on, I think that we’ve realized they’ve really guided major decisions that we’ve made. And, at first, that wasn’t immediately apparent. We didn’t know how they would impact us but there’s been times when we go right back to the sheet and we say, “Wow. These, you know, we’re missing it on these two values in this situation.” And we know exactly how to respond.
LAURA: So, I’d love to get specific.
JOSHUA: Mm hmm.
LAURA: Um, can you share one or more of the values and a situation where it was useful in guiding decisions around people or…
TERRENCE: Sure. Yeah. I think there were situations where, you know, we had people in the organization that may have been out of alignment with values like respect and care and things like that. Um, specifically respect and care and we actually made decisions to let people go based on, you know, how many values they were out of alignment with and whether or not, over time, they responded to coaching. And so, if, if we couldn’t get people back into alignment with values in the company, we, we wouldn’t keep those people around. Um, and that was very different than, than the way we ran the business before. We would sort of let people that were completely out of alignment with our values stay in the organization and be toxic to the people around them. Um, and it’s really unfortunate because you can really like someone and also recognize that they’re out of alignment with the values of the company. And so you’re in this, you know, internal conflict of, like, “I don’t want to let this person go. But they’re hurting my organization.”
LAURA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: And so, you know, that’s, that’s a tough part of it. But that’s an example is like when people are out of alignment with those values, not keeping them, and then an even better example of something we do now is we have a whole section of our interviewing process that’s questions around our values. And they’re not yes or no questions. They’re complicated questions that they have to think critically to answer. And we basically say, “Yes, this person, we believe that they embody our values or they don’t.” And that goes into the decision of whether or not to hire someone.
LAURA: That’s fantastic. So, I wanna, I wanna pick up on, um, the first example that you were talking about because, uh, so I use the Patrick Lencioni framework from his book called “The Advantage: Why Organization Health Trumps Everything.” Um, so, highly recommend that book to any of our listeners if you haven’t read it. And one of the things that he does when he talks about values is he, he makes these distinctions between like the permission to play, values that are important really for any organization, any team and then the core. The core values. And one of the things that I love is for a value to actually mean something in an organization, the leaders in that company must be willing to be punished to stay in alignment with that value. So, when you talk about having an employee that you really like as a person, maybe somebody who technically or functionally is very competent, you know does a lot of really solid work in terms of the task but then is out of alignment in terms of value, so, letting that person go, that’s “punishing” –and I’m using air quotes. You all can’t see that but I’m using air quotes–
LAURA: That’s punishing the company to say, “Even though we like you as a person, we’re sad personally to see you go, and even though you’re contributing functionally or technically with your work in a really positive way, these things are so important to us that we’re willing to lose those things.” So, that’s how you actually make the values more than just words on paper. That’s awesome.
JOSHUA: Right. And I, I was trying to think of that phrase. ‘Cause it has stuck with me. Um, and a more specific example is yeah, we’ve let people go based on those values and it felt like we were being punished–
JOSHUA: –’cause they were super technical, really great at what they did but that’s only half of what we need them to do. An additionally, another value is sustainable balance. And we’ve had a few clients who, they pay us great money, you know, it could be a very lucrative, long term relationship, but some of the other components around technology, around the work hours they want us to work aren’t sustainable and so we’ve had to let those clients go and that felt like a punishment as well.
JOSHUA: But, you know, when you go back and think about making that tough decision and where we are now, those were some of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
LAURA: That’s really awesome. Okay, I actually wanna, I wanna hear more about, about that, um, and also I think there’s a story that I’ve heard from you, Terrence, about, um, I think it was a prospect, maybe someone that wasn’t even a client yet that just the way he was talking to you, you were like, “No, no, no.” And, um, so I’d love to hear that story from you and I just wanna provide the context that this was, you know, you guys were a couple years in and you were doing well but, as, as entrepreneurs, when somebody shows up with, you know, a handful of cash and they’re like, “Here, we’re gonna pay you”, those decisions can feel really, really challenging. So–
LAURA: –can you elaborate on what happened with that?
TERRENCE: Yeah. For me, um, I think that some of the values that, that Teeps embodies, like, I hold so strongly to those values that It’s actually, it’s actually surprisingly easy for me to make those decisions. Um, and I remember this, this client, potential client, came in and had a great idea, had a great product that he wanted to build and, you know, if he was in alignment with our values we would have, 100 percent would have been one of the coolest things we’ve ever worked on. Um, but he, yeah, but–
LAURA: This maybe was a but because it ended up being –
TERRENCE: This was a legitimate but.
LAURA: We’re not doing this.
TERRENCE: Um, and so he came in, you know, kind of both guns blazing with this Silicon Valley mentality that, as I call it, which is, “Hey, you know, you’re gonna have to, you know, bleed and sweat. Uh, you know, we’re gonna give you some equity, some money and we’re gonna want you to work weekends, nights, and, and I remember just, I remember my first response to his was literally just, “No.”
TERRENCE: It was the first thing that came out of my mouth was, like, “No, we’re not gonna do that. And we want you to pay us the whole value of what we’re worth and we know what we’re worth. And we’re gonna give you a great product, um, and you should pay us.”
LAURA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: And that, that was pretty much it. You know? So, I just brought it back to, you know, business being a value exchange and when somebody comes into our organization and they want us to break sustainable balance, um, you know, it’s not sustainable to work 12 hour days. It’s not sustainable to not get paid what we actually need to get paid to keep our lights on. Um, you know, these things, they’re, you know, I hold really strong to them because they’re really important for the business. Um, they’re really important for our values to actually mean something and, I don’t know, I’m kind of talking in circles here but, at the end of the day, um, it was really easy for me to just say, “No. Sorry.”
TERRENCE: Um, yeah. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t even a difficult decision for me but it was really rewarding for the long-term health of our business, I think. And so, yeah.
LAURA: Can you talk, um, each of you, a little bit about the process of even deciding on what your values would be and, and what it took for the two of you to come into alignment? ‘Cause you, so you say sustainable balance. That means a lot to each of you. Not just in terms of you, you care about it a lot, but there’s a lot of meaning and shared understanding. And I understand it as well ’cause I was there for the conversations. Can you give some insight into what that felt like, to maybe go back and forth or, yeah, that alignment process?
JOSHUA: Yeah. I think, um, for that value specifically or just for all of them?
LAURA: Really any of them.
JOSHUA: Yeah, um, I think we tried to do, you know, defining our values previously on our own. So there’s some things that we really, you know, hold as important in, uh,–
JOSHUA: –uh, there’s certain values that, you know, we knew that we wanted to instill in our organization. Um, the pay to play, obviously, that we talked about. There’s, I, I laughed about this the other day but there’s certain qualities in either clients or employees that, if they don’t have them, why would we even want to work with them?
JOSHUA: I, I think that there’s just, our tolerance level for deviating from that is very low now. And, um, but when it came to some more complicated ones, sustainable balance, to me, I think we can talk about that a little, uh, that was one where Terrence and I differed a little bit. I, I really may be in an unhealthy passion, love working, um, so I could work all day and all night and that’s probably not sustainable. But if we were to not have a clear line in the sand to what we would expect or impose on our team or our clients, that can get very out of hand. And Terrence comes from the opposite side where he’s seen that get off the tracks and what damage it can do, the, the impact it can have on productivity. And so I think through that conversation, I remember it very clearly, defining kind of where we found the common ground for that value and now I actually think about that one very often. Um, and it’s not even so much of how many hours you put in in the day, but I’m thinking it in terms of finance, uh, technology, um, the legal, um, the legal clauses within a contract — are those sustainable? You know, it’s pretty amazing how it kind of permeates through every part of our business.
LAURA: That’s awesome.
TERRENCE: Yeah and I, you know, I, for that value specifically, you know, I kind of watched it happen. Right? And I used kind of, like I kind of quantified what was happening around me when I was in a situation where it was not sustainable. Um, and just watched the damage it can do to an organization. Not only on the people and especially on the people that, that didn’t realize they were doing damage until it was too late. Right? And so there was that kind of, like, personal damage in people’s lives and things like that and then there was the quantifiable damage of actual diminishing returns, which is measurable. Um, and so I, I would, you know, from a more scientific approach, when I was thinking about that value it was, “Wow. Um, when people work more than this many hours in a day, they put out really low quality work and then they have to go and undo that technical debt later.” And so it was actually just like negating all the good work they were doing for the first eight hours of the day to try to meet some deadline only to fumble and fall over themselves later. And so I would see that and I’d be like, “That’s, that’s measurable. That’s quantifiable.” So, that’s like the scientific view of it and then, also, people’s personal lives are suffering. Their families, their, you know, their, maybe they enjoy doing it but then they wake up six months later and their life is way worse than it was and the product is way worse than it was.
LAURA: Mm hmm.
TERRENCE: You know, so I kind of looked at it holistically, if that makes sense, instead of looking at it from just one particular lens. Um, I tried to look at it, like, from a top down, like, okay, what is everything, uh, that can happen when you’re not in a sustainable situation?
LAURA: Yeah. I love that. And one of the things that I think is so powerful about the two of you together is that you do see the world differently in, in many ways and have different philosophies and different backgrounds. And that’s exactly what I want teams to have, is that diversity of perspective and thought and opinion. And it made it that much more important that the two of you were able to practice really hearing each other and communicating in a way that had that collaborative intention so that you can use those different perspectives, not to fight about it, but rather to really think through it in a very holistic way and understand it. I think sometimes leaders get stuck if they’re looking to come up with values because they don’t completely agree. One person might throw out sustainable balance and the other one says, “Well that doesn’t, that doesn’t really make sense for me. You know, we’re, we’re a startup, like, we need to put in long hours and I want to do whatever it takes to please the customer” and they go, “Okay, well we can’t decide.” And what I love about the process that I witnessed with the two of you is that, as you really got deeper into what does this mean and you started to use some examples. I hope you remember that. As we were talking about this, examples of well, what if it’s this type of situation? And so it wasn’t about being so rigid to sustainable balance, you know. It wasn’t for you, Terrence, it wasn’t “It’s 40 hours a week, every week, no matter what and we never go above that.” It was, “Hey, if, occasionally, we need to work a little bit harder because we got behind or there was a screw up we had to fix that then, yeah, of course we’ll do that.” Overall, though, we want to create a sustainable balance. And so it was working through some of the examples like that that I witnessed that enabled the two of you to really come into alignment and understand that. And it was, um, I use that metaphor of the iceberg when we talk about culture. So, there’s the observable part that’s above the water, so that’s, you know the artifacts that you might see in the environments, behavior that you can actually see between people, the value itself, that sustainable balance in this case, is right there at the water line. Then it’s that, like, massive piece of, uh, the iceberg underneath the water. Like what is it that you believe about the world? So all those types of things that you said. And I think it was another case where when we really got down into all of that we realized, okay, we’re actually not too far off of alignment.
JOSHUA: Mm hmm. Right.
LAURA: And we got aligned. And so those words, sustainable balance, there’s a lot wrapped up in that. You two know what that means. And that’s what makes the value so much more than just words on paper.
TERRENCE: Yeah. I think what’s important to recognize, too, is that the values, um, they weren’t — we didn’t just jot them down on paper. We extracted them from ourselves, as individuals, and as a team and especially the core ones and I remember even like when respect and care came up. Like, I cringed when respect and care came up because I know that at times I can be a logical machine. Right? And just walk into a room and be like, “Nope. This is how it needs to work in order for it to function and I don’t care how any of you feel about it.” And so I can, I can go to that place and it took a lot of work and a lot of understanding and a lot of seeing who Josh is and how he interacts with people for me to realize that, oh wow, it’s actually important for me to have good interpersonal relationships at the workplace and not just, not just rule by, okay, this logically works so this is what we do.
LAURA: Yeah. So everybody shall just accept it.
TERRENCE: Right. Everybody should just accept it–
LAURA: Come on. Yeah.
TERRENCE: –and everyone should just, you know, and, and I think that helped me develop as a leader, that whole process. ‘Cause now I find myself in situations where I’m like, I’ll like tap Josh on the shoulder and be like, “Hey that wasn’t really respectful. And I don’t really like that.” And uh, and not even about something he’s doing but like a client or like the way that one of the, one of our team members may say something or do something. Um, now I find myself actually being attuned to that and, like, feeling it and feeling–
TERRENCE: –like it really matters and stuff. And so, it’s just a different perspective on business and now I get to approach situations more holistically because we were able to kind of work on that value together and both embody it.
LAURA: I love that. And I would say that that’s actually you, Terrence, getting more in touch with your authentic self. You know? It’s, it’s actually a bit, a bit inauthentic to say, like, “Oh, and I don’t care, I don’t care what any of you think or feel.” That’s not, that’s not real.
TERRENCE: ‘Cause of course I care.
LAURA: Yeah, ’cause of course you do. As humans, we do. It’s actually, um, it’s more in our nature to genuinely care and so, for you, I think it was just getting more in touch with that piece.
LAURA: And, Terrence, you were saying that you can be very logical and when there’s logic and there’s data and there’s evidence and why doesn’t everyone just get it? Why don’t they see it? And so one of the lines that I really like for myself was “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
TERRENCE: That’s really good.
LAURA: Yeah and it’s because it’s so true. It just recognizes the humanity in organizations. You know. People are people. Whether they’re fully aware of it or not, every human wants to feel like people care about who they are and what they think and their feelings and all that stuff, so that little mantra was helpful for me.
TERRENCE: Yeah. I think I’ll say that. I think that’ll definitely help me.
LAURA: So, can you guys tell me about, uh, the process and the experience of rolling out things like the core values to the team? How did that go?
JOSHUA: I think we did a good job initially. So we had a meeting. We, we printed them out. We laminated these wonderful, beautifully designed, branded core value sheets, essentially. And then, for the next few weeks, I feel like we would touch base with the team in a small meeting and–
JOSHUA: –at one point we actually said, “Can someone give me an example of someone exercising this value this week?” And it worked [*inaudible]
LAURA: Nice. That’s great.
JOSHUA: But then, I think, we had a lot of organizational changes, um, kind of rethinking the business model, rethinking our target customers. And so we got so focused on that that I don’t know if we continued that reinforcement. Um, but more recently I think that we’ve seen those values come back. And, and an example I’ll give is we’ve had a few projects where there’s been situations that were deviating from our values and our team, now, comes to us and says, “Hey, guys, we gotta meet. This happened. I think it’s out of line with this value.”
LAURA: Wow. I love that.
JOSHUA: And it was pretty exciting because we have to be consistent. Um, I think, to your point, you know, if we have a value like respect then it only makes sense if you hold yourself to it and then hold everyone else. Otherwise it’s ineffective. So, when the team brings those to us we take them very seriously, ’cause otherwise they can, um, make them meaningless if we don’t enforce them.
TERRENCE: Yeah. And so it, it kind of started working even better, right, when we, so we eventually implemented Traction, which, you’re familiar with Traction, I believe.
LAURA: Yeah. Yeah. The entrepreneurial operating system.
TERRENCE: Yeah, so, so we implemented that over some time and we brought those values into it, um, and now, when we do something called the people analyzer, it’s anyone in the organization who has three strikes on the values, they go. That’s, that’s just how that works, right? Like, and that’s, it’s been really difficult to, you know, to sometimes see like, oh man, even Josh and myself at times will get minuses on there and we’ll be like, “Oh crap. We need to, like, we need to fix that thing about ourselves. We’re not paying attention to this.” But nobody’s immune to it. You know what I mean?
TERRENCE: I think that’s really important in an organization, where even the leaders are, are held to the same exact standards as everyone else in the organization. Um, and systematizing that has been, has been really useful for us, to actually make sure that we’re paying attention to it on an ongoing basis.
LAURA: That’s really, really cool.
JOSHUA: Yeah. I, I think that part is, of the process, is interesting because it takes out, kind of takes out emotion out of the equation. Like, I may have a certain, um, experience with someone on the team but if Terrence has had an experience that’s different than mine that fundamentally shows there’s misalignment on three values, like, then there’s no debate about it. It’s just, wow, that’s, that’s not what we stand for. You know?
JOSHUA: And I think, too, earlier you mentioned respect. We, and to his point, we would ding each other on things we have to improve on and I’m happy to say the last two quarterly reviews Terrence has been great across the board. Getting that respect, there’s nothing that we can critique him on.
LAURA: That’s awesome.
JOSHUA: Which is hard. It’s extremely hard to change your behavior. It’s very hard. And, um, so that’s been exciting to see that kind of transform.
TERRENCE: Yeah, I can tell that’s been, I can tell you that’s been really difficult.
LAURA: Yeah. Tell us about internally, what are you doing to create that consistency and behavioral shift?
TERRENCE: Well, honestly, it’s, it was difficult to kind of build those muscles up. But the number one thing that I’m trying to do now that seems to help is to just stop and listen. Um, if I just stop and listen when I’m in a meeting or in a, in a situation, usually people will eventually get to the, the same, you know, roughly the same result that I was going to get to. It’s just that it, it had to do with that patience. Being impatient led to me being disrespectful. And so, when I’m more patient and when I listen, I notice that people are more on the same page than I realized. It’s just that they’re saying it in 50 words and I say it in three. Um, you know what I mean? So, so it’s just having more patience and being deliberate about that, even if it, like, hurts. And I have to bite my lip sometimes which I don’t have to anymore. You know what I mean?
LAURA: That’s awesome.
TERRENCE: Bite my tongue. But, um, yeah so it’s primarily been that. It’s just been building up those muscles to actually be deliberate about that, you know, being respectful and paying attention and understanding what somebody else’s experience is and listening to them.
LAURA: So it becomes a new habit.
LAURA: Listening becomes more of the go-to and you’ve had enough experiences where you continue to build up and you go, “You know what? In the past, when I’ve stopped and I’ve listened, we’ve gotten there and we’re in alignment” and so it becomes easier and easier as you do it because you can have confidence. This is gonna go well.
JOSHUA: I think another big piece, of factor* here, we’ve talked about it with our work together was this financial kind of burden. And, and I remember hearing recently that most divorces and marriages are ended over finance and I think that, as any startup, there’s waves of good and bad and cash flow’s great one month and then it can, you know, dip and so, for us, I tell Terrence this all the time, without the skills we learned with you to handle all the additional stress during those bad times, I don’t know if we would have got out of it, survived. I say this a lot. Um, and so now another part of improvement is as we’ve communicated better, it just so happens our business has really taken off. We’re probably in the healthiest financial place we’ve ever been and, like, now I’m, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I think he is too.
TERRENCE: Yeah. Same. I don’t–
LAURA: That’s awesome.
TERRENCE: –I don’t really have many issues. I feel productive all the time. I feel like we know what we’re doing every day and we’re, you know, rowing in the same direction. We’re scaling sustainably. So, so it’s just kind of all of that work that we put into ourselves is kind of permeating through the business now.
LAURA: So, what is, I’d love to hear from each of you, um, either like your biggest takeaway or, um, a tip that you would give to any other leaders that maybe have had some similar challenges and struggles that you’ve worked through.
TERRENCE: Yeah. I would say one of them, for me, probably the biggest takeaway is to find a shared language around the things in your business that matter. Um, so, for instance, even taking it back to values or process or anything. If your definition of respect and care or sustainable balance or passion or whatever your values are, if your definition of that is different than your co founder’s definition, then it doesn’t matter how many times you guys try to realign the company or yourself to those values. You’re gonna do it in different directions and that’s not alignment. Um, and so finding that shared language and shared understanding and sitting down and actually saying, “Hey, what does this mean to you? Oh, cool. It means that to you? Well, it means this to me. Can we find some middle ground in there where we both agree that if something is this way, it’s out of alignment. If something’s this way, it’s in alignment.” Um, I think just finding shared language around that, finding shared language around process, I think that’s really important.
LAURA: Excellent. Okay, thanks.
JOSHUA: For me, it would be something– I feel like I have all these buzz words from you that I use daily.
JOSHUA: Is get curious. We talked about that. And that applies to a lot of areas. But a lot of times I think leaders will see performance in their organization, you know, situations that arise that are concerning and jump to conclusions and create stories is another big one. And there’s been times where we’ve heard the snippets of, you know, the information we had, drew a conclusion, were super certain that this horrible thing was happening and then we got curious and actually went and heard all the details and we were completely wrong. If we made decisions based on what we thought we knew, it could have been catastrophic. And so that applies, um, in, in a multitude of different situations and that’s probably my biggest takeaway and advice. It applies, not only to situations like that, but then getting curious about when someone’s communicating in a way that you may not be, um, sure of what they mean. Asking questions. Trying to understand what they’re, uh, perception of that situation is. And that’s helped me big time.
LAURA: Awesome. Was that from the Get Curious, Not Furious line?
JOSHUA: I think it was.
LAURA: You just kind of kept the get curious part.
JOSHUA: I don’t get furious very often, so–
LAURA: Yeah. I know. And once I wanted to say Get Curious, Not Irritated but that doesn’t rhyme so less cute. Um, but yeah that kneejerk reaction that humans have to hearing something and the immediate story that we jump to so the ability to just, just push the pause button on that reaction and go, “Okay, wait. Let me get curious instead. Ask some questions. Learn some more things.” Awesome. Great takeaways. Well, thank you so much to both of you.
JOSHUA: It’s great to see you again.
LAURA: Yeah. It was really good to see you guys again, too.
TERRENCE: It was fun.
LAURA: (Outro): If you want to learn more about this process, and how your team can dramatically improve the quality and effectiveness of your communication, please reach out to me at Laura@gallaheredge.com, or visit the website at gallaheredge.com for more information. Thanks for listening to the show. Since you’re still here, I’d love to ask for a favor – would you please rate this show on iTunes? It’s one of the best ways to help others find the show, and I’d love to get this message out to as many people in the world as possible. Also, maybe you want to send this episode to somebody that you think could benefit from listening. Thanks for all your support….we’ll talk again soon.