“Many of us are blessed to have success in our lives. To paraphrase a quote; “To those whom much is given, from them much is expected.” We have an established set of four core values — Excellence, Customer Service, Fun, Giving Back. It is this last core value of giving back, which resonates throughout the company. Over the years we have participated in many events to benefit not only the communities where we work and live but also in the communities where we hold our National Kickoff Meetings. Yes, there are many ideas which can inspire a movement to benefit large groups of people, but movements can be short-lived. By engaging our team members in giving back we’re able to both involve them, their friends and family members. Giving back becomes a lifelong characteristic instead of a passing trend.”
I had the pleasure to interview Mike Thompson the CEO of Groupware Technology, a leading IT solutions provider based in the Silicon Valley. Mike has over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, business leader and strategist. He is passionate about building effective teams and partnerships with a keen focus on value-driven technology solutions for enterprise and Fortune 500 customers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
In 2001, my aspirations to run the company where I had moved up from an account manager to VP evaporated with that year’s economic downturn and the company’s fortunes went down with it. Laying off long-time employees and managing the company’s bankruptcy process had a profound effect on me but I was determined to find the right opportunity to build my own company.
That opportunity came in 2005 when the company “Groupware Technology & Computing” sat on the brink of bankruptcy. After carefully evaluating the risks in acquiring Groupware Technology, I set out to find a team who would not only believe in my vision but would stake their capital and careers on it. I found the right team, went through with the acquisition and realized the company’s future now rested on my shoulders.
My goal for Groupware was to offer customers and employees more value than the current market players. I wanted to build a business that would become an integral part of helping businesses leverage technology to increase profitability, sustain a competitive advantage and enable growth. With this vision and with the right team in place, we took a company from the brink of bankruptcy to a profitable $300 million company.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we first started the business, we worked out of a small space in a strip mall next to a Mexican restaurant. While working on one of our first system integration projects, a foul odor overtook the space and we ended up having to move tables outside in order to finish the project on time. As it turns out, the foul odor came from dead rats in the walls between the restaurant and our work space! Needless to say, once we finished the project, we packed up and moved to a new location. We think back to this episode and laugh out loud but at the time it caused us some stress not knowing if we’d get the task at hand completed on time.
How do you synchronize large teams to work effectively together?
Teamwork is an integral component of Groupware’s success. One way we cultivate large teams to work together is to foster the concept of open communication and an open-door policy. We encourage team members to share ideas, make suggestions and voice their opinions across all aspects of the business — everyone has a voice and needs to be heard and know that their voice counts. All employees should feel like they can add to the conversation both with managers and peers. The open communication also breaks down silos and enables our teams to work effectively together. There should also be team processes set in place for cross-collaboration on projects and communicating along the duration of the project.
I also have a weekly meeting with my executive team where the directors or VPs of each department, in addition to sharing their own departmental updates, share and suggest ideas for how their teams can work and collaborate on projects and initiatives.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
We don’t have a global team as of yet, but we do have satellite offices in different locations throughout the US, including Phoenix and Denver so I can certainly still speak to this issue.
The top challenge for managing geographically dispersed teams for me is an obvious one — and that is not having the in-person interaction with my remote teams as much as I do with my HQ team, where I am based. As we have an open-door policy and open communication at our headquarter offices, I get the feedback and shared ideas, etc. from HQ employees on an ongoing, consistent basis. With remote teams, I don’t want them to feel as if they have less of a voice, so I still encourage these teams to always feel free to reach out to me — shoot me an email, text or send me a calendar invite to have a virtual meeting or a conference call when they have issues or matters that need my attention or simply want to give me feedback on anything. Even if we are not sitting face-to-face with each other in office or in meeting, I want my remote teams to know their voices have equal measure to the HQ team and that they are equally valued.
I also travel to our satellite offices to meet with those teams on a regular basis. When we do our quarterly all-staff meetings, we include the other offices via WebEx. We also bring team members from other locations to join in company functions at headquarters as much as we can, as well as include them on our annual National Kick-Off week-long event, which we hold in January in a different city each year. The focus of the kick-off is to lay out the footprint of our strategy and goals for the upcoming year, so the inclusion of our satellite office teams is important as well.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
As noted earlier, foster an atmosphere of open communication so that employees can have a voice on company processes and culture. They can’t “thrive” if they don’t feel that they are being heard and that their feedback counts.
To me, having employees “thrive” also means employers should encourage and provide tools for their employees’ professional growth and enable them to continually fine-tune and hone their skill sets. For instance, we offer tuition reimbursement to employees for continued education (such as going to grad school, taking classes, etc.) Our HR team is also in the stages of implementing a mentoring program for seasoned, senior level employees to mentor junior-level employees.
Last but certainly not least, helping employees to “thrive” means as an employer I am always mindful of what benefits I can offer them that have a positive impact on their work-life balance. Among the benefits we offer for wellness include in-house cross-training sessions and flex time off.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
This is completely related to the advice I just noted on how to help employees thrive. If you want to retain talent, especially in the extraordinary talent pool that the Silicon Valley swims in where employers are ultra-competitive for top tech talent, give your employees the tools to thrive both professionally and personally and have open communication where you truly listen to and pay attention to employee feedback. Positioning Groupware as an employer of choice is also one of our foundational strategies, where we are building a magnetic employment brand that attracts and retains talent and solidifies the perception of Groupware as an ideal employer.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “Five Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team?”
When meeting with team members projects and/or specific tasks are given. Though some guidance can be given, one has to let the team manage the task on their own and trust they will deliver positive results. Though the results themselves may not always be positive, team members can learn from missteps, which will deliver positive results going forward. One has to trust the process and avoid the pitfall of micro-managing.
Some of our team members come in with great enthusiasm and a feeling they can turn all leads into sales. Experience reminds us to not quell their enthusiasm and to monitor and guide them, but allow them to learn lessons at their own pace. As a leader this requires patience; sometimes lots of patience. But if you believe the person has great potential, then the patience will pay off and the team member will not only succeed but can also serve as a mentor to the next new team member.
Each year, at our National Kickoff Meeting, our management team takes time out to acknowledge the accomplishments of our team members. I can honestly say this is a true highlight for me as I can see in the eyes of those who are acknowledged joy, pride and a sense of fulfillment. Recognition for one’s efforts is the hallmark of a career. Our managers acknowledge outstanding work throughout the year but at our kick-off, it is more formalized by recognizing outstanding employees in an awards ceremony.
Saying “Thank You” also goes a long way. I write cards to employees on my personal stationary “From the Desk of the CEO” throughout the year and mail them to their home addresses so they can share the “thank you” with their families.
As an entrepreneur, I have always held the steadfast belief that you are as good a leader as the people and teams you surround yourself with. Investing in others and providing opportunities and the tools for their professional growth, as well as empowering them to then lead their own teams, is in my opinion, a key component to running a successful company.
And when someone joins the Groupware team they immediately sense the tremendous opportunity before them. During one of our quarterly business reports, several of our sales team members stated: “I like working at Groupware because it gives me a sense of autonomy and the opportunity to make decisions without having to always seek permission from management. I accept the responsibility of my decisions and appreciate the opportunity.” This sense is felt throughout the company.
Early on in the history of our company, at a management team meeting, the discussion around purpose became a focal point. Understanding that we do not manufacture any products and that we provide services, we realized a sense of purpose could not be generated from the top down. It had to come from team members on the front lines. We challenged each division to write down and deliver what they believed to be their purpose at Groupware. From the collection of ideas, a final purpose statement would be constructed and distributed throughout the company. At our National Kickoff Meeting each division had a representative stand before the company as a whole a deliver their purpose statement. “Incredible” best describes the depth and seriousness to which each division had taken their task. All the statements were gathered, edited and printed into a final “Purpose Statement” which now sits at each person’s desk. Having a clear purpose is a powerful motivating factor in whatever one chooses to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Many of us are blessed to have success in our lives. To paraphrase a quote; “To those whom much is given, from them much is expected.” At Groupware, we have an established set of four core values — Excellence, Customer Service, Fun, Giving Back. It is this last core value of giving back, which resonates throughout the company. Over the years we have participated in many events to benefit not only the communities where we work and live but also in the communities where we hold our National Kickoff Meetings. Yes, there are many ideas which can inspire a movement to benefit large groups of people, but movements can be short-lived. By engaging our team members in giving back we’re able to both involve them, their friends and family members. Giving back becomes a lifelong characteristic instead of a passing trend.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I never wake up in the morning and say to myself: Today, I think I’m going to be mediocre.” Making every day count, whether in business or otherwise, it’s important to understand we’re only given so many days and to waste them is regrettable. This does not preclude having fun or just relaxing to rejuvenate as long as one’s purpose is clear.