The future of work, team effectiveness, work culture, and notes from our gathering

We brought together 15 people from growing companies all over Philly to discuss workplace challenges. While this was certainly the beginning, here’s what we learned from our first gathering.

Photo credit: NASA

Our Biggest Takeaways:

1. It’s like “workplace therapy!”.

I heard through the grapevine that someone said our time together was like workplace therapy, and they want more of it. So, stay tuned!

2. The biggest challenge everyone is facing is the sheer pace of change.

Whether we’re talking about bringing new hires up to speed, rapidly scaling operations, evolving marketing strategies, or any other issue, change seems to be the only constant. Which begets the question, “how do we design our teams and organizations so they’re able to cope with the rapidly-increasing uncertainty we each face on a daily basis?” The answer: change the way we operate. From how decisions are made, to how strategies are designed, to how roles relate to responsibilities, everything as we know it now needs to be rethought, and an entirely new way of operating needs to be implemented — one that’s designed for this less predictable, more volatile environment. How? By talking, learning, experimenting, and empowering people.

3. We need to regularly make time for internal reflection and discussion around organizational challenges.

Most of us are so busy working IN the business, we don’t make time to work ON the business. Discussing everything from communications challenges and information sharing, to developing people and creating better work environments, to clearly defining and aligning teams around a shared purpose, are essential for the creation of sustainable, value-adding businesses. It’s great to collaborate and share ideas and insights as a group of people from myriad organizations, but every org itself needs to make time — on a regular basis — to talk about HOW work gets done, beyond just doing the work. Oftentimes it’s more beneficial to pause, reflect, and do something differently, than it is to keep doing things “the way we do them.”

4. People want to convene and explore this stuff frequently.

I’m so happy to have received such positive responses from so many of the people who attended! I’m excited to run more of these sessions, and start to bring some structure and cadence into our time together. I’ll certainly lead up the efforts to make this happen, but I want to open it up to anyone who may be interested in helping organize alongside me. Specifically, I’m looking for help with logistics and marketing, as well as someone to work with me on content and structure. If you’re interested, please email me

Things to remember when you go back to work:

  • Helping people understand WHY they’re being asked to do something pays extraordinary dividends. Provide visibility and transparency into the “why” behind every decision, and you’ll unlock an incredible amount of potential from your team.
  • Instead of using one-on-ones (meetings between manager/lead and team member) as status updates and formalities between manager/doer, try using them as coaching sessions to make sure your team members are fully engaged, feel included, and are empowered.
  • Communication is key! Seems like we all need to work on getting better at communicating on an individual basis, within a team, and as an entire organization.
  • Developing and empowering people is always your best path forward. These were not the words used during our sessions, but there was a common theme of “invest in people” that was the undercurrent of every conversation. Put people first, take care of them, empower them to do their best work, and they’ll give you their all.
  • Good ideas come from all around us, so approach every conversation with an open mind.
  • People WANT to be in Philly! This city is dope. Seriously. It’s got creativity, technology, accessibility, diversity, affordability, community, and so many amazing reasons to be here. As such, it’s drawing talent away from other major hubs — and those people contribute to Philly’s renaissance. So, let’s explore how Philly and your business can support one another and collaboratively win. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Some of the questions that arose from our discussions, that we’ll surely cover in the future:

  • Company culture: How do we create a workplace that’s fun, while still being effective? What do we do if we don’t have “culture” but want to?
  • Leadership: How do we help our people get — and stay — motivated? What can we do to make sure we’re developing leaders and not managers? (Asked from the perspective of leadership as well as employee).
  • Talent: How do we set ourselves up to attract and retain the right talent?
  • Locality: What can we do as an organization to leverage — and contribute to — the unique strengths of Philly and our local flair?
  • Rapid growth: How do we handle adjusting teams, processes, policies, etc, as we grow rapidly? Especially when everything breaks…
  • Impact economy: How can we fuse profitable business with positive impact? How can Philly support impact orgs and vice versa?
  • Workflows: How do we prioritize tasks, and balance urgent with important? There are too many good things to do! How do we choose?
  • Remote work: When our office is 50% in-house and 50% remote, how do we create the best workflows, company culture, structure, and operations, to help everyone do their best work?
  • Gig economy: What’s the future of work look like when full-time employment is no longer the leading option for making a living? How does that change org dynamics?

As we can see, many workplaces share the same challenges.

Many people are so overloaded with the challenges of today, it’s tough for them to make time to think about what’s coming up tomorrow. But as leaders, we must make sure to give ourselves — and our teams — the space to think, plan, experiment, learn, iterate, and move forward. And as we make that space to solve tomorrow’s challenges, we’ll simultaneously make things better for our teams today.

This gathering was the first of many, and we’ll be reconvening on a semi-regular basis in Philadelphia. I’m extending an open invite to you, and the people you know who might be interested in these discussions, to come join us any time. If you’re interested in more info, please subscribe to my company’s newsletter, and we’ll keep you up to date with all our gatherings and workshops.

The future will be co-created through collaboration and experimentation. Let me know when you’re ready to explore.

Mike Tannenbaum

Making Workplaces More Human

I help people and organizations thrive in this period of major complexity and uncertainty. Through workshops, consulting, and collaboration, I’m here to help you develop fresh perspectives, design better strategies, and deliver better work.

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