Why Peer Support is the Future of Working
Groove Co-Founder and CEO Joshua Greene discusses community structure, peer-to-peer mentorship, and accountability with CollabTalk
For Episode 61 of the CollabTalk Podcast, Groove’s Co-Founder and CEO Joshua Greene joined host Christian Buckley for a conversation focused on the need for building community structures to help individuals and teams collaborate and create accountability, and to find the mentors and peer support needed to create a successful path forward. You can listen to the podcast below, or follow CollabTalk using your favorite app, such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or the iHeartRadio app.
CollabTalk Podcast | Episode 61 with Joshua Greene - buckleyPLANET
The CollabTalk Podcast · Episode 61 | Finding Mentors and Building community Structures with Joshua Greene For Episode…
Welcome to another episode of the CollabTalk podcast, where we discuss the convergence of technology, business productivity and collaboration culture. My guest today is Joshua Greene, the founder and CEO of Groove, an online coworking community and mobile app for solopreneurs, to help them to connect and uncover new ways of working together. He’s going to tell us more about that. But welcome, Joshua.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here and talk about collaboration and productivity in the workplace.
There’s a lot, and I’m sure we’ll go sideways as my mind does here, but we’re focusing today on building community structures and finding the mentors and peer support needed to create a successful path forward. I know that cuts across a couple of the areas that you focus on, but why don’t we start with Groove.
Tell us what is Groove? How did it get started? What’s the direction of where you’re going and where you’re growing?
I think I’ll start with how there was this massive shift that happened over the past few years, from having people in conventional work structures in offices, coexisting, co-locating, and then that shifted pretty radically.
(Teasing) What was it that shifted?
(Laughs) And in that transition for people working from home or having to find other places to work from over COVID, we saw really new emergent structures and possibilities, and big problems that organizations and individuals both had to solve for themselves: What does it mean to work effectively?
I like to talk about Groove as a reflection of: What did the office do automatically, organically? Especially when you look at younger generations entering the workforce, mentorship happened naturally, because I saw the exec over there do that thing in that way, and that helped me figure out how I’m going to do it. It helped me build my network very quickly, because I sat with other people, and we had lunch together.
There were all of these organic structures that really helped me understand: How do I work? How do I have a career without someone having to sit me down and teach me that? But when you take people out of the office, those are real issues, and Groove really emerged in that space.
What’s interesting is that I’ve interviewed a number of people, experts in companies, and talked to them about how did it go with the pandemic, when you sent everybody home, you worked, and you had different responses, but some similar problems.
From a technology standpoint, there’s a number of customers out there saying, well, we were already making the shift to the cloud. We are moving to these tools and where our information was stored. And so that aspect was not as difficult as they thought it would be. And, don’t get me wrong, there were companies that were not moving in that direction, and that that was a painful transition.
But then you get to the people side of it, and there’s a reason why the whole topic of the employee experience, or EXP, is taking off, and so many companies are focusing on that, because they recognize that there was a fundamental failure on that side of it. It’s not enough that you say, hey, look, we’ve got these tools. You got Microsoft Teams, you got Zoom, we’ve got Slack and other things up and running, and we’re good. We’ll be able to communicate and get work done.
People broke down, like not having the rest of that, not training our people to be able to work in that way. And this is coming from a person who has worked remotely for the last 12 years.
I think the interesting thing is, I don’t think we could really start to solve it until we were confronted in such an abrupt way. Probably because those functional issues, information and project management, you had to do that whether you’re in an office or not.
But actually to be confronted by these fundamental human needs, like the Great Resignation if you really look at that, for me, it’s really about people wanting belonging in their work. They want to feel part of something, and that has massive, massive day to day impacts: trust, speed of decision making, all of these things that come from coherence and feeling part of something.
It’s interesting because I was in Israel for the last eight years, and there’s a culture there when they’re building companies. You know, these are people that were trained together in the army, and then they go and build companies, but the ability to make impact quickly comes from this very high level of trust.
And Groove came from the core of, okay, how do you build that? How do you build that when you’re remote? How do you feel part of something when you’re remote? These pillars that we lean on of structure, community, purpose and intention,
We were like, okay, we know we need a new kind of social interaction in people’s day. We know there’s a fundamental issue around people being effective and being distracted and being productive.
But we don’t want to create social interactions that are additive in people’s lives. We don’t want more meetups. Who wants another happy hour? Or to have to do a virtual coffee check in for 30 minutes because it’s a KPI in my company? That’s not fun.
But I do want to experience work with people. So Groove really started as this very basic social ritual. That said: If you want to come together around something that’s meaningful for you, I’ve got something to get done; I need support to be productive and to be more focused. Let’s turn that into a social interaction, where there’s time for a check-in. It’s highly structured, and it fits into my workflow.
A Groove session starts with a check-in on video. “Hey, what’s going on? I’m Josh, we might work on the same team. We might not know each other, we might work in different departments across the organization. This is what I need to get done in the next 50 minutes.” Share. Switch into work mode, video goes off. 50 minutes later, people come back. Check in: “How did it go?” Tactical reflections and an opportunity to chat.
There’s something really unique about the meeting. Who doesn’t like the time before the meeting starts and the time after the meeting finishes, like that’s prime time to build relationships.
People always say we need to recreate the water cooler moment, the Holy Grail, but people often forget the water cooler moment happened in the context between work.
It’s the same as the meeting, we need to be social, but it needs to be bound up with focused productive time that’s purposeful, because that allows people to build a quality of relationship that we’re not seeing in any other virtual office environments. Especially the ones that are always on. Always on for me means never on. How do I choose to interact? How do I choose to engage? So when we build structure, it allows people to really be effective and to really feel connected.
What’s interesting when I think of not having seen your solution and seeing Groove, but thinking about, like kind of a similar scenario that I’ve experienced three times over my career where twice that I ran it, the third time it kind of happened within the existing tools.
Knowing that we had a disparate group of people focusing on different things and spread out and people working on different hybrid schedules — and this was years ago — we instituted a daily stand up meeting. Everybody’s heard the term, we’ve used that.
And initially, I told everybody, you have to be there in person. This is back when we were in the office. So this was the first time that I did this, but I had read about it in one of these startup books in the late 90s, early 2000s. I was living down in the San Francisco Bay Area; some people would be like, “I work remote every Wednesday.” I was like, “Sorry, you’re coming in. This is a daily stand up.” It was to get people into the habit together in a structured way, to run through daily engineering organization. I managed all the PMs and a number of analysts and engineers, and it was to get everybody on the same page to look at the ever changing priorities and to make those assignments.
And what happened over time? People were very resentful of that. They’re like, “You’re inserting something that doesn’t fit into my regular day. I know what I’m supposed to be working on.” Yeah, but everybody else doesn’t know what you’re supposed to be working on. And that’s not enough, when there needs to be connections and conversations happening cross team. It’s not happening. And we need to fix that.
What happened is that over time — and it took several weeks, a couple months — is that people built healthy habits. And I did this the same again when I was working at Microsoft. I did the exact same thing, installed a whiteboard on the wall, instituted a daily meeting. Nobody likes that. Let’s just be clear. Nobody ever likes that. Forcing people to go and talk to each other and look at this and make sure we’re for the same page.
Over time we didn’t need to have the daily. People were going in and updating and reaching out to people asking questions, regardless of their location. And so we were able to do it as a dial in call. People were watching the dashboard online, moving the pieces as they needed, and so became much more flexible when we built the healthy habit. It’s a powerful thing to have that initially. That structure feels restrictive, but then allows for the rest of those interactions.
Sometimes it was a 30 minute call, sometimes it was five minutes. We knew our pieces, nothing changed. And so a lot of it was the chit chat catch up. Hey, did you do that? Oh, yeah. Hey, I forgot about that. Let me add that to my task list. And a lot of that informal conversation that happens between team members and it worked. It was very successful.
Yeah, I love those stories. And I appreciate it for reflection because we often internally say, “Grooving is weird but worth it.” Because it’s a new experience for someone, when you start Grooving.
What I appreciate about what you shared is you moved from a rigid structure to fluid structure. Because I think what we see in our work now, in our lives, and this definitely speaks to sort of mine and my friends’ experiences of working in organizations or working as solopreneurs or solo workers or creators, whatever path you’re taking, you want more agency to decide how your day is going to flow, and to optimize in the ways that work for you as well as the people around you.
Often I hear the rhetoric of well, we want less structure. Actually, I think what you actually want is more structure, but more nuanced — the fluid structure that supports you being effective in more fluid ways. You know, there’s a bit of a paradox there, but actually, I need more structure.
And when people start Grooving they know we use it as a team. We’re pretty much the only people that use it as a team, because right now anyone can jump on it as an individual, and use it and build their community within the platform. The team product will come later, but we see that it provides that fluid structure. It provides the power of the daily stand up because I now know what’s going on because I Grooved with the Head of Marketing and she told me what she’s working on right now, etc. And at the same time, I still can use it on demand. I can have flexibility and I think that’s where for me the working world is going. It’s actually that we need a different kind of support — structure to help people be effective, and it has to be fluid.
We’re talking about individuals, so let’s focus on that side of it because I know that you’re working on a team based solution as well. But so it’s primarily individuals, it’s entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, people that are on there. What’s the role of community for a solopreneur?
I talk about it in two ways.
One is the obvious way which people often talk about — is the functional tactical network relationships that I need to just be effective in my work. Where do I find myself? How do I build my sales pipeline? How do I find collaborators to accomplish a project that I need to?
And the other side is, we’re social creatures. We have very human needs. Especially if I go out to carve a career and I’m not in a large organization, I feel it much more acutely. I think freelancing maybe was previously often a phase in people’s lives. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but it’s like, oh, I worked in this company. I freelanced for two years. And then I joined another company again, I think people will see that.
Well, it’s possible that I’m going to have relationships with large organizations, but they’re going to look very different to what they might have been 10 years ago. And in that context, I don’t want to walk a path alone for two, three, four or five decades. And that’s where we’re starting to already see within the platform that people that are trying to tread this path — this new paradigm of work. I need to do it with other people, need the support, need to ride the ups and downs. I know those times when I was burning the candle at both ends because I was working on a project ’til 2am in the office. There’s no way I would have done that without people around me. You know, it wouldn’t have happened. That was part of the life of being young and being in the corporate world and working hard.
But you need people. You need people emotionally as much as functionally and that’s where I think it’s interesting, because there’s a lot of language that’s emerged. “Community” is a buzzword everywhere. And really you have to cut through it because actually there are some deep human needs that need to be met to help people be effective. Connection and belonging really help cultures move effectively.
And, they could be soft words, but I think they deliver meaningful business outcomes, because they allow you to circle back to trust and decision making and performance and being able to optimize your life and ride the wave. You need those things to really be effective.
Well, I completely understand that. The first two years when I first went independent — so left as a chief marketing officer for a software company — and wanted to go out on my own with just the number of contacts in the community. I realized very quickly… I said, I’m working from my basement. It’s good to see the sunlight once in awhile. It’s also good to interact with other people.
So I actually went and joined — didn’t need an office outside of the home — but went and paid for a shared desk in a coworking space. A company that’s here in the Mountain States, called Kiln, but there’s also WeWork, which I know that you experienced, but there’s a number of popups around that. But just being able to have people interacting around me, to talk to people at the front desk and and occasionally during mixers, networking events, to meet some of these other startups that were growing their teams and be able to share some of my startup experiences. It’s energy that I needed to refuel.
What was missing from that, and maybe this is one of the benefits of something like Groove, is that there wasn’t really an opportunity for me to then relate it all to me and what I was doing with my company. It was kind of the other direction — I found myself in conversations, giving advice to others. Not as many people asked the in depth questions about what I was doing, from that side. But for two years pre-pandemic, it was fantastic to have that as a resource.
Yeah, I really resonate with that. And I think one of the great things about a peer to peer platform where actually everyone is sharing, is there’s an orientation towards we’re all giving and we’re all receiving. Those kinds of dynamics are much more conducive to building a quality of relationship. I want to connect it actually back to the story that you shared about the daily standup, because I think what you see with healthy, good social interactions in people’s days, they integrated into their workflow, and I’m like a broken record, because I think that’s like the key is, how do I bring social into what I need to do anyway?
It turbo charges everything, like accountability. It’s a habit forming ability. We have pretty wild retention within the product. After people have been onboarded, there’s like a 90% chance they’re going to Groove every subsequent Groove from 5 to 100. So it’s a space that shows, wow, social powers possibility in a way that doing on your own just doesn’t.
And I really see that coworking spaces are a great facilitator of that. I think the piece that sometimes they’re missing is there’s no one matching you up. Who do you know? Who do you know from this team? What’s that? Where does that social infrastructure come in? But it’s a critical piece for the future of work in so many ways.
I think it’s an important aspect of what you just pointed out. So in my experience in enterprise collaboration technology, I’ve been doing this for information management systems, Project Portfolio Management, but all around data management systems in IT for over 30 years, is that the most effective deployments where the teams and individuals are effective, where the technology is successful, long term, not just the successful deployment, but there’s actual adoption and engagement. Is where it best fits in with the culture of the organization.
So just like anything, if it’s the first version of The Matrix, if we go back… open your science books, everybody. So in the first version of The Matrix, why did it fail? Because it was too perfect. It didn’t fit in or it felt wrong. And if you’re trying to get people to change their behaviors and do things and work in a different way, and it doesn’t fit, then people will rebel against that.
And so it’s where it’s successful is where you’re able to integrate that and it feels organic, it feels like a part of what they’re already doing,
Me and my co-founders, we’re product rebels. We definitely don’t take the standard form of how we build products. But it’s why we’re focusing on individuals first. We know that there’s a huge opportunity to make massive cultural shifts in large organizations, but the product has to come from something that people want to use day in and day out and has to come not as in this shift, in this paradigm shift of how we work or remote work, top down solutions, and not going to give people the need they have to wanting to be able to engage in a social way, that feels supportive of their effectiveness in their day.
And that’s why we’ve spent such a long time on nailing the experience from the ground up, and then now we’re just giving it to the first teams, because they want it and then really allowing that to be integrated into bigger organizations in a much smoother way. But it really has to start as you said, from the individual wanting it, for it filling a need and then going from there.
Well how does it work? So solopreneurs is somebody who’s spun out, they’ve decided, hey, I’m going to work nights and weekends to make my dream a reality. I’m going to build a product or service, whatever that thing is and start to build that. How do they get plugged in? How do they actually get started?
So I’ll use the metaphor of the coworking space because it’s just the most useful one in this context.
You can download the app, you get straight into the product, and it’s like you’re starting your coworking space. There’s not a heavy lift associated with that. Because what would you do if you were going to design your coworking space, you’d find some interesting people that you want to hang around with, like that you want to that you want to cowork with.
So we have a feature called Orbits, so you can go through the people within the community and add them to your Orbit. And you’d invite your friends or your ex-colleagues or the people that you’d really like to hang around with. I Groove often with people I went to college with because actually they’re the people that I like to spend my time with. So you go in, you build out your network. There are welcome sessions to help people orient themselves within the platform. We do a lot of onboarding to make sure that people get up and set up for success.
But really, you just need to get into your first session. For us, it’s as simple as, I’ve got to get this done in the next 50 minutes. I’m going to do it this way. I’ve been putting this off, or I’ve got to write this next, I’ve got to finish off this strategy document or build this financial module, whatever it might be. Get it into your first Groove, and then it automatically starts reorienting your life.
I think one of the things that’s so wonderful is there’s no instruction manual. We don’t have to tell you to behave to develop better habits. In people’s first Groove, they might assume that they can do two hours of work in 50 minutes. It’s often that you set yourself a goal that’s unrealistic.
But that helps you reorganize your work life for better habits in the future, because by the time you’re doing your fifth or sixth session, I can now plan my time much more effectively. Oh, I really want to get all my work done by six o’clock in the evening. People structuring their days automatically gets better by using the product.
It doesn’t have to be: I need an instruction manual. I need to tell you how to do it. It automatically helps you develop better behaviors because of the nature of the simplicity of the ritual. And the way that it socially fits into your life. So it’s really get on, try your first session, build out your network, and then you’re set up to go. Right now that’s the simplicity of the experience.
Do you have formal mentor programs? Do you have people using it expressly for that purpose? To say I’m looking for or I have somebody that I’ve identified, we’ve worked together but let’s put it into a more collaborative space.
I see right now a lot of peers that have informal relationships that want to support each other. So whether it’s people writing business books, or launching podcasts, or or there’s a bunch of people that build and run ecommerce DTC. Solopreneurs find each other or they bring people on. It’s the best networking, because you don’t have to add loads of things to your calendar.
So we’re seeing people having very organic mentorship, where they’ll be like, oh, I don’t know how to find a supplier for this, or I don’t know how to deal with this situation. Have you come across it? Right now within the experiences, it’s predominantly during the synchronous time on Groove, but as the product evolves, there’ll be space to facilitate those conversations around the Groove as much as within the Groove. So it’s a peer mentorship, rather than speaking to someone that’s like five steps along the journey beyond me at the moment.
I have to ask this question — I’m kind of a music collector but does the name have anything to do with the late 80s early 90s dance band Deee-lite and their song, “Groove is in the Heart?
(Laughs) I grew up with that song from my parents, but, you know, we really believe fundamentally it’s like the driving why of what Groove is, is that who doesn’t want to live in the Groove? Grooving is a way of being in the world. And it’s an intrinsically social way.
Like, to really be in the Groove is not to be alone, whether you’re with the music and you, but you’re with other people.
And that really is the underlying vision of what we’re trying to create. How can we create the ultimate human powered support system for people that allows them to Groove through life?
So much of what you’re saying is, having been in the enterprise social networking space for many, many years and and since the roots of the late 90s of when the first instant messaging, multi platform protocols came out. Of course, you started with like ICQ and CompuServe and AOL Instant Messenger and all those, then you started to get into the multi platform companies in the late 90s, early 2000s, started integrating the chat components and then video components into these chat tools, and all these things that came out of that grew into these social platforms.
And you have a lot of us that have been advocating for collaboration, but like you say, it’s contextual. It’s synchronous, and asynchronous depending on what the needs are. But you have that single location where we can go back we’re working and collaborating together, we’re sharing artifacts, we’re developing these things together, working towards these shared goals. And there are a lot of different solutions that are out there that address pieces of that.
But I consider myself a collaboration technology guy and what has been driving so much of that has been the social aspect of that. And so you get people that will be critical of the social technologies — they think of Twitter and Facebook and those public consuming tools. There are things that they’ve developed and there’s things that are interesting, that are out there from a discovery standpoint to find people to make friends and those kinds of things, but when you think about it within the enterprise and within, even with the individual contributors, looking for your affinity groups.
Almost like the concept of a center of excellence is finding people with that shared purpose and doing things. So we’re not talking about posting, you know, hey, here’s a video of my cat eating something. Those kinds of things that you see out in public. There’s some of that. There are stickers and labels and nonsense that’s within these enterprise products because we’re human, we’re sharing our personalities. That’s part of that.
But it’s exciting to see that in the stodgy enterprises, that business leaders are seeing the importance of having these kinds of tools and allowing people to bring more of themselves into the workplace so that they are more comfortable asking questions and offering help. And that’s what community is really about. It’s about a certain degree of transparency, sharing, being open with what you’re doing, asking questions and not being fearful of asking for help on things. That is community.
Yeah, most definitely. And I think this is the next frontier of social in lots of ways. One of our investors said to me at one point, you realize you’re building Strava meets LinkedIn. Because that’s the next thing. It’s purposeful. Whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous as you said, it’s really creating a space where we can accomplish stuff together.
On a more meta level, the thing that drives me is, what does it mean to build a social accomplishment graph? Or an interest accomplishment graph? Who are the people that helped me be most effective? And how do I go on a journey with them to accomplish the things that I need to in my work or really in my life and, that has to be the paradigm for the future of social. That really takes it and makes it meaningful.
Completely agree, and automate it! That’s where AI can add the most value. Like the limitations of modern day search, is that don’t just show me what it is that I’ve asked for, because I may not know the right words to use, not know how to find that, not be part of the right networks for that data to be able to be surfaced to me, but based on all this information, my patterns, my behaviors, what you know about me, start showing me and giving me the information connecting with people that are what I really need there. But yeah, that discovery of experts, of expertise of knowledge that’s out there. That’s where you start talking about the graph capabilities of these kinds of platforms. That’s where the future will be of these networks, where AI will actually come from.
It’s all about pattern recognition, and saying, Christian keeps asking these questions. He’s having these conversations. He’s doing these things. He’s talking with these people. He’s searching for those things. And within that broad network, that’s where the graph then looks at that and recognizes, you know, hey, Joshua had a very similar thing about six months ago on this. I’m going to pair them together and kind of do this introduction.
Yeah, and to complement it, to take it even further. I think what’s amazing is, as we understand when you work best in your day, who you work most effectively with, where the platform can really support the quality of relationship and quality of just optimization of your life.
Oh, you want to work on this goal. This is really gonna take you this long, and you really should think about doing it in the mornings, not in the afternoons. And these are the people that maybe should help hold you accountable as you go on the journey because you’ve been most effective with them. And it can start to build this very rich picture. That’s very helpful for individuals and massively helpful in organizations as well, as people are making decisions and helping support teams being effective.
I just thought of a premium feature for you, if you could create a paid option that helps the system automatically avoid the people that you don’t like, that you don’t get along with.
It’s like the Ron Swanson feature, from Parks and Recreation. That would be a feature I would use. Like Christian’s schedule is just never open. (Laughs) Yeah, sorry about that..
What’s ironic is that those are real conversations we have on the product team, right? Because it’s a reality with people they’ve got to spend time with. So how do we want to manage that? How to deal with bad players or bad actors? You know, those are real internal conversations to make sure it’s a great experience for as many people as possible.
Looking for more Groovy Content? Check these out:
- Community Casestudy: How Webkinz Built an Energized Community
- You Don’t Need Coworking, You Need Camaraderie
- Or, if you’re ready to get sh*t done the fun way cruise on over to groove.ooo