Episode 14 - Transcript
About Organizational Development with Tobias Leonhardt
Welcome and hello. My name is Benjamin Reitzammer and you’re listening to the CTO coffee podcast, where each episode features new special guests with whom I have a relaxed chat about all kinds of different aspects of humans and in tech.
And today I’m talking to Tobias Leonhardt. I got to know him as, at Bryter startup, we both work at, and our first encounter was, a meeting at Bridger where the topic was about how the growing team can be structured and, All kinds of things in that regard. And, back then, my background was very much in. Being an engineering manager in some form of hierarchical environments, even if the hierarchy was not very like, pronounced, but, but still if there was some, some kind of hierarchy in there and, Tobias blew me away in that first meeting. I came, I still remember that very vividly, maybe even this, not exactly, but, I remembered vividly like, how I was blown away after that meeting, going out there and simply saying like, Oh, wow. I think I can learn something here. , so I’m very, very happy, to be talking to you yesterday. and so welcome to Tobias. Very nice to have you.
Thank you very much, Benjamin. I’m happy to talk to you and I’m happy to create with you some learning insights and learning moments for people who are listening. I have a background in tech, in hypergrowth, and. I’m thinking a lot about how to structure organizations, especially growing too fast crows and hyper-growth. which brings me to these nice encounters for spending. I mean, and I think it’s also, back and forth, and learning. I do learn a lot from you and you’re very inspiring for me. In many regards. So I love to have this conversation now with you and, and, and it will be very much about also what I do today.
Today, I work with digital and remote companies, helping the founders to answer questions, like how to scale a great culture. How to hire and onboard people fast and how to structure a company for hyper-growth. So this is three elements of culture, hire and onboard people and structure at hypergrowth and structure for hypergrowth. This is very much where my head and heart is, is that it’s a moment. And, I wish for a very nice flowing conversation with you now.
. So always when, I tell people about you, like my first, kind of like the title that comes to my mind is, that’s your org development coach, organizational development coach, or organizational development coach, whatever. Is that the title or framing that you use yourself?
It wasn’t and is an inspiring title for me. I chose to become that a while ago, and I then reached out to a lot of people who have already titled, in, in Germany and Europe. And then I was traveling Europe, meetings as people being with them and monasteries climbing mountains together with them. Well, all and trust have conversations and learn from them, what it means to be an organizational and developer. And what, what’s the work and impact this looks like. And for this regard, I think I did organizational development for quite a long time now. , I think seven to 10 years. You had 10 years ago, we had different titles. I had a different title for it, and it was more about you being a future of work entrepreneurship and we didn’t use the word startup and. but it was always the question about how we can organize work. and then there’s always a digitalization and coworking coming up Berlin and the first coworking house opening. So that was always the question of how we can work out differently together. Now we are more liberated and have different work styles today. I would say, I am. It’s evolving. It’s not an org developer anymore. I have a website. I use the term org developer. but I learned so much more every day about people and culture and, And I don’t have a title for it anymore, but it’s about, I think the word is about loving people and helping us to grow. And this helps the organization to grow and to love its customers and having a great relationship with customers and create value. And for this, they get a good turnover and create new great business models. So. So I don’t have a title for this, but if you have a proposal, I think I would have no objection.
, probably not too, not today. But, everything that you said, like, resonates a lot with me and also like, of course, it’s like we talked about similar things in the past already. but is basically why I feel there’s such a special connection between, like how you think about things and how I think about work and structure and so I don’t have super great words for the work I do either. But for me, and there you have, you helped me clarify that a bit in the last, maybe roughly 12 months or so, that, the human connection or connection between humans is like the most important part. Sometimes we were also like, say that about trust. Like trust is like a very, very important part of working together, but I personally, and maybe that’s like even where we disagree. But I’ve, I think, think, when, when thinking about like how people work together and all that, that human connection is like, like broader, like brings in more, like, because it also includes things like empathy, maybe, and having a relationship together for which trust can be like a, like one part of it can be like a foundational partying, but, trust as, as a kind of foundation, for working together. Well, it’s this cool and nice, but, like maybe a bit too short, or maybe a little bit too. Not enough simply. So, very long.
No, I’m, I definitely agree here. Trust is very short and it represents my more analytical mind. And, what, when you say human connections, I can feel the warmth and heartfulness and it’s more practical and it’s what it’s really then on the practical side, is happening. To think big and to think holistic, I trust helps me as a design principle for an organizational model, to interlock, or the practices, principles, and designs. We know for a long time now about how we can structure 21st-century organizations. So we can interlock them based on this principle. And it is theoretical, but also when you step back and look and see organizations, this is quite helpful. I totally agree. If you step into the organization, it’s about human connection and building trustful relationships.
. You also used, like a very interesting word just now, which, which is the organizational model. And on the one hand, the first time I heard that, also from, from you, cause like on the one hand, very obvious what it, what it means like, of course it’s modeled for an organization, but then again, you can ask like, okay, what, isn’t a model for an organization.
So Going a bit further than maybe in like, standing on this word of organizational model, but what I also very much like or liked about how you think about these things is,That’s that you introduced, at least for me, like the word of an organization having an operating system. So as a kind of likewell, maybe I don’t talk about that and reveal my cluelessness in that regard. But, do you, what does it mean for you? What, what does it mean for you to thinking about an organization as having an operating system?
What I was seeing when I was doing my work at Solando, where we scaled from 120 people to. 2,500 in three years. I looked at so many teams, in the end, our customer base was 250 teams. And what I did was I was looking for pattern. I was looking for a pattern of, high performance of, great collaborations team, bruh. I was looking at this, on the outstanding teams. And was investigating what made them successful. I was talking to them and serving, and then I was mapping it out to see similarities. and then I figured out that all of the similarities was interlock in a dynamic system.
So there was some rules, intelligence, and some mechanics. For me, it’s a mechanic house, all it operates and just mechanics, of how it patterns interlock. So this is what I call an organizational model, which an organization uses to operate. And,And that’s, that’s it. That’s how I, how I, how it did merge and how I define it.
. maybe, maybe then let’s let’s pick out or I would say it’s interesting maybe then to them to make this a little bit more concrete to pick out like one or two mechanics, that you just mentioned or, what you just said that like interlocking mechanics, that then like form or shape, an organization as a system, And for me, for me, again, when we worked together or still worked together at brighter, when you introduced this concept of, of tensions, of some where and how they can be, be processed, like on an organizational level, but also on a personal level, like
And, this could be, like one of the mechanics. So of course, correct me if I’m wrong, but so would that be like a mechanic, one of these mechanics that you mentioned, of course we are also going to talk about like what this mechanic of tension processing is, but, is that one of these mechanics, would you say, or…
Yes. I think this process of tension and processing tension and using practices, like reaction, rounds, advice, process, governance meetings. So these are all social technologies. So technologies, because there is a process described, that you can execute. So, and, but it is executed by people. So, and it, models or the moderate moderates, the process, moderates human interactions. And in this sense, it is social, it’s a social technology to process tensions using a reaction round or an advice process, and some mechanics it can be observed is what, what I call, let me see. Given Exxon does the mechanics, which can be observed is, when you base it on the program of trust Then you. Inter Zen, you see that the conversations are about, I have a proposal. Do you have any objections? Do you see any risks? What do you, from your perspective on, on the system? Think about it. I want to hear your voice. I want considering your voice as somebody who’s affected or somebody who’s an expert, you can also, Use the same social technologies from an, from another paradigm, maybe off mistrust, then social interaction is about, I have a proposal.
Do you agree? Do you approve of it?What do you need from me? So approve it. Can I align you on maturity behind me? Do I have to defend my proposal? Is it risky to, to. Show what I really sink into from the beginning, or should I back up and check for you a position for us and consider your level in the hierarchy or non called hierarchy? so this is a mechanic, which is, using the same maybe social technologies, but it was a very different outcome. So the mechanics are very different, based on the paradigm and Samantha model you have, as a foundation and in this sense, some mechanics are what you can observe when the system operates. And now you can see that there are, you can forecast them. So if you’re giving it another input, like, a lot of checks and balances, the mechanics will be different using the same technologies.
So, and when you. And now you can, but there are limitations. There are limitations on the technologies and how the system is behaving, which means you can somehow forecast to say, okay, that’s built an organization which is super focused and tuned and made for checks and balances made, or like, like we did it too, it’s made for trust. Everything is grounded on trust and we try to create a mechanic so that things interlock, always untrustful encounters and trustful moments, and trustful hope in relationships that when we trust each other, we can make the best, the fast, progress. and, and this is a bit like a system decision. And, trying to, trying to influence this mechanics and presets, these mechanics are structured .
As I promised in earlier we also went to briefly explain what tensions and tension processing might be. So, can you help me out here?
Yes, it is very personal and tensions are meant to be personal because in the complex systems we see from science that, and all the big incidents and major failures, When the investigation started they found out that there was a lot, a lot of small, hints. People had the feeling that something going is going wrong. Small things like, like, you found in emails that said was to, somebody was saying, Oh, this is, I have a bad feeling about this. This doesn’t look right. Or this is, Not based on my experience or we should not do this.
So there was this make feeling sometimes also clear evidence, but most of it is weak feelings. So, is that it seems, and now science is proving itself in complex systems. So you can have a very good gut feeling, about what is going to happen. So, and, and it’s a technology of tension, tension processing. So the user has got the feeling to navigate through the complex system and to prevent failures and act up early when things are easy and small to adjust. and what science also, and research told us that, mostly people was afraid to speak up. and go over hierarchy, stop a process, stop and delivery of a major project. And, doing, by building up an organization model based on trust is really bringing this risk prevention mechanism really. Too early stage feelings of people having a personal tension feeling of Tom saying not right. And then we help them to clarify it.
There’s other social technologies. So you call a few colleagues for a reaction. I recall the reaction round it’s similar to a check-in. And what you do is you present your gut, feeling you, talk about it and by colleagues actively listening to you, which is also a technology. And then art, is there something more than, than.Just be there when we are engaged in listening. it helps the person, having his attention to clarify his tension off the reaction round on, go for two or three rounds. Most of the time, what you see is that people have much more clarity about what it is and what you have to do next. so, he can transform his tension. Into a proposal or he fi found out that tension is already solved by sharing it, but getting reactions. And then it’s all how to find it, and it’s not solved because they can transform it into a proposal and say, okay, here we should change. We should do things differently. And, and from scope. This could be of course, very much local.
So within your peers and with your team, and this could be also, in the process, you see affecting more and more people. So similar, like in the ice process, which is another social technology you look out for people affected and then you think, see, Oh, this turns out to be. Whole another way, how we do incident management and this is now affecting the whole department, and then you figure it out and it’s also impacting customer success and all people are in touch with customers. So the things, and this also affect how the company is, Is recognized and felt and, from, from the outside. So, it’s really a company thing. And then what’s happening is you’re following. It’s the process or you’re following your tension, processing it. and you involve more and more people, which means you involve more and more perspectives.
And this is what makes it super efficient and effective in a complex system. So if something. How something gets easy to big tree assessed by one mind you really biases technologies. You can activate collective intelligence and multi perspectives looking at one proposal and to see if it causes harm to your organization.Can it move it backwards? And you buy this, buy this process, you make it smaller. You make it easier to apply. You make it just good enough for the next step. So that’s the reality and the complexity can give you feedback. And based on this feedback, you adapt always this is going into the right direction.Okay. We follow up and do the next step. And the next steps are always, this is wow. We are.
So we adapt and we learn from it and we make informed decisions. and, and this is how you navigate, complexity. And we know this from agile and we see that it works there. And we now have this technology to bring it on an organizational level.By a very simple decision we made in the very beginning is that we build up on trust and we build trust in the people and we ask people. Also to trust themselves in their gut feelings and what they see and follow up on it. So it has an inner and outer perspective. From the outer perspective we build in trust into the system. By we trust you to follow up your tensions and to propose, which might change the whole organization. And this is what you want.
So it’s adaptive responses. Agile organization. And we ask you also to take self responsibility to listen to yourself, to your inner voice or used to in a gut feeling. and also you grow, you grow into adulthood. You grow into having a trustful relationship with yourself. and, and seeing that it works, it makes the organization better, that it makes you better let you grow as a person. And so you just have confidence in your self leadership. So you know how to navigate life, you know how you, you have to. Balance it in a dialogue about, is this really attention, or if I’m trust afraid or is this really worth mentioning, or should I go for this or that you have to learn how to balance this dialogue.
And by this, you, you realize, and you, you can surface something which just tells you the ships, which you can then bring to the organization. And this is the whole basic concept of gross. All too professional is that you find a competence inside of you, that you can then bring to the organization. And this is how organizational learning works, that people grow in competence and leadership competence, also in functional competencies and can bring this organic competence than to the organization and say, well, that it’s been humans. Say, use the skills they have. So. From this simple principle, we can really create a line into which you can create a learning organization.
what always blows me away by this. or in, in this, that, from this very simple model of, like giving people, the room for autonomy and being self-responsible. come such a richness in, like working together, like having trustful relationships and honoring them and giving them the room to, to really play out their strengths. and enabling people, as you said, to grow into wherever, it’s. , it fits them. so, like I said, I’m always blown away by this seemingly simple twist, which isn’t so simple in practice because as you said, already yourself, humans are complex, or rather, humans, like very quickly form a complex system, but especially because of that, we really liked the simplicity in that first step, in that first, first approach. Right.
And there are two other aspects which makes it so beautiful for me first is that it’s really trading much deeper human connections and relationships. Having conversations about co what you feel is what you sense. You get feedback, which is not charging but supporting, you feel the support of your colleagues. And then you give support to your colleagues and our reasons, his intentions that say can grow, but you leave the responsibility for growth to these people.by this, you can also escape the drama triangle and really become. your company off of, that’s maybe too big, but it’s about coaching as this aspect of a coach For, for people to say, okay, I trust you that you will handle the problems ahead. You handle so many things in your life and you will.
And I said trust in you as this energizes people, to, to really go beyond and, make it through and grow and have a lot of learning and growing opportunities, small ones, constantly. Which traits, growth churns. And so this is what people are looking for. One of the most motivations for people nowadays is to learn and to grow with the company. So for Hypercross companies, it is super important to attract highly skilled and highly motivated people. So, and this model also, what we see is this attracts a lot of seniors. People. So people who master said profession, and after this, they now look on the right and the left side. Oh, there are teammates. There’s a team. You have interaction into teams, how we can formalize, how we can moderate this team performance. So as they say, become senior as in technically, but also leadership and when they see this model and they come to our onboarding sessions at Bryter.
What we see is that we get this feedback said, that’s to say love to take more responsibilities. This is actually what they’re looking for. This is this normal growth process of, of, any, any senior that he wants to take more responsibility, not only for technical stuff, but also for organizational stuff, starting with the teammates and with the team. So this model is very attractive for, senior, employees. So, and, money is not the driver for them having access and work to an organization like this, working for an organization like this is the benefit for them already.
, I really liked how you, basically, now at least in parts, answered one of the questions that you posed earlier, like, you helped founders too, How to hire and onboard people fast, like, and. That’s where I said, like, it’s answering the question, like partly, so one way how to hire people fast is, to have this kind of provide them with an environment where they have a high degree of autonomy where they can really be self-responsible, can, can take ownership and show leadership for themselves, but also for, like you said, moderate that system, Of working together with their team. So maybe then as, as a kind of maybe not one last question, but, when, when you also said in the beginning that you help founders to answer the question, like how to structure a company for hypergrowth, Do you, is there anything that you can share around that? Like, do you have, some, some most impactful, things, learnings, up your sleeve that you can share.
I can give my best.
I came to the insight or believe that the culture of an organization is following its structure and restructure. I not only mean hierarchically. Structure, but I mean like more mechanics. I explained in the beginning, like a structure of trust, which leads to autonomy. And bringing agile to an organizational level is having multidisciplinary autonomous teams working on customer journeys independently. And so there you put your trust in the teams, but this principle is applied. and by this, you also can scale very fast across what you do if you just build ups, the next autonomous team, and the next autonomous team and the next autonomous team, and what you have to bring them is alignment. Technologies so that all of this teams hands-on is 18 and 1900, 120 teams have the process to reach out to a process that can align on the company’s strategy on the company goals, and may have. Has checking that assessment that they can see, how has it contributed value? What is the business impact?
So, and have measurements and baselines to continuously improve, say our impact on the product, the impact, on the business to impact that’s a customer. And we give all these such technologies to set the trust in them and the coaching to apply them. And this is, well, my first learning, I want to first share here is, to, are you thinking about how to structure a kayak company for hyper-growth and you start to do it very much for these autonomous teams. So, and if you do this, just say there’s no need for hierarchy at this point, or for this reason, Answer to the question, how to hire and onboard people fast is really in putting your trust into them. So set your feedback. it’s a kind of how, the way, how, how you. set their trust in them is, match their needs, to self manage, to take responsibility for the workplace and for the colleagues and by helping them to get better and better and to, you need to become self managed and also then self managed as an autonomous team and then self manage within the organization and providing leadership skills on every level.
And every moment to the company and by this, really distribute leadership and ownership, which risks in a responsive and agile organization. And this is attractive. This is very attractive, for people too, because they know they can grow and this is how you can, can, hire them, attract them. But also when you onboard them from you, you place your trust in them and give them also a self directed onboarding journey. And, really from day one it’s a feeling, let’s say, they are allowed to contribute in the best ways they can. And is it, and is this really makes this process of onboarding very fast and for the last question, how to scale a great culture, it’s very much about, make explicit, the culture you already have. Most startups have a super great culture. It’s the beginning. Because it’s all made of passion and love.
The whole product, because see how that’s the only idea in the beginning is that you can serve a customer, that you can bring something to the world, which is needed. So it needs a lot of passion to make this alive.And this you can, if you, if you’re able to make this as this passion explicit, So the culture has this momentum success pre you feel as a company, you can make this explicit and then make part of your onboarding so that people know is their social technologies. They can use to, to, to nurse this cultural pre of ownership of entrepreneurship, of trust, of adaptability, of distributed leadership of decision-making. Off small experiments. So you can make all of this explicit and, and, and bring it in an onboarding process so that the people and at the end give us feedback that, Oh, everything, what you told me, first of all, makes sense. And it is exactly what I experienced in my first three weeks here. It’s not really new. So is this, this is what I see. Now you gave me the words to talk about it.
Now I can align risk wordings with my peers, and if it’s not working, I can align with our peers. Look, we have this process. We call it like this, it’s described here, and this part is not working. We change it here. I make a proposal that we changed as partners, and you can get reactions on it, meaningful contributions, and visit. Default to yes. Policy. You just apply it in days. You have an improvement of your internal processes based on an unreality real need. you get feedback if it’s improving very, very fast, because it’s based on the personal attention that people can say. , it’s high, it’s solving my attention and if nobody has I say, Oh no, come up as another tension of side effects. and it’s just solved within days. And the organization has learned, has adapted. So as this is happening asynchronously on different levels of your organization, and then you have something that is, what’s called this living organism as an organization, which is adapting and always responding to what’s happening and the responding person to responding elements in the systems are the people. By trusting themselves.
Beautiful. Maybe one last thing I want to pick up on, is that you just said that, people, give people a shared language by making your culture explicit. Like if people have, have, or it’s, I mean, where it’s always having meaning, but if specific words in your organization, in your culture, have the meaning. then you, when you have words for describing your social technologies, when you have words when you have, or a language for describing your culture, you can much better evolve it and scale it, I liked that a lot. Thank you very much, Tobias, for, having this time, for having this conversation with me, that was great fun. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Benjamin. I mean it was very different from what I expected. So it was like always, when I have conversations with you, which I love because it means we always discover something new and this newness. Everything was new magic for me. And, so, I enjoyed this conversation. Thank you, Benjamin.