Episode 18

Empowered teams built on OKR

Published on: 30th September, 2022

Every organization strives to have teams that perform well. However, the process of designing such high-performing teams and creating an environment in which people can thrive, is often an overlooked process. Why is that the case? Aren't people your most important resource after all? 

So, what are high-performing, empowered teams? And, how can you create such a work environment with the help of OKR? We spoke to Christina Wodtke, ex-OKR consultant, and author of Radical Focus and The team that managed itself, about:

  • What the meaning of an empowered team is?
  • What does it mean to consciously design and maintain a high-performing empowered team? 
  • How do you design such a team?
  • What do organizations get wrong when designing their teams?
  • What role do goals (eg. OKRs) play in the empowerment of teams?
  • And what is the process of goal grading in such teams? 

Tune in to learn more!

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Transcript
HJ:

I'm Henrik founder and CEO of Perdoo.

HJ:

I'm the host of today's episode, and joining me today is Christina Wodtke.

HJ:

Many people know you from your wonderful book, Radical Focus, which

HJ:

In my view, the book offers a great and very digestible introduction to OKR.

HJ:

For those who do not know you, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey with OKR.

Christina:

So, right now I'm working as a..

Christina:

I'm a lecturer at Stanford.

Christina:

So right now I do a lot of teaching, but I was in industry for a really long time before that.

Christina:

So I worked at LinkedIn and Yahoo and MySpace and Zynga.

Christina:

And Zynga was a John Doerr company, and that's why we were using OKRs as well.

Christina:

And so, when I quit in Zynga, I was pretty burned out and pretty tired.

Christina:

And I thought, you know, I'll consult a bit.

Christina:

Right?

Christina:

You know, help some startups.

Christina:

And this is Sterling by the way.

Christina:

He's gonna interrupt us occasionally if you're meowing in the background.

Christina:

So I decided, well, you know, these, these startups are really messed up — maybe

Christina:

And it just made such a difference in their ability to get their heads straight

Christina:

And so, I decided I didn't really love consulting, but I did love what OKRs did for people.

Christina:

So I decided to write a book and I thought, Oh my God, I'm writing a book about an acronym.

Christina:

This is a terrible idea.

Christina:

So I thought, how can I make this interesting and help people understand it?

Christina:

And I ended up writing a fable, you know, a simple story made up of some real

Christina:

So to protect the innocent, as they say.

Christina:

And put out the book, and people really enjoy it and love it.

Christina:

The using a fable turned out to be surprisingly effective.

Christina:

Cuz I've had people talk about other things they've learned from, like

Christina:

You know, there's something about an illustration, a sort of case study if you

Christina:

helps people get their head around what OKRs can really do and why they're useful.

HJ:

And your, your latest book is called The Team That Managed Itself?

Christina:

Yes.

HJ:

Which I'd love to talk a bit more about during this episode.

HJ:

In that book, you write a lot about consciously designing and maintaining

HJ:

What is your definition of a high performing empowered team?

Christina:

Well empowered means that the company is using OKRs.

Christina:

And OKRs, of course, set a goal.

Christina:

And then once you've set those OKRs, an empowered team is a team that says, these

Christina:

We'd like to see these outcomes cuz the key results are not projects, they're business

Christina:

And so then the team says, Okay, if we want to improve customer retention, what are we gonna do?

Christina:

And it's the team itself who runs lots of experiments in a lean approach.

Christina:

It's the team itself that really figures out what's working, what's not working, learns and

Christina:

So high performing means they get results and empowered means they do it by themselves, I

Christina:

And it's a really hard thing for a lot of companies to do, but as Marty Cagan, points

HJ:

So empowering is a lot about creating autonomy in your organization.

Christina:

Yes.

Christina:

I mean, an empowered team has to have everything they need to make shit happen.

Christina:

Excuse my language.

Christina:

So they really they have to have design and product and engineering.

Christina:

They have to have their own resources.

Christina:

Maybe it's okay to have marketing somewhere else, and then they're given a problem.

Christina:

I mean, the first time experience, was actually at LinkedIn way before OKRs or

Christina:

You know, I was hired by Reed Hoffman and Reed said, We know events are

Christina:

So go figure it out.

Christina:

And that was amazing.

HJ:

Yeah.

Christina:

You know, I had to actually understand the event business.

Christina:

I had to go out there, I had to do a lot of customer interviews and customer development.

Christina:

It was..

Christina:

I've never been completely empowered in that way, and it was amazing.

Christina:

And then later when I've worked at other companies, I just have to say that the

Christina:

that sense of trust and it made me really passionate, made me wanna work long hours.

Christina:

It flipped around when I was a manager because it meant that I had more time

Christina:

You know, I could say, Here, team, this is something that needs to happen.

Christina:

Go figure it out.

Christina:

And if you've hired well, and you've created psychological safety, then

Christina:

And it frees up a lot of my time to do, what I would think is more critical work at that level.

HJ:

You would, you would think though that, that every organization would strive right

HJ:

Yeah.

HJ:

So why is that so hard?

HJ:

Like what do organizations get wrong when they designed their teams

Christina:

Well, first of all, they almost never designed their teams.

Christina:

You know?

Christina:

I mean, think about the last team you were on in a company.

Christina:

You probably were kind of thrown together, and then they hired someone and some of the

Christina:

You know, there isn't a lot of thought about how do we take care of the whole gestalt

Christina:

You have to think about the personalities, the culture.

Christina:

People have to figure out how are we gonna talk to each other?

Christina:

How are we going to disagree?

Christina:

What happens when I think you've just said something stupid, you know?

Christina:

Do I just say "that was lame" or do I like spend some time talking it through?

Christina:

So you need to set norms, which is an agreement about how we'll treat each other.

Christina:

And you have to revisit it because as you add more people, the team's going to change.

Christina:

So why don't companies do it?

Christina:

Let me think.

Christina:

It's kind of hard because sometimes companies don't have a lot of faith in their talent.

Christina:

I work with CEOs who say, Well, you know, it'd be nice if we had Silicon Valley talent, but you

Christina:

And the reality is they're often really, really, really smart.

Christina:

They may not have as much information as we have at the information fire hose of the

Christina:

So if you can just spend some time with them and be patient enough to grow them,

Christina:

It's not like there's only idiots in Ohio.

Christina:

Right?

Christina:

So I think it's really important to..

Christina:

If you can't hire for experience and sometimes you can't, you have to hire for intelligence.

Christina:

Both emotional intelligence and classical intelligence.

Christina:

Somebody has to be able to know how to work well with people as well as, have some raw intelligence

Christina:

And that's, uh, the most important part about intelligence is, can you learn quickly?

Christina:

So if you're designing your team, maybe you just need one real experienced person

Christina:

Or you can build a team of raw talent, but then you're personally gonna

Christina:

But you can't micromanage them because then they don't grow.

Christina:

They don't think.

Christina:

By giving them problems and challenges, that's how they become that A player that you're dreaming of.

Christina:

It's hard for a company to do that.

Christina:

It's really hard for managers to let go.

Christina:

It's hard for managers to believe if you don't know something

Christina:

Well, hopefully you will.

Christina:

You know, it's hard for managers to let go.

Christina:

I mean, the pandemic, the hardest thing on managers were I can't watch

Christina:

You know, a lot of people were kinda forced into allowing autonomy cause

Christina:

Right?

HJ:

But it starts with consciously designing your teams, right?

HJ:

Cause at the start you mentioned that, well, most people..

HJ:

Most organizations don't design their teams at all.

Christina:

Yeah.

HJ:

So that conscious process of designing empowered teams, I mean, you're touched in

HJ:

should be working on, which I guess through goals, you can create more autonomy, right?

Christina:

Yes.

HJ:

And I think goals have the ability to take you away from micromanagement.

HJ:

Trust is important.

HJ:

You said, how should we, how should we respond to each other?

HJ:

What are the norms that we need to put in place?

HJ:

So you put together framework in the book, right?

Christina:

Yep.

Christina:

The framework is pretty simple.

Christina:

It came, So I came out of a combination of working with companies.

Christina:

We were having a hard time with OKRs, and it's because they didn't have these

Christina:

And so I, I came across , in the literature, you know, the business literature

Christina:

So goals are clearly stated, you know, things that the team is all aiming for together.

Christina:

That's very easily OKRs.

Christina:

I was like, Okay, that's easy.

Christina:

Norms.

Christina:

Norms means that when we enter into a team, we all have these unspoken

Christina:

Like some people think interrupting is fine cuz they grew up in a

Christina:

The old stereotype.

Christina:

Other people are really upset and hurt when they're interrupted.

Christina:

Like, you know, most of us out here in California.

Christina:

And it's like, is it okay or is it not okay?

Christina:

But there's all sorts of other things like do we all argue and then the boss decides or do we come

Christina:

There's just so many things here.

Christina:

I always recommend, The Culture Map by Erin Meyer to really think about

Christina:

So by getting together and saying, Here's how we're gonna be together, it just takes

Christina:

And then roles, you know, we all have these roles, like you're the engineer, you're the

Christina:

Well, what comes with those roles?

Christina:

Do you make the final decisions or are you more of an informer with expertise.

Christina:

But the thing I think is really sneaky is there's all these roles

Christina:

Like who's gonna take notes at a meeting?

Christina:

And this is one of those things that often falls to a woman or a person of color because

Christina:

people look at a woman or a person of color, and therefore they give sort of the tasky stuff.

Christina:

And you don't want that because it's gonna create resentment and anger over time.

d, you have to kind of define:

what are the various roles people have to have?

d, you have to kind of define:

Who's gonna run the meeting and who's gonna take the notes?

d, you have to kind of define:

And then rotate them through the whole team.

d, you have to kind of define:

Because it'll grow a stronger team that really relies on each other.

HJ:

So a role is not a job description, but there's different situations with your team

HJ:

Did I interpret that correctly?

Christina:

Yes.

Christina:

Yeah, there's, there's definitely the job description part, but then there's a whole

Christina:

That's what I really wanna think about.

HJ:

Okay.

HJ:

Okay.

HJ:

And how, how do values come into play?

HJ:

Like is values, are these the norms or is that completely separate?

Christina:

I mean..

Christina:

Values.

Christina:

I don't talk about it a lot in the book, but I am a deep believer in understanding values.

Christina:

There are 12 universal values, that I can't remember his name right now, but this

Christina:

But there's all these other smaller ones that you see.

Christina:

Like, somebody believes in autonomy or very passionate about protecting privacy.

Christina:

And so, those values often come out in both the roles and the goals and the norms

Christina:

And so it can be useful if you have a team that's not working well together to clarify

Christina:

And I like the universal values cuz it's a good jumping off spot.

Christina:

But there's other works like you know, value by design that talks a little bit more about using

Christina:

And, yeah, value setting is useful.

HJ:

Definitely.

HJ:

I loved that book by the way that you referenced just now: The Culture Map.

HJ:

We have a very diverse team.

Christina:

Oh, isn't it good?

HJ:

Yeah, we made it a mandatory thing to read just to make sure that all the different

Christina:

Well, you're European, so..

HJ:

Yeah..

HJ:

If we zoom a little bit deeper into working with these goals as a team, and

HJ:

Cause we're talking about high performing teams here.

HJ:

What is the process of grading goals and should poor goal performance,

HJ:

Or if like, have, have poor performance, but you could also turn that around, of course,

HJ:

on working on certain goals, should that automatically lead your promotion, for example?

Christina:

No, I mean this is sort of a classic problem, which is we tend to lionize the

Christina:

But we don't always look at how are they affecting the business altogether.

Christina:

Right?

Christina:

Like maybe they're bringing in a lot of cash and that's like, Ooh, that's so awesome.

Christina:

We love money, but what if they're complete asshole and everybody else is working at 20%

Christina:

Right?

Christina:

And we've all met people like that.

HJ:

Yeah.

Christina:

They get good numbers and then they become..

Christina:

Once again, I apologize for the language, dick Swingers.

Christina:

You know, they're in there and they're like, Oh yeah, I'm so cool.

Christina:

I'm so pretty.

Christina:

Little bit like you know..

Christina:

And you can't let that happen because you're very excited about this one performers superpowers,

Christina:

You wanna make sure that the team is what you lionize and the team is responsible

Christina:

Does it affect performance management?

Christina:

I think in the way that it should affect performance management is were you working

Christina:

Were you picking the right activities?

Christina:

Were you contributing to the final successes?

Christina:

Were you learning and getting better all the time?

Christina:

You know.

Christina:

I always recommend to people when they're doing their performance review,

Christina:

Right?

Christina:

There's all these daily things you have to do.

Christina:

If you're a manager, you're doing your one on ones and giving feedback and

Christina:

As a manager, I wanna make sure that these business metrics are being moved.

Christina:

So when you look at that, you're saying, did this person keep their eye on the ball?

Christina:

Did they do what they could to make it really happen?

Christina:

Why did the metrics not happen?

Christina:

Was it an external force that you couldn't possibly foresee?

Christina:

Or was it just you sucked?

Christina:

Right.

Christina:

And there's a big difference between those two and I, you know, people get pissy.

Christina:

Wow, that's really hard.

Christina:

I have to do a lot of thinking, but come on, that's your job.

Christina:

Like there's nothing more important than the people in your company,

Christina:

If you're digital company, your people are the company, right?

Christina:

So spending that extra time to make sure you're getting things like performance

Christina:

You'll get loyalty.

Christina:

These people are learning.

Christina:

You don't want 'em to take all that learning off to your competitor, do you?

Christina:

So..

HJ:

No, I agree.

HJ:

And then also the reason I asked the question, I mean being a goal management platform,

HJ:

Right.

HJ:

And for us, the question is always, do we or do we not build performance

HJ:

And for most of our clients, they already have an HR or HRIS software: Workday

HJ:

And these tools typically already allow you to track performance reviews.

Christina:

Yeah.

HJ:

They don't always look as nice or the greatest ux, Just out of curiosity, what do you think?

HJ:

Like, should we build that into the product or you believe you should keep that separate?

Christina:

I would prefer to keep it separate.

Christina:

However, how can I put this?

Christina:

I think all software is a point of view that's been frozen into code.

Christina:

And in order to shift that point of view, you know, you have to

Christina:

So that means.

Christina:

Right now you have a piece of software that reflects what I think is your

Christina:

If you felt very strongly that you had a way to do performance management that made sense.

Christina:

Then you could extend your product and if there was a lot of demand, and of course you'd wanna

Christina:

actually use it, cuz it's possible you'd build it and they've already got monday.com and they

Christina:

And that would be a waste of time.

Christina:

So should you do it?

Christina:

I don't know.

Christina:

You're working lean, I hope.

Christina:

Run some experiments, see if it makes sense for you.

Christina:

And if it doesn't make sense, don't do it cuz just cuz people are asking for

HJ:

No.

HJ:

Totally.

HJ:

Totally.

HJ:

Going back to the topic, going back to the teams, what's your number one piece of advice

HJ:

You're totally right, We should be more conscious about designing our teams, and we wanna be

HJ:

What would you, what is your top recommendation?

Christina:

The top recommendation is try to remember that human resources are human beings.

Christina:

That these are people and people are gonna be complicated.

Christina:

They don't work like abstract things.

Christina:

You know, like a human being has multiple talents.

Christina:

They have a personality, they have a culture, they have a background, they have insights.

Christina:

And so when you're putting together a team, you really gotta think about who are these people

Christina:

It's kind of a big duh, but it isn't really done.

Christina:

There's something about drawing an org chart that turns every human being

HJ:

Yeah.

Christina:

Then you have to find the right manager you know, because you want

Christina:

I have to micromanage, you know?

Christina:

Management is an important skill that not enough managers have.

HJ:

Yeah.

HJ:

No, It's also typically the only career path that most organizations still offer today.

HJ:

Right.

HJ:

Like you do a good job in the team, and the only next step is for you to become

Christina:

Oh, yeah.

Christina:

The IC path that everybody should have, the individual contributor path,

Christina:

Yeah.

Christina:

And you shouldn't have to manage people if you suck at it just to

HJ:

Yeah.

HJ:

Totally agree.

HJ:

Well, you do see more organizations nowadays offering like a leadership or management track,

HJ:

Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts with us today Christina, it was

HJ:

I would recommend everybody to definitely read your.

HJ:

We put a link to your latest book, or you can learn everything about designing consciously,

HJ:

So we put a link to that book in the show

Christina:

notes.

Christina:

Okay.

Christina:

Yeah.

Christina:

If you don't know if your OKRs aren't working, team that managed itself probably has some of the

Christina:

And if you're not using OKRs, this might be a better way to start with them, is actually think

Christina:

and how can I get what I really want, which is fantastic business results and happy employees.

HJ:

I'm guessing most of our audience is already working with OKRs, but if you're

HJ:

reading Christina's book, Radical Focus and I've just learned at the start of this podcast

Christina:

soon.

Christina:

It's out now!

Christina:

You can buy it at your local bookstore!.

Christina:

Woo.

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About the Podcast

Goal Diggers: OKR, KPIs, strategy, and growth.
A podcast on strategy, goals (OKRs & KPIs), and growth.
Goal Diggers is a podcast on strategy, goals, and growth.

With the industry’s experts and greatest thought-leaders, we'll cover topics on Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), strategy and everything in-between.

This podcast is brought to you by Perdoo: The OKR platform used by tomorrow's market leaders to turn strategy into results.

For more information about Perdoo, head over to: www.perdoo.com.

About your host

Profile picture for Zahra Currimbhoy

Zahra Currimbhoy

As a part of the marketing team at Perdoo and having worked with goals, especially the OKR framework, for a little over 1.5 years now, I couldn’t be happier to bring you insights on helping you and your organization in being successful!