We’re excited to share with you what we’ve been building at Koan.
Arend and I have spent many years building and managing teams. Keeping those teams motivated and performing well was one of the biggest challenges I experienced and observed in my years at Jive Software. I’m not even sure I was particularly good at being a manager myself, despite our huge focus on collaboration and culture as a company. I did at least have an amazing vantage point for observing the highs and lows of team dynamics. Unfortunately, we had to deal with the destructive power of bad managers more than a few times. The saying “people quit their boss, not their company” is too-often true. Reciprocally, I witnessed the amazing results a great manager can accomplish with their team.
That’s what inspired us to think about the potential for software to tackle this problem and to ask a simple question: there are apps to improve the work experience for just about every role (developers, sales, marketing, etc.), but why are there no truly relevant tools for managers and their teams? Being a manager today is a mess of manual processes and meetings every week, with the work spread between myriad docs, spreadsheets, emails and chat histories.
In Zen practice, a koan is a riddle or paradox that, once meditated upon, leads to enlightenment.
In the initial research and interviews that would eventually become Koan, we were lucky to draw on the wisdom of a wide array of great leaders. From Maynard Webb (a Koan mentor and investor), to a retired four-star general and executives from LinkedIn, eBay, Airbnb and others, all had a heavy focus in our conversations on the set of operational behaviors that their teams consistently practiced.
In other words, we found that high-performing teams (similar to Olympic athletes), have a small set of core practices that they perform almost religiously in order to attain excellence. Happily (for us), there is a lot commonality in those behaviors, regardless of business sector, org structure, or role in the company.
Small positive behaviors, done consistently, yield enormous results.
The “doing it consistently” part is deceptively hard. Too often as managers we get overwhelmed with everything thrown at us — new priorities, never-ending emails, interviewing candidates, etc. As a result, we put off providing feedback to the team until the next week, or don’t spend enough time communicating the goals, or don’t provide a forum for escalating problems. This is ultimately the opportunity for a software tool: by codifying positive team behaviors and providing simple nudges, we can make it easy for every team to follow the best practices reliably.
It’s time for a change, and the problem isn’t that we need brand new ideas. There’s already decades of great research and wisdom out there about high functioning teams (we explore the corpus ourselves via our Koan book club). It’s getting teams and managers to put those learnings into consistent practice that’s remained elusive. To wit, going to a two-day manager training course can be motivating, but all too often fails to yield lasting results. We truly believe there is an opportunity to shape behaviors through software and that the next big leap in team effectiveness will be through tools like Koan.
We’ve been in private beta with some amazing organizations and together we’ve learned how to make the theories work in practice. They’ve been generous with their time and feedback and we cannot thank them enough. We are also grateful to our investors, including Webb Investment Network, Crosslink Capital, SV Angel, Spider Capital, and additional individual investors. The Koan you see today wouldn’t be here without their input and support, and we’re grateful that so many people already find Koan to be a valuable part of their workday.
“Koan has been an important tool for multiple teams at Ascend. Koan’s thoughtful design helps our teams get the most out of each and every week by reflecting on progress, setting priorities, and scoring goals. Koan is the productized version of all the goal setting best practices we wish we had been doing all along.”
-Sean Knapp, CEO, Ascend.io
We’d love to help your team too! You can sign up for the free version of Koan starting today, and also find us on Product Hunt.