Dean Guida of Infragistics: “Check in with your team personally, too”

Check in with your team personally, too. Start a team call by having every team member share a personal update (can be as simple as “I had a great meal this weekend” or “I’m going to visit my best friend.”) or leave time at the end of a call for a 5-minute casual conversation. When […]

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Check in with your team personally, too. Start a team call by having every team member share a personal update (can be as simple as “I had a great meal this weekend” or “I’m going to visit my best friend.”) or leave time at the end of a call for a 5-minute casual conversation. When we started our weekly team calls at Infragistics with a personal moment, it really bonded the team.

We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dean Guida.

Dean Guida is the Founder of Slingshot and CEO of Infragistics. Dean bootstrapped Infragistics 32 years ago and has grown it to a multi-million-dollar company without ever accepting outside funding. Infragistics’ client roster now boasts 100% of the S&P 500, including Intuit, Exxon and Morgan Stanley. Infragistics has 250 employees and offices in the U.S., Japan, Uruguay, Bulgaria, UK and India. Slingshot is a digital workplace that is a culmination of on-the-ground best practices culled by Infragistics over its three decades working with hundreds of companies. Slingshot connects everyone you work with to everything they need — content, projects, analytics and chats — to boost team results.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in Miami and started working when I was eight years old. I was able to convince the maintenance man at the apartments I lived in to let me do work for him, and he paid me for it. At 16, I was saving up to buy a car, but the IBM PC came out, so I decided to buy that instead. That’s how I got my start in programming — I taught myself to code and learned everything I could about it. I went on to graduate from the University of Miami with a BS and BA in Systems Analysis and always worked jobs throughout college. When I graduated, I started working as a consultant for MetLife, IBM and on Wall Street, and two years later, I founded Infragistics.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

About 15 years ago, I attended the Center for Creative Leadership for a week-long course. Ahead of the course, I had to fill out a questionnaire and rate myself on things like skills and leadership performance. I also had to have the survey filled out by members of the leadership team, employees, and even my wife. In one specific area, I rated myself a 5 (the top score), but others rate me a 2. I found that there was a huge gap between my perception and how people viewed me, and it forever changed how I lead.

During the course I had the opportunity to work with great leaders, many of those with different personalities, skill sets, and ways of thinking than me. One of the biggest learnings I took from that experience was that you need to hire people who are different from you. I typically would hire people that worked like me and thought like me, but a successful business needs diversity of thinking to get to the best solution. The course completely changed how I hired people and worked with people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Nothing in life worth having comes easy.” You have to work hard at everything you do. Many people think that successful people are lucky, but they’re not, they’re just hard workers. Infragistics wasn’t built in a day, and for 30+ years we’ve had to work hard to create products that offer value to customers and continue to innovate as the industry and customers’ needs change.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m especially grateful for my mom who has always been my biggest fan and has cheered me on during every chapter of my life. I’m also very grateful for the employees at Infragistics because they’re people that care about their craft, about customers and will do whatever it takes to get things done.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

When a team is physically together, team members can have more spontaneous and casual conversations which helps them to build better relationships with each other. Team brainstorms are also more efficient because employees can write on whiteboards and be animated in conversation. While digital brainstorms are an option, they can’t compare to the collaboration during in-person brainstorms.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Onboarding new employees can be difficult when a team is not in the same space. It’s harder to train new employees and have them build relationships with their team members. The actual engagement of team members can also suffer, especially on virtual calls, because they can be looking at the screen but doing something completely unrelated.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Make it easy for employees to share updates on their progress. Give team members the tools they need to check in with their peers and manager about what they’re doing. This can be a digital workplace tool, or a morning call where they have the opportunity to discuss priorities for the day. At Infragistics we started to hold 15-minute meetings with teams every morning. Each team member quickly goes through what they worked on yesterday and what they’re working on today. This keeps the team informed and ensures that everyone is working on what they’re supposed to.
  2. Check in with your team personally, too. Start a team call by having every team member share a personal update (can be as simple as “I had a great meal this weekend” or “I’m going to visit my best friend.”) or leave time at the end of a call for a 5-minute casual conversation. When we started our weekly team calls at Infragistics with a personal moment, it really bonded the team.
  3. Clearly communicate priorities. Communicate what needs to be done and when it should be done by. And if these priorities are not being met, the team member who is responsible for them needs to communicate to their manager/the team why things have changed. For example, if a deadline is not going to be met, a team member needs to provide a reason why and a solution for the next step.
  4. Align on goals and objectives. Make sure the team understands what success looks like. This is important in remote settings, but also when a team is together. Every team member needs to know what their goals look like in 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc. and measure against them accordingly to understand if they’re doing a good job.
  5. Spend the most time on your priorities. Where teams spend their time is where their priorities are, but this doesn’t always add up. It can be easy to get tasks done because they’re easier or quicker than others, but if they’re not priority, they shouldn’t be done first. Make sure team members know their priorities and are sharing what they are working on with the team, so managers can make sure these align.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

Any time you have remote teams and/or international offices, each team will make up a story of what matters at headquarters. We have six offices across the world, in the U.S., England, Japan, Bulgaria, Uruguay and India, and I’ve learned how important it is to over communicate so the international/remote teams don’t make their own story when there is a void of information. I share emails once a week with all our offices and we have a company-wide meeting once a month, so I can communicate to everyone what matters and what is happening with the business.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

As a company, we use Slingshot to communicate and collaborate day-to-day. We also use Zoom for internal and customer meetings.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

We’ve already created it. Slingshot is a digital workplace that boosts team results, no matter where teams are, by giving them the ability to make better, quicker decisions with data analytics, as well as improving their workflow. Slingshot is a culmination of on-the-ground best practices culled by Infragistics over our three decades working with hundreds of companies. Slingshot eliminates disruption caused by constant app-switching, and introduces a structured approach to project organization, task prioritization and communication in context.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

Companies need to have video conferencing, chat, screen sharing, etc. It was not an option during COVID, and companies will continue to rely on these tools as many pivot to a hybrid workplace. These technologies will also have an impact on how companies gather together, like in a trade show environment. Even as in-person trade shows start to pick up again, there will still be an audience for a virtual component.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

It will be exciting to see how teams across industries work together with these new technologies. For example, there’s emerging AR technology that is helping to fix machinery in the field and perform surgeries. This is all changing how people work, and how they work together.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

No, but there will be a heightened focus on designing and maintaining company culture as many businesses move to a hybrid work model.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

The pandemic completely changed how we interact and engage with customers. For the past year, all of our conversations have been through video calls and messaging apps. Prior to the pandemic, we did a mix of in-person and video meetings.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

It’s important to first build a trusted relationship with the employee before giving any sort of feedback. And when you do give constructive criticism, you need to have empathy in delivering the message, while still being clear about the feedback. It always helps to define the situation, what they did and its impact, so people can visualize what happened and how to improve.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Celebrate the wins and recognize people when they’ve done great work. Team members should always look for the opportunity to compliment each other when a job is well done. This can be through a message, a call-out in a meeting or even a company-wide email.

Participation in virtual meetings can also create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion. In team meetings — especially virtual meetings — it’s easy to sit there and say nothing. Team members should give energy when others are presenting, participate in conversations and ask questions. There’s nothing worse than presenting to a group of people that seem like they don’t care.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Love is all you need. The love of your spouse, family, friends, work, hobbies, pets — when you have that happiness, it’s all you need.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can connect with me via LinkedIn. You can also follow Slingshot at our website here and Infragistics at our website here.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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