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Matt Poepsel: “Lead your team in accordance with its capabilities”

New team member = new team. Too many managers overlook the change that comes with adding a new team member. Team dynamics are an intricate thing, so it’s critical to take the mindset that we’re not just adding a new team member, we’re creating an entirely new team. To facilitate this process, I provide the new […]

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New team member = new team. Too many managers overlook the change that comes with adding a new team member. Team dynamics are an intricate thing, so it’s critical to take the mindset that we’re not just adding a new team member, we’re creating an entirely new team. To facilitate this process, I provide the new team member with a readout of his or her behavioral preferences. I provide the new team member with the same insights for each of my existing team members. I then reverse the process with the existing team members. When we begin our collective work as a new team, our shared awareness accelerates our ability to negotiate our working style and perform at our best.


Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Matt Poepsel, Senior Vice President of Product for The Predictive Index. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s product portfolio and innovation roadmap. Prior to joining The Predictive Index, Matt co-founded Covocative, a web-based coaching software company. He previously served as the Vice President of Professional Services at Gomez, Inc. Matt spent six years in the U.S. Marine Corps serving as an Arabic Linguist and a Reconnaissance Marine.

He holds a B.S. in Psychology from Excelsior College. He received an MBA and a second Masters’s degree in Management Information Systems from Boston University. He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Capella University where he studied the effectiveness of technology-assisted coaching.


Thank you so much for joining us Matt. What is your “backstory”?

Iwas born on an Army base in West Germany, and I grew up in Columbia, Missouri. I served 6 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an Arabic linguist and Reconnaissance Marine. After my military service, I earned my MBA and a second Masters’s degree in Management Information Systems from Boston University. I became a product leader at Gomez, a Boston-based software company. I’ve always been passionate about personal development and achievement, and these interests led me to earn my Ph.D. in Psychology from Capella University. I joined The Predictive Index in 2013, and I’ve led the company’s Product team ever since. My experience, research, and work with clients from around the world served as the basis for the talent optimization framework and its companion, The Ultimate Guide to Talent Optimization.

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

I came to the realization that despite how much we know about people’s personalities and working styles and how much ubiquitous access we have to technology, there are painfully few examples of workplace tools that actually help us have better experiences at work. That’s what drives me to build out our product vision at PI.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was a young product professional, our Sales Director asked me to join him for an onsite sales pitch with a large prospective client in the financial services industry. We met in the parking lot 15 minutes before the meeting, and he was surprised to see me wearing a velvety dark blue shirt with no tie under my black suit. He shook his head and said, “You look like a vampire.”

I learned that appearances and first impressions matter. I still won’t wear a tie, but I’m much more mindful about dressing for effect. What impression do I want to make to begin our work together? No matter how capable you are, it can be very difficult to overcome a negative first impression.

Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to talent today?

It’s true that people often “quit their managers”, but it’s a misperception that this is entirely the manager’s fault. People tend to have low self-awareness, so they end up applying for and accepting jobs for which they are a poor fit. Then, when their performance inevitably suffers, a weak manager only exacerbates the problem. What’s most sad about this is that both sides of this situation are entirely avoidable.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

It’s important to first get a crystal clear answer to the question “What is the work we are being asked to do?” A lack of clarity or disagreement about priorities become silent killers in the team performance context. Once I’ve clarified the team’s work and outcomes, I educate all of the team members on their personal working preferences and roles. I do this before the work begins to reduce collisions and competing goals and to lay down a foundation of cooperation that we can draw on when pressure sets in.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

  • Be intentional when constructing teams. If you put the wrong people onto a team, performance and morale will suffer, even among your top performers. Before I kick off a new initiative, I take a “chessboard” approach where I mentally remove any names, and I consider the required pieces. Once I have this mental model for who the team needs to be to accomplish its work, I can add the names back. If I have a hole on the team, I would rather look outside and get creative rather than force-fit a person into the wrong role or make the assumptive assignment based on history or current job role.
  • New team member = new team. Too many managers overlook the change that comes with adding a new team member. Team dynamics are an intricate thing, so it’s critical to take the mindset that we’re not just adding a new team member, we’re creating an entirely new team. To facilitate this process, I provide the new team member with a readout of his or her behavioral preferences. I provide the new team member with the same insights for each of my existing team members. I then reverse the process with the existing team members. When we begin our collective work as a new team, our shared awareness accelerates our ability to negotiate our working style and perform at our best.
  • Lead your team in accordance with its capabilities. For a strategy to be successful, the team’s aspirations and goals must be aligned with its capabilities. If a leader pushes a team beyond their capabilities, the negative outcomes are a reflection of poor leadership and not poor execution by the team. My team is currently working to develop new capabilities that we will need to succeed in the future. My product leaders have designed skills development programs in the areas of data and analytics as well as the voice of customer research.
  • Beware of competing goals. Sometimes, a team is asked to produce outcomes that compete with one another. In a software development setting like mine, this may happen when a team is asked to innovate but also to improve quality or efficiency outcomes. These competing goals are difficult to navigate as they require two different behavioral styles and approaches. It can be hard for one type of person to stretch in order to achieve both directives, but it can be equally hard to combine different types of people on the same team. We do the latter, but I’m careful to use insights about our respective differences to bring transparency to the team context. This really helps during those times when tensions from the competing goals increase due to time or resource constraints.
  • Team culture is hard to create and easy to destroy. As a team leader, you have to develop a team culture that is aligned with your strategy or team charter. For example, if you’re asking your team to develop something new, you need to reward risk-taking and celebrate failures. Even if you’re successful in creating the right team culture, however, you must remain vigilant. New team members, clumsy interactions, or day-to-day friction can undermine your culture. At PI, we regularly assess our employees’ experiences. We talk about the results openly and honestly as a team to ensure that we don’t get surprised.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Ignoring the people part of your business is an abdication of your responsibility as a leader. You must work as hard on these “soft skills” as you have on the more technical aspects of your business. Always treat people fairly, recognize that they are capable of growth and development and don’t set them up to fail by putting them in the wrong roles.

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. 🙂

I would give every early career professional two gifts — self-awareness and the awareness of others’ behavioral preferences. When we realize that others’ experiences of a given situation may be different from our own, we can be proactive and navigate workplace situations in a more productive and harmonious way. More positive work experiences will help us be at our best, and we will see a trickle-down effect on our bodies, minds, relationships, families, and communities.

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

“Every phone conversation, every email, every Slack message, every hallway conversation — every interaction with others — is a leadership opportunity.” I coined this quote as a reminder to myself that we are able to choose our words, tone, and intention consciously and that leadership is a stream of interactions and not something that happens in a single moment.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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