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LabTech Software urges teamwork among technicians at Automation Nation

At Automation Nation, LabTech Software CEO Matthew Nachtrab launched the Team Building Toolkit to help IT companies develop more efficient and collaborative technical teams.

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Internal collaboration among technicians is critical for an IT service provider's operations and market positioning , but can prove difficult to achieve.

That was a core theme discussed this week at LabTech Software's sixth annual Automation Nation partner conference here. During the event's keynote, LabTech CEO Matthew Nachtrab spoke about the importance of team building, which he views as hugely important for improving an IT company's efficiency and competition differentiation. He also noted the challenges of teamwork, especially for technicians, which he said tend to be introverted and independent personalities. LabTech, based in Tampa, Fla., markets its remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform to managed service providers (MSPs).

"Teams, in their nature, are very dysfunctional," Nachtrab said.

He outlined several barriers that prevent technical teams from working together, such as business systems displacing face-to-face interactions.

"A lot of our communications are through email, through chatting with each other … working through ticket systems … [and through] LabTech [software] to solve technical problems instead of working with the customers directly. And what we're doing is we're dehumanizing communication. We're interacting less and less. And this is causing concerns for me about us not interacting properly," he said.

To help IT company teams become stronger collaborators, Nachtrab unveiled LabTech's Team Building Toolkit, which features ideas for improving teamwork in meetings and typical work situations, as well as team-building exercises based on Myers & Briggs personality tests. Among the productive approaches to meetings that Nachtrab illustrated was what he called "Green Light/Red Light Meetings." In Green Light meetings, teams focus exclusively on brainstorming and idea-generation and prohibit any negative feedback. In Red Light meetings, teams then focus on critiquing the list of the ideas collected from the Green Light meeting and decide which of the ideas to go forward with.

Nachtrab said it's important that each technician on a team share personal information about his or her background, personality, and life situation, with their peers. Apart from being introverted, one of the facts that Nachtrab shared about himself with his LabTech team is that he grew up "incredibly small. From kindergarten all the way through junior and high school, I was the smallest kid in the class by far. I was tiny."

We want to build amazing teams at our companies -- teams that understand each other.
Matthew NachtrabCEO, LabTech

As a result of being so small, Nachtrab said everyone was always trying to help him, which eventually made him inclined to do things independently and shaped his personality as an adult. He said he wanted his teammates to be aware of his natural tendency to "take control" and work alone.

"We want to build amazing teams at our companies -- teams that understand each other, that enjoy working with each other, that want to help each other, and can efficiently solve problems together," he said.

In an interview with SearchITChannel at Automation Nation, Nachtrab elaborated on why he thinks teamwork is so important. "I think the natural tendency of technicians is not to ask for help. The natural tendency of technicians is mostly to be introverted," he said. "[Teamwork is] just the importance of leveraging each other to build something greater than what the individual can build on its own. It's also a lot more fun that way."

Part of the inspiration behind LabTech's focus on teamwork, he said, has been LabTech's collaboration with ConnectWise, which invested in LabTech in 2010. ConnectWise provides a business management platform that includes Customer Relationship Management, help desk, project management, finance and billing, and workflow automation components.

"We're not merged. We're not one company. So we've had to -- through working really, really well together -- innovate between the companies the way the different departments work together. And we've slowly merged more and more in the departments. And what we're going through now is, even though the equity isn't merged, it's still a joint venture … [and] we're having more and more shared departments and shared managers and trying to make it so we can strategically plan better," he said.

Jason Magee , vice president of worldwide channel sales and alliances at ConnectWise and LabTech, agrees that teamwork can be a challenge for IT company technicians, especially the technicians of fast-growing companies because they tend to be "wearing multiple hats."

"It's really key to understand what everyone's doing … and how to communicate with the person at the other end of the table," Magee continued. "The toolkit that [Nachtrab] launched … essentially helps us facilitate some of that. … If you don't have a core team that works well together, it's going to be hard to grow and be profitable and accelerate," he said.

Nachtrab is hopeful that LabTech users will give the Team Building Toolkit a chance. "I think it'd be really cool if [Automation Nation attendees] took advantage of the Team Building Toolkit I made," he said. "I know it seems really fluffy in some parts of it. I know they're going to love it, because I'm using it in my team. … I know that [team building is] a positive productivity impact to the company."

Beside the Team Building Toolkit, LabTech revealed several new additions to its RMM software at Automation Nation: new ScreenConnect remote control features, enhanced patch management and a redesigned user interface and experience. The company's director of development, Brett Cheloff, also said that the company is working toward transitioning from waterfall-type to agile development practices, shortening the release cycles of the software from 1.5 releases a year to more frequent, incremental releases.

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Does your company need to encourage collaboration among its technicians?
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Encourage, cajole, and when it becomes essential, demand. Too many people tend to hunker down, focused entirely on their one piece, sometimes forgoing the big picture. It's not good for them and it's definitely not good for the project. And, all in all, it's ultimately not very good for the company.

We try to have people work in teams and we try to communicate progress across all the teams. Each team becomes responsible for training at least one apprentice, more on larger teams.

We want the group expertise to be ongoing, we want to promote from within and we want every tech to feel like a shareholder in the success of the project. Collaboration is the basis for that. It seems to be working, Morale is high, turnover is low and success is ongoing.
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@ncberns Thanks for weighing in. It sounds like your efforts to encourage collaboration are paying off for the company.
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Yes, there are certain groups in IT at my organization among which collaboration should really improve. I am part of a development team, and we collaborate very well with the other development teams on site, the DBA's, the product owners, the EDI group, and many of the HelpDesk staff. 

There is definitely some dysfunctional communication (or lack thereof) among IT groups at different sites, though, including both teams of full-time employees and teams of contractors. I couldn't agree more with the point in the article about "dehumanizing communication". I fully believe that the reason all of the groups who are co-located at our site get on so well is because we very frequently talk with each other, face to face, and we develop relationships. 
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@abuell That's an interesting observation. I'm sure many people would say they see this issue within their organizations, too. What could organizations do to improve communications between groups at different sites? 
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