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Maria Matarelli: You Must Empower Your Team if You Want Them Motivated

In this episode, Richard interviews Maria Matarelli. Maria is a co-founder of Personal Agility Institute, a co-founder of Agile Marketing Academy, an agile coach, and a well-known DJ! She tells us about applying agile principles outside of the IT industry, and even outside of a business context. If you want to learn more from Maria, it is pretty easy to connect with her. Go to http://findmaria.com where you’ll find her contact details across all relevant social media.

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TRANSCRIPT

Richard 00:11

Hi, friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. Our special guest today is Maria Matarelli. Maria is a leader in Agile outside of IT, things like marketing and Personal Agility. In addition to that, Maria is a well-known international DJ. To support this podcast, visit my website, Kasperowski.com.

Richard:
Hi, Maria. It’s so good to see you.

Maria:
Yeah. Great to see you also.

Richard:
Thanks so much for joining us today. Is there anything you want to add on to that intro?

Maria:
Really I’m just passionate about helping people work better and live better. When we look at Agile, Agile is all about helping people get results. These things apply in business and also applies outside of business, outside of work and in your life. So it’s amazing to see the results that are possible with Agile.

Richard:
This is really interesting to me. A lot of people listening to the podcast who know about Agile, and a handful of people who don’t know anything about it, I always think that when guests are talking about Agile, this is a general purpose idea. It came from IT. It came from software development, but it really applies to anything.

Maria:
Yeah.

Richard:
How are you helping people use it for whatever it is that’s going to help them be their best selves?

Maria:
Yeah. So I mean, my background has been in IT project management, for managing traditional projects, then moving toward an Agile approach, and the Scrum Framework. We’ve been exploring Agile applied to marketing, and it works absolutely incredibly. What’s even more amazing, I think, is when you start to look at Agile, we know this stuff works in business. But when you apply it to your life to do more of what really matters, you can create amazing results and things that are meaningful. Companies are trying to deliver products to market faster and more efficiently. If you look at what’s important in your life, I mean, there’s so many incredible applications here.

Maria:
You look at people doing things, going day in and day out. Ultimately, a lot of people aren’t always happy. You look at the people in the world and the way they interact, and it’s like, “Well, when people even come into work, are they even engaged? Do they even really care about what they’re doing or are they doing the bare minimum not to get fired?” There’s a couple of angles to look at this, right? When we look at people coming into work and building high performing teams, we want people that are motivated and engaged, and people that care about our company’s mission, not people doing the bare minimum. Yet when people show up to work, that’s only a third of their day. So they’ve got two-thirds of their day outside of work.

Maria:
So when we look at how can we optimize teams, well, what if we optimize the person on the team? If we optimize the people on the team, what could that do to create a high performance team? But not even that, what if people are happier in their lives, feeling more fulfilled and feeling like whole people? What could that do to raise the consciousness of society, of people, just humanity? So I think it goes a couple of different ways. It goes to implications when people come into work, and it comes to people feeling happy and fulfilled just in life in general.

Richard:
Okay, I want to know more and more and more.

Maria:
I’ve got so much more. Perfect.

Richard:
I’m curious about .. Could you give a specific example of some of this work?

Maria:
Absolutely. So when we look at the concept of Personal Agility, we’ve been exploring this over the last five years. I’ve been collaborating with Peter Stevens, an Agile trainer out of Switzerland. We’ve been looking at how can we help people do more of what matters, and it kind of started with us looking at doing that ourselves. So many of us have too much to do and not enough time. There’s one particular person that I’ve met a couple of years ago, her name is Sharon Gearin. She goes by the Culinary Queen.

Maria:
Her dream had been to be a private chef, she wanted to be on TV. I actually got into the backseat of her Uber a couple of years ago. So we’re riding from the Tampa Airport, downtown St. Pete’s, about a 20-minute ride. We started talking. She was asking me, “What are you traveling for?” It’s like, “Oh, a little bit of business.” She’s like, “Okay.” She started asking me questions. I said, “Oh, and I was DJing.” She’s like, “Who are you?” I’m like, “Oh, Maria Matarelli. Nice to meet you.” She asked me to follow her on Instagram. I went to follow her. She had all this amazing looking food. The marketing person inside of me couldn’t help it. I was like, “May I ask you a question?”

Maria:
I actually said, “May I give you some feedback?” I said, “You have this amazing spread of food on your Instagram profile, but I don’t see the descriptions. I don’t know what the food is, and I’m really curious. Also your personality is amazing and none of that comes through in your profile. All I see are these static photos.” She’s like, Well, to be honest. I’m just getting started wanting to be private chef. I don’t really know how to do marketing and things like that.” She goes, “My dream has always been to be on TV. I just wanted to have a cooking show and make my mom proud and do all these things.” I was like, “Okay.”

Maria:
I’m in the ride. Then I’m like, “Okay. Don’t offer to help, don’t offer to help, don’t offer to help.” I’m like, “Okay, I couldn’t help it.” I was like, “All right. I tell you what, come over to my place in three days. I’ll shoot your cooking show on Friday in my kitchen. I’ll put it on YouTube for you.” Because I was like, “Why don’t you just make a YouTube cooking show and build a portfolio and submit that to TV stations?” She’s like, “Honey, I’m old. I don’t know how to use YouTube.” So I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Let me do that for you.” That’s how I got a free private chef.

Maria:
So I got these free meals. I was like, “I just want to eat the food for free, and I will put your recipes and the video on YouTube.” So the Culinary Queen, Healthy Cooking With the Culinary Queen on YouTube. So we have this cooking show. But pretty soon, we ran out of time to shoot the cooking show because her catering, she started her catering business, it started taking off. Sharon actually went from working five jobs and barely getting by to over the next year and a half, I was working with her. I actually started teaching her Personal Agility. Now I could have shown her Agile Applied to Business. Here’s how Agile works and here’s how you start your business. The challenge though was she had all these other challenges outside of business, her roadblocks were not in business.

Maria:
They were a little bit, but it’s mostly in her personal life. It’s the people around her that were always taking from her. Her kids that were grown, that she was still taking care of and helping out. It was the other people around her that might have been negative or holding her back or that didn’t believe in her. So by teaching her Personal Agility, I said, “Sharon, what really matters, and it’s where you look at the holistic view of your life, take the top three to four things and then make it visible. Look at what are the things that we have that visibility in your priorities map. You track what you’ve done in your breadcrumb trail. So you can actually see what have you done that support the things that you say that matter.” So in 2018, Sharon was negative in her bank account in December. 2019, brought in over $20,000. In 2018, she had over $735 of insufficient funds fees when her bank account had gone negative. In 2019, she cleared over six figures with the catering company.

Maria:
Then in last year, 2020, she landed a six-figure client doing private chef services. Now she just got contacted to submit to be on TV and be a TV host. She also was just in the favorite chef for … It’s a nationwide contest, and she’s in the quarterfinals. So when you look at a life change, oh, and she’s down 55 pounds. So with Sharon, it was not just about let’s apply Agile to business, it’s like, “Okay, what do you really want in your life? Let’s now apply those same techniques to for you to do what really matters, create the visibility and the accountability for that. Then you can see where you’re going astray. Then you can see where you can get back on track.”

Maria:
Her life has completely changed, and we’ve been replicating these results. There’s another entrepreneur I’ve worked with in the Tampa, Florida area. When I met him, he’s making 65,000 a year. The next year, cleared 120,000. Now this year, he’s on track to make a quarter million. I’ve been personally coaching him and working with him with Personal Agility System to create the visibility. Here’s the big disconnect that was there. It was, “Okay, here’s what I want. But I don’t know how to get there.” Yeah, I’d like to clear six figures. That’s a big milestone for a lot of people. But how do I get there? He couldn’t see it. Then, okay, now how do I get to a quarter million? Well, he couldn’t see it at first.

Maria:
We were working on looking at what’s possible, what are the possibilities, and now he’s clearing 20, 25,000 a month, which is right on track for that. The other company I was working with, they hit a $35 million valuation in the year and a half, and that was actually working with the executive team. The challenge that they had was the CEO was taking everything on his own plate because he didn’t really truly trust delegation.

Maria:
So what happened was by using Personality Agility as a leadership team, as an executive team, and having them pair up, understand what really mattered to each other and a holistic view of their lives, they really grew closer and build more trust in a foundational level to where the CEO felt like he could actually step back and empower his team, trust his leaders more. They broke into self organizing pods and were able to move forward during a global pandemic, hitting a $35 million valuation.

Maria:
So Personal Agility, the concept of Agile in your life. Even for me, doing Agile training and then becoming a DJ, I was just speaking at the Heart of Agile Conference in 2016. They didn’t have any music entertainment, and Alastair Coburn was putting on this event. He said, “There has to be music. The organizers, they forgot that piece.” He asked Nick and I to DJ. Nick Semanta, he and I run the Agile Marketing Academy, and we’re sponsoring the event already. So Nick taught me the basics of DJing. I discovered I loved it, and now I’ve been doing it around the world. It’s just by applying Agile to achieve that. Agile works for anything, absolutely anything.

Richard:
All right, that is so cool. All those very, very, very concrete examples of Personal Agility. It reminds me a lot of some of the ways I’ve been applying Agility in my own life. So I totally get what you’re talking about. I hope some of our listeners and viewers have, I don’t know, a better idea of what Agility is about and how it might apply to their lives as well. Okay. So this podcast focuses on teams. Of course, teams are composed of individuals, persons. What I’d like to do is ask people about the best team of their life. This is really general, this is broad. Right? So a lot of people think about work teams. I mean, any group of people aligned with a common goal. Right? So it could be a work team, it could be a not work team. It could be a music group, it could be a DJ team, it could be anything. What’s the best team of your life, Maria?

Maria:
Well, if I had to pick the best team in my life right now, I would say it’s my current team. I’ve had very dysfunctional teams in the past. A lot of times we work with different groups, and you see conflict, and you have challenges. A lot of it’s about how you handle when things aren’t going well. If you don’t have the tools or if you don’t have a way of connecting and looking past whatever those challenges are, and staying in alignment, having that bigger vision and that Northstar of what’s really important, then that’s where things go right. So I would have to say it is my current team right now.

Richard:
All right. Will you tell us more about this current team?

Maria:
Yes.

Richard:
What kinds of people? Is it the current team for your work?

Maria:
Yeah, I would actually say I feel like there’s a couple of groups of people. So it’s like, in my personal life, my core group of friends and my core group of people I work with as well. There’s a little bit of overlap because I have multiple businesses, right? So Formula Inc., the Agile Marketing Academy, the Personal Agility Institute, a couple others. So when you’re looking at how are you getting through every day, and the things that you’re doing, right, like, we have to be leaders for our team at work.

Maria:
Yeah. I posted something online about a couple months back. I remember I asked, “Is life a team sport?” There were a variety of different responses that people gave, and I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I think it is. So when I look at the people in my life that I care about, that are supportive to me, my business partners, my specific team that I work with every day, there’s a common theme. I think that it all really comes back to alignment. So when you have alignment, when you are aligned in the mission and the vision and what’s important, and you understand each other’s skill sets and what they bring to the table to help create that reality, I think that’s one of the most powerful things you can have in a great team.

Richard:
I want to know more details. The current team, it’s the group of people you’re working with every day. How many people is it? What sorts of roles do they play? What might a typical work session or workday look like with this team?

Maria:
Yeah, so we are a distributed team, and we work virtually together. We have up to 10 people, we have a couple people that come and go here and there that are part time or not full time. When you look at the recommended Scrum team size, it used to be referred to as seven people plus or minus two. Now we say three to nine people with the optimal number being around six. That’s exactly where we’re at, in that sweet spot. So what we’re doing is we’re focused on helping people understand how to play Agile and doing it in an absolutely incredible way, they actually get results. Not just to now, we’re using a different process methodology, but we’re actually looking at what’s the results and what are the outcomes.

Maria:
So it’s interesting because I have a few overlapping teams, and we’re building worldwide communities. So with my core team, we’re focused on how can we provide Agile training and coaching for organizations. Then also, when we look at the Personal Agility Institute and the Agile Marketing Academy, we have a global network of people that are extremely passionate about these topics because they’re getting results applying these techniques. So we have people from Italy, Sri Lanka, India, from Bangladesh, all throughout Europe, Switzerland, and Portugal, throughout the US and Canada, that … I mean, when people are applying Agile and getting results, they are so passionate. They’re so excited. They want to help other people with this.

Maria:
So we’re seeing these communities of just global ambassadors that are all so passionate about how can we apply this and share with others how to apply Agile to get those results. So my core team when we’re looking at providing Agile training and coaching, we’re distributed. I think a lot of the things that really stand out that are different from other teams I’ve been on in the past is I feel that we’re in flow. When you feel that feeling of flow, you have clarity on what the the goal is, you know what’s required. We have all the right skill sets for the team. People are motivated and excited to contribute because they actually believe in what we’re doing.

Maria:
So helping people, inspiring them to work better and live better, that’s a mission. That’s a vision that people can get excited about, that can feel like it’s meaningful. So I think having that clarity, having that clear vision, and then having clear delineated roles, it allows us to self-organize around creating the outcomes that we want. It’s really just helping other people to apply these practices. We look at these other global communities that we’re supporting, right? So it’s like, my core team is also supporting these other groups and these other groups of people.

Maria:
When we look at what’s possible, a lot of the the mechanisms that we looked at with the Scrum framework, right? So you’ve got the product owner role, setting the priority, the Scrum master role that’s guiding and overlooking things and making sure that the team is working effectively. So when I look at my core team, we have a person, different people on the teams that are Scrum Masters for different initiatives. So it’s almost like portfolio management, but across multiple businesses.

Richard:
When you’re working with people who aren’t in IT, are you still using these jargony Scrum words like product owner and Scrum Master? What do you do?

Maria:
Yeah, great question. What we found is that when you’re applying Agile outside of IT, we need to translate the way that we speak into the context of that other niche. That’s something Allister Kubern actually mentioned, actually at the Heart of Agile conference I was referring to earlier. He was saying, “The reason that a lot of companies struggle with taking Agile outside of IT is that you have an Agile-ist that says, ‘Here’s how it would theoretically work in this other arena.’ But it’s not just about saying here’s how it would work.” When we do training with the Agile Marketing Academy, a lot of times companies come to us because what’s the alternative? Their marketing team goes to a Scrum class? They don’t necessarily understand all the terms nor the examples applicable to them. So they have to translate the terminology.

Maria:
Then they have to translate how it will apply to their context. So they’re learning the terminology and translating the application. That’s where a lot of people get hung up. What Allister said that what Nick and I have been doing, right as we’ve been actually looking at, “Okay, what is the translation of how this applies specifically?” Then having someone from that other industry or that other that can bring … Nick brings the marketing swagger, right? He talks how they talk, he understands how they think. He’s been running marketing and advertising campaigns in the six-figure range for decades. So it’s like, “All right, we actually understand their context.”

Maria:
So when you look at even applying Agile to your life, we use much more general terms, right? It’s the same concept. But sometimes it might make sense to mention it and translate it. I think the roles might be one of those things. Right? So if you’re the product owner, what is the prioritization of what you’re trying to achieve? People can understand that, right? What’s the product or service, and then what’s the priority? Then how do we have clear direction for what the team is doing? That makes logical sense. But then the other examples on how that’s applied or the examples used, we’d want to translate to marketing or translate to whatever other niche that that might be.

Richard:
The whole time, I’m kind of grinning, as you can see. I kind of Agiled my life quite a while back.

Maria:
I love it. That’s awesome.

Richard:
It’s really kind of funny. I sort of, I don’t know, Agiled my wedding a few years ago. Agiled my life before that. I was moving out of an apartment, my girlfriend at the time, now wife, was helping me clean out the apartment. I had a wall full of post-it’s just because it was fun. I lived alone. My living room was where I worked. The whole wall was covered with my goals and what I was doing each day toward these goals. She’s pulling them off and she’s reading some of them and just throwing a bunch away. She’s like, “Oh, this one’s interesting. This is in the done column. Right? It says join a dating website.”

Maria:
That’s hilarious.

Richard:
Yeah. I get what you’re talking about.

Maria:
Did you add another post that said “Delete the dating app?”

Richard:
I think I did have that post-it there and it was in the done column as well.

Maria:
Perfect, perfect. That’s how your dating’s done, just one more post-it with that level.

Richard:
Yeah. So yeah. This stuff works. This is totally generalizable. This is stuff that you can just do to have a better life. It’s not about work. It’s about life. Yeah.

Maria:
Yeah, definitely. I’m smiling because I have a wall of post-its right on my wall.

Richard:
It was like wallpaper, post-it wallpaper.

Maria:
Well, and it’s about keeping what’s important visible, right? When you see it, you’re thinking about it. You’re more likely to do it. You can build in that consistency, that accountability, that momentum.

Richard:
Exactly.

Maria:
But if you’re not looking at what’s important, that’s where we may get distracted or blown off course.

Richard:
Exactly. I’ve got these little reminders. This is the one that’s right in front of me. It’s all about helping people to be their awesome best.

Maria:
I like it. Awesome bed.

Richard:
That’s the one that’s right in front of me all day every day.

Maria:
Perfect.

Richard:
I want to know more about your best team, this current team. If you could characterize this team in one word, summarize the sensation of working together in one word, what’s your one word?

Maria:
All right. So that’s tricky to just do one word. For the best team? It has to be one word? It’s like someone saying, “Maria, what’s the favorite place you’ve traveled?” I’m like, “Gosh, Italy, Fiji, Cape Town, South Africa. Do I have to pick one? Can I do top three?” But if I had to pick one word, what I’m going to say is … I got a shortlist, maybe we can narrow it down again. I’m thinking engaged, I’m thinking motivated. I’m thinking aligned. Really we can land unmotivated. Right?

Maria:
So I think, how do you get a team that truly is motivated? Well, you need them to be engaged. You need them to care. You need them to be aligned with what it is that you’re doing for them to be motivated. So I could say maybe we could have those as supporting words to the grand word of motivated. But it was really people, I think it’s when they actually care, when they’re actually involved. It’s when they’re not doing the bare minimum. It’s when they’re actually truly engaged and motivated to where they intrinsically want to create the result.

Maria:
I think that one of the things that inspires my team is they see that we create results for people and for companies. That’s something that feels meaningful, and that’s something that’s way better than any monotonous job, a JOB that you’re doing day in and day out. They’re hearing the results. They’re seeing the case studies, like people’s lives being better. I think that’s what is behind them being motivated and excited and supporting the vision.

Richard:
All right. Now, I feel this energy from you, the words you’re using, your tone of voice, your body language. You love this team. This is a great team. What else about subjectively, the subjective state of this team? How do you know subjectively or objectively? How do you know this is the best team of your life?

Maria:
Yeah, so I think the biggest thing is, it feels like we’re in flow. It took a while to get here, and it took a while to find the right people. We’ve interchanged some people here and there over the years. What we’ve recently come across, and to be honest, I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that I have been more available, given the lack of travel over the last year. Right? The world shut down, travel was canceled, global pandemic breaks out. Instead of me being on the road, I used to average two to three cities a week, sometimes seven cities in a month.

Maria:
I mean, that was 80 cities in a year and 15 countries in a year. That’s not sustainable to really grow and foster a team. So if I would try to look at what’s changed, it’s possible I might be a better leader. I’ve been doing a lot of self growth as well, like personal growth and personal development, and really looking deeper into what I can do to be more effective.

Maria:
I’ve actually attended … Michael Sahurai does the Agile Leadership Course. I helped him coordinate that training in Chicago about four or five years ago. That hit me so much at the core, that I actually went back. I didn’t need to attend again. I was just helping coordinate and facilitate. I actually went back to that class five times. The reason was because every time I grew more as a leader, and so what I’m realizing is my team is in flow. I think that there’s things that I’m doing better to help foster that. I’m around more, I’m listening more. I’m looking at the bigger picture and the strategy more rather than just hopping on a plane and expecting the team to just support me as I’m traveling around the world.

Maria:
Doing great things, leading training classes, speaking at conferences, inspiring people on how to apply Agile, though what I’m feeling now, I feel just being forced off of the road over the last year provided the opportunity for me to look more at, “Okay. How can we actually build something that’s more sustainable? How can we grow? How can I invest in my people more and listen to them more and be more present?”

Maria:
Really just how can we take a step back and be strategic, and I believe what we’ve been able to do is actually … It feels like we’re in a state of flow, and I feel the momentum. I’m just amazed at the way that they work and the way that … A lot of times, you don’t see the progress night and day from one night to the next day. I’m noticing that when I stop and actually reflect and look back, we have grown by leaps and bounds that I didn’t even notice. So that feeling of being in flow has come after having a lot of the wrong people, a lot of lack of guidance for me, a lot of confusion or just people being disjointed. Interestingly enough, we’ve actually been able to hone in, get the right people, build the right team morale, right, building that up, even with a completely distributed team. That’s been incredible.

Richard:
All right. So a completely distributed team and …

Maria:
Partially distributed, a couple people are local.

Richard:
Okay, partially distributed. Because of the circumstances of the last 12 months, you’ve had some more time to spend with them. You’ve had more time to strategize, to listen, to people, to be present with them. What are some other concrete behaviors that go into this team being the best?

Maria:
If I just pointed concrete behaviors, I would point to the results, things get done. The coolest thing is, things get done that I don’t have to do. Literally, my team members are talking amongst each other and they’re self organizing. They’re solving problems before they even hit my inbox. Things just appear on my calendar and I’m like, “Oh, what’s this?” I didn’t have to, “Oh, who’s this person? What’s this about? What do I need to prepare? When is a good time to meet?” There’s so much decision fatigue that happens every day and realizing that things just show up and they take care of it, and they’re handling things.

Maria:
They’re reporting to me, “Oh, this is done, this is done,” instead of, “Hey, what do I need to do?” So I think really people having a clear understanding of their goals and their responsibilities and what they are responsible for, and then having that passion, excitement and engagement, and really being in alignment with the main vision, that’s allowing them to just feel empowered to just take action. So things happen, I don’t have to do it all. Challenges come up, and they resolve them. I think that really … The powerful things that we see when we have a self organizing team, and we have a team that really is Agile in how they think and and how they work, and just how they are, their way of being.

Richard:
All right. That’s awesome. I want this for my team right now. I’m sure listeners want this for their team. That’s why they’re listening. What advice could you give us? How could we get this for our teams?

Maria:
Yeah. Such a great question. What I would say is that we see this all the time when we go into companies to consult. There’s people with challenges, and then leadership isn’t listening. I’ve done assessments with companies in Chicago, where we walk on site, and literally, we’re listening to the people and we’re translating that to the leaders, like almost word for word. Sometimes the leaders listen. Sometimes they don’t, sometimes they do. Though there’s a communication breakdown. There’s a feedback loop that’s missing a lot of times.

Maria:
So we often see this, the people that are in the trenches are the people that know where the improvement opportunities are. The people that talk to the customers are the people that know what’s actually needed for the next release. The feedback loop is often broken. So I think that what you can do to help create and foster this environment is as a leader, you want to look at being the change that you want to see, being the example. So you set the tone. What’s your culture? Is it a culture of the command and control or you tell people exactly what to do? Because a lot of times, they’re going to do exactly what you told them, and they’re not going to do anything more. Do people feel like you care? Do they feel empowered? So one of the things I like to ask people I work with, I like to ask them, what are your top three goals? What are your top three goals for this year? I want to help you achieve those.

Maria:
Even looking at what’s important to them, what are they wanting? What would help them feel fulfilled? How can you support them in that? Even a team member that I have who’s just doing a great job at their role was saying, “Hey.” By having a real conversation, like this is actually not the job that I really want at this level, I really want to do more. I’ve had jobs that have been at a higher level before but XYZ situation happened, and here I am. I found this opportunity.

Maria:
So it’s like, “Okay, so you want to do more. You’re willing to put in the work to take the initiative, actually show that you care and actually take the steps to be proactive. Okay. How can I empower that?” So what often happens I think is people, they want more, they want opportunities for growth. They want to be valued, they want their ideas to be heard, and we don’t listen. Then they stop caring. Then they start to shut down. They stop offering ideas and they just do the bare minimum. So when we start to look at that trend, when you have people that have been working in an organization, and they’ve been doing the same thing.

Maria:
I remember one of my first jobs out of college, I was working at a Fortune 50 company, Systems Technology Department. I was in there working with this team. It was the Enterprise Server Release Windows and Unix Server Upgrades. I remember that as we were, as we were planning out these projects, and as we were working, I had the deadlines that I was responsible for, right? We’re using a traditional project management approach. We ended up using Scrum and different Agile methods later on. But I remember I wanted to be successful and have the projects done on time within budget and within the timeline. I remember I had one particular team that we’re missing our deadlines. There are some of the team members from my main project that were on this other side project.

Maria:
I remember asking, “Okay, well, when can that be done? What percent complete is this?” They’re like, “Oh, we’re going to have to push it out to Friday. We’re going to have to push it out to Friday.” Then after meeting one day there, there’s one guy. He was a great person, and I really enjoyed working with him. He would always shoot straight. He said, “Hey, Maria. You got a minute, I’d like to have a quick conversation with you?” I was like, “Okay.” He’s like, “I appreciate that you’re so excited. You have so much energy and everything. But a lot of us, we’ve been here for a little while, 10, 15, 20 years, and we don’t have that energy. We can’t run a sprint. We’re on this marathon. We have to walk and sometimes jog sometimes, we can’t run or sprint. You’re here with all this excitement and energy.”

Maria:
He’s essentially saying, “Please stop making us look bad. Please stop hard.” I remember being confused and a little puzzled after that meeting. I was like, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this what I was hired for?” I mean, this is a company, I’m managing $5 million projects in a year and trying to do them effectively. To fast forward a little bit, I mean, I heard what he was saying. But I couldn’t deliver less quality. The enterprise server release projects, they were two releases a year. We actually went from two releases to three releases a year, streamlined process, free up our onsite people for more strategic work. We cut from 3 million a year to $1.5 million of annual residual cost savings.

Maria:
So it’s like, “Well, no. I don’t want to slow down because I want to create results.” Right? But that’s the pressure that people have. I saw this with a team in Chicago I was coaching. We transitioned over 70 teams from a traditional project management approach to using an Agile approach. There’s one particular team, I was coaching, and I worked with a group of coaches that we were doing this. We’re providing training, foundational understanding, and then work with the teams as needed. We had this this young girl that was just out of college, and she’s on the team. She’s all excited. She had all these ideas. She’s always speaking up and giving ideas.

Maria:
The people that work there were like, “Oh. Okay, okay. We’re not trying to add a bunch of new work here. We’re just trying to get through this sprint.” A couple of weeks later, a couple of months later, I was working with the same team, I started notice she stopped offering ideas. She didn’t speak up anymore. When she was at her desk, she was slumped down. She’s really slouched back, fingers on the keyboard. She didn’t care anymore. They had beaten her into submission, metaphorically speaking, around nobody else wants to work more. So why are you creating more work? Why are you creating these new ideas? Why are you making us look bad, right?

Maria:
So when you look at teams in an organization, there is that pressure. Even when we look at the most high performing teams that exist, that can be a threat to other teams, other managers, other departments, because now they have to step up. They have to do something different, they have to change. People don’t typically like change unless they have a reason they truly understand how it’s going to help them. Right? Look at this add to your change model. You have a transforming, a foreign element that comes in. You have chaos that ensues. So you have that transforming idea that the team can really rally around it and hit that state of higher performance.

Maria:
So when we start to look at how teams interact with the dynamics, it goes so deep. One of the things that we’ve done is we looked at the motivational value systems of our team members. So this is research by Dr. Elias Porter. He studied Relationship Awareness Theory and developed it. He talks about how we understand what really motivates people, is that achievement? Is it wanting to achieve things? Is it nurtures because they care? Is it? Are the analytical? Do they need to see numbers and facts or are they a hub? Are they a mix of all three? So we can start to understand how people like to be spoken to, what do they respond to.

Maria:
I’m very achievement based but if I’m talking to someone who’s like nurture base in their motivational values, and I’m saying, “Hey, we got to hit this deadline, we got to achieve this goal.” That’s not going to appeal to them. If we say, “Hey, there’s all these people we can help. We’re changing lives. We’re helping people. We’re minimizing the suffering of people at work every day. Feeling overworked, people not listening to them.” We’re giving them a framework on how they can work more effectively, how they can feel like what they do, they can see results because they can actually deliver something on a regular cadence and not feel like it’s a never ending list of work that’s never getting done.

Maria:
When you can tap into something deeper in people, that’s how you connect with them. I think in the larger organizations, people get shut down because it’s like the story of the monkeys in the room. You put bananas at the top. Right? They’ve done these studies, and they’ve got a ladder. So the monkeys went up the ladder to get the bananas. Then they sprayed the bananas with the hose. Then they eventually stopped trying to go for the bananas because they don’t want to get sprayed with the hose. Then you take a monkey, and you got a new monkey. They immediately go for the bananas. Why aren’t you guys going for the bananas? You’re crazy. And all the monkeys are like, “No.” They start to hold the monkey back. They don’t want the monkey to get the bananas because they don’t want to get sprayed with the hose because they’ve been burned before.

Maria:
So then the study, they started replacing each monkey and taking out each original monkey with the new monkey. They would always hold the monkey back from going to get the bananas. Pretty soon, there were no original monkeys in this room. They were all new monkeys that had never been sprayed with the hose. They would stop new monkeys from trying to get the bananas and they didn’t know why. So we look at how teams interact in an environment, in larger organization. These are the challenges that you can face. Right? There’s politics, there’s other things that come into play.

Maria:
When we look at like a small core dedicated team, which is the optimal team size, right, so we run my companies with Scrum. So we have our core team that is the optimal team size. We’ve got other team members and other sub teams and other groups that we interact with. It really truly is like a Scrum of Scrums in reporting from the different entities in the different groups and the different things that we’re doing, different projects, different initiatives. But I think that people are people first, right? They’re not your employee first. So when you can actually connect with them on a real level in a meaningful way, when they feel like you care, when they feel valued, when they feel like their ideas matter, these are things that can help to create that self organizing team.

Maria:
As a leader, we need to create feedback loops to actually really truly get that feedback. What’s important to them? How can we be supportive? How can we create an environment and a culture, that’s going to be everything that’s going to create the right environment for our teams to thrive? I think these are some things that are really key.

Richard:
All right. I have some some friends and colleagues in mind that I’m going to share this podcast with as soon as we publish it. I’m also curious, what were, I don’t know, one or two of the very specific things that you did with your team right now to get into that state that feels like flow? What I was really curious about was? Did you find people who were already aligned with you? I’m going to say this in an unintentionally wrong way, did you make them get motivated?

Maria:
That’s a good question. You hear people say, “It’s hard to find good people.” Right? It can be, and it’s taken me years to get to this point. The Formula Inc., we’ve been around for almost 10 years now. We run lean and mean, and we have a global network of trainers and coaches that we deployed to work with different clients. For the core team to really be homed in, if I were to try to put my finger on what is it, I think alignment is so important. This is a concept in Personal Agility that is important as an individual, and it does scale to an organization as well. Right? So are you aligned with the people in your life that are supporting you on the type of life you want to have? Are you aligned with the people on the work that you’re doing every day? Do they actually care?

Maria:
So I think it’s a combination of a couple of things. It’s having the common interest. So having a clear vision where people can get on board wit,. that’s very, very important. That’s like the draw. That’s the first thing. I remember one of my favorite people that I work with, I remember our first conversation last year where he’s at a crossroads. He’s like, “Well, I’m thinking about going to work within the big consultancies and was thinking about doing this, doing that. Why should I work with you?” I remember, he asked that question. It was a valid question, right? It’s like, “Hey, why? Why did I go make a quarter million a year doing this? Right? Why should I work with you?”

Maria:
I remember, I thought, “That’s such a good question.” Right? What am I going to say? I thought for a moment, and I was in a swivel chair. I kind of swiveled around. I looked him dead in the eye, I said, “I’ll tell you exactly why you would want to work with our team over any of these other options, it’s because we’re actually making a real change in people’s lives. We’re helping them to discover these ways to work better and to live better. It’s creating a ripple effect. My reach is global. I have this global community. I just need a little help to reach more people.”

Maria:
I found out that my maximum of what I can do in a year is I’ve been able to travel through 80 cities in 15 countries in one year’s time frame, and that’s exhausting. I don’t know how we can reach more people in less time. So I want to create this positive impact in the world and here’s these avenues that I found Do it. It’s working, and we’re getting results. These are some of the results we’re getting. I just need a little help. So not only do I think your skill set is perfect for this, but I think that we’re in alignment, and it’s going to be some of the most fulfilling work that you could ever do. It was creating the vision, it was sharing that vision, and then it’s understanding from them what’s important to them. So that’s not where I started, I started with, “Well, what do you want to do? What are your goals? What are you passionate about?”

Maria:
This particular individual had many, many, many, many, many things that he wanted to do. I’m like, “All right.” So I actually took that list. I said, “Is this a prioritized list?” I said, “Well, let me actually make a note on how I think I can help you with each of these 20 goals that you’re trying to achieve.” I actually took the time to actually put deep thought into each of those things and send that back. So it’s uncovering what’s important to the people you work with. Do you care about them in their lives? Then do you have a clear vision? Can you articulate that? Can you articulate that in a way it’s going to inspire them. Then they’re either aligned or they’re not. I’ve met a lot of people that were not in alignment over time. So I think it might be a combination, right? It’s a combination of the right people, the right time, the right place.

Maria:
But you also have to recognize when that is true and be able to communicate and share that vision. Sometimes they don’t see all the pieces and you have to share, “Here’s the pieces I see. Here’s why I think this is the right fit.” Then also, it’s about encouraging them and supporting them. So the people on my team, I work with them on Personal Agility. I do coaching calls with them, I say, “What are the things that matter in your life, holistic view outside of work? How can I help you do more of what really matters in your life?” That’s a meaningful connection that I believe is at the foundation of why these people care so much. As we’re aligned in vision, that’s what creates that state of flow because we’re actually passionate, actually truly engaged and actually committed to the outcome.

Richard:
All right. I think I’m starting to get it. It reminds me of this leadership class I took once. I worked for a big company. They’ve identified me as somebody who should take the class as a future prospective leader, blah, blah, blah. One of the first activities was, “Find a partner and try to sell something to your partner.” I was like, “Well, okay. I’ve got this awesome mug. I’m going to tell you, everything about why this mug is so awesome and why it’s worth $10.”

Richard:
I learned so quickly I should have started with, “So tell me about you, and what you want, and what your goals are, and how you hope to get there.” Because he wasn’t interested in what I was pushing on him. But if I had took the time, if I had taken the time to inquire and listen, that would have been a lot better. That was my big takeaway from the leadership training, just in the first 15 minutes.

Maria:
I love that.

Richard:
That’s what I’m hearing from you. Ask, inquire, listen, share what you want with them. I’ve also noticed that when people share what they want, the people who are aligned with it, they show up.

Maria:
Right.

Richard:
So is there anything else you want to share with listeners? Anything else going on, any projects you’re working on, anything at all?

Maria:
Yeah, actually, yeah, I just want to say I want to inspire people to just take a moment and step back from the busyness of life and the things that you do every day. Step back to get that clarity. One of the things that when we look at what really matters, I’m really just discovering that that question is so much more powerful. It’s so funny because I tell Peter this all the time. I’m like, “I know we’ve been doing Personal Agility for five years now. Though I still have aha moments all the time and it blows me away.” So even if you just start with thinking about what really matters and getting clarity on that, in your life and in your business, with your project, with your team, that’s really so incredibly important as a foundational thing.

Maria:
So I’m just excited to be able to share with more people, share these different techniques. One thing that actually is kind of exciting, these results are universal. It’s across geographic region, it’s across industry. It’s incredible. For those that are wanting to explore what really matters, visit the Personal Agility Institute, PersonalAgilityInstitute.org. We have some free tools. You can download the guide for free. You can download the stakeholder canvas to look at how to connect with people in a more meaningful way. We’re just really, really excited and passionate about what we can help people to do.

Maria:
Latest projects, I’m launching actually a virtual summit. We’re going to do it monthly and just pulling together Agile-ist. We’re calling it the Agile Heroes Summit. So we just want to hear from people like what’s working. I’m actually launching a community. It’s the AgileHeroes.com, and it’s helping people to really understand like, “What are the results? How can you be the hero going back into your company? How can you be the hero in your life? How can you be the hero to help?” So we’re going to have people sharing their stories, sharing what’s working, how to overcome challenges. So I would just love to invite people to you know stay in touch, join. If you want to connect with me, you can find me at FindMaria.com and feel free to find social media. If you can spell my name you can find me online, Maria Matarelli. But Find Maria helps you not have to spell Matarelli. So …

Richard:
That’s great. All right, Maria. Maria Matarelli, and I can spell your name. We’ll have your name spelled out. We’ll have links to everything you just mentioned. Wow. This was a fun hour. Thanks so much for joining me today. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Maria Matarelli, thanks so much. Remember, dear listeners, to support this podcast, visit my website, Kasperowski.com.

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