We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Lacey Schmidt. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Lacey below.
Hi Lacey, thanks for joining us today. What was it like going from idea to execution? Can you share some of the backstory and some of the major steps or milestones?
Our experience and research at NASA exposed us to teams that must work well in dangerous conditions and extreme environments. The more we studied these teams, the more we realized that their learning outcomes were relevant to all work teams. Some people work in ad-hoc teams with informal or shifting leadership roles (e.g. Aviation), while others work entirely in hierarchical teams with very formal and set leadership roles (e.g. law enforcement). Still other people work in a mix of ad-hoc and set teams at the same time within a matrixed hierarchy (e.g. hospital systems). Whatever type of team individuals work in, our own research and the literature made it clear that teams that learn good teamworking behaviors together through shared, interactive experiences (such as simulations) became high-performance teams. However, there weren’t any businesses providing behavior-based, interactive teamwork skills training like this…especially in formats affordable to non-profits and small businesses. So we were inspired to create this service, and our idea was to find ways to implement the service that all work teams could afford. One of the biggest challenges we had to figure out was how to organize our business so that we could do more work for non-profits and small businesses that don’t have huge consulting budgets. To get from idea to execution we had to learn about all the different business ownership models, as well as find ways to streamline and economize our teamskills training and coaching services. After reviewing ownership models for two years, we founded our business as a Public Benefit Company in 2013. This model allows us to function as a company and still donate 30% of our time and profit to helping non-profits. During our first few years of operation, we also relied on all of our teamskills as a company to help us articulate our priorities, define our niche, and establish broad relationships. We were very surprised to find that our volunteer work with non-profits was our best marketing tool. Many non-profits boards that we worked with had volunteers who owned small businesses or served as corporate officers and wanted to pay for our services for their organizations. By 2017 we were faced with more work opportunities than we could complete, and we took that as a marker of a successful launch.
Lacey, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am an industrial-organizational psychologist who has helped select and train teams to work in extreme environments for over twenty years. My experiences with NASA, in Healthcare, and with charity organizations, in particular, inspired me to co-found a consulting company, Minerva Work Solutions, PLLC, that could make teamwork training and coaching more affordable and accessible to a wider variety of work teams (especially underserved small businesses and non-profits). Minerva designed experiential, behavior-based teamwork training simulations built around a teamwork behavioral competency model from our research. The core teamwork skills that we target include: Communication, Situation Awareness, Decision-Making, Leadership/ Followership, Team Care, Conflict Management, and Cross-cultural Coordination. In addition to providing assessments and coaching related to these skills, we also offer two “table-top” simulations to target these skills: the Lunar Exploration Mission (aka Moonbase) and the Antarctic Traverse. As very few people have ever been on a mission to the Antarctic or the Moon, these settings require that participants use good teamworking skills to win (i.e. no one can rely on experience or technical proficiency to get by in the simulation). Similar to Harvard’s Everest simulation, these settings are also exciting for participants to learn about making decisions as a team. However, these simulations go several steps beyond good traditional team-building exercises by requiring participants to coordinate new cooperative relationships on the fly. There are no set answers to these simulations, as they are experiential and endlessly adaptive. The conditions are customized to the team. Special cards are selected by coaches that challenge that team to demonstrate each of the behaviors from Minerva’s Core Teamwork Skills Competency Model. Like the real world, these simulations can never be mastered and teams can play new iterations each time to challenge them to the next level of performance. If your organization is like most, where people must accomplish complex tasks in a team environment, an employee is first trained in how to perform tasks. Then once technically competent on taskwork, employees are placed into a team simulation to learn teamwork skills. But there is a better way to train teamwork skills. That better way is to train teamwork skills from the start too, via non-technical, evidence-based teamwork simulations that allow employees from every experience level to focus on learning good teamworking behaviors together. Our services empower organizations to make their work more meaningful and effective through better teamwork.
What’s worked well for you in terms of a source for new clients?
As a business selling a complex and ambiguous service (i.e. team building), we really had to do a lot to show how we were different…that we were based on science and that our services led to tangible outcomes that organizations really cared about. We also defined success as putting ourselves out of a job with clients, since they wouldn’t need us to return to sustain their results; so continuously acquiring new clients is a must for our business. We’ve found that our best sources of new clients come from word-of-mouth sharing from our volunteer endeavors. We donate 30% of our services and educational talks to non-profits every month, and inevitably someone in the audience or on the board owns a business or serves as a corporate officer and they become interested in obtaining our services for their business. Client referrals are also a very important source of new clients, so we offer two check-ins with a client after the project is completed for free to make sure they are finding their results sustainable. These check-ins show we care about our work and remind them that there is a consulting business out there that really does care beyond the final paycheck.
Any advice for managing a team?
As a company of experts on managing a team and maintaining high morale, we’re still human! Knowing is one thing, but knowing and always doing is a constant challenge. We recognize that we have to walk the talk on managing teams well to maintain our credibility, and we have learned that doing so requires regular self-reflection on our own teamworking behaviors. We take a few minutes each week, individually, to think about what our priorities are and how that relates to the team’s priorities. Do we need to negotiate a change in priorities? Do we need to pick something that won’t get done? Do we need to ask for information or help? What help are we able to offer other team members this week? Then on Friday morning, we meet as a team and give each team member a chance to say what their two biggest priorities are, what two helps they need most, what two things they want everyone to know (i.e. important information that might impact others) or what help they can offer to others, and we use an Action Priority Matrix to recategorize team priorities as needed so that everyone can see explicitly what we think our current demands and responsibilities are. Nothing kills team morale faster than role ambiguity…not knowing who is supposed to do what or why leads to bitter fights and hard feelings, and having an explicit Action Priority Matrix really helps maintain our team performance and care for each other.
- Website: https://
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linkedin.com/company/minerva- work-solutions-pllc/? viewAsMember=true
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- Youtube: https://www.youtube.
- Other: We also have a book: 50 Ways to Work Wiser https://www.alignable.
com/houston-tx/minerva-work- solutions-pllc-2/50-ways-to- work-wiser-book Don’t let poor people skills and interpersonal challenges sabotage your career potential. #workwiser with our new book available in eBook or Print form from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Ways- Work-Wiser-KATHRYN-KEETON- ebook/dp/B078RBWTBN
Shuttle Simulator photo, photography credit “Andrew Fritz”