INSIGHTS with Loris Niederberger
The Importance of Speaking up in Teams with Moodtalk
Well-being and effective team collaboration are important aspects of a stable and successful company. Loris Niederberger wants to establish exactly this. The team of Moodtalk wants to generate trust, open discussions, and work efficiency, suitable and comfortable for everyone within a team. With their innovative approach, they tackle the issues of speaking up, bad collaboration, and discomfort of well-being to fully achieve a productive environment.
What is Moodtalk?
Through our software, we facilitate team interaction and team communication. The core value of Moodtalk is that we want to encourage people to communicate. By doing so, we aim to build trust within the team and talk about how to collaborate efficiently and sustainably. On one side, there is a software component, but on the other, it is a kickoff workshop and a whole process to help guide the team into this conversation. It’s about working together as a team more effectively and efficiently. The goal, hereby, is to be achieving sustainable success while maintaining a high level of well-being during challenging times.
How did you come up with this idea?
We are three co-founders, Cyrill Inderbitzin, Jonas Purtschert, and I. We know each other from our studies and through friends. However, we worked in totally different work environments. Cyrill was in consulting, I was in a startup and Jonas worked in an insurance company. We derived our founders’ story from a hike, during which we realized it was difficult for us to discuss our expectations and values with our colleagues at work. We visualized what is relevant for us in order to collaborate and achieve our goals but also, how we could do it with a high level of well-being. It was almost always about the what, but never about the how. After realizing that the issue is much larger than we originally thought, we conducted over 100 interviews with Swiss companies. These were done to better understand if we are the only ones struggling with this issue.
Many people felt like they didn’t dare to approach certain topics within their team, since they were not comfortable enough to talk about them. They also felt like the timing or space was never right. This was then the starting point where we worked on our concept, software, and solution. From there on out we kicked it off with CSS, Axpo, and later Sanitas. They helped us to improve our product day by day and with the Bluelion Acceleration Program, we even got a bigger boost.
As mentioned before, you are an alumnus of the Bluelion Acceleration Program. What were some key takeaways you gathered from there?
The critical feedback we received from our mentor Urs Stender helped us focus on what our customers value most. He also assisted us a lot in shaping our investor story. Originally, we were not specifically looking for investors at the end of the accelerator. As for the next financing round, it gave us a lot of insights into the structure. Taking part in the acceleration program allowed us to question our team and our co-founders. This allowed us to better understand if we are even a suitable fit and if we made some mistakes before starting. Having this discussion in two or three sessions with my co-founding team was fantastic, or even unique to what I’ve heard from other accelerators. This may also have been the key insight that really strengthened our vision and made us take the next step.
Do you really think software can solve the emotional issues of an individual?
Although the software is not capable of solving issues directly, it can facilitate the process, which is our core belief. The analog method didn’t work in many teams, and I think that only doing it digitally still raises some tricky issues that have not yet been solved by technology. We chose the hybrid approach, where software is used to facilitate exchange. This is where it finds the right topics for discussion, brings people together to discuss them, and in the end, helps them act or change something.
I believe that technology or software is hereby the core to doing it at a large scale in a very resource and money-efficient way. It is crucial for such software support to be provided on a regular basis. For this reason, software can really help you to follow that pattern and to do it in a structured way. However, it will be presented with challenges that need to be overcome and dealt with before it can fully be done digitally.
And to be honest, I hope that we will never reach that point in which such human issues are solved fully by software. I believe that human interactions can be improved with technology, but never replaced.
What are some of the most unique findings and key issues you have gathered so far with Moodtalk?
We realized that the solution lay in making people talk openly and freely. Adding human factors, however, makes it much more complicated. In addition, individuals can discuss critical topics within the team and be guided through the reflection phase. First by identifying the topics and then guiding them through the discussion phase. Now the magic can happen, because people start to open themselves up. There are sometimes even tears in Moodtalks since it’s an emotional process. Usually, people do not dare to bring up these issues and don’t know that they can be discussed in this team setting and that there is space for such discussions. This is possibly the most significant finding for us. With such a digitally supported process, you can generate a lot of emotions, be they good or bad.
Were there any “red flags” that came up during your experiences with Moodtalks that you could prevent for future startups?
I mean, in the end, it’s all about trust, right? Psychological safety and trust. If this doesn’t exist, it will be very difficult to have an open conversation. We have encountered three toxic traits which we would hope to prevent for further teams, being:
- Lack of trust. It’s the death knell for any effective and sustainable team collaboration.
- If a member doesn’t let people talk or won’t let people finish their sentences. It’s a disrespectful trait from several employees we have come across.
- Lastly, if the team doesn’t take time to reflect on how to collaborate better as a group because they claim to be too busy or have too much time pressure.
In the short run, leaders often think that reducing team communication and team-binding events will give them more time to be productive. We can see that this is a big mistake. In the mid-run, this will simply break the team bond you could have built and a team will miss certain signals of dissatisfaction or maybe even distrust. You might not see results in the next couple of weeks or months, but it’s the essential ingredient to overcome demonic times of crises. So invest in your team, invest in the spirit of the team, and take the time to work in busy times.
As an entrepreneur, there is always something to do. How do you manage your time for your own Moodtalks in your own team?
For us, it’s a fixed blocker. Moodtalks are held every second Tuesday at 1:30 pm, and we treat them with as much significance as a customer meeting or an investor call. That is the core of the whole project: giving it the same priority as any other situation for boosting your business. Results are also what motivates us to keep doing it because after 45 minutes we feel really confident about ourselves and our team. On the one hand, it helped us save time, while on the other, it allowed us to discuss certain more relevant topics in our collaborative effort. I think that’s why we always find time and still do it, which now thinking about it, is also a great advertisement for our product.
The idea of Moodtalk popped up during the covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns. What are the social contributions and takeaways for nowadays?
During the lockdown, social interactions were cut to zero. Very few unplanned conversations that led to interaction between employees, which usually took place while grabbing a coffee or going to lunch, frequently happened. However, you don’t experience these small social interactions anymore, if you stay at home all day on Teams, Google or Slack, etc. In fact, what’s interesting is that I think people have started to miss these kinds of social interactions. In particular, I think they forgot to talk about certain topics they would usually chat about, such as “How is work going” or, “This is what is bothering me”.
This already had a positive impact on the team spirit and personal well-being. Now that they are at home, let’s say speaking to their partner or child, who does not have much knowledge of the company’s culture, the interaction differs. This is one factor that was peaking during the pandemic and I think it’s still a factor now. We had this situation for two and a half years, where there were employees in a team that somehow missed this first social bonding within that company. This is why Moodtalk is still peaking and will still become even more important in the future. I think the next generation of employees who grow up in such an environment are even more interested in having these open conversations. For them, it is almost a necessity to have personal, social interactions and discussions.
How do you deal with struggling teams, if Moodtalk can’t help them any further?
Our escalation model is quite smart, and we believe that the team should try to solve issues and challenges by themselves at first. Here would be a step-by-step rundown:
- Firstly, there is the Moodtalk. If a team is still struggling with certain topics, they get self-guided sessions where the team deepens one topic (e.g. feedback culture) and tries to improve it.
- If the team is still struggling, they move on to the next escalation phase. This is where the issue either goes to the leader or even to HR for help.
- If this still has not worked, a team will receive access to coaches and professionals.
To be effective, a team should always begin by reflecting on themselves and the company before turning to external support. With this process and model, the team should be able to react to certain issues early on.
Where do you see Moodtalk in the next five years?
At the moment we are only active in Switzerland. However, international expansion is already underway. The beauty of our product and our approach is that it can be applied to every team. Due to its industry-agnostic nature and its versatility, it’s even used now in schools, hospitals, nuclear power plants, and even at Bluelion. Its purpose is to be used everywhere and anywhere. We’re essentially looking for growth, but also to broaden the spectrum of offerings. We see that the main challenge for teams as well as people in general is to have the right skills and competence to talk about certain things. We’ll put a lot of effort into that and want to expand more on the educational side. We also want to have fun and grow with our team. I think for all of us, Moodtalk represents a journey of growth, with many challenges, successes, and wins.
Are there any latest news about your team or Moodtalk?
First of all, we are growing with our customers and expanding with new customers. We are very proud to say that we are more than 120 teams on Moodtalk. Another significant thing is that we started to connect leaders within the company based on their Moodtalk data to discuss certain topics they have within their team. But we received many requests to be able to have this discussion outside of the company as well. Currently, when a team joins Moodtalk, they have access to our leadership community. In our program, we connect leaders based on their challenges and successes. We are excited to see more growth coming towards us.