High-tech Communication Isn’t Always Best … Even At A High-tech Company


 By Darrin Tonsfeldt
The Village Business Institute

I recently had the opportunity to tour Menlo Innovations and hear its CEO, Richard Sheridan, speak on the way they work. The company is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and does software design and development. It’s the kind of business you would expect to have a very high-tech work environment. Well… there is high-end software design going on but their approach to process and teamwork is downright old fashioned. Not what I had expected.

One of the first things you notice as you walk into the facility is a relaxed, casual, open work environment. Work stations, with computers, are surrounded by people who are actually talking with each other. And it quickly becomes clear they are not just chit chatting; they are working.

As an introduction, Richard gave us an overview of the company and how they organize work. They use great big bulletin boards with cards listing projects and time estimates; with color-coded sticky dots to indicate the stage of the project. Richard made it clear they do not use project management software; their approach is high-touch and high-communication both with employees and customers. When asked why, Richard said it’s because direct communication, face-to-face, is far more efficient and effective. This is coming from an engineer who builds software.

Many of the employees at Menlo appeared to be of the millennial generation, folks we typically assume to be most comfortable with electronic communications. When asked how this generation has adapted to the Menlo culture, Richard said that team members understand programming takes place on the computers, while resolving problems and communicating with team members takes place by talking and interacting with each other. He said they not only get it—but they thrive in and enjoy this kind of work culture.

The takeaway, for me, from the tour at Menlo Innovations was to not get too carried away with e-mail, being paperless, web-based meetings, etc. The best solution to having a productive and fun work environment may just be having a culture that encourages people to talk to each other as they work together on project planning and completion. Richard Sheridan’s book “Joy, Inc.” is definitely on the top of my reading list.


About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.