Posted on November 16, 2017 by staff

‘Visionary’ military approach can fix business problems


Have you ever been in a meeting where you had an important opinion to express but felt uncomfortable speaking up?

Or maybe you’re a team leader that wants to avoid falling into the trap of surrounding yourself with yes men and women.

Businesses rise and fall on the quality of the decisions they make. When a CEO and an intern are in a meeting together, the emphasis should be on the quality of the idea not the rank of the person who came up with it.

Joe Kay is the founder and CEO of Reading-based Enswarm, a company that’s trying to help groups of people use technology to make better informed decisions.

He’s also a decorated military pilot and believes that business is less personal than the military, which is a key factor in how those bad decisions are made in the first place.

In the military, says Kay, he often had between a year and 18 months of team building between operations to get to know his teams on a more personal level. This trust, he found, was absent in business.

“When you get to know people on a personal level and understand the reasons why they might be making certain aspects of their decisions it changes things,” he told BusinessCloud.

“In business you just turn up and are expected to perform straight away. You don’t necessarily know people, you’re in a team that might be working all around the world and it’s very easy to think the worst of people.

“There’s more of a family or community in the army and that’s where you get the higher levels of trust that allows teams to work together more effectively.”

This is at the core of what Enswarm is trying to do – building teams that allow businesses to remove the bias and office politics to stay focused on key issues.

“What we’re seeing a lot of the time is that you lose real expertise in the room through personality,” he said. “So before you go into a meeting we get everyone to evaluate the idea and make recommendations on a piece of tech.

“Then it aggregates all that together and displays it to the room so that you can have a data-enabled meeting.”

Getting diverse, honest opinions means teams don’t have to spend precious meeting minutes talking about what they thought. Instead, they can talk about why they thought it and make better informed decisions.

“We focus the discussion around the key issues and key differences and get those actually brought out on the table,” said Kay.

Although the feedback has been positive overall, starting a cultural shift that tells businesses they might not be making decisions in the best way could be a long road for the young company.

“It tends to be senior guys in grey suits that just say ‘no, that’s total rubbish’,” said Kay. “They’ve gotten where they are because they forced through decisions so they see this as a threat but by all accounts that’s the reason that we had the financial crash.

“These are the sorts of problems we need to fix in business. We’re trying to do something very visionary and want to change the way decisions are made by taking that bias and countering it.”

The technology could also be applied to other situations where large groups need to make important decisions, such as politics.

“It could work anywhere you need to get unbiased input and verify decisions,” he said.

“When I was in the army and faced with making a hard decision I always used to ask myself if I could stand up in a court of law and defend the decision I made, knowing I did the right thing. That’s all you can ever ask from people.”