Transcript: How to Lead Virtual Teams with Humility

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Mitch Simon 0:10
Welcome to another episode of team anywhere where CEOs, leaders and experts at building teams, companies, organizations, and amazing cultures

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 0:22
share how to lead from anywhere in the world. I’m your co host on the East Coast, Jim Bianco Mathis,

Mitch Simon 0:28
and I’m your co host on the West Coast, Mitch Simon. And we invite you to join us team anywhere.

Today we interview Burt circuit and who is not only an expert and author on hybrid timber framing. He is the founder and owner of the company, Aero timber framing. Burt brings together virtual teams of designers, architects, engineers and craftsmen from Alaska all the way to Florida to design some of the most beautiful homes in the country. He shares with us that the secret to creating committed virtual teams is to place more emphasis on listening than speaking to ask questions and to experiment like crazy. Hello, and welcome to another episode of team anywhere. I’m Mitch Simon, your co host on the West Coast and with me as my lovely co host today, Bianca maphis on the east coast and today we’re excited to introduce Burt Sutton getting founder of Aero timber and author of the new book, The Art of hybrid timber framing. We’re excited to have bird on because he has been inspiring remote teams and creating beautiful structures throughout the United States. So I’ve just got to say, Bert, who the woman How are you?

Bert Sarkkinen 1:54
Whoever want we share a Finnish background? We do. Great.

Mitch Simon 2:00
Great. Well, we are really excited to learn how you lead your hybrid teams to create such beautiful hybrid timber frame. It’s just kind of it’s just kind of really exciting how we’re focused on hybrid in your book is about hybrid and can you just tell us about for those of us who do not know anything about winning, what is hybrid timber framing.

Bert Sarkkinen 2:22
So hybrid timber framing is using exposed beam constructions I posted beam construction in conjunction with modern a mill building systems back in the day is mortise and tenon they did not have nails they use wooden pegs. So as it’s an age old construction that is used to build dwellings and gathering places for centuries. And it died in the expansion of the Wild West in that in that Industrial Revolution. Then, because of three factors, railroads, nails, and sawmills. Now Nat gateway to our platform frame we know today, so it kind of died out. A gentleman by the name of Ted Benson in the 1970s brought us into revival. There’s been a timber framers guild started since then. And it’s really been an exciting thing to be part of this, to help people personalize their homes and structures with his artistic wood that just resonates with communities, solidity, love, belonging, all these big things that matter to us as humans, right. And then also with his book to be able to give back to the community. Because when I started, I didn’t know a thing about it, a customer asked me to do some timber framing. And I said just like your listeners, what is timber framing? And so I say, Well, let me think about it. I went to the library, found some books on it, and fell in love. Wow. follow the same path with a little help from my book.

Mitch Simon 4:02
Burt. I wanted to understand over the last year with with this pandemic, how have you been able to keep your your employees, your your designers, your architects, you know, everyone involved in your projects together? Because it’s been hard to, you know, have people come to the office to kind of see you every day. Like what have you been doing to really keep these teams really focused on the prize? Mm hmm.

Bert Sarkkinen 4:28
You know, that’s it’s been a little bit more a little bit tougher with zoom and with meetings, we’ve our sales and marketing most of our meetings have been remote, even with clients sometimes, you know, with or without pet the pandemic. We’re working in Alaska and we’re working in Florida in different places. So pretty big spread. Yeah. As far as you mentioned, the communicating the vision and keeping everybody engaged. That is a tough nut to crack match. So,

Mitch Simon 5:02
you Bert.

Bert Sarkkinen 5:03
What’s that? That’s why we come to you. Okay, well, I’ll do I’ll share my experiences and failures here and drink slices. But here’s a little, little test here. So we’re all familiar with nursery rhymes and different songs he’s learned as a kid. Yep. And so I’m going to play the part of the leader. And you two are the employees. And I’m going to drum out the tune of one of these, like lullabies or songs you’ve heard as kids. Okay, you guys get to guess which one? All right,

Mitch Simon 5:37
Jimmy, you ready?

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 5:38
I’m ready.

Bert Sarkkinen 5:38
Here we go. Ready?

Can you hear this? Yeah. Can you hear that?

Mitch Simon 5:45
We can?

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 5:45

Bert Sarkkinen 5:46
Here we go. 321. Okay, what tune was that?

Mitch Simon 6:03
Obviously, Stairway to Heaven, right?

Bert Sarkkinen 6:10
twinkle little star. And so, you know, that that’s that that really symbolizes what I’m hearing as a leader. And my message to my employees and what they’re hearing.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 6:24
Yes. You know, they’re

Bert Sarkkinen 6:25
just not getting through. Right? Yeah, yeah, that is just such a common common thing in, in all communications, even to my me, my wife, me, my children, then when you get into different levels of power and leadership, your paradigms are different. And the messages can just so easily. Just be noise thump, thump, thump. Right. Right. Right. And so that’s a really big challenge. And I don’t think it’s anything that it can be addressed with a silver bullet. It’s, it’s a myriad of things, as well as just rolling up your sleeves and the hard work of communication.

Mitch Simon 7:08
So what have you because I know you’re your hybrid timber? So you’re not using a lot of silver bullets or silver nails? So what have you been doing instead to, to really allow your employees to understand what tune you’re trying to pump out there?

Bert Sarkkinen 7:22
But the under cuts? Understand the thumping? Yeah. So one of the tools that I’ve used through the years has been something I picked up from my mistakes and trying to teach as a as when I was doing the framing, I would go and start out and I would give people complex instruction and how to really quickly and efficiently frame this corner fireplace, rake wall rafters, whatever it was, and just give a data dump of everything that that would make this go fast. And it would spin them out. And so I figured out that the best thing to do is to ask them, how they think they should go about this. And here’s what we’re going to do, what do you think the best way to go about this is, and then, depending on where they were, maybe offer a few tips, but just not too much. And then come back after they’ve struggled a little bit. And now once their mind has been wrapped around, and they’ve struggled a little bit with it, then now I can give some more data and have it find fertile ground and not make things go backwards. Right. And so with with that, even with our clients and how they progress on their journey, and what they’re trying to figure out, I really have to avoid too much information and getting too passionate at first. And so even with our vision in that it’s questions, what are we trying to do and what is important here? Wow, should we go about this? And then when I get questions in the feedback that comes back, now we’re cutting through that thump, thump, thump. It’s coming back and I’m hearing what’s in their head. Christy, so you’re saying it’s more important to understand what’s in their head than what’s in your head, Bert. That’s kind of what I use in my starting point, and then work from there. Right, that’s a very effective for me, some people have the gift of being able to communicate immediately on somebody’s level, and just resonance and go right through it. I don’t have that. So I got to start with a question understand where they’re at and build from there.

Mitch Simon 9:48
I mean, I think it’s a great philosophy, especially with people so you know, distant and separated. And especially, you know, the reason why we really want to have you on is because your your job seems to be pretty complex in Very, very creative. As well as I imagine you’re working with people, if you’re working with people all over the country, they’re probably people that you’ve never worked for on a project, you’re probably not gonna work with them again.

Bert Sarkkinen 10:12
Yeah, so a lot of times a client will contact us, and they have their bills, or they introduce us and we work together. Yeah, we become, in the front end, our first ad is design and planning, how timbers are going to affect the space, what kind of resonance, what kind of beauty, but then it’s a subcontractor hat, right, just like you’re saying, being able to communicate with that is, is really a key deal. The times that I’ve dropped the ball has been when I have just communicated on my end, given them the information. And not asked for that feedback is basically a thump, thump, thump, you know, put the post here and blah, blah, blah, if I can get pictures of the job site, if I can get layout of the trust plan. And then on the most recent blueprints, and really work from just kind of like I do with my employees, work from what’s on there, and always, always getting that feedback, what’s in their head, taking a peek?

Mitch Simon 11:15
You know, I like that. I know that I love that communication philosophy, which is like, really, I I really don’t know what they’re thinking, unless I find out what they’re thinking communication actually is really, communication has nothing to do with what I say. It only has everything to do with what they think I’m saying, exam. So what I heard was you you have a very unique leadership philosophy. And I was just wondering how you imbue, you know, what is your leadership philosophy? And how do you imbue it throughout your company, which sounds like it reaches, at least all the way from Alaska to Florida, which is pretty pretty far.

Bert Sarkkinen 11:57
Yeah, as far as as far as leadership, I kind of subscribe to the to the school of, you know, 100 brains are better than one. And I, there’s there’s a concept also that if I wanted to be a superstar and hog all the passion and honor and glory, you know, you can do that. And you can build a team around a superstar, but it’s it goes zero to 60. pretty quick. It’s more like an airplane than a train. If you can get your players, the right people understand their gifts, and get them understanding their gifts working in a place where they do well. It just everybody then can function contribute. And you just get such a while there’s so much that we don’t see in life. And so one set of eyeballs one one brain, one perspective, is going to miss a lot of measurement. There’s two measurements we use for hires with our company. And this comes from it’s a system called Eos. You may have heard of it.

Mitch Simon 13:12
Yes, it’s very popular these days.

Bert Sarkkinen 13:15
Yep. Real simple as age old concepts. And we use it to varying degrees, some people probably are more EOS pier than we are. But one of the measurements that’s really effective for hiring is core values. That tells you if you got the right person, we have five of them. And then the other one other measurement for measuring which chair someone sitting in is basically measures three things that, you know, does the person understand what their job is? Do they want to do their job? And do they have capacity? And all three of those have to be adamant. Yes. And when that aligns you know, things go good. And when when those three are off, even for myself, I just recently fired myself from a position and it has been a great change.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 14:09
Interesting. Yeah, I love that right. The same criteria.

Mitch Simon 14:14
Right? So you so you free yourselves from which which job?

Bert Sarkkinen 14:18
You wouldn’t believe it. I want to know its sales. You fire sales? Yes. Yep. And I fired myself on sales and the guy who I moved into it. It’s kind of more his cup of tea and he thrives on it more. And then he also can see so that like when I was communicating in sales, say you too are a prospective clients. I would be doing a little bit of a thump, thump thump. Because of my skewed perception, I could never understand my design I and the value I bring to the table of creativity. I always treated like a two cent. fiddle. I mean, just like don’t really value it. Yeah, gosh, the guy who’s taken over for me, he’s seen that he’s preached to me for years, that bird, this is something we don’t find on every street corner. And so now he’s in that position, he can blow that horn. And I don’t have all the, you know, I got emotional baggage that comes along with that position, talking about myself and all this. And then being the stoic fan as well. It was just a good move to fire myself. Yeah. Wow. Now I can focus on design. Yeah, yeah, leadership. And then I’m getting some time in the field was of installs as well, which is interactive time with clients and bringing things together and working with the guys. And so it’s been a win on multiple fronts. It’s weird. I mean, how Why did I go this long? Four years overdue? Maybe three years overdue. De

Mitch Simon 16:00
Bercy? Did the, to the pandemic have any impact on you? I don’t want to go through all your emotional baggage on the show today. But

Bert Sarkkinen 16:09
do you think we have time for it either?

Mitch Simon 16:12
Now we don’t. It’s just Yeah, it’s a family show. So do you think that the pandemic had any impact on you saying, Oh, my gosh, I really need to shift out of sales and, and shift back more into the design in the building.

Bert Sarkkinen 16:31
I don’t know if the pandemic in the pandemic has brought a lot of different thinking and perspectives to many things. In some ways, maybe it did and that relationships within the company got a little bit tougher, because people aren’t getting your social exposure and this sort of thing going on. So in that way, there was some some relationship conflicts within the company that also prompted this move, the person moving into sales, was having relationship issues with some other team members in management. And so lessening the management load, putting the sales hat on, where they flowered and prospered better, just made sense, as well as me holding the company back with my perspective, my inability to blow my own horn. And now and then I can focus on really what I’m doing well. So the pandemic I think, had some some effect, but it’s just kind of you know, when you get these light bulb moments, you wonder why it took so long, but the pearl has to grind away is a piece of sand for quite a while, right?

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 17:48

Bert Sarkkinen 17:49
what I’ve heard,

Mitch Simon 17:50
that’s what I’ve heard. Yeah, right. As

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 17:51
the good later, you, you saw the light bulb. You did something about it,

Bert Sarkkinen 17:58
right? I can’t even take credit for seeing the label. Because there’s so many times I think, Oh, this is the cat’s meow, this is a great idea. And it’s not. And so you try it. So we just want here is Hey, Should we try it out? And you know, we were both on it. So we did and it’s worked. And yes.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 18:19
It’s the trying out to I don’t know if, if that is a regular thing you do. But a lot of the experts we’ve talked to said, you know you try it. You try it for two weeks, you try it for a month and get feedback. Yep. I assume perhaps that’s no, that’s a little bit of what you’re asking when you bring on. You said your new employee. So where are you? Let me ask you some questions, work with it a little bit, right, try it out, then you come in.

Bert Sarkkinen 18:53
Yeah, there’s just no replacement for actual testing. I kind of tried to balance I don’t try to test in just a wild frenzy with reckless abandon. You try to make educated guesses and try to have mostly right decisions. But I really, there was a study done you too may be familiar with it with an art class and I really, really resonates with me and that they had, they’re doing pottery. And they took one half of the class and told them that they would be graded on their most exquisite piece they could produce it as all of his pursuit of perfection. And the other half the class they told they would be graded. They would get an A if they produced X amount of pounds of clay projects. And the class that did pounds, had much better pieces of work. Then those that were totally focused on the was it? Yeah, it perfect. Perfect. Yeah. They just had they got to test and try and So and that, that, that leads to your thing of embrace failure and, and give people compliments when they make a decision that were wrong, even though was wrong, you give them a compliment, say, Thanks for making that decision, we’re not going to move forward. If we don’t make a decision, and if we want to be mistake free, we’re just gonna have to stay in bed all day.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 20:23
Yes, yeah. Is he?

Mitch Simon 20:26
Do you have like, a distinctive life philosophy that you’re bringing to, to your company? And that that, you know, because you, you sound like a, like a master storyteller. You sound like, you know, someone’s uncle, who, like, just have all these wise words of wisdom. Just wondering, you know, do you have you? Did you start your company with a life philosophy? And have you brought it through, as you, you know, hired and built your company?

Bert Sarkkinen 20:52
As far as a life philosophy and just talking about, you know, one of the driving forces in starting my company, I would say it was twofold. One is just the challenge of being able to start and do something myself. It’s probably the initial incubation, but the lasting drive is to see people come in, improve their skills, learn, and if they stay for a long time, awesome. But if they move on, that they’ve helped me with their story, I’ve helped them with their story. So kind of a positive influence that way. And if so that that ended as far as Yes, if I was to bundle those two together, it just to the smallest life philosophy I was going to ever tell people is really tough, like for myself is to get over myself. Focus next currently, it’s just, it’s just a much as so much that trips me up when I get too inward focused,

Mitch Simon 21:54
you know, as we’re closing up here, what are what are three things you would advise all of our listeners in developing effective teams that can create beautiful projects together?

Bert Sarkkinen 22:06
So three things as far as creating effective teams, and being creative and collaborative working together? You know, I would, first thing is hiring right? That’s where I made the lion’s share of my decision, bad decisions, and good ones as well. But understand that that’s a crapshoot. And be very, just understand that the getting that right, you’d have the right person, but if you don’t have that right chair, where they understand it, where they want it and where they have capacity, yet, no, I’m sorry, but it is not going to go all the hopeful thinking all the coaching is not going to do that. So. So hiring, right, and being aware of that is probably I don’t know if that’s number one, maybe number one would be being aware of yourself, and even creating the core values of who you want to hire. These aren’t aspirational core values, they are what they are. And you can change yourself and your perspectives and your habits and your core values slowly over time. But it’s it’s a glacial thing. It’s not a it’s not a flash flood. Unless there’s something really traumatic, that’s my view. So understanding yourself your core values, and then hiring and then the other piece is really celebrate your own mistakes in that humble confidence in really give people the security to criticize you and be when when when you get criticism when your ideas are out there. Just make sure that you’re asking, Is there anything else or what else and that defensive posturing that is so easy for us to grab onto when that comes on? If I utter any of that, as a boss, as a person with authority, I’m going to squelch honest feedback when they can give that feedback and and in a safe way and know that even if they don’t deliver it, right, whatever, they’re not going to get squashed into the lion’s paw. You’re gonna get something from your employees that way.

Mitch Simon 24:24
Yeah, I really, really love the, the what you’ve shared, you know, since the beginning of this episode is really that leadership is a lot about listening. It’s a lot about asking questions. It’s more about what’s in their heads and in their minds than it is about what what you’re frankly what you’re thinking. So I do think that especially in this time of hybrid timber or hybrid work teams, I do you think it’s very important that we do spend so much of our time just wanting to know where our employees are at wanting to know in fact that you know, I have somebody who actually might be a better salesperson than I, and then having the humility to say, you know what, I’m just gonna, I haven’t figured this out. But let’s just go see is a new thing that I think the thing I love about artists and I love that you shared about the example, with the ceramics is, you know, this really is a time where we do not know what the future is. And the way we’re going to get there is to just try stuff. And it sounds like your company has been successful, because you’ve been, you know, you’ve been humble. And you’ve been able to just put your ego aside and just kind of see what what really happens.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 25:35
I can see anyone who works with you, because you asked the questions, because you pace a conversation, that they will share things with you. And so as you already said, then you hear things, and then you can do. So I really appreciate that. The term you use the humble confidence that comes out loud and clear.

Mitch Simon 26:02
Well, great. So Burt, if people want to find out more about you or find out more about hybrid timber framing, or both? First of all, why don’t you share? Where are you on the planet? And then also, where can people find you.

Bert Sarkkinen 26:18
So it’s where the state of Washington, we’re right above Portland, Oregon, in that city of Vancouver, battleground Washington to be specific, we can be found on the web. And for a concise picture of what you can get and our philosophy that you’ve touched on Mitch year. And that would be the best way to do that would be to get the new book that you mentioned, the art of hybrid timber framing. The first section of the book can be really applied to any building project, any endeavor all Gold Making, it’s, it’s really the same thing. But there’s hiring tidbits, the question you can ask yourself, because if you are going to do a building project, you are responsible for the team you hire, which is going to be responsible for the results you get. And also there’s the mental side of things, how to build the good decision, compass. And this, this whole thing, the responsibilities of the visionary is in the first part of the book, then there’s ideas and styles in the second part, and then well as tangible tips on bringing all the planning to the ground with getting the timbers incorporated with your building systems. Right. That’s what the book is about. And that’s on Amazon, you can buy it on our web. If you buy it on our website. I’ll autograph it will message be kind of fun to do that? Sure. That’d be the easiest way to really get a look into our soul. And philosophy is through the book. But that information is on the website as well. And we’re doing webinars and inspiration reports in that too, as well. So

Mitch Simon 28:00
great. Well, all right. Well, thank you. deneve. And, yeah, worried maybe to having you back soon. I would love to I’m sure people can go on the web, see your company and see the beautiful, they’re absolutely beautiful, beautiful. I mean, it’s any lodge you’ve ever been in where you’ve seen the hybrid timber framing, you’re just like, oh my god, it’s so beautiful. But anyways, thank you. Thank you, Bert. Thank you, Jenny. Thank you to all of our listeners. And if you’ve loved this episode, please share this episode with your friends and colleagues. And we’ll see you next week on another episode of team anywhere

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