The Agenda

#10 - Tobias Häckermann - Why meetings are central to building trust

November 18, 2021 The Agenda
#10 - Tobias Häckermann - Why meetings are central to building trust
The Agenda
More Info
The Agenda
#10 - Tobias Häckermann - Why meetings are central to building trust
Nov 18, 2021
The Agenda

Developing a strong culture and leading by example: Why meetings are central to building trust

The Agenda podcast series uncovers the path leaders take from challenge to decision. In this podcast, Tobias Häckermann, CEO of Sherpany, speaks about how meetings are central to building trust. For more podcasts, stay connected at  

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #Leading Together

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Show Notes Transcript

Developing a strong culture and leading by example: Why meetings are central to building trust

The Agenda podcast series uncovers the path leaders take from challenge to decision. In this podcast, Tobias Häckermann, CEO of Sherpany, speaks about how meetings are central to building trust. For more podcasts, stay connected at  

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #Leading Together

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Nisha Pillai 00:00:06

Wherever we look, our world is facing a huge range of unprecedented challenges. So if you were a leader right now, how would you navigate your way through this? How do you make decisions in the teeth of so much uncertainty? How are you going to reconnect your people and rebuild your team so that they're fit to face the future? And what does that even mean to be a leader in such an increasingly challenging world?

These and other questions I've been putting into top business leaders from across Europe. And I've had some surprisingly candid responses. So why don't you join me, Nisha Pillai for the latest episode brought to you by Sherpany of The Agenda.

My guest today believes that meetings are one of the key tools, one of the key leadership tools that managers have at their disposal. How can that be when most of us think that they're a necessary evil at best to be tolerated? Well, we're about to find out.

Let me introduce you to Tobias Häckermann. He is a serial entrepreneur. He set up his first company at the tender age of 18, and he's now on to his third. And it's not just about meetings, I'm going to talk to him about leadership. What does he think as an entrepreneur? Are the key ingredients of leadership?

It's great to have you, because I really want to ask you about what it was like being an entrepreneur at the age of 18, you must have faced some big hurdles. It couldn't have been easy.

Tobias Häckermann 00:01:37

I started my entrepreneurial career sort of by accident. I got the opportunity to organise basic security for some events that I was invited to and started to realise that there was a need around that, and I started to organise more and started to build the first company.

And in the beginning it ran smoothly and it just grew very naturally. But then over time, I realised that something that became very important to me, personally, was investing into people and investing into culture and investing into a spirit and an environment where people like to work, like to go, and can grow.

And I happened to realise over time, even though we got bigger and bigger, security is a very tight margin industry. So despite the fact that we grew, we never had the economical possibilities to actually invest into our talents and to grow and develop talents.

That's something that I took out of that whenever I'm going to found another company. I want to do it in an industry that allows me, where the margin allows me, to properly invest into the culture of a company, into the environment, and, ultimately, into the talented people that work for.

Nisha Pillai 00:03:06

What would you have done differently then, if you'd had the margin, if you'd had the comfort factor to be able to invest in people, what does that mean?

Tobias Häckermann 00:03:15

It means probably three things.

Number one, to invest time and head space into thinking about what are the values of the company I'm building. What is the culture that I want to create? And it starts with going back to the very own values that we carry in us.

If we are founders, entrepreneurs and build the first company, ultimately, company culture is going to be a strong reflection of our own values, and it takes that time to find those values in us. I would have taken the time to find it in myself. So that's number one.

Number two is then build routines and sparks within the company to bring that culture to life. What does that mean? This can be events. This can be getting together. This can be playing a game together. This can be how you paint an office. It can be how the welcome package of people look like. It can be how you steer your town hall. And all these elements, it's like you reflect your culture and your values in all of those elements where leadership actually happens.

And number three, obviously it's hiring great talents and being able to pay them sufficiently that they can stay and work and grow within your company.

Nisha Pillai 00:04:54

And why does it take so many hundreds of things? What is this thing called culture? We talk about it so much. Can you boil it down for me?

Tobias Häckermann 00:05:04

Culture gets visible in crisis. It's when you are close to failing, it's when the pressure is extremely high. I think that's the moment where culture gets visible and people experience it the most.

And obviously, all the things you do around building culture is focussed towards that moment, where you really need the entire team, the entire culture, the entire company to hold together, pull on the same string into the same direction without questioning whether it's right or wrong.

You're just, we need to do it. That's when culture becomes visible. And also, that's when the strength of a culture gets visible.

Nisha Pillai 00:06:11

So, what do you take away from that, then, Tobias, because you can't create crisis out of nowhere just to bring people together, right? So how do you create that kind of bonding in the absence of an existential crisis?

Tobias Häckermann 00:06:28

It's absolutely, you cannot create an artificial crisis, but what you can create is moments of tension, of positive tension and moments of getting together. And, at Sherpany, we do that with retreats.

Retreats where we bring everyone from the company together into one place, where we stay together for one week. And it's not just about getting to know each other and mingling, but it's about having specific tasks or a specific challenge to be solved in cross-functional teams.

People come together that have never been working together, and work on that challenge, and there is a certain tension in how we plan those challenges. What's the rhythm? And over that week, and it also it ends obviously into sort of a winner takes it all mindset.

And that tension and bringing people together that have never worked together again allows us to build those moments of bonding, and obviously then also partying afterwards, it's also an important part of bonding.

Nisha Pillai 00:07:42

I was going to ask you, how do you lead a fast-growing company when you've got locations all around Europe, right? Four or five different locations? Every year you're bringing in more and more people.

Is this one of the essential tools, these kind of retreats? Or do you have to do other things along the way because you say you only meet every couple of years or so for the retreat?

Tobias Häckermann 00:08:06

So as mentioned, these retreats are opportunities to make the culture visible, but it's not a tool to create culture. It's not a tool to keep culture alive, and to also evolve culture. The main tool for that is leadership.

It's how we lead, and where do we do that? In meetings. So for us, an absolute fundamental instrument is meetings. The quality of meetings.

In meetings, the way you organise in meetings, the way you set up a meeting, the way you ask for clarity before a meeting, the way you open up with a personal check-in into a meeting, where you address the emotional side of people, then starting into a discussion, making sure that everyone can engage during the conversation.

Closing a meeting with creating that clarity and shared understanding of what's going to happen next. What is our rational? What did we understand in that meeting? What are decisions that we have taken? and who is going to do what until when?

Getting all those little things right that make meetings great is a fundamental element of leading by example. And within leading meetings, and within making their own meetings great, you demonstrate a lot of your culture because it's the moment where we come together.

It's the moment where new joiners realise, OK, what's the way of people interacting with each other? What's the talking style? What is the dress code?

So meetings are for us a fundamental instrument. To create that culture at the retreat is an opportunity to make it visible how strong it was internalised by all Sherpanees.

Nisha Pillai 00:10:13

So are you going to tell us what the values are, and how they changed over time? Have you have you had to change your values?

Tobias Häckermann 00:10:22

Our values stayed the same since day two. Day one, we weren't clear about it or explicit. It took us a while to take the time to get explicit about it. But since then, they have stayed the same. And our five values are:

Number one, appreciation. Because we believe that appreciation is the strongest force for motivation and progress.

Number two, service orientation. Helping each other, giving a helping hand only as a team, we are strong, but also service orientation to our customers.

Number three, curiosity. Be curious. Never accept a judgement or a justification, which is we always did it that way. That's a very bad justification. Be curious about why we do things and how does a customer truly work and what are really his challenges?

Number four, results orientation. That's tremendously important and fundamental in a remote set up. Or if you have a distributed organisation, you need to train your entire leadership team to be leading by results, and not leading by presence or leading by time.

And number five, trustworthiness. We have to earn trust. We have to give trust. As leaders, we have to give a lot of trust and offer trust. And as leaders, we also have to earn it every single day, and to make sure that as a company, we hold together.

Nisha Pillai 00:11:53

And that's relevant in business too, Tobias? Are you saying that that's a really relevant trait to take across into business to? Trust trumps performance?

Tobias Häckermann 00:12:05

Yes, I think trust is more important than performance. Obviously, we want to have performance and trust. So if you look and think about high performing teams, we look in two dimensions.

Number one is performance, and the other one is trust. So, it's very obvious if you have a high performer of high trust, everyone wants those. And it's also clear if you have low performance with low trust, no one wants those.

But now the question is, do you rather take a high performer of low trust versus a medium to low performer with high trust? And when we think about a changing environment, fast-paced digitalisation, all the things we know, trust is fundamental for the team spirit.

Nisha Pillai 00:12:56

That is a really surprising to me, I have to say, because I tend to think of those very, I don't know, big culture builder type of tech leaders, right, who are hugely driven, drive their companies, and all their staff extremely hard aren't necessarily the pleasant of people to work for, but boy, do they deliver results. Your model of leadership seems to be very, very different. Is it a generational thing you think?

Tobias Häckermann 00:13:30

I can speak mainly for my generation, and I think it might be a generational thing, but probably there're two things we have to differentiate.

Number one, when we think about boy, they delivered results. What are those results if you measure them on? And yes, they did deliver a lot of economical results and performance driven results, and that's also a reality.  We have a million KPIs how to measure performance and negligent to zero KPIs to measure trust.

But when we think about society, and where we want to grow, do we want to always work more and more and more? Or is it about building that society and also that level of happiness for people living in society?

Ultimately, I think in my generation, this idea of maximising happiness becomes more present and more important.

Nisha Pillai 00:14:32

What have you found the most difficult aspect of being a leader of running the company? Being the boss?

Tobias Häckermann 00:14:39

To me, it was the change from natural leadership to earned leadership. Like in the beginning, when we started, and when you, the founder or one of the founders, start building, you do everything from creating a product to making sales to figuring out whether you have product marketing. You can do everything, and then you grow.

You have your first team members, the company grows, and you have a lot of authority. So, in the first couple of years, everything went very smooth. And then at some point it was about when we were 30, 35 people, 40 people. You have the first people joining being critical, and challenging you. Why do you do the things the way you do? Why not different? Why is that the right mark? Why is your strategy to right next move?

And through those questions in the beginning I felt challenged, and then over some time, I felt questioned. As a person, I took it personally. That was hard for me. It was also hard for the company, but I had to go through it, and return to leadership and get way more clarity.

Why do I do things the way I do? Why are values so important for me? Why is the culture aspect of the organisation so important? And reiterating that, and actually becoming aware of all the elements of leadership, what I naturally did and choosing again, whether I want to do it, whether I truly believe in them.

And knowing why, or also changing some elements where I think, OK, I never thought about it, I just do it because I saw it somewhere. But it doesn't make sense, actually, when I started reflecting.  So this transition from natural leadership to earned leadership was definitely the most challenging moment in terms of leadership at Sherpany.

Nisha Pillai 00:16:41

So when you were being challenged, were you put in a position where you ended up having to kill one of your babies, to walk away from a project or walk away from something part of your strategic goals as a result of the rethink?

Tobias Häckermann 00:16:55

Yes, we did have, or I did have, to kill one of my babies. When we started Sherpany, we were not focussing only on leadership meetings, but also on Annual General Meetings, bringing together companies and shareholders. And that was our first product, and we were quite successful also with that product.

I always believed that the bigger we become, the more we can do. And through those challenging questions I got, I got questioned like why one, why not the other? And shouldn't we have more focus? And what's in the future going to be the right focus?

And in 2015, we decided to focus all our energy on meeting management to make leadership meetings in organisations great, because we believe we can have such a positive impact on millions of workers in organisations that help organisations thrive because we use meetings everywhere.

It's the leadership instrument number one. But that also meant to let go of the other part, which was focussed on the AGM, on the Annual General Meeting. That was a very hard choice because I had a lot of passion in that other product, too.

But the key learning was: The bigger you get, the more focus you need.

Nisha Pillai 00:18:24

That's a fascinating point to where you get, the more focus you need, the bigger you get. How do you keep the team feeling like a team and the culture feeling authentic?

Tobias Häckermann 00:18:35

The team feeling like a team, for me, what is always in my head when I remember that after that learning is NASA. Put a man on the Moon. One simple vision and one mission to get completed.

So, coming out from that is our learning: One vision - make a world where every meeting counts. That's what every Sherpanee is chasing for. That's what we work every single day for. To make sure that every meeting counts, every single one.

Who participates in a meeting deserves to walk out of that meeting, energised, like, yes, I know, I know what I have to do. I got clarity, I got the decisions I needed. I know I'm ready to execute. And that's what we want, right?

This feeling of progress, this feeling of motivation, and energy when people walk out of a meeting.

Nisha Pillai 00:19:33

Our world is such an uncertain place right now Tobias, so as our conversation draws to a close, I wonder if you can share with me your thoughts.

What you think the key areas of focus will be for leaders when we're trying to grapple what the post-COVID world looks like?

Where the new normal point will be for hybrid working. What is going to be the new normal and where do meetings come into that? What are your thoughts?

Tobias Häckermann 00:20:01

There are a couple of obvious things. It's going to be a more hybrid world, people who are working from remote to work from anywhere, combined with some offices. So I could think and talk about that, what is my take here?

But when I think about leadership, it is about how to keep people together, how to embrace them, to embrace whatever that new normal looks like. Now is the pandemic, maybe in three years, it's another financial crisis. Maybe in five years, it's the next pandemic or a big, big hit from the entire global warming, which is a tremendous challenge for us as people, as humanity to solve forward.

So, as a leader, it comes back to making hope, building an environment where we can tackle those challenges, one step at a time. And shifting the focus to actually making the world a better place with everything we do.

Nisha Pillai 00:21:09

Tobias, our podcast series, The Agenda, is all about leaders on leadership. So can I ask you, what do you think is the key defining skill as it were for a leader with a young and growing workforce?

Tobias Häckermann 00:21:22

What's our role as leaders? I think it's first accepting it, facing it, facing the facts, and acknowledging that we have to do something. And we can do.

And number two is to believe in our own capabilities, and to believe in the capabilities of our people, of our team, of humanity. Together, we can solve that challenge. We are not gonna solve it from one day to the other, but we are going to solve it together, and not every time, or everything we try is going to work out. And that's OK. It's okay to fail.

But together, if we make enough experiments, if we try hard enough in enough different ways, we can make it happen. And that's definitely something that we, as leaders, have to embrace every single day, and also hold up the flag and say: We can do it.

Nisha Pillai 00:22:19

Tobias Häckermann, it's been a great pleasure speaking to you today on The Agenda. Thank you for joining us.

Tobias Häckermann 00:22:25

Thank you.