MultiTaction’s CEO Ari Rahkonen has headed teams in both large global corporations and small startups. His experience tells him that a well-functioning team comprises different personalities sharing a common dream. The team is founded on trust, which should not be left to chance as development progresses.
Ari Rahkonen believes the prime factors contributing to a company’s success are the team and its visions. At the core of a successful company is a group of people trying to solve a common problem. They are passionately working towards the same goal. The important point about a team is that it includes many different types of people.
“At least challengers and harmonisers are always needed, as well as a leader who inspires the others. If the founders can succeed in bringing together different personalities in a well-functioning team that can solve a shared challenge, the sky’s the limit,” he says.
Unfortunately, Rahkonen has never met anyone that can build a winning team based on just gut feeling. When recruiting, Rahkonen carefully examines applicants’ backgrounds, but also uses expert help to sound out an applicant’s personality and typical approach to work.
“Building a team is made more difficult by the fact that the team should be the most suitable for the company in each situation. When the company’s situation changes, the team must also be changed. That may sound harsh, but that’s the way it works,” he adds.
The manager shows the direction
Expert roles in the small team of a startup company are often confused – one person is CEO, but everyone does all kinds of things, and it works. At the latest when the company grows to 30 to 40 people, roles and responsibilities need to be created. Rahkonen does not fully believe in self-directed work communities.
“A manager is needed to show the direction, to inspire and to create belief that the goal will be reached. His or her professional skill is to understand what the team members need to achieve a better result. One person might need extra training, another a bonus scheme and yet another more helping hands. The job of managers is to help others succeed – and by doing so, to succeed themselves.
The value of leadership is most visible in problematic situations – and they are always encountered when people work together. When an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect prevails within a team, problems can be solved fairly and without leaving grudges.
No shortcut to trust
“A rule of thumb is that it takes from 6 to 8 months to build trust between, say, a new manager and team members. Trust is built up over time, through discussions and feedback. There’s no shortcut to it. It is based on respecting another person and believing that he or she is trying to do their best,” Rahkonen explains.
Trust is built in face-to-face meetings. To make these happen, a company must create ways of working that are suited to its size and structure.
“When work is geographically distributed, the team leader should have a face-to-face discussion, allowing a free exchange of thoughts, with each member at least once a month. It’s not enough that someone says that person’s OK. You have to find that out for yourself,” adds Rahkonen.
The freedom and responsibility of a virtual team
Rahkonen believes that the desire to work near the leader and, conversely, the desire to keep an eye on team members, is an inherent human trait. Doing things together has such deep roots that cutting these ties can produce unease.
“At Microsoft in 2007, when I declared that from that day onwards everyone could work remotely, nothing happened. So many doubts and fears held people back. Remote working, or a geographically dispersed team, can be a problem for both bosses and team members because it reveals whether or not trust exists.
“A dispersed work community calls for operating models that are simply not in our DNA. It’s very natural to wonder whether a team member working remotely for a couple of days is really working or instead just taking a break. I’ve thought this way myself sometimes, although I know better. A distributed work community only works well when the trust is strong enough to dispel such doubts,” Rahkonen points out.
In Rahkonen’s book, freedom brings responsibility. The supervisor of a distributed team must exercise strict self-management and also carefully monitor the team’s activities to succeed.
The greatest change in working life relates to information
When Rahkonen is asked what is the greatest change in working life in the last decades, he tells a story.
“In the early 1990s I was working in a big IT firm. There was a salesman that always seemed to succeed. I admired him and wanted to be as good. I introduced myself to him, telling him that I was new and wanted advice. How did he actually achieve such good results? He said he couldn’t tell me because it was his professional secret.”
“Today we think differently. Knowledge is no longer power – the power is in sharing knowledge. The more successful a work community is, the more information is generally available to everyone. I’m always wondering how I could communicate even more openly, and how to unlock paths of communication so that everyone knows exactly where we’re going.”
“Nowadays, everything in a company is documented. A new person in the company can get straight down to work by referring to documents. To do that in the old days, you had to pick someone’s brains.
Communication more difficult in a large company
Rahkonen’s experience shows that most companies nowadays try to create an open, dynamic and responsive atmosphere. How easily this atmosphere is built and maintained depends on the size of the company. The larger the company, the more difficult it is to generate dialogue and empower personnel. Even normal communication might lose its edge.
“Sometimes it feels that such difficulties grow exponentially rather than linearly. Of course, large firms try to be alert, but the quality of dialogue easily deteriorates in them. Communication is easier in a small firm,” he says.
The same principles for creating trust thus apply in both large and small companies, but the degree of difficulty in implementing them varies.
Diversity must not be left to chance
Diversity in the people it employs enriches a company. Rahkonen points out that this does not need to be left to chance – nor should it be.
“When I think of diversity, it’s the person who comes to mind first, not skin colour or gender. When recruiting, I consider what kind of person the applicant is and what he or she will bring to the team dialogue. It’s quite easy to see if a person supplements the team by being different or whether that person is the same as the others. Nevertheless, a manager needs courage to recruit diversified people.”
MultiTaction’s 50 personnel include people from many different cultures – Rahkonen does not even know how many nationalities. He believes diversity in personnel structure is essential because most of the company’s sales are outside Finland.
“Operating in a heterogeneous market means we must have people that understand different cultures to handle face-to-face meetings,” he points out.
Who he is: MultiTaction’s consultant and board member since 2017, and its CEO from October 2018. Experienced director, serial entrepreneur and board professional. Member of software company Frosmo’s board of directors, a partner in headhunter InHunt Group, and consultant to Lexia Attorneys. Consultant to Lappeenranta University of Technology and Deputy Chairman of Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation.
Education: Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. Certified Board Member (CBM, Finland Chamber of Commerce).
Work experience: Has worked in numerous large ICT companies. Resigned as Microsoft Finland’s CEO in 2015, after which he was involved in numerous startups.
Why MultiTaction exactly? “MultiTaction’s displays and software let you process data, innovate and learn in a uniquely new way. For example, a developer can present the apartments in a planned residential block in a way that makes the customer feel they are inside a home. This produces a new kind of trust between buyer and seller.”
Photos: Junnu Lusa
What it is: A growth company established in 2007 that commercialises machine-vision innovations developed in Aalto University. Produces large multitouch screens, video walls assembled from such screens, and the software for them.
Where it is: Head Office in Helsinki. Three offices in the USA, plus offices in London and Singapore. Sales to around 50 countries.
Special: Multitouch screens respond to objects and codes as well as to human touch. A number of people can simultaneously use the screens, and they can be offered individualised services.
Customers: Universities, museums, large companies such as Nasdaq, Oracle, IBM, KPMG and Accenture. In Finland, the Finnish National Museum and the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA).
Key Figures: Net sales of €10.3 million in 2018. Some 50 personnel.
Ownership: Founders: Tommi Ilmonen, Giulio Jacucci and John Evans. Finance providers include Tesi, Ilmarinen, Veritas and Finnvera.
Web pages: https://www.multitaction.com/