Team tool review: KOAN

There are many tools that claim to help teams work better together. But a tool is just a tool, and just because something is successful in one company, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Remember that before implementing a tool, you need to know the problem this tool should solve. Today I’m reviewing why KOAN can be a great tool for your company, basing my recommendations on evidence from team research. I’ll also tell you when you shouldn’t be using it.

The key elements of KOAN

In crude words, KOAN is a tool that helps you reflect on your team’s progress, and give each other feedback. That might not sound fancy, but is extremely important. Team’s are a crucial part in many companies, and the smooth interplay between team members is necessary for companies to be productive and innovative. This is also reflected in KOAN’s value proposition

Koan is the easiest way for leaders and teams to plan and achieve their goals, uncover insights and stay engaged.

 

koan reflection team toolThe company describes weekly reflection as a simple behavior. KOAN was created out of a desire to help teams reflect on their weekly progress, as current performance management tools, used by HR, fail in this area. Before your team is able to reflect, goals are needed. This implies that KOAN is build on the assumption that companies have well defined and explicit objectives and key results (OKR). Without knowing when you want to achieve what, you can not know if you achieved it.

In my views, a product is partly a reflection of the people who build it. Analyzing KOAN,  transparent dialogue and constructive criticism seem to be key. This is all done for the greater good of the team, and hence the company. Digging deeper into the processes build into KOAN, it looks like the goal is to align team members behaviors with each other and with the company’s goal. Now, depending on your worldview, this might be something bad, in the sense of getting everyone to march towards the same destiny . However, it do not think the founders had this vision in mind. A quick research on one of the founders, Matt Tucker reveals that he is active in the open standards communication community, according to Crunchbase. This implies that the open dialogue is key for him. It also indicates that everything should be open for discussion.

KOAN helps teams, if…

When I first saw the product, I was excited. It offered all the key features for effective team reflection by triggering regular reflection on a couple of important elements. It provides the ability to customize projects and metrics to fit the language and culture of the team. KOAN pushes team members to be specific about what they want to achieve and to discuss issues they have.

As with other solutions, this application is great for teams that are working efficiently with each other and are looking for a way to keep track of their progress. If you think your team is trusting each other and are collaborating well with each other, KOAN will help you reach the next level.

KOAN doesn’t help if …

I don’t like to beat around the bush: KOAN will not help your team establish a good team culture. This is something that KOAN claims on their website.

koan team reflection

Now this does not mean that KOAN can not help you create a great team culture, however, it requires more than just using the tool. I’m not sure if the founders meant to create this impression, but I wouldn’t be surprises if some people might consider KOAN as the solution to their team problem.

The main advantage of KOAN, reflection, feedback, and transparent communication, makes it not suitable for teams who do not yet have a safe working climate. If team members are not able to voice their thoughts freely in meetings, may it be because of bad leadership or cultural differences, a tool will not solve the problem. To create a safe climate, leaders first need to openly demonstrate that they value the opinions of their team members, mistakes should lead to individual and team growth and not to punishment, and unique information should be shared openly.

If leaders are clear that they first need to plant the seeds for a safe climate before implementing KOAN, the future use of KOAN as a team tool can be successful. One option would be for leaders to introduce KOAN as a personal reflection tool in which they openly share their reflection. This means the leader is the only team member inputting data in KOAN, but her/his complete team has access to the leader’s thoughts.

KOAN’s key features based on team research

KOAN reminded me of great research a colleague of mine, Catherine Gabelica, did during her dissertation. She investigated feedback and team reflexivity as a leverage for team learning. In one of her studies, she distributed teams to different settings. The settings were differentiated by the type of feedback team members received in it. Best performance was achieved when teams received feedback about what they achieved, and how they achieved it. In addition, these teams were asked to reflect on their output and methods to achieve it. Finally, they also had to develop strategies to achieve even greater success in the future.

Focusing on the features in KOAN, the ability to customize certain aspects of the product gives a sense of empowerment and ownership to the teams. While these customization features are small (e.g., does your team work on initiatives, milestones, OKR, goals, projects, deadlines?), it is still important. Language is more than just words strung together to sentences. They carry cultural values. This customization feature enables teams to quicker get used to KOAN and make it an integral part of their team processes. It allows them to adapt the tool to the team, instead of having to adapt the team to the tool.

The ability to track progress is important, however, as mentioned above, just merely tracking progress doesn’t result in a great team culture. There is more that needs to happen before a great culture can be established.

Final word

KOAN solves the problem of regularly giving and receiving feedback from team members. This activity is important for long-term growth. However, it takes time away from current tasks and hence can be forgotten or pushed aside.

KOAN is not right for teams who do not have an safe team culture. Build this first, and then implement KOAN.