Building Effective Teams in a Competitive Market

Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

There’s no limit to what an organization can achieve with the right people.

As the chief operating officer at City Year, a nonprofit, Dr. John Tupponce accomplishes the organization’s goals by cultivating an inclusive team culture.

In this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast, Dr. John Tupponce speaks with the host, Chad Franzen, about how to build and motivate your team for collective success.

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Show Notes

[0:26] Intro     

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show including David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth. 
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.    
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card. 

[1:21]  Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Dr. John Tupponce. 

[1:56]  Dr. John gives an overview of what City Year is all about. 

  • City Year is an education nonprofit that has been in existence for thirty years. 
  • A part of the AmeriCorps network, the organization connects with 29 school districts across the country. 

[3:35]  What are Dr. John’s daily responsibilities as COO of City Year?

  • Dr. John works with an operations team and three market presidents.
  • He leads the teams in supporting the 29 school districts in their work with people and finance to make an impact. 
  • City Year is a relationship-based company, so the team maintains a healthy relationship with its stakeholders including the students and districts. 

[4:40]  Dr. John talks about how he models his relationships with stakeholders at City Year.

  • City Year’s ability to work with students and motivate core members to work relentlessly attracted Dr. John to the organization. 
  • Dr. John engages the people at City Year to understand their needs and seeks ways to fulfill their needs. 
  • As a leader, you have to listen to the people you work with and understand their needs. 

[6:57]  How does listening impact an organization’s leadership?

  • Listening helps you to make better decisions about the situation at hand.
  • When you listen to people, you make them feel like they are important and that their voice is heard.

[8:34]  Dr. John explains his process for building effective teams. 

  • Dr. John has a three-part model for building effective teams.
  • The first part is helping team members understand who they are with themselves as leaders. The second part is helping them understand how they fit into the organization. The third part is trusting that they will deliver on the job.

[9:51]  What are the challenges of team-building when working in a virtual environment?

  • City Year has a superpower of being in community with each other, building moments together as a team.
  • Working virtually challenges the organization’s superpower of being in person and connecting with each other. 

[11:34] Dr. John shares insights into the advantages of team building in a competitive market.

  • Building a team helps you to understand where you fit in the organization and how to make meaningful contributions.
  • Having an engaged team provides the support you need to navigate the business terrain. 
  • With the right team, you don’t have to worry about not having all the answers, as other people will help out.

[13:55] Why are people in leadership roles afraid to admit that they don’t have all the answers?

  • Leaders might feel uncomfortable to admit they don’t have all the answers due to ego, emotional intelligence, and competition. 
  • People’s experiences shape how they are as leaders. 

[16:20] How can people find out more about City Year?

  • Visit the City Year website for more information about the organization’s services.

[17:07] Dr. John talks about what he finds most fulfilling working at City Year.

  • Dr. John appreciates the work City Year does in diversity and inclusion. 
  • He also appreciates working with the people at City Year and being a part of the change management process, adapting to the new ways of working in these times.

[19:25] Outro

About Dr. John Tupponce

Dr. John Tupponce is the chief operating officer at City Year, a nonprofit. He’s an experienced senior leader with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.

A doctor of education (Ed.D.) from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. John Tupponce is passionate about building common learning experiences for leaders. His skills include strategy development, nonprofit organizations, team building, coaching, and instructional design.

Transcript of the interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen and here co-host the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done. And Michael Gerber of the E-Myth and many more. This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again and this is the 10th time you spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution, SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations.

Chad Franzen: Use suite process, to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Go to, sweet like candy Dr. John Tupponce serves as City Year’s, chief operating officer. In this role, Dr. Tupponce serves as a key leader in the implementation of systems, processes, and organizational design, and will work to align impact, fundraising, and district engagement operations with City Year’s, vision and goals for the future. His background is grounded in leading and learning as a former public educator. Dr. Tupponce, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Dr. John Tupponce: Good. Thanks Chad. Thanks for having me on the show.

Chad Franzen: Great to have you. Hey, so tell me more about what City Year is and what you guys do.

Dr. John Tupponce: Yeah. Thanks, Chad. And City Year has been around for about 30 years and City Year is an education nonprofit it’s been around for 30 years as I said. We connect with 29 school districts across the country and we’re part of the AmeriCorps network. So we have a double bottom line, the double bottom line is we have through AmeriCorps, we are able to gather group of core members and the group of core members, we send to the districts around 29 different cities across the country, 50 some school districts, 300 and something schools. So we do this work with the purpose of course, engaging young people, the people who we work with, the young people who we work with, but our other part of our bottom line is making sure that core members develop leadership skills, have a great experience and understand the ability to serve.

Dr. John Tupponce: And of course our purpose is to create the conditions for all young people to reach their potential and to make sure that we advance the mission of equity and relationships and diverse learning experiences for people all over the country.

Chad Franzen: Great. Sounds great.

Dr. John Tupponce: Sorry. And you see I have a background noise here, but yeah.

Chad Franzen: That’s all right. What’s your dog’s name?

Dr. John Tupponce: I have three dogs, Chad. I have a Chop, Max and Rudy and yes, the door, they heard the mailman come through, so-

Chad Franzen: Oh, there you go.

Dr. John Tupponce: … that’s what, they’re doing their job.

Chad Franzen: Very good. So what’s involved in your day-to-day role as COO of City Year.

Dr. John Tupponce: Yeah. As chief operating officer of City Year, I’m responsible, I work with an operations team and also three market presidents. And what we do is we support the 29 sites with their work with people, their work with finance, and their work with impact. So the impact space, of course, the double bottom line is mentioned with core members and students, the finance into terms of their expenditures, but also the donations and the funders, and then also the people experience and engagement. We’re such a big relationship-based company, so our people engage and people experience piece plays out in everything that we do with students and with districts, but we also try to model that throughout our organization. So I’m responsible for that entire network of 300 schools and I do that work with the market presidents and the team of operation leaders.

Chad Franzen: How do you go about modeling those types of relationships?

Dr. John Tupponce: Well, I’ve been at City Year for a year and a half and I was a former assistant superintendent in the School District of Philadelphia. And what attracted me to City Year, City Year was a partner of mine in the school district. What attracted me to City Year was their work with students and how the core members would serve relentless and give of themselves a year or two, just to put themselves in positions to create different conditions in support of a school district for children. And we call those core members student success coaches. And those student success coaches, I don’t know, there’s something about how they operate in schools.

Dr. John Tupponce: And so I learned a lot from watching these student success core members and how they work with students. And being able to model that throughout the organization, for instance, when I started a year and a half ago, it’s spending time with people virtually because in this COVID place, but spending time with people virtually, understanding how to help them thrive in their work, opening lines of communication, opening lines to help with emotional intelligence, asking about simple things about themselves and their family, how do you connect them to their work better? How do you make sure that things are clear so people can be successful at their job?

Dr. John Tupponce: So I think these are things that we hope to do in our organization, so I try to model those types of behaviors. And I also try to be, I think, one thing with leadership, which is sometimes overrated. As leaders, we seem to talk a lot and talk a lot for this podcast, but I found the strength in listening and being able to really listen to people and what their needs are and people will tell you what they need and can you fulfill their obligation. This time right now, of course, as we have doing this podcast at the end of the pandemic or are we in the pandemic wherever we are with it, working with people is more important than ever and giving them grace, but also having a collective accountability, being supportive, there’s nothing more important than that right now.

Chad Franzen: What do you think having leaders who listen does for the culture of an organization?

Dr. John Tupponce: Chad, people just like if you’re in person and of course, most of our time now has been virtual, but just like you’re in person, people watch leaders and they watch to see what they do, how they do it, things that they say. I think it’s sometimes watching what people don’t say. And I’ve found that at City Year, I learn so much from the people that I work with, and I learn so much about their work, and that helps me to synthesize and make better decisions. So every week, I try to spend… and I would suggest this from any chief operating officer, once every week, I try to spend time with people closest to the work and closest to the front line and I just listen and listen and listen.

Dr. John Tupponce: I think, I make better decisions because I understand that work better because a lot of times we could stay in these silos and in these clouds, but I make sure that my schedule is really intentional about times when I know when I have to strategize and be direct and I also have times not have to collaborate, but I also make time for me to listen to people closest to the front line, so I’m very strategic about my schedules to be able to do that so when I go into those meetings and I’m also upfront about it. When I go in those meetings, I’m like, "I’m here to listen and I’m here to learn from you." And that goes a long way because then people start talking throughout the organization about, "Oh, I’m being heard. I hear you," or, "my voice is important." And I think that’s important to build comradery, it’s important to build a community.

Chad Franzen: So what do you do to try and build more effective teams? Do you have some processes in terms of team building?

Dr. John Tupponce: Yeah. I think the first part of the process is letting the team get to know each other. I think the second part of our process is understanding the goals and the focus and how the teams fits into overall larger scope of the organization. I think the third piece is helping the team understand where once they fit into the organization, how they collaborate with human resources, how they collaborate with all the other support services, finance, how they collaborate with engagement, how they collaborate with government relations, so helping them to understand how they fit in this place.

Dr. John Tupponce: And then I think that I would say the last piece is letting them work and trusting their work and then giving them guidance along the way, almost like a distributor leadership model. So I think the beginning part is relationship and understanding who they are with themselves as leaders. The second part is helping them to understand where they fit in the organization and then the last part is letting them actually play that out and coaching, guiding along the way in a distributed leadership piece.

Chad Franzen: What challenges has having to work in a virtual environment presented in terms of this team building?

Dr. John Tupponce: Oh, wow. Chad, well at City Year, if you’re familiar with City Year, we’re such big community, our superpower is being in community with each other. And I was sold on City Year, once I met our CEO of Jim Balfanz and I spent about five hours with him. So that five hours with him and hearing how he in understanding the vision of where he wanted to take City Year was really the selling point for me. But the selling point as a City Year is being in person, being around each other. So the challenge virtually is our superpowers being challenged because that’s one thing we’re great at. And I think what we try to do, we try to build in moments where we spend time showing pictures of families, we spend time just talking, we spend time celebrating. So we do as much as we possibly can virtually we may play games.

Dr. John Tupponce: We do as much as we possibly can virtually just to connect with people because superpowers being challenged a little bit, but thank God we are in schools and we work with schools in person, but we have had moments where we work with them virtually, but our superpower is just being in person, connecting with people, being in community. And so, yeah, it’s challenging, but we make it work because we have to.

Chad Franzen: If you’re in a competitive market, what would you say the benefit is of kind of putting an emphasis on team building the way you do instead of maybe some other place we just need to go out there and grind and get the job done? What do you think the advantage of team building gives you in a competitive market?

Dr. John Tupponce: The advantages? I think, look, we’re in this world now where people have a lot of choices about where they work. We have the great recession and we’re all across the country, we’re challenged with that. I think being a part of a team doesn’t help you feel alone about and I think the work of us with working virtually, we tend to have back to back meetings like every organization, right? It’s back to back meetings and you have more meetings because there’s less time in between to do different things. So I think being part of a team helps you to not feel alone. I think part of a team helps you to engage in terms of aspects of retention. I think being part of a team helps you to understand where you fit in the organization and how you drive with the work.

Dr. John Tupponce: Look, the world is tough, Chad. And the work that we do, we’re like a service organization, it takes a lot out of you. And until you need people to lean on, you need people to support, you need people to listen to you because you’re given everything that you have at City Year out into the world, that’s what we do. So you have to have some for yourself and part of what you need for yourself is being able to engage with people and a team that supports you in that because it takes a lot out of you. But so I think those are the benefits of the team and I think that’s why we just try to stress it so much.

Dr. John Tupponce: I would add another piece Chad with the team is in the way the world is today, being able to sit in a room with other people and not know the answer to things and you just kind of struggle with that. Like, can you become comfortable with that? Sometimes as leaders are like, "Oh, I have to know the answer. I’m expecting to know the answer." Sometimes it’s good to just sit with people and try to figure that out, even to figure out if you could all come and agree that none of us know what the hell we’re going to do right now. Sometimes that’s just what you need to get to the other side and I think being part of a team at City Year, that’s what we’re able to do.

Chad Franzen: Has it been a journey to get to that point? I mean, why do you think leaders, maybe people in leadership roles are afraid to admit that they don’t have all the answers?

Dr. John Tupponce: Oh, man. Chad, I’m not sure, it maybe ego, it maybe emotional intelligence, it maybe competition. I don’t know. I just, I found early on, I had a big job early in my career and I was 30-years-old, had a really big job and I was 30, it was like 20 some years ago. So I thought I was hot stuff, Chad, and I learned really fast that I was really humbled by the staff that I worked with during that time and in a nice way and it really helped me to learn that all that stuff really doesn’t mean anything. And so I’ve had lessons in my life that have humbled me. And also when you think about background, I grew up the kid who used to get bullied and I grew up the kid who used to get spit on in racial epithets coming my way.

Dr. John Tupponce: And so when I grew up those types of things humbled me to think about how I want to be around people, and how I want to give or give of myself around people, and what type of leader I want to be. So I attribute those things to maybe there’s some things that have happened to people and their experiences which have shaped how they are as leaders. Mine fortunately shaped me into being the leader that I am, where I’m very humble about certain things. I think about emotional intelligence, I think about my ego. I’m able to check my myself, but I’m just very comfortable where I am.

Dr. John Tupponce: But there are moments when I lose myself too and I have to come back. But those moments professionally when I was successful really early and also my experience as a younger person, I think all contributed to just how did do that. But I think everybody has to be able to self-reflect and understand those places about where they’ve been and do their own mirror work to be able to do that. And I think if you’re a leader, you have to do your own mirror, especially at this level because the world is too tough and there’s so many challenges, so you have to do that your own mirror work to discover that.

Chad Franzen: That’s great. Thank you so much for sharing your story and those insights with us. I have one more question for you, but first, how can people find out more about City Year?

Dr. John Tupponce: Oh, of course. Chad, you go to And of course, we’re always looking for open positions to work in the impact space. Of course, Chad, we’re always looking for young people who want to serve a year with us. We connected teacher pipelines, we also connect to helping to support in other pipelines, into nonprofits, into private industry. So is the way that they can connect with City Year.

Chad Franzen: Final question for you, what do you find most fulfilling in your role? It sounds like City Year is quite an organization and you’re at the COO, what do you find most fulfilling personally?

Dr. John Tupponce: I think Chad, I think there’s a couple things, it’s not one thing. I really, and I will get a little bit personal if that’s okay for this [inaudible 00:17:16]. I appreciate, I don’t know if this podcast is live or people are just going to listen to it, but I identify as a black man and I really appreciate the work that we’re doing in the diversity equity belonging space. Now, we’re on the journey and we’re not there yet in the world continues to change, but as a high level executive, I really appreciate that I could show up as my true self in these spaces, so that’s one thing that I really appreciate about City Year.

Dr. John Tupponce: And the second thing I really appreciate about City Year, and of course, I’m not saying this, because I work at City Year, I’m saying it because that’s what I experience and I wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t experiencing that. The second piece is I love working with the people at City Year, they’re not only talented, but their passion and their outlook of life it’s infectious and it gets you going and it gets you moving. And I know it’s part of AmeriCorps and we serve, but it’s like a magnet, right? And we have this idealistic way about us that really helps keep you motivated in the work, so the people at City Year. So the first is my experience, the second is the people of City Year.

Dr. John Tupponce: The third piece, which is connected to this podcast is, as the world continues to change, I love being a part of the change process as we’re an organization, I’m the COO and we’re trying to change with the world and we’re trying to become a better organization for the people that we serve and going through a change management process and understanding how all the functions of an organization have to work together and even is the organizational structure correct, or do we have things lined-up in order to meet our KPIs.

Dr. John Tupponce: So I really enjoyed [inaudible 00:19:11] part of the change management process. So I would say those are the three things, one, personal identity, two, the people, and three in this time leading when it’s tougher than ever being part of a change process.

Chad Franzen: Great. Hey, Dr. Tupponce, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks so much for sharing all of your thoughts and your stories and your insights with us. Really appreciate it.

Dr. John Tupponce: Thank you, Chad. Thanks so much.

Chad Franzen: So long, everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and/or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their up? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up, go to, sweet like candy and process like Go now to and sign up for your risk free 14 day trial.

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