Get Reworked Podcast: What the Last Year Taught Us About Teamwork
Can we all agree that scheduling a Zoom meeting or two doesn't necessarily make a team better? Hopefully that's not the only lesson we take away from the past year.
It's been a challenging time for work teams in many ways. Remote work pushed co-workers apart at the very moment they needed to come together to address the urgent business crises created by the pandemic. And while 2020 was a challenge, 2021 hasn't exactly gotten off to a great start either. Despite that, there are signs of spring amidst our winter of discontent.
The pressures of the past year pushed companies to adapt in ways that have the potential to create positive change in how work gets done, says Jen Dennard, co-founder and COO at Range.co, a collaboration software company. "There's such innovation in how teams work," she says. "And it's not going to be limited to just knowledge workers."
In this episode, Jen breaks does the state of teamwork at work and why she's optimistic about the future. Highlights of the conversation include:
- The important distinction between effectiveness and productivity.
- How team management has evolved in the face of crisis.
- What managers can do to better manage teams in a remote environment.
- How hybrid work will reshape how teams work.
Plus, co-host Mike Prokopeak asks why work teams seem to be working despite all the challenges while teamwork in politics is so dysfunctional, and Siobhan Fagan works in a choice "I Love Lucy" reference. Listen in to find out more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].
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- Jen's author page on Reworked.
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hello and welcome to Get Reworked, your guide to the revolution of work. My name is Mike Prokopeak, and I'm editor in chief at Reworked.co.
Siobhan Fagan: And I'm Siobhan Fagan, managing editor for Reworked. At Reworked.co, we're dedicated to covering the people, the culture, the technology and the infrastructure that makes up our quickly evolving workplaces.
Mike: Get Reworked is our podcast where you're going to hear from industry pioneers leading the way into the future of work, reshaping not just how we work but also why. We're excited to bring you conversations about best practices, workplace trends and key technologies that support the modern distributed workforce.
Buenos dias, Siobhan.
Siobhan: Buenos dias, Mike.
Mike: I was expecting to throw you off with my greeting in Espanol.
Siobhan: No, I am fluent in albondigas and that's about the extent of my Spanish language speaking skills. So, Mike, that was some week that we had last week.
Mike: It's been a strange one, for sure. We're recording this the week before the inauguration of the next president and the week after an uprising at the U.S. Capitol. So definitely feel like we're at this moment of uncertainty. And in fact, though, this is kind of ... we should be ready for this. We've been going through these moments of uncertainty and chaos for about a year now, Siobhan.
Siobhan: We've been eating uncertainty sandwiches for a year now. And it's really I can say I, for one, have found it really difficult to remain focused during all of this. It's kind of difficult to continue doing work. And yet at the same time, going to work is sort of a solace, because that is a good place to go and turn off everything that's happening in the world around us.
So we have somebody on today, Mike, who can actually speak to both sides of this equation, Jen Dennard. She is the COO and cofounder of Range. And she also was with Medium before that, she was with the organizational design team. But more interestingly, and to our point here, Jen holds a master's in political science from Princeton and a bachelor's in political science from Vanderbilt University as well. So she's gonna join us in just a moment to talk a little bit about teamwork and what makes teamwork effective. And there might even be some political talk in there. Are you ready, Mike?
Mike: I'm ready. How about you, Siobhan?
Siobhan: I sure am.
Mike: Alright, let's Get Reworked.
Siobhan: Jen, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jen Dennard: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to speak with you.
Siobhan: So I want to just dive right in. Because our topic today is effective teamwork. And when we were discussing this, I actually brought effective and productivity up in the same sentence. And you were quick to point out that the two are not necessarily synonymous. So could you talk a little bit about the differences between effective teamwork and productivity?
Jen: Absolutely. I think we often use productivity as this kind of catch all term for like good work. If you're productive, it's good. And really, it's history is back kind of in manufacturing where producing more was synonymous with good in many ways. But in a lot of knowledge work in particular now, being productive can mean that you're doing a lot of things, but you may not necessarily be doing the right things at the right time or in the right way.
And so what a lot of companies and literature have shifted towards is talking about being effective. And effective in this case means you are being productive, likely, but you're focusing towards the right goals or approaching it in the right way. So a good example in today's world might be, I might be really productive and sending a bunch of emails one day, but I'm also reading Twitter about things happening in the broader world, and not really getting a lot of the most important work done. Like maybe I actually needed to have a planning session with someone and I wasn't able to do that. And so I wasn't very effective that day, though. I was productive and producing different things.
Siobhan: So you're saying it's basically it's not how many chocolates are coming off of that conveyor belt? It's the value that the chocolates are creating. I don't know why I went to Lucille Ball but I did.
Mike: I was with you, Siobhan. I'm with you.
Jen: It's great. And I also like chocolate so it's appropriate. But yeah, exactly what you're saying that we can often be very productive in a direction. But if you're going in the wrong direction, that's pretty ineffective towards meeting your goal. And so that's where you get a lot into literature of making sure that folks are aligned on the goals that you're moving towards. So it's easier for productivity and effectiveness to be aligned in that world.
Siobhan: So keeping this in mind, what does effective look like in the midst of the year that we just finished and this year that has just started?
Jen: A lot of what we've seen companies do, and what we have kind of deployed ourselves is, focusing a little bit more on the individual and what they need at any given moment. So different folks experience the world differently for a variety of reasons, and what's impacting their effectiveness changes. So for some folks, being effective right now means working five hour days and spending the rest of the day homeschooling their child or caring for a family member. For other folks, it means really honing in on the stuff that they're already good at, and executing on their skills that they really have in their wheelhouse already, instead of asking them to push it their growth edges.
And so a lot of the analysis right now on how to be effective is assume that everyone's in some sort of crisis state, how do we help them to be resilient even given that. And so we can look to a lot of what teams who operate often under systems of crisis do, like teams at hospitals or in disaster zones. And it's often heightened communication and switching off where you need to to make sure everyone has context and is working on a task that kind of fits their skills and their abilities at that moment.
Mike: But have we been in this crisis mode for too long? You know, because, as you mentioned, the kind of the parallel there is, teams in disaster zones are in those sort of places, and they go into a situation and that situation, ideally, is confined to a moment in time or a few moments in time. We've been going through this for coming up on a year now, does that change the thinking about how we approach effectiveness in that situation?
Jen: I think it does. And I think, and candidly, that's what a lot of us are reckoning with this first, like, few weeks of January, where there was this optimism for 2021. And then kind of the events of last week. And as we continue into the year, it's a very clear awakening that in many ways, this state that we're in is just the new normal.
And so we have to think about solutions that are setting ourselves up for success over time. And so that can look like more formal policies or changes that aren't just about someone taking a day off a week, or saying no to a project, you actually have to kind of make longer term changes. And so that might mean helping someone scope their work to half time if that's what they need right now, and making that more of an official change. I know some companies have had a company wide policy of saying, hey, you can opt in to a different work setup right now. And doing that frees up energy to kind of acknowledge the situation as continuing and not just temporary.
But I think, in particular, it's actually coaching individuals to realize that it's a longer term problem than it is, oh, next week will be better. And I'll just be able to get back to quote unquote, normal.
Siobhan: Jen, this sounds like it would be a lot of work for managers, especially to do this at scale. So ...
Mike: And managers really try to avoid work, right Siobhan? Isn't that the definition of management?
Siobhan: I didn't say that, you said that, Mike. But how would a manager do this at scale, while taking into consideration the needs of each individual?
Jen: As a manager, I feel feel this pain acutely. I think there's a mix of things. One is, you know, put on your oxygen mask first. Make sure that you're in the right state that day or that moment to be thinking about others.
And from there, it's I think, kind of the way we assess lots of things, it's just, I may be a little bit more type A on the side, but it's kind of just making a list. Being like, cool, here's my 20 folks I need to be thinking about, here's what I know currently about how they're feeling. And then I'm going to have a one-on-one with each and check in. And in partnership with, let's say, my HR team, or kind of our leadership team. I'm going to think through what the options are for different people. And so once you have a little bit more information from folks on the team, you can surface that to your HR leadership folks to help shape what those options are and then you bring those back to the team.
And I think that's where it really takes a lot of energy for a manager to be candid and supportive. And managers are obviously also going through the same shit storm, pardon my language, that we all are right now. And so that's where there's also the recognition of what can a manager handle like maybe you can't handle the 20 people or you need to scope that down and communicating that with your leaders as well. It's kind of a whole system where we all have to have a reckoning of what's possible right now and what's what's just not.
Mike: So while we're on the topic of, you know, managers and teams and getting out some basic definitions, and I like what you did with, you know, talking about effectiveness and productivity and kind of teasing out the difference. Can you talk about how you define teamwork? What is it because I think we all kind of bring our own interpretations of that. Sports metaphors are rife, when we talk about being teammates and good coworkers, that we kind of bring that same idea into how we approach it at work. But how are you looking at teamwork? How do you define what teamwork is?
Jen: We often think of a team as a group of people that are all working towards something together. And that's really what kind of academic literature shows is you can have a group of people that don't really become a team until they're all working towards or on something together. And that's kind of what unites you as a team. And so when you think about teamwork then it's the act of doing that.
And what's been interesting, I think, with the transition to remote and hybrid workplaces is there's an increased focus on what it means to be a teammate, and how to do good teamwork. Which, you know, I'm a little biased because I'm nerdy in this space, but I think has always been something that is a useful thing to talk about. About how do you communicate day to day or week to week about work, about goals? How do you set those goals? How do you empower people to take action, all those things kind of relate to teamwork. And, for me, an interesting thing ... I remember when I first graduated from college, and they asked you what it was like to work on a team somewhere at your first interview for a job. And I'm like, I've only done group projects. And that never really ... because you weren't really working towards the same goal, right? You're a little bit more distinct there. And so I think there is this moment, a little bit of you know it when you feel it, when you're on that team and you're connected, and I think what's really unfortunate is when you don't feel connected to your team. And that's kind of where you get into more the the failure modes.
Siobhan: I do love that you brought in group projects, because honestly there was no accountability. There was always one slacker who showed up the day of and handed in the project.
Jen: There was always the person emailing, asking have you done your work? I was definitely that person.
Siobhan: So has teamwork necessarily changed? Or what makes a good team member changed during this period? Or is it just the heightened awareness that you mentioned?
Jen: That's a good question. I think to some extent, it's heightened awareness. Over the last, you know, 20 years or so we've seen a shift from teamwork structures of manager tells you what to do, team does it to much more shared sets of responsibility, shared leadership and empowerment. And I think that's continued during this time. The things that I think have shifted are almost, if you think about like a balance beam or something that's kind of weighted in one direction or the other, and on the one side you might have collaboration. And on the other side, you might have focus time. And sometimes those can just be in tension with one another, right? Like you can't be collaborating while doing a heads-down project on your own. And I think right now, that's something that has become much more of a struggle for teams to figure out.
It's really easy to go into just, I'm gonna focus on getting my work done because I'm remote and I can be effective. And that's really powerful. You have focus time. I think, on the other side, though, is it's easy to lose out on the ability for true collaboration and kind of chaotic interactions. And the solution is not just to be in Zoom meetings all day. But that is a an approach that some companies are taking. And so I think that aspect of how to be a teammate, both doing your work and collaborating with others has shifted during this time.
Mike: I'm glad you brought that up. Because I was thinking about this as we were, as you were talking about, there are some killers of teamwork. And you know, there always have been, you know, a team member who is disgruntled, there's bad management, lack of clear direction, those sort of things. But as you think about these remote teams, are there new and different killers of teamwork? You know, you mentioned sort of, okay, it's the collaborative chaos maybe doesn't happen as naturally as maybe when we were in person. What are the hidden things that we need to make sure that we're uncovering as we're trying to work together as a team?
Jen: Yeah, it's a great question. I think, in some ways it's like a question of extremes. Things that used to happen when folks were all co-located are happening in more extreme ways, like siloed teams for example of folks not really having a good sense for what each other is working on. Previously if you saw someone from another team, let's say at lunch or walking through the halls, you might be like, "Oh, hey, what are you working on right now? Just curious." And so that information gets transmitted. We've lost a lot of that like watercooler chit chat. Some of that happens in Slack, but not quite the same extent. And so that leads to folks investing more in the kind of asynchronous communication guidelines and habits for teams.
Another, I think is, and this is kind of colored to some extent by the year that we're in and the year that we've had, which is around feeling connected with others. And so I think on a normal remote team, you're getting to leave your house to go to the coffee shop and you are seeing people in the rest of your life. Whereas during this time, when we're all in the midst of a pandemic, one of the failure modes is you just don't really see anyone. And so you're not just feeling disconnected from your teammates, you're really feeling disconnected from everyone, which is obviously why we're seeing or an input into why we're seeing kind of huge upticks in mental health issues that teams are facing and individuals. But I think that failure mode of how you build a habit of connection that doesn't feel arduous or overwhelming with meetings is kind of a new thing that even prior remote teams are facing during this time.
Siobhan: We've seen different experiments building that kind of connection into the online world. So we all know the Zoom happy hour, for example, or the different trivia nights. I know some people who are doing baking online together. Again, taking into account the needs of different people, are there ways to create different options for people to connect that feel potentially more organic for each person? Or what do you recommend there?
Jen: I think that was, candidly, kind of like one of my big learnings from the last year was that we often think about people ops and HR teams as doing things in service of the company, like you create the offsite, you create the feedback framework, whatever that might be, and coach the company through that.
What I've seen actually be really powerful in the last year is incorporating more teammates from random teams into the creation process of what we should do together and how to connect. And what I found is that really helps to drive just, one, different ideas but also things that resonate with different personalities. For instance, we, in the month of December, did an Advent calendar, and not a religious one, just a countdown to the end of 2020. But each day, one teammate shared something with the team. And that was asynchronous, or it could be in a meeting, some of them chose that. But each teammate was responsible for kind of creating that aspect. And so they were involved in both the creation and the experience of it. And that ranged from things like someone would share, here are my three favorite holiday movies like you should go watch them to someone got some zoo animals to attend a team meeting with one of the petting Zooms. And then even things are more serious, like here's a recap of the year are kind of sharing that with folks.
And what I found and learned in that process was that incorporating folks into the creation, or the decision making of how you connect, one comes up with way cooler stuff than any one person or any few folks on a team could. And, two, it actually gives them an experience of agency and excitement about it that is fundamentally different from just experiencing a happy hour. And I think that learning, I'm still figuring out how to say succinctly as you can tell, but I think is a powerful way to engage folks a little bit differently.
Mike: So Jen, we're we've been going through this period now for a while. And you know, we're operating with remote teams and we're to the point where we're in many cases onboarded and off-boarded numerous team members through this period. How is, as we're looking at onboarding and off-boarding team members, what recommendations of practice do you have there for how you bring on new members to teams to make to make sure that they're set up in to be most successful, and then off boarding on the other side of it when a team member, whether they're leaving a company or maybe going to a different team, what is different now about how we approach those situations than perhaps was before?
Jen: I think my biggest recommendation or takeaway there has been to think about how to do things gradually. So often, if you think of like large companies, they have like an onboarding bootcamp where you know, you go for a week, and you learn everything possible. And one of the things with remote is no one wants to be on the Zoom call for like eight hours a day, and be learning all of that information. And so a key kind of curiosity to bring to a process is how can you gradually get someone up to speed, both in terms of work information, but also in terms of feeling connected and learning about the team?
So a kind of small example on connection is that with Range in our product you answer a team building question every day. And our team, of course, uses our product pretty regularly. And so we've seen that with the folks that we've onboarded this year, it's been a really lightweight way for them to start learning about the team and also sharing about themselves. And the feedback we've gotten is that even after a month or so those folks actually feel closer and more connected to our team than prior teams that they've worked with for months or years at a time because it's kind of slowly building up this habit of feeling connected.
And I think we, as a startup, have a long way to go on some of the work information. But it's a similar process, you can kind of share someone early information and gradually increase that depth to a lot of how teams focus on onboarding right now. But you can also distribute those responsibilities so it's not just a hiring managers role to share that information, you can also distribute it across the team, someone who's responsible for sharing how you use different pieces of software, someone responsible for explaining how team meetings work, kind of spread that out, which also helps encourage folks get to know each other.
On the off-boarding side, I think one thing that I'm sure many leaders are facing right now is just, it's very hard to let someone go or go through that process when the external world is so difficult. There's just not ever a good time to do it. But also, it feels, I think, particularly difficult right now. And so one of the things that we've seen folks invest in or, again, more kind of gradual transitions are how to help someone as they move on, for instance, offering a few kind of work coaching sessions to someone who is leaving the company to help them figure out what is next, obviously severance and HR packages that are supportive for that individual, but also if possible giving them time to make that transition, which also potentially gives you time to get information or tasks handed off in a more gradual manner. Now, that assumes that the situation is let's say amicable or in a way where it can be more reasonable. Sometimes that's just not the case. And I certainly recognize that.
Mike: Yeah, there were definitely some nightmare stories at the beginning of the pandemic about, you know, a note going out in the morning to the entire company to log on to a Zoom call. And then basically whole teams being let go in that situation. And as you said, it's a decision that perhaps is warranted or needs to be made but it's definitely not a fun experience to go through.
Jen: It's definitely how you do it. I think I can empathize with almost any leader of the choice to make a decision because you have to balance so many things for a company's health and the employment of the rest of your team. But the how you do it is something that you can often improve on. And soliciting advice and kind of getting more input into that I think is helpful as well.
Siobhan: Jen, one thing that strikes me as you're speaking is that you're asking managers, and and I think we all have been forced to a certain extent during this past year, to see the entirety of each person. We are taking into consideration emotional well being, we're taking into consideration physical health, we're taking into consideration financial well being, a lot of different questions that weren't necessarily coming up on a regular basis in companies before. And I'm wondering if this is a mindset shift for a lot of managers. I mean, is this a learning curve that a lot of people still have to adopt?
Jen: Yeah, I'm just I'm kind of reflecting on some of the the folks that we work with. I think it is a shift, I think there's been kind of a long dialogue of you know, there's the workplace and that's where we're professional and certain things just stay at home. And with your home on video, that has obviously changed many of those things. But I think it also allows teammates to see managers as whole people as well. So I do think it's actually kind of a two way street for folks.
But many folks are experiencing that transition and it can be overwhelming, where you feel like suddenly you're responsible for not just your team meeting a goal, but for their mental health. And I know many managers are kind of burning the midnight oil, so to speak, to try to provide that support. Often actually, the coaching there and the advice is drawing boundaries or there are things that you are able to support someone on able to take care of them or help them with. And then there's also a limit to that, and things that you need to ask for from the individual. And I think that kind of boundary drawing can often actually empower better conversations of maybe this isn't the right role for someone or isn't the right company or the right time?
And I do think a failure mode is that managers swing too far in the direction from just thinking about work to actually just being overwhelmed by how much they have to support. And that's where I think so the really experienced and talented people ops teams are really leaning in in 2021 to investing in how to support managers and how to train them to operate in their remote environment, because it's also a transition for many managers is how do you give feedback over a Zoom call? How do you have a hard conversation over phone, things of that nature that are just all learnings for everyone.
Mike: Yeah, it's sort of a continuation of this idea. We came into this situation saying, OK, let's just sustain our teams through this period. While we figure out, while we see, not even figure out, while we see what happens in the world around us. And now we're at this point of, OK, well, this is the reality of it and this is how it's going to be for a while longer. And in fact, it's going to be different when we're past this at some point. So as you look ahead to sort of the hybrid environment that people seem to be coalescing around as one potentially dominant model for how work gets done. How does that approach affect how you think about teamwork, because you can either have teamwork very clean in a in-person, everybody's in the office, we kind of go back to what we know is how we manage teams, or it's all remote, and we've got kind of different set of practices. But then you've got this situation where it's somewhere in between, and varies from day to day and week to week. As you think about that situation, what should organizations, what should managers, be doing to prepare now for that reality?
Jen: I think it's actually one of the things that gives me the most sense of optimism. Had you tried to shift every company in the U.S. to hybrid work in February of last year, it would have been very hard for all the folks who are remote, who are working from home that day, like it just it would have been very difficult. Whereas now there's been such a shared experience of working from home and the challenges that that creates, there's such an increase in empathy for what that experience is like. And I think that gives us such an asset going into hybrid work that we just didn't have a year ago.
And I think as you think about people being in the office part of the week or all of the week and some folks not being there, I think the key is really just acknowledging that, and not prioritizing one over the other, of like, "oh, we'll talk about that when we're in person." That puts a bias towards in-person communication. And so a lot of what we see teams recommending is kind of default to what you need to do for remote folks.
So for instance, you might see fewer conference rooms, because maybe just everyone's calling in from their own computer, even when they're in the office because that level is kind of the experience for everyone in the meeting. And other items might be to continue to lean into asynchronous communication. So empowering kind of email and document and kind of structured forms of communication that allow folks to get the information they need, whether they're on the right time zone or in the office or not. So it's aligns very much with kind of how remote work does.
I think one of the benefits, though of hybrid work is that you do get some in person time, and you get some of that energy that gets created when we're all in office together. And so one of the things I'm excited about is how you translate that energy, also back to folks who are working full time remote or who aren't in the office that day. And I think some of the things that we see folks doing there are still having kind of, you know, the Zoom game time or happy hour to bring some of that energy together, or translating that into Slack or written forms for folks to kind of participate in some of that dialogue.
Siobhan: I love that you're hopeful for the future because I need a bright spot this week, I'll admit.
Mike: If I can bring in a question, because I don't maybe it's germane to this topic, and you're a student of politics looking at your background, you studied politics, as Siobhan just mentioned, we're in certainly one of the most dysfunctional moments in our lifetimes politically speaking in the U.S. And perhaps there's been some pretty dysfunctional moments in our history as a country but this is ranking up there as well. Why are we so dysfunctional politically, but yet it seems like teamwork in organizations kind of works right now?
Jen: That's a great question. And one of the big things that I kind of have reflected on specific to the political institutions less on kind of the broader social dynamics that are driving some of that, but the idea of psychological safety seems to have been missing in the current administration, of where you feel safe to share your opinion to kind of drive that understanding. And that, as we all now know, is one of the core tenets of how teams work successfully, is just feeling safe with one another. And in the environment that we've seen for the last several years, I hesitate to guess that anyone felt safe, and several of those political teams. And so in many ways, it's actually helping government learn from some of the innovative work that teams have done in other places, both in tech but also in nonprofits and lots of spaces where things have been pushing those boundaries.
And I think when I reflect on the broader social dynamics, it's also that we often see the biggest innovation where folks are forced to innovate. And so for groups that have been in power for a long time, and apologies if my politics come through here, but they haven't been forced to change how they operate or how they interact. And so instead, others have been making those changes and haven't been feeling safe. And so I think there's a reckoning here of that we all have the right to feel safe. And that's true on teamwork and politically, but it's unfortunate, I think that companies have driven some of that awareness in terms of some populations.
Mike: Yeah. And I think it's important to, in hearing you talk about this to reiterate that psychological safety doesn't mean freedom from discomfort.
Mike: Effective teams actually do ... they don't feel safe in the sense of they never feel threatened, or they never feel like, you know, they're not being challenged, it's, you know, just comfort, you know, it's like a warm bath. It's not the case. In fact, psychological safety is intended to give you the opportunity to do things that might be out of your comfort zone.
Jen: Exactly. I think like if you think of like a close friend that you that you know who they're the one that can push you on things that no one else can, it's very much that sense kind of to a lesser degree of where you can get into a conflict because you feel comfortable doing it. Whereas environments where you don't feel that comfort, the conflict becomes much more extreme and leads to the breaking of the team or the breaking of the system, versus being able to resolve that conflict. Whereas we think and I think of conflict is like an extremely healthy, I guess, evidence of a good environment when that conflict can be resolved together.
Siobhan: I think that one of the points that's coming up for me now, and specifically in the workplace frame of mind, is the composition of teams and building those teams where you are balancing both that psychological safety, but also putting on team members who will challenge and push each other, you know, like that friend that you have, Jen? And I think that that's maybe a challenge for companies to adopt is to welcome and make that possible to have those challenges in a civil and productive manner.
Jen: Yeah. And I think it's also about having shared information. I think it's really hard to have a reasonable dialogue or conflict about something if one person is in the dark. It's not really very useful for them to kind of engage in the conflict if they're just coming from a complete lack of knowledge. And so one of the trends that we've seen over the last several years is this increase in transparency and information access. And I think that's really changed the dynamic internally at companies where folks can ask very thoughtful questions and engage in that conflict in a different way.
But I think that's obviously still not a lot of companies are necessarily at that transparent stage where, you know, they're still not necessarily using Google Docs or things that allow them to share stuff easily. They're more protecting that information. And I think that creates, just like it does in the broader society a disbalance of power that makes it harder to engage in healthy conflict.
Siobhan: We had Dion Hinchcliffe on our podcast a few episodes ago, Jen, and we were talking with him about the whole "work out loud" ethics. So what you were just sharing is reminding me of that, of this need for information sharing so that people no longer feel that they get power by hoarding information. Would you say that's in line with what you're saying?
Jen: Yeah, I definitely think the philosophy is in line, of access to information. One of the things that we as an information and communication company for teams get really nerdy about is how you actually make that information, accessible and digestible for folks. So I think a lot of companies have shifted to using things like Microsoft Teams or Slack, where there's just kind of a fire hose of information at times. And that actually is not very accessible. Yes, you technically can read it but it's hard to figure out what's going on.
And I think what we see is actually having structured information or clear places that you can go to get specific answers, like company wikis, or goal updates, things that help folks kind of align. That is what really helps folks create their shared mental model for what's going on and have access to that information. Yeah, so I think it's very much in line with the philosophy. We just have some nuance on how you actually do that.
Mike: So, Jen, as we're thinking about what do we do with this going forward? What is the advice that you have for managers as they manage teams? Because there's certainly a lot of uncertainty going forward about what is the team going to look like, where are we going to work, how are we going to structure our teams,hHow are we going to communicate, how are we going to collaborate. What advice do you give to managers who are in charge of teams to approach this next period of uncertainty, but definitely going to be some clarity in the next few months.
Jen: I'll give you the advice I give - sometimes try to take - which honestly is taking a step back for a moment. So a lot of both kind of the current atmosphere is driving us to do this, but also how work can drive us to focus on kind of the next thing that we're going to do. Right. OK, cool, we wrapped up that epic. Now we're gonna focus on the next one and what we need to ship.
And you can have these different tensions building about, are we going to be hybrid? Can folks move to different places? How should we adapt this meeting? And that is just kind of building up and it's distracting managers from actually the work itself. And so one of the things I like to do with folks is just take an hour one day, I know that seems expensive, and just write down some of these concerns that you're having or some of the open questions. Do an audit of how you think the team is doing, like some of the concerns. And then set that aside for a few days and then come back to it and see like, OK, what are the biggest things here that I do need to take action on. And those actions might be to push on leadership to have a decision about how you're going to work if you're going to allow people to work from home in the future or not. It might be to, you want to revamp all of your meetings. And then you want to approach that gradually start with one and start experimenting.
Kind of approach this angsty kind of nebulous problem just like you would another problem at work. Give it some dedicated time, write down what you know about it, take a break from it, evaluate and then identify the first actions. I think often because this stuff feels so overwhelming or kind of fuzzy, it's easy to just say I give up, I don't know what to do. And I think we all have the skills, it's just reminding ourselves that we can apply them to how we work in the same way that we apply them to these other work projects.
Mike: So Jen, where would you recommend people go if they want to find more resources, more insight, more analysis for how they can approach some of these situations? Selfishly, I will, of course, recommend this podcast and as well as Reworked, but beyond that where would you recommend people go?
Jen: It's a good question, because I think in some ways, there's a lot of academic research which is not very tactical or helpful to folks. But obviously, similarly, selfishly, I think our Range blog and some of our ebooks and resources are really powerful in terms of educating folks.
The other ones, Google Rework has a lot of resources, and apologies for the name there, in terms of how teams can be effective. I often hear of the Hollaway Guides as well, they've got kind of several different remote work and other expert guides. And then the last one is reaching out to communities. So we often find at Range that the companies that we work with have come up with some really cool solution or idea for how their team can work. And that's why we try to pull together folks in webinars or different forums. But a lot of that information is captured in Slack communities of engineering managers or even on Reddit and places like that where folks are engaging in discourse about how they're doing it on their team. And we actually get a lot of ideas from those communities as well.
Mike: Yeah, there's gonna be a lot that comes out of this last year as far as our studies and just observations and the practicalities of work and what that's gonna look like that we haven't seen yet. We're starting, we've probably seen glimmers of it but we have yet to really see what are the results and what are the conclusions and insights that come out of this period.
Jen: Not much else can I say about this for 2021 but I think it's gonna be fun. I do think that there's such innovation happening and how teams work. And it is not going to be limited to just knowledge workers. I do think those learnings and how we work is going to spread out to lots of different types of companies and that driving that change for how we work changes a lot of people's lives which I'm really excited about.
Mike: Yeah, if we compare it to 2020, 2021 has a low bar to jump over.
Siobhan: So Jen, if people want to find out more about you, what's the best way that they can follow up with you or find you and read more about you?
Jen: You're welcome to find me on LinkedIn, just under my name Jennifer Dennard, or Twitter. I'm @upstartgirl. And you're welcome to also shoot me an email. I'm just [email protected] I'm happy to follow up with resources or chat with you about your specific situation. There's nothing I enjoy more than nerding about teamwork and nothing that I'm happier to do right now than just help someone figure out a tough problem.
Siobhan: Thank you so much, Jen.
Jen: Thank you. It's really a pleasure to speak with you.
Mike: Alright, Siobhan, what stood out to you from today's conversation?
Siobhan: For me with Jennifer's background hearing about the psychological safety. Particularly having that perspective on why it succeeds or why teams succeed that have that psychological safety and why psychological safety is in part, what is happening in our world today, that really resonated with me.
I think when Jen was talking about how we all have that friend who we can turn to and who can push us in directions that we need to go. And we do that, because we trust that person. So that's what stood out for me. How about you, Mike?
Mike: Yeah, I think that point really stood out. And the key point being that safety doesn't mean comfort, it does really mean that we have to be exposed to challenges, we have to be sort of exposed to differences in order for us to really grow. And then in fact, that is part of the management of teams is to bring that in, but do it in a way that feels safe, that grappling with these issues is OK.
But that I think is the key point for me, is the key role that managers are going to have to play in this next phase of teamwork. And they may or may not, probably more on the may not side of things, be prepared for what is to come about how they're grappling with teamwork and how they make the most of their people and being prepared to have some of those conversations that are uncomfortable. It's a tall order but I think there's definitely a lot of things to happen in that area.
All right, Siobhan, always great to talk to you.
Siobhan: Good talking to you, Mike.
Mike: Onward and upward.
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About the Authors
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, where she leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace. Prior to joining Reworked, Siobhan was managing editor of Reworked's sister site, CMSWire, where she directed day-to-day operations as well as cultivated and built its contributor community. Connect with Siobhan Fagan:
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