On episode 13 of the Scaling Tech Podcast, hosts Arin and David speak to workplace culture expert and author of “Remote Not Distant”, Gustavo Razzetti. They discuss discuss key mindset shifts for remote teams, psychological safety, blameless postmortems, asynch vs synchronous collaboration modes, and more.
Culture is so important to any team. It is a combination of the things that we reward in our teams, as well as the things we punish. Gustavo makes some interesting points in this episode about how culture will happen whether you want it to or not. The questions are: Do you want to intentionally create a culture that supports the aims of your business? Do you want to create a fearless culture that will enable success and a well-aligned team? Do you want to make sure that your remote team still has a strong culture? These are the insights that Gustavo will share with us in this episode. A must-listen for all team leaders!
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Show notes with links to jump ahead are below
Show Notes from Episode 13 – Gustavo Razzetti On Remote Not Distant
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- 00:00 The opening quote from Gustavo is how one way to know that a culture initiative is successful is when at least one team member quits – because no team is perfectly aligned and any cultural change is probably not sufficient if no one quits.
- 01:16 Arin opens today’s episode on “Remote Not Distant” but how he liked Gustavo’s emphasis on intentional culture, and it’s importance in remote teams. Culture is a combination of things that we reward and punish, and won’t solve things by itself but is an amplifier of good and bad things in your team. David noted how this conversation made him question what is culture, and how we place so much value on that.
- 03:25 Arin introduces Gustavo Razzetti, who is the CEO of Fearless Culture.
- 04:15 We start with Gustavo’s background, how he got interested in team culture and remote work. His background is in marketing originally, but he moved into team culture because he realized that as a former CEO and consultant working with teams regularly, he realized that companies have much better teams than they realize. Culture is what holds back companies from seeing the quality and potential of their teams.
- 05:50 Gustavo talks about how he used to believe that culture requires an office, and he saw remote work as just a perk. He did some remote work prior to the pandemic even as a consultant but the pandemic really changed everything for him too. The pandemic was an acceleration for him, to think about how to do trainings on culture with remote teams, and while remote himself. Now, he is so accustomed to leading trainings remotely that in some cases will still encourage clients to do the work remotely even as business travel has resumed.
- 07:38 David asks Gustavo to define culture, and why is it so important? Gustavo mentions the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker about “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Gustavo notes that culture won’t solve issues with your strategy or product market fit, but it is an accelerator when you have a a good strategy. It can be a fluffy topic to define, but it’s about more than ping pong tables or free lunches at the office. Gustavo talks about the Culture Design Canvas which is in his book, which contains 3 key elements. The Core includes purpose and values. The second part is the Emotional part of culture are things like Psychological Safety. Finally, Agility is important – how your team makes decisions and moves quickly. Culture is how you operate and how you think.
- 11:02 Arin quotes a phrase from the book that he found very important, about “moving from culture by chance to culture by design.” How do you be more intentional about culture, and design culture. Gustavo notes that culture can be organic, some type of culture will happen regardless if you are intentional or not. But the companies that are most successful usually are intentional about their culture. Culture is the behaviors that we reward and those we punish. If we punish someone for a mistake, then they won’t take risks again in the future, and that is bad if our culture needs to encourage experimentation in the team. Gustavo talks about running a “blameless post-mortem”, where the team needs to focus on how to fix a mistake but not be held back by fear.
- 13:45 How do you balance fear and risk? What if a production release did not go well, and there were lots of defects? How do you work through that in a blameless way? Gustavo notes that culture is a system, but when things go wrong we often look at individual mistakes instead of looking at what went wrong in the system. To keep a retrospective blameless, it’s important you focus on the system instead of individuals. Leaders need to promote curiosity instead of finger-pointing. Arin notes the importance of dealing with HR issues outside of an Agile Retrospective. David shares an example from a software team leader that he was speaking with recently. This team lead complained that their Sprints had a demo at the end of the day on Friday, and planning was done on Monday mornings. But because they work with a remote team, “morning” is not the same for everyone and so many team members were not productive in the first part of Monday in their timezone. David noted that if the team moved the planning sessions to Friday instead, now everyone has something to work on no matter when their Monday morning starts relative to others. This team lead originally wanted to blame individual team members, but David helped him see their was a systemic problem to be solved first before addressing potential individual issues.
- 19:45 Gustavo talks about the importance of assuming good intent and the “short toes” principle, that if you have short toes then no one can step on them. If you assume good intent in your team first, then you can focus on system problems instead of jumping to individual blame games. Whatever methodology you use will not change anything if you don’t change your mindset as a leader about human systems.
- 21:41 David talks about the importance of values, and how they manifest in your team. What are the specific actions that our team does, which we can give as examples of how we are manifesting our values. Gustavo notes that leaders need to demonstrate company values before demanding that the team act that way. If you say your culture is collaborative, but leaders start promoting the least collaborative individuals, this works against the values and culture which was described. Each team can also have a particular subculture – a value like “Innovation” may manifest itself differently in a technical team versus a marketing team for instance.
- 27:15 Gustavo talks about presenting your values to the team, and then giving them the option to leave the company with a severance package if they don’t agree with those values and culture. This can be a very dramatic message, but it helps to ensure your team is aligned with your values. We are in a collaborative society, and so if we don’t agree with the values of those we have to collaborate with, then we should not be there.
- 28:23 We’ve all heard that “there is no growth without pain”, but leaders don’t want to embrace the pain that comes with culture changes. When Gustavo’s clients ask him “what does success look like?” at the beginning of an engagement, he often says that at least one team member quits in the executive team who redefines culture. We are all human beings and won’t always be in alignment, and so good process change should exclude people who are not aligned with the changes and not buying into this dream.
- 29:40 David asks what to do when you realize there is a person who is not a good fit for the company, but they don’t want to leave. Gustavo notes that his role as a consultant is not to assess individuals, and so they don’t advise clients to fire individuals. He will share what they observed from an experience, but that may just be one thing that the manager needs to assess. Arin notes that severance packages are probably cheaper than leaving a person in the team who is a bad fit, and who may hinder the team by staying for longer.
- 32:15 Gustavo notes it’s very effective to give public kudos to people who are exhibiting your values. It’s also important to give that feedback collectively, to teams, not just individuals, because ultimately we are trying to improve the collective performance of a team, not just a hero in the team.
- 33:35 Arin asks how you handle punishment in a team, what is an example of something you should be intentional in punishing in a team or an individual. Gustavo notes the importance of drawing a line as a leader. He also gives an example how AirBnB wants all employees to host someone at their home once a year to help them understand the importance of the mission, and that behavior is rewarded and punished in the team. So your decisions need to reward what you want teams to stand for.
- 36:00 How do you develop psychological safety in a remote team? Gustavo defines this as knowing that your team is able to take risks in your team in order to improve things. You can ask questions, challenge the status quo, etc. It’s about collective trust so that you have a safety net to take risks, and the whole team needs to provide. Gustavo task about the different levels of psychological safety that lead to a culture of innovation.
- 38:45 If you lead a technical team, you have to balance standard technical architectures, and yet you also want to encourage innovation and new ideas in the team. How do you handle that balance? Gustavo encourages teams to define what innovation means for them. You cannot just start breaking things and call it innovation, and how much risk you take may vary based on your business and products. The team needs to define that risk that is allowed in their product and which roles can take the most risks.
- 41:30 Gustavo talks about the Culture Canvas, and how you need to define the balance between speed, quality and innovation. How much are you willing to sacrifice one in order to maxmize the other? There’s not single answer to that balance, it depends on your industry and your company.
- 43:15 Arin brings up the Six Modes of Collaboration listed in Gustavo’s book, and how he liked that part of the book that talked about how to balance deep work vs shallow work, me time vs we time, etc. Gustavo also brings up the importance of asynch coordination in remote teams, and this is a change from in person work that often relies more on synchronous coordination. Remote teams need to be intentional about which modes they use and when the costs of synchronous communication are worth it. Gustavo also encourages teams to try and minimize interruptions so you can focus more on vauable tasks and less on meetings or operational tasks.
- 47:41 You learn more about Gustavo’s work by following him on LinkedIn, or by visiting his website FearlessCulture.design which has over 600 free articles that include many tools for things discussed today like blameless post mortems. Gustavo closes by asking “who owns culture?” Culture is co-owned and co-created, and the team needs to be involved. Leaders promote culture but cannot be imposed.
Links from Episode 13 – Gustavo Razzetti on Remote Not Distant
- Connect with Gustavo Razzetti on LinkedIn
- FearlessCulture.design – The best way to learn more about Gustavo’s work and to contact him.
- Remote Not Distant – Gustavo’s book which we discussed today.
- Culture Design Tools – Free resources on Gustavo’s Fearless Culture website, including the Culture Design Canvas that he referenced in our conversation.
- Fearless Culture Blog – Gustavo’s blog, which contains many free articles and content that he referenced in our conversation.
- How to facilitate a blameless post-mortem – From Gustavo’s blog
- How to increase psychological safety in a virtual team – From Gustavo’s blog