Managing Common Team Types

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 5.

Remote Teams

  • Half of US managers spend about half of their time on the road
  • Remote teams amplify the challenges around good communication
    • It’s easier to miscommunicate
    • It’s harder to build trust
  • Strategies to improve performance:
    • Have a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible, and schedule them regularly
      • Face-to-face helps establish a rapport and adjust to each others communication style.
      • Later, when communicating remotely, we still have a good sense of each other’s attitudes and feelings
      • GitHub has annual in-person meeting and a mandatory week at headquarters when first starting
    • Have a discussion where each person talks openly about their styles
      • Scenario: a more agressive communicator interacting witha more passive communicator:
        • the more aggressive communicator can come across as hostile, while they think they’re just acting normally
        • the more passive communicator can come across as unwilling to be honest and upfront about their opinions
        • If there is an open talk about how each person communicates, then people can have a better sense of the other’s intentions
      • It’s best to have these discussions during team chartering, when the group is first coming together
      • Use a communication style assessment:
        • DISC Survey
        • Persuasion Styles Assessmement (“The Art of Woo”, but Shell and Moussa)
        • Help each person reflect on their own style, and hence have a better discussion about styles
    • Building the water cooler
      • A place where people informally gather to take a break, make small talk and share ideas
      • Serves an important social function
      • Informal rapport building that occurs at the “water cooler” helps them to communicate more effectively in more formal work settings
      • For remote teams, there may be no natural place to gather
      • Need to be proactive in creating such a place in a virtual setting (“digital water cooler”)
      • GChat, Facebook chat, Slack
      • Dedicate the first few minutes of meetings for social time
      • Be very intential about creating an environment of good communication, as remote teams have fewer natural opportunities to do this

Startup Teams

  • Dollar Shave:
    • Mark Levine and Michael Dublin dreamed up subscription service for discount razors delivered to doorstep
    • Company took off so quickly, they could barely keep pace with demand
  • Other startups aren’t so lucky. They can crash and burn, and you must scramble just to keep the lights on
  • It can feel like all your waking hours need to be focused on getting the work done
  • However, you still have to pay attention to the teams’ interpersonal relationships
  • A good cohesive team may be more important that having a great idea for a product or service
    • Good ideas happen all the time
    • What separates successful companies is the ability to implement the ideas
  • Create check points for adjusting your team dynamic. There are three types:
    1. Engagement checkpoints
      • Establish times when you agree to check in on their level of involvement
      • The specific milestones depend upon their interests
        • e.g. hiring an administrative assistant who wants to work on coding software in the future, you might create a six-month checkpoint to discuss if that opportunity will actually open up for  them
    2. Problem checkpoints
      • Allow you to slow down from time to time and raise the yellow flag
        • Integrate (Jeremy Bloom)
          • Jeremry was more cautious, and he felt that his partner would often plough ahead, even when he was uncomfortable with the decision
          • Jeremy felt that his input was being ignored, so he created the “Yellow Flag” rating system
          • When the partners had to make a big decision, they would put a number on their level of their discomfort from 1 to 10
      • Quick way to surface disagreements, even when your team is moving at a fast pace
    3. Pivot checkpoints
      • A pivot is when you realise that you need to make a significant change in strategy, because:
        • something about your product or idea works really well, and you need to emphasise it
        • or it’s failing, and you need to go in a different direction
      • Tote (shopping app by Ben Silbermann)
        • Tote failed to catch on, except for one feature everyone loved: an option to pin and share products they loved with their friends
        • Silbermann made a pivot, and relaunched with that single feature at its core, called “Pinterest”
        • 2 years after launch, drawing 20 million visitors per month, valued at $1.5B.
      • At pivot checkpoint, decide if metrics require a change in strategy
      • When pivoting, set up a timeline and metrics to decide if new strategy is successful
  • Focus on creating built-in checkpoints that trigger discussions about your group dynamic

Product Development Teams

  • Group think is a major problem in product development teams
  • IDEO:
    • design thinking process
    • no precise framework for innovation
    • starts with the understanding the needs of the people you are trying to serve, and the questions to ask
  • The 6 core values of IDEO designers:
    1. Be optimistic
      • believe that anything is possible
      • designers have the freedom to explore and collaborate
    2. Clients are critical
      • they should be engaged at various points
    3. Take ownership – ask for forgiveness, not permission
      • designers are free to experiment
    4. Embrace anonymity as part of the process
      • the greater good of the team is more important than any individual contribution
    5. Learn from failure
      • there is no such thing as failure, as long as you’re learning from it
    6. Make other people successful
      • talk less, and do more
  • The goal is to get all the ideas on the table, and then to execute on them.
  • IDEO’s 6 principles
    1. Defer judgement
    2. Encourage wild ideas
    3. Build on the ideas of others
    4. Stay focused on the topic
    5. Be visual
    6. Go for quantity
      • there are no bad ideas
  • Sacrificial concept: a concept that may not make a lot of sense or is really basic, shared publicly to get help get as many other ideas out as possible
  • It is the large number of ideas (rather than any individual ideas) that make the process effective
  • Guidelines for setting roles within teams
    1. What skill sets are needed for the project
    2. Its initial goals
    3. The project leader on the client side
  • Ideas happen on the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability
    • Desirability: asking important questions about what people want when it comes to products.
      • Peoples needs can be broken up into 3 groups:
        • emotional
        • cognitive
        • physical
    • Feasibility: coming up with concepts based on insights from research
      • e.g. what are technical constraints that might present an issue?
    • Viability: an assessment of if it makes sense for business to implement the concepts

IDEO’s Research Methods for Product Development Teams

  • The Times newspaper came to IDEO with a problem in membership:
    • IDEO determined user experience issues was more important challenge to tackle in order to increase membership
    • After an in-depth research process, IDEO helped to come up with a concept that was desirable, feasible and viable.
  • Research methods
    1. Customer interviews
      • e.g. if IDEO is researching refridgerators, they may go shopping with a customer, and ask them questions about their habits
      • Curious about the multi-layered context in which people live and eat
      • Allows capture of smaller and more precise details that might not come out in a survey
    2. Analogous research
      • What are parallel organisations that might provide insight into my organisation’s challenge?
      • What are similar challenges others in the industry have overcome?
      • e.g. in creating a new Playstation game, IDEO researchers took Playstation players to a dance class. Asking questions about what problems they had, the researcher was able to infer similar problems that people new to gaming would have
    3. Experts in the field
      • Interview those in similar or separate fields
      • Insights from the field, and possibly allow collaboration
  • 3 methods allow triangulation and synthesise data in order to determine next steps
  • Allows developement of stories and setting of goals, roles and norms of product development effort
  • Design and prototype allows high quality feedback on initial design
  • Use methods to draw on others creativity, and ensuring they don’t shut down potentially valuable ideas and contribution
  • Methods provide a thorough and psychologically safe way to vet ideas
  • Key lessons:
    • ask the right questions
    • prototype your ideas
    • collect feedback
    • learn from failure


  • Committees: teams of people brought together for goals outside of their normal day job
  • Performance tends to suffer because of lack of engagement
  • High performance is possible if you align committee goals with personal goals
  • Common issues on committees:
    1. Committee members have other obligations that often take a high priority
    2. Committee members may not know the charge
      • aligning their own goals with the committee goals can be a challenge
  • Case study:
    • Committee in north-east US university
    • Comprised of faculty, staff and students
    • Charged to enhance campus and community life
    • Goal setting through a mix of charges from executives, and those set by the committee itself
    • People can set 3-5 short term goals per year
      • e.g. issues related to location of university, or the life of the university itself
      • e.g. research student health costs in theoperations of health insurance outside of the university
    • Deadlines for committee are not strict
    • Goals might roll over from year to year
    • Committment to goals is inspired by:
      1. Opportunity to learn
      2. Satisfaction of accomplishing goals
      3. Opportunity to have a voice
    • Passion for the committee comes from the fulfillment of personal goals of committee members
    • There is potential for private interests to overtake the greater good of the group
    • Structured reflection allows the team to come up with a strategy to correct bias
      • e.g. outside surveys
      • Rules for checks and balances
    • Norms determine roles because committee roles are fluid depending upon who is on the committee, and what the task is
    • It is important to have a process for checking in

Norm Setting for Committees

  • 4 strategies:
    1. Pay attention to communication channels
      • Establish how you will communicate and how often
      • e.g. “communication will take place in person at monthly meetings, with occasional follow up by email”
      • Effective communication doesn’t mean you have to constantly communicate. Rather, when you are together, you are open to suggestions, ask questions and prevent miscommunication
    2. Encourage information sharing
      • Members have different backgrounds
      • Need to understand what contextual information is needed to ensure mutual understanding
      • Take and share meeting minutes
    3. Establish subcommittees
      • Allows committee members to maximise their limited time and focus in an area to make a high impact
      • Each subcommittee should establish their own goals, roles and norms, and align with the task at hand
    4. Have respectful disagreements
      • be aware of the danger of minimising contributions from minorities, women, and other marginalised groups on committees
      • encouraging members to remain open to one another’s viewpoints
      • Get in the habit of saying “In my experience” before giving an opinion, which ensure the option is not assigned to the committee as a while

Committees (Reading)

  • Committees that work
    • Gather facts, then establish procedures
    • Design committees like an architect
    • Assign people to committees carefully—and set them up to succeed
    • Run committees using best-practice disciplines

Building a Strong Startup Team Culture

How to be the Best Virtual Teammate

How to Innovate Like an Olympian

Coaching Emotionally Intelligent Teams

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4.


  • When teams are more aware of team dynamics, there is a better correlation with financial results
  • Self-awareness is a critical part of emotional intelligence

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

  • Emotional intelligence can be improved by coaching and training
  • Those who are more emotionally intelligent are higher performing
  • Improving EI is not easy, as it invovles questioning your assumptions, and getting into better habits
  • EI trains the limbic systems (feelings, impulses, and drives)
  • Many company training involves the neocortex (analytical and technical ability)
  • To be more effective, training should address the limbic system.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

  • Goleman’s dimensions:
    • Intrapersonal (internal) skills:
      • Self-awareness
      • Self-regulation
      • What personally motivates you
    • Interpersonal (external) skills
      • Empathy
      • Social skills
  • Exercise:
    1. Imagine your ideal self
      • Think about what’s missing from your life
      • Think about how your mood affects others
      • Imagine yourself in 5 years time
      • You’re about to write in your journal, answer the following quesions about yourself in 5 years time:
        • What are you doing?
        • Where do you live?
        • Who is there?
        • What does it feel like?
    2. Come to terms with your real self
      • Test of self awareness
      • Ask your team and colleages for feedback
    3. Create an action plan to bridge the gap between real and ideal
      • Collect weekly written anonymous feedback about how your mood affects other people
      • Write in a behaviour journal
      • Attend a class on group dynamics
      • Use a trusted colleage as a behavioural coach
    4. Practice the plan
      • During your commute, think about to a recent difficult interaction. How would your ideal self have handled the situation
    5. Create a community of supporters
      • Change enforcers: a group of trusted advisors who can motivate you to change mental habits.
  • If doing this exercise in a team, remember that the converstatins should be treated as confidential
  • Debrief questions
    • How did the exercise go?
    • Was there anything that resonated with you as you completed this exercise?
    • What there anything that surprised you as you completed this exercise?
    • What strategies will you use to develop new habits in the next 1 week / 1 month / 1 year

Mindfulness Strategies

  • Mindfulness: awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally (what’s on your mind?)
  • Mindfulness practices help foster high performance as a coach
  • Mindfulness techniques:
    • basic breath meditation
    • body awareness
  • NBA coach Phil Jackson:
    • Get all players to synchronize their breath together.
    • Far more effective than simply talking to one another about strategy
    • One lesson equals one mind
    • Pay attention to non-verbal cues on your team
  • Michael Jordan, on mindfulness:
    • developed better self-awareness
    • better leadership skills
    • improved relationships with other teammates
    • help him realise his effect on group dynamics

Google’s Search Inside Yourself

  • One key component for high performing teams: psychological safety
  • Psychological safety is built when you train people in 3 skills:
    • self awareness
    • self management
    • empathy
  • Improving mindfulness techniques:
    1. Attention training
      • use mindfulness techniques to create a calm, clear quality of mind
    2. Self knowledge and self mastery
      • turn attention inwards
      • develop high resolution perception into their own cognitive and emotive processes
      • learn to view own thoughts and feelings from an objective third person perspective
    3. Creating useful mental habits
      • Habit of treating everyone with sincere good will
      • Helps facilitate interpersonal relationships
      • Helps develop empathy
  • Good results!
    • “I have completely changed in the way I react to stressors. I take the time to think through things and empathise with other people’s situations before jumping to conclusions”
  • Neuro self-hacking and organisation hacking
  • Mindful breathing exercise:
    • Improve own attention
    • Help others by guiding them through this exercise
    • Recommend taking 10 minutes
    • Steps:
      1. Sit in an upright position on a chair, cushion or floor
      2. Bring consistent attention to your breath for 2 minutes
        • Fully focus on the breath.
        • You will naturally get distracted, but when you notice that you’re distracted, that is a moment of awareness
        • Gently guide your tension back to the movement of breathing
        • Is the breath deep or shallow? Fast of slow? Smooth or jagged?
    • The more you practice, you will find your abilty to pay attention to the present moment gets stronger over time

Mindful Coaching and Feedback Conversations

  • Active listening: you’re fully paying attention to the person speaking to you
  • Looping: echo back to the person what you think they said, and verify understanding
  • Dipping: check in with yourself to see if you’re really paying attention to the other person
  • In discussing difficult issues, checking in with y ourself and your conversation partner on an emotional level is critical
  • People fear giving or receiving feedback, because of the possibility of receiving critical feedback
  • This leads to procrastination, denial, brooding, jealousy, self sabotage
  • Make it a habit to solicit feedback regularly, instead of waiting for issues to arise
  • 4 step process to adapt a feedback:
    1. Recognise your fear and the maladaptive behaviour that results
      • develop self awareness
    2. Reframe the feedback in a positive light
      • Every strength has a shadow side (e.g. creative versus detail oriented)
    3. Break up the task
    4. Use incentives
      • Keep a daily accomplishments journal
  • Feedforward: focusesd on future improvements rather than past mistakes
    • The person giving feedforward offers help
  • 15 minute feedforward exercise:
    • One on one conversation, switch between giving and receiving feedforward
    • Choose one behaviour thay hope to change that would make a significant positive difference in their lives
    • Describe that behaviour to random participants
    • Giver of feedforward provides 2 suggestions for the future that might help the person asking for feedforward
    • Receiver of feedforward takes notes and listens without interjecting
    • No feedback, only feedforward!
    • Express thanks at the end

Overview of Verisk Analytics

  • Verisk is a leading data analytics provider in insurance, natural resources, financial services, govenment and risk management
  • Specialises in predictive analytics and data driven support solutions
  • Committed to a culture of diversity and inclusion, and professional grow of people
  • Core values of employees:
    1. A committment to excellence and professional growth
    2. Personal integrity
    3. Enthusiasm for challenging work
    4. A desire to contribute capabilities to a successful team
  • Three principles of the Verisk Way:
    1. Serve
    2. Add value
    3. Innovate
  • Company went public in 2009. Has since bought out 11 other companies

Interview with Renee Torchia

  • Renee Torchia:
    • vice president of talent strategy and culture at Verisk Analytics
    • background as an anthropologist and change management consultant
  • Restructure of ISO (subsidiary) to more closely align with their customers
  • Big change initiative, last restructure was 18 years prior
  • Long tenure employees, who had been there from before changed to a for-profit company
  • Moved from siloed org to matrix model
  • Broke apart teams that had been there for a long time (some over 10 years)
  • Previous KPI was 100% excellence
    • very conservative and risk averse
  • More detail on breaking apart long lived teams (“families”)
    • family feel to the culture of their team

Feedforward Forbes

  • Stop Giving Feedback, Instead Give Feedforward
    1. Feedforward Coaching focuses on goals, not standards
    2. Feedforward Coaching includes career guidance
    3. Feedforward Coaching includes various data points, not just one manager’s opinion
    4. Feedforward Coaching takes place throughout the year, not arbitrarily annually

Five Tips on Coaching for Emotional Intelligence

  • Five Tips on Coaching Emotional Intelligence
    1. Continuous improvement of your own emotional intelligence
    2. Personal mastery of vision and values
    3. Strong personal relationships with your direct reports
    4. Frequent spontaneous coaching
    5. Structured conversations when spontaneous coaching doesn’t get the job done

Interview with Chade Meng-Tan

Diagnosing Team Problems

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

The Sources of Team Misalignments

  • Team culture is the rules you make that guide how we work together and solve problems
  • Even with explicit rules, goals and norms, it is still possible to have a harmful team dynamic.
  • Over time, rules become habits, and hence we don’t consciously think about what we’re doing (second nature)
  • Rules that may have made sense when the team formed, might not make sense any more (things always change). However, we might not notice this.
    • e.g when a small company grows into a large company
  • It’s hard to have self-awareness of our own tendencies
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
    • System 1: fast and reactive thought
    • System 2: slow and reflective thought
  • Distraction by phones and email keeps us in System 1 thought, without much chance to go into system 2.
  • This makes it harder to reflect and harder to be aware of our own habits
  • We are over-confident in our ability to understand other people

Environmental Misalignments

  • VW pollution masking scandal
    • Consumers have become less accepting of environmental scandals
  • The external environment – something outside the team changes, but the team does not notice or adapt.
  • Causes of misalignments:
    1. focus on shared information
    2. ignoring alternatives
      • recency bias
      • over-valuing outcomes
    3. Focus on self-interest
      • motivated blindness
  • For all these reasons, teams fail to adapt.

Individual Misalignments

  • One of the main causes in Microsoft’s decline in the 2000’s.
  • Stack ranking assessment – reduced trust and damaged Microsoft’s ability to innovate
  • Team goals should align with individual goals (WIIFM)
  • Individual goals can change. Some examples:
    • Junior colleague develops new skills, gains new career aspirations
    • Things change at work (conflicts develop over time)
    • Things change at home (e.g. start a family)
  • Psychological safety: an environment where team members can take risks.
    • Examples of risks:
      • admitting mistakes
      • addressing conflict
      • offering competing ideas
    • These are risks because no-one wants to feel left out of a group.

GM Case Study

  • Applying lean thinking as used in Toyota to GM
  • Needed to promote better team collaboration.
  • Management worked on promoting a team collaboration culture that emphasised product, quality and safety
  • Scenario:
    • Tracy (an anthropologist studying the GM culture) is sitting in break room.
    • She hears a loud crash outside, and a hissing sound
    • Running out, she sees a stud gun lying on the ground.
    • The stud gun appears to be broken, and fallen over. There are studs scattered all over the place, and air hose that was attached to the gun is swinging around wildly.
    • Team members shut off the host.
    • Ned (electrician, long time employee, union member)
    • Normally Ned would just attach a new stud gun, and get the assembly line moving again
    • However, in this case, Ned believes that the air system is just too damaged to safely use the backup stud gun.
    • Ned thinks the whole assembly line needs to be shut down while the system gets fixed
    • Al (Ned’s supervisor, contracted employee, shorter employment history than Ned)
    • Al’s first reaction is to get the assembly line moving again as fast as possible
    • Al tells Ned to bypass the problem and use the backup stud gun
    • Ned tells Al “stay out of the way, you don’t understand the problem”
    • Al ignores Ned, and tells the rest of the team members to get the line moving again (“Those are my profits lying on the ground”)
    • Ned walks away frustrated, says “I’ve been telling management that it was never a safe operation around here”
  • Analysis:
    • Al’s behaviour would result in a reduction in collaboration.Al is shooting down new ideas, and not willing to listen to alternatives. There appears to be a lack of psychological safety.
    • Al appears to be focused on his individual goal (“those are my profits lying on the ground”), at the expense of the team goal (product, quality and safety)
    • I would look to change the extrinsic individual goal to more closely match the group goal, perhaps by promoting profit sharing based upon meeting group goals
    • I would also look into coaching team members on handling conflicts

Team Culture Types

  • Team culture is defined mainly by two characteristics:
    • How hierarchical the group is? How is authority distributed in the team? Hierarchical or flat?)
    • How cohesive the group is? Is it more individualistic or cohesive?
    • These can be represented on a 2-dimensional grid, leading to 4 quadrants
  • Troops: individualistic and hierarchical
    • Strong leadership, but little horizontal collaboration
    • Common direction provided by the leader
    • Lack of feedback, since member work independently
    • Watch for a lack of information flow between team members to see if there are inefficiencies
  • Believers: cohesive and hierarchical
    • Example: teams at Volkswagen
    • Energise and rally about a common vision
    • May find it hard to challenge each other in productive ways, which can lead to poor decisions
    • Watch to see that members feel comfortable speaking up and offering an opposing view
  • Virtuosos: individualistic and flat hierarchy
    • Benefit from having individuals who are willing to challenge each other. This helps them get the best ideas on the table
    • Lack of team rapport or a strong leader can cause them to pull apart under stress
    • Check whether you have a strong enough common vision and clear roles to keep them all on the same page
  • Friends: cohesive and flat hierarchy
    • Example: WL Gore – flat hierarchy with teams of 8 – 12 people (10,000 employees total)
    • Give them a common set of values that bind them together and then empower them to find ways to make the company successful.
    • The empowering approach can lead to great results in the long run since team members become highly engaged and collaborative.
    • In the short run these teams get a slower start as individuals take time to build trust in each other and get comfortable with their roles
    • Be careful that you don’t have trouble making decisions quickly and setting a new strategic direction when the situation calls for it.
  • There is no one right culture, need to be aware of the tradeoffs with each one
  • Shapre your team rules to play to your strengths and pay careful attendtion to the problems that may arise in the group

Misalignments Checklist

  • Checklists help you focus on the simple things that matter
  • Misalignments are about team members doing something different to what they originally said that they would do
  • This checklist helps to you pay attending to saying/doing gaps
  • Create a checklist like this:
    • Create 3 columns in a document:
      • First column: Rules
        • List the rules made in the team charter, one per row
      • Second column: Misalignments
        • Note anything that is different to what the team said that they would do
      • Third column: Situational Factors
        • Hypothesis as to what might be causing the misalignment

Taking the Team Temperature

  • This is a way to diagnose issues from other’s perspective
  • Check in with other people to get their sense of the team dynamic, and get the sense if they’re on the right track
  • Three strategies for soliciting feedback:
    1. Team Temperature Survey
      • 3-7 statements, keep simple
      • ask questions, rate from 1-5
      • questions like “We have clear goals”
      • Not an in depth
    2. One on one meetings
      • These can allow people to discuss issues that they would not discuss in front of the whole team
    3. Periodic check-ins with the whole team
      • e.g. Retrospective, or start a meeting with 10 minutes to share thoughts
      • Can do this in a “Third Place”, which are separate from home and work.
        • This helps enhance our creativitiy
        • Help creates a more casual and friendlier rapport
        • Help team members become more receptive to other’s opinions

Interview: Dr. Jack Gutsche

  • Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Penn Lung Rescue Program
    • Takes care of patients before and after open heart surgery (very sick people!)
    • Lung Rescue Program – allow people to put peole on lung equipment outside of hospital
    • Transport team
    • Critical care transprot nurse
    • Paramedic
    • Perfusionsist (runs the heart/lung machine)
    • 2 physicians (implement the machine, and manage the patient)
    • 6 people in team
    • All highly trained, each has their own individual role, but have to interact will as a team
    • Physicans are the team lead
  • Typical rescue situation
    • Carries a pager all day
    • Called by outside hospital, who despirately needs help
    • If agreed, talk to family (who are under stress)
    • Travel to hospital via helicopter
    • Pandimonium! Patient is being kept alive
    • Lots of pressure to move fast
    • Can’t move so fast that you’re making mistakes
    • Need to be able to land and have the patient ready to be put on the equipement within 15 minutes
  • What can go wrong?
    • Multiple things can happen!
    • Bad weather – change from flying to driving.
    • Ended up driving in their own car, splitting up the team
    • Even with the machine, people can still die
    • Need to be aware of different factors that can cause death
  • What do team leaders do to address challenges?
    • Chain of command
    • Large amount of communication
    • Need to be able to receive and give feedback
      • If someone sees a leader doing something wrong, they must be able to speak up
    • Experienced team – you can trust their feedback
    • Protocols help!
    • Walk in quietly and efficiently – others will take note of your behaviour (no screaming!)
    • Protocols mean that everyone already knows what to do
    • Simplifying as much as possible, minimising the amount of choices
    • Drills or simulations
  • How do you manage team members who get emotional under stress?
    • Have discussions, either before, or in a debriefing afterwards to explain to them what’s going on
    • If that person understands that everone else has as much buy-in as they do, they tend to calm down.
    • Re-assurance and feedback are the keys
  • How to do you check in to keep your team on track?
    • Debrief after each event.
      • Everyone brings up issues that they think are important
      • Some people don’t work well (shy, rude). Have a one-on-one
    • Regularly scheduled operations meeting
      • Problems discussed
      • Plus things that went well!
      • People have time to think about things, better feedback that the debrief immediately after
  • How do you create space for constructive feedback?
    • If people don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback, it can be devastating because it can really cripple you as a leader
    • When hearing negative feedback, as a leader you need to give very positive feedback immediately. (“I really needed to hear that!”, “I would love to hear more about that in the future”)
    • It really builds a lot of trust in the team if you’re vulnerable
    • You need to reflect on your failures
  • How do you encourage good feedback between team members?
    • Stress that everyone there cares very passionately about their jobs
    • Depersonalise it, make it clear that *everything* is systems issues based on the protocol. Make it about the system
    • If you are asking someone to give their own self assessment, give your self assessement first so that other people feel that they can open up
  • When can you recogise team misalignments?
    • There is always a certain amount of background noise
    • # of complaints
      • Zero background noise is a problem
      • Lot of yelling and screaming is a problem
    • Breakdowns in standard operating procedures
    • People stop coming to work
      • is this someone trying to escape because we’re over-stressing the team.

Understanding Your Team’s Culture


The Five Biggest Teamwork Ills

  • The Five Biggest Teamwork Ills
    • Overemphasizing abstract goals
    • Underemphasizing roles
    • Making too many rules
    • Ignoring reflection
    • Failing to sell the change

Building Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Setting Team Foundations

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for weeks 1-2.

Team Culture

  • Cultural differences are at the heart of performance problems.
  • Team culture: the formal and informal rules a group makes to solve problems and get things done
  • Team culture is one of the biggest factors determining the collective success or failure
  • Culture is a set of guidelines controlling behaviour.
    • e.g. we communicate using memos (not powerpoints)
  • High performing teams are explicit about culture, because they know if they don’t activily shape their culture, one will form anyway (which might not be the one they want)
  • Team manifesto
  • Are you clear on the formal and informal rules you are going to follow

Goals: Getting SMART

  • Goals are one of the most important rules you can make on a team
  • Goals answer the question: “Why are we working together?”
  • Some people believe it’s enough to have an inspirational vision (e.g. “We’re going to have the best product”)
  • Vision is important because it creates passion, but if you don’t connect the vision with reality through specific goals, the vision will fizzle out
  • How can you create goals that get results? Use SMART and WIIFM.
  • SMART:
    • Specific (focus on what really matters)
    • Measurable (no confusion over whether goal has been achieved)
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Timely
  • Teams that create SMART goals are better able to fulfill their big visions

Goals: Answering the WIIFM Question

  • WIIFM: What’s in it for me?
  • CEO: walked around asking everyone “What was your proudest moment?”. He was looking to see that his strategic goals aligned with their interests.
  • Any group, project or task we’re a part of has to fulfill some sort of personal goal or need for us, otherwise we disengage and lose commitment.
  • Setting team collective goals need to consider the individual’s goals, and how the shared goals can contribute to them.
  • Extrinsic motivations: you do a task because of external reasons
    • (e.g. financial incentives)
    • Recognition
  • Intrinsic motivation: you find the task interesting or enjoyable in it’s own right
    • Impact is important. e.g. Connection to customers
    • Learning a new skill or role
  • You can head off motivation issues in your own team by asking the WIIFM question as soon as your team forms

Team Roles

  • A persons’ role is who they are, and what their responsibilities are.
  • Roles answer the question: what do we do?
  • It’s important to define clear roles for each person on the team.
  • One way to do this: RACI matrix
    • Responsible: directly involved in doing the task or carrying out the project
    • Accountable: delegates work to those who are responsible, and approves major decisions
    • Consulted: gives advice and ideas as needed
    • Informed: kept up to date on what is happening
  • Interdependent roles: the reason for needing a team (otherwise individuals would suffice).
    • Who else do I need to work with to get this done?

Setting Norms for Communication, Decision-making and Conflict

  • Norms: shared understanding of how a team works together
    • Goals: why we work together
    • Roles: what we do
    • Norms: how we work together
  • Norms for communication. Need to consider
    • format
      • communicating a message in the wrong medium can lead to miscommunication and bad results
      • e.g. “enthusiastic” exclmation point in email might be interpreted as anger or agression by the recipient.
      • In face to face, emotion is mainly communicated by body language and tone of voice. The words themselves don’t communicate emotion effectively.
      • Team can list all the “needs” for communcation (e.g. project updates, budget reviews, team check-ins, etc), list all the communcation channels (e.g. email, phone, meetings, instant messages), and then match them together
    • frequency
      • Face to face meetings are good for communcation, but they take a lot of time.
  • Norms for decisions. Need to consider
    • What decisions can be made by individuals?
    • What decisions need to be made by the whole team?
    • What process will the team use to make decisions?
      • Total concensus approach
      • Have the leader decide
      • Concensus with leader’s final approval (middle approach)
    • Even if a team member disagrees with a decision, they’ll be more likely to go along with it, because they consider the process to be fair
  • Norms for conflict. Need to consider
    • Encourage productive conflict
      • there should always be a sense of mutual understanding and respect
      • e.g. devils advocate rule

Interview: Mike Barger

  • Make Barger: COO of CorpU (previously Chief Learning Officer of JetBlue)
  • JetBlue:
    • Started with a simple vision: “Bring humanity back to air travel”
    • Address this with building culture/environment that supported vision
    • Harvard case study: starting from scratch
    • How to communicate to new employees: “This is what we stand for” ?
    • Workshop:
      • half a day writing issues on wall.
      • everyone took away home to answer challenges
      • every issue had a simple answer
      • “Radical application of common sense”
      • Grouped issues/answers into 5 areas. These became the 5 core values of JetBlue:
        • Safety, caring,integrity, fun and passion
      • These core values established who JetBlue is, helped them define the environment that they wanted. It helped them to define the practices and processes that would support those values
  • Building blocks to focus on when creating a new team:
    • Do team members have the right skill set?
    • Do they have the right experience?
    • Do they have passion for team goals?
    • Do their personalities fit?
    • Is everyone aligned?
  • The most common team-building mistakes
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
    • Not clear on roles and responsibilities
    • Not changing the team composition when needed
  • Common traits of high-performing teams
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
      • individuals need to perform their own jobs, but in such a way that the team performs better
    • Mutual trust
    • Open, transparent communication
  • Retrospectives are important!
  • Change things when needed, based on reflection
  • Norms/Principles that helped JetBlue
    • In addition to 5 core values, guiding principles for leaders were needed
    • Five Principles of Leadership at JetBlue
      1. Communicate with your team
      2. Do the right thing
      3. Treat your people right
      4. Encourage initiative and innovation
      5. Inspire greatness in others
  • Dealing with difficult team members effectively
    • Not a good fit for the team?
    • Need enough backbone to make it really clear about the rules of behaviour (trust, safe environment to raise concerns)
    • Teams need to be able to call each other out
    • It’s not OK to just “let it go”

The Foundations of High-Performing Teams

A Small Data Approach to Managing Teams

Why WIIFM Matters

Effecting Cultural Continuity and Change

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 5.

Culture in Time

  • “Cut the end of the meat” story:
    • woman cuts the end of the meat before roasting. Didn’t know why; learned from her mother
    • mother didn’t know why she did it either, she had learned it from her mother (the original woman’s grandmother)
    • grandmother explained that her roasting pan was too short
    • lesson: culture gets passed down over time
  • Culture is a living, dynamic phenomenon.
  • Culture is always changing
  • The culture of the team may be very recently created
    • for example new working group
    • new team culture formed by cultural boundary crossings of initial members
    • actual team culture may have a very short lifespan
  • Other cultures may have greater time depth
    • e.g. American culture, and the flag of America
    • Flag changed with each new state that was added to the union
    • culture changes over our lifetime

The Inertial Forces

  • Existential inertia: someone learns some element of culture because it is there to be learned. It already exists and its existence precedes the learner. Examples:
    • native language
    • brushing teeth after dinner
  • Habitual inertia: the result of doing the same thing over and over again. The result is often embodied cultural patterns, part of the bodily habitus. Example:
    • accent and speaking
  • There is a close relationship between culture and neurology – children of foreign born parents can speak with native accent
  • Habit is second nature
  • Habitual interia resists change

Habit and Drift

  • What side of the road do you drive?
    • American driving in NZ – had to be very careful making turns.
  • Principle of cultural inertia: culture in motion tends to stay in motion at the same rate unless some other force acts upon it
  • Entropic forces (drift): when culture gets copied from one person or one group to the next, it doesn’t necessarily get copied precisely. Changes can be introduced. They can be largely random changes
  • Language is always changing, but we can’t perceive this.
  • Over time, the drift can move a long way, and the langauges can become mutually unintelligible.
    • Latin is a root langauge for both French and Spanish

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 1

  • Reflective culture (metaculture): new ideas are a part of culture – so they have to move through space and time just like any culture. But they are also peculiar in that they are about culture.
  • Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later called Akhenaten)
  • Ruled from 1353 to 1336 BC
  • He wanted to change culture
  • Effected change by actively spreading new culture, and removing old culture
  • Akhenaten want to replace polytheism with monotheism. God Bes (Besu)
  • Akhenaten had the power to make change because of his position
  • New religion based on the sun (Aten)

More on Reflective Culture or Metaculture as a Force

  • Rules or laws are part of metaculture (e.g. laws about which side of the road to drive)
  • Natives of the culture don’t need to refer to the laws, as they are part of the habitus.
  • Metaculture was a force controlling driving, compelling to drive on a particular side of the road

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 2

  • Akhenaten made a number of cultural changes:
    • changed to monotheistic religion
    • changed the artistic style of representations of his family
    • introduced a new type of building construction utilising smaller bricks
  • Egyptian empire can be considered a huge team.
  • Pharaoh as the head of the team has enormous power to influce the culture
  • However, culture is still subject to intertia
    • people will tend to worshipping the old gods in the same way
    • decrees are a reflective culture, and are made about culture (a metaculture)
  • The motion of the habitual inertial culture exercises a counterforce to the metacultural force. It in effect resists the change.
  • Quote from Garth in Wayne’s World: “We fear change”

Inertia and Change: An Ancient Egyptian Case, Part 3

  • Review – three cultural forces:
    • inertial: keeps things the same
    • entropic: random drift
    • metacultural (or reflective): deliberate changes to culture (or resistance to change)
  • How successful was Akhenaten in changing culture?
    • many old gods still worshipped
    • people resisted the change
    • Akhenaten was succeeded by Tutenkhaman.
    • under Tutenkhaman rule, policies were reversed
    • Akhenaten was expunged from official lists of rulers
    • it was like Akhenaten never existed
    • habitual culture won in this instance
  • There are similar examples from the modern corporate world
    • Ron Johnson, VP for retail sales at Apple
    • Developed “Genius Bar”, a concept that had great appeal
    • Because of huge success at Apple, Ron was hired by JCPenny as CEO
    • He did away with discount coupons, not realising how popular they way
    • Ron lasted 17 months, after “one of the most aggressively unsuccessful tenures in retail history”

Secret to Successful Cultural Change

  • Good team leaders know when to stress the similarity or continuity. They usually do that when there is a pervasive feeling that too much change is creeping in.
  • Conversely, they can declare two elements to be different een though they are very similar. Again, good team leaders have a sense of when to stress the differences despite the recognisable similarities
  • These examples adjust the transmission of culture by emphasising or de-emphasising aspects of the culture through the description of the transmission. This is an example of the force of entropy
  • The description exerts a kind of force. It is encourages you to think about the replication in a certain way, also to reason about it in a certain way. In this case, in terms of differences between the element and its predecessor. The emphasis is on the difference.

Introducing the Force of Interest

  • The Secret to Successful Culture Change: the new culture must appear to grow organically out of the old culture. It must be new enough to be recognisable as different, but also sufficiently similar that its relationship to the old culture can be sensed.
  • Feelings or affections can propel the motion of culture, or inhibit it. These feelings are hugely influential.
  • Examples:
    • positive feelings: the “Rachel cut” (people copying Rachels’ hair style)
    • negative feelings: eating horsemeat

Interest at the Interface between Different Inertial Patterns

  • Interest is shaped by culture: although affects and emotions are related to our biological processes as human beings, their mapping onto specific elements of culture can vary
  • Strong affective responses, and therefore the forces of interest, frequently appear when two different inertial patterns come into contact
  • Habitual culture is not really thought about, and hence the force of interest does not come into play there
  • However, when the habits are removed or retarted, the force of interest can be very powerful (e.g. craving food from native land when away for a long period)
  • Spacial distance between two people having a converstation. Depending upon the comfortable separation distance for each of the speakers, the force of interest may be neutral, compel them closer or compel them to separate. Habitual inertia is interest neutral
  • Force of interest can either work to keep culture static, or it could drive culture to change.
    • It’s at the heart of successful culture change
  • Model T Ford worked on the same model every year
  • GM used a different strategy: a new model every year (though only slightly new)
  • Incremental new-ness can a positive attractive force.
    • cars
    • language
  • Interest appears as a driving force, moving the culture forward in a way similar to evolution.

The Conditional Motion of Culture

  • Culture seems to move directly because of the interest in it
  • Sometimes the movement of culture is more obviously just a condition for something else that people are interested in
  • For example, culture can be changed because a powerful person decrees it, and can threaten punishments. People have a strong interest in avoiding punishment. See Egyptian example earlier.
  • Regime put in place by military: the interest is in the consequences of accepting or not accepting the culture
  • Wages of employment:
    • employment involves culturally acquired practices
    • the reason for engaging in those practices may not be a direct interest in them
    • interest may actually be in the money earned, and the things the money will allow them do do (eat, leasure time)
  • Sometimes the interest actually is for the thing they do.
  • Work culture over time can become habitual intertial culture
  • The conversion of conditional into habitual cultural motion: a conversion can take place between the conditional and habitual motion of culture, such that the interest that is initially in something else can become interest in the cultural practices themselves


  • The inertial forces: culture gets passed on first and foremost because it is there to be acquired and because it becomes habit
  • Entropic force (drift): the tendency towards disorder in the transmission of culture
    • this works against inertia
    • this means leads may have to step in to keep cultural elements the same, or try to affect changes
  • Reflective or metacultural forces: metaculture is culture that is about (or reflects upon) other culture. Metacultural force result from reflection about culture
  • The forces of interest: these are produced by the feelings and emotions.
    • they impel or retard the movement of cultural elements
    • a good leader understands the emotional responses to cultural elements, and uses this to affect change
  • People in teams are motivated by more than money, or the fear of punishment. They are guided also by the shining ideals that the team embodies, ideals that they try to live up to in their daily lives and activities

Rules, Ultimate Causes, and Cultural Motion

Team Rituals and Symbols

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 4.

Burning the American Flag

  • How do teams tap into emotions? Symbols and rituals!
  • For example at U Penn: Carolyn Marvin (associate professor at U) burned a flag
    • This was a previously illegal activity
    • Intended to allow the students to fully appreciate the meaning of free speech.
    • Background:
      • Pledge of allegiance recited every morning in American schools: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America…”
      • Burning the flag seems to go against the pledge
    • Student tried to take the flag away from Marvin, because the student felt it was was unconscionable.
    • One student: “I was infuriated”
    • Calls for lecturerer to be fired
    • Penn State Congress voted to condemn the lecturer nearly unanimously
  • It flag is a symbol and emblem of American culture, of “We the people”
  • It has the ability of the flag to stir powerful feelings

Team Mascots

  • 6 marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima – very serious stuff!
  • Mascots: emblems of a team, for the team. A light side to things
  • Lighter side: team mascots
  • Examples:
    • e.g. Panther mascot (American football team)
    • e.g. Knight
  • Army versus Navy football
    • Army: mule mascot
    • Navy: goat mascot
    • In 1991, navy personnel stole the Army’s mule mascot
    • Helicopters and federal marshals were called
    • Army commander claimed control, and sent the marshalls away

The Concept of the Symbol

  • Symbol: a something that stands for something else (something can be an object, a behaviour, a word, an idea, etc)
  • We access object or meaning through symbols (we don’t have direct access to objects or meaning)
  • Symbols are not just about understanding the world, they are also about getting people to respond to them in particular ways.
    • e.g. the radiation symbol makes you take precautions
  • Two types of symbols:
    • Referential symbol: stands for something known to consciousness (e.g. “cat”)
    • Condensation symbol: evokes affect or feeling, without any necessary awareness or consciousness of why. A mascot may get us excited, but we don’t necessarily know why or how. These are particularly important to team culture

Transference of Affective Quality

  • Symbols have dual aspects
    • they represent the group
    • the also call up feelings about it
  • Dominant symbols do those two things at once
  • Transference of affective quality: the summoning of emotions in order to transfer those emotions on to an idea of the group
  • Transference occurs during the deployment of the symbols
  • Example of a dominant symbol:
    • Ndembu hornpod tree
    • Exudes a milky sap when the bark is cut
    • This can be associated with breastfeeding
    • Which can call up positive feelings of connectedness
    • Symbols is deployed when girls are married, and moving away from their parents
  • All domininant symbols have 2 poles:
    • Sensory pole (feelings, emotions)
    • Ideological pole (norms, values, etc)
  • American flag is another example of a dominant symbol

The Motivational Video

  • Rituals are just very complex symbols
  • Harley Davidson motivational video
  • For a certain segment of americans, it called up very positive feelings (though not all americans)
  • People from other cultural backgrounds, it actually produced a negative response
    • e.g. Japanese woman who feared that the people in the video might be racist.
  • Video was made during a period of major internal strife. It was made to call up positive feelings for the company

People as Symbols

  • Can people become condensation symbols?
  • Historical figure: e.g. George Washington
  • Washington: dominant symbol?
    • Often called the father of the country
    • Regarded as a strong, guiding presence during uncertain and scary times
    • He guided the fledgeling republic during the early days
    • He took on assocations, especially over time
  • Other examples of dominant symbols:
    • Mahatma Ghandi in India
    • Mao Tse Tung in China
    • Steve Jobs in Apple
  • Power of culture radiating from a visionary individual
  • Even a team leader can be a condensation symbol for a team

The Pragmatics of Motivational Speech

  • Meaning of words:
    • overt (semantic) meaning
    • covert (pragmatic) meaning
  • e.g. Enron code of ethics
    • overt: honesty
    • covert: criminal fraud
  • Words can function as condensation symbols
  • Aragorn’s speech to his men (“but it is not this day”)
    • Like poetry
    • Two parts (parallel) plus a coda
    • Rising intonation
    • Transformation into coda
    • All help in calling up emotions
  • Knute Rockne’s speech
    • We’re going to run inside ’em, and outside ’em, …

Symbolic Meaning of Stories

  • Stories that are told within teams are often examples of condensation symbols
  • Story from a company:
    • Company had annual holiday party
    • New employee at party
    • Waiter walked past carrying plate of sushi, and he picked a piece off
    • Security took employee arrived and took him outside, and explained that the sushi was only available for the CEO
    • Story would put an edge of fear to new starters
  • Better be careful: what are the do’s and don’t of this company?
  • Story acts as a dominant symbol in this respect

Instrumental Symbols: The Gavel

  • Not all symbols are dominant
  • Instrumental symbols are ones used to accomplish a specific goal.
  • Rapping the gavel has the purpose of indicating that a bid is closed
  • Or that proceedings are opened or concluded
  • The gavel is instrumental: it is doing something specific
  • However, there is more…
  • The gavel has become a symbol for authority in various contexts
  • Example of story of Greg using a gavel to control a meeting better
  • Effective instrumental symbol as part of the ritual part of the faculty meeting

Individual and Collective Rituals

  • Rafael Nadal’s superstitious rituals
    • 2 water bottles
    • This is symbolic rituals for Nadal
  • Businesses as teams develop various invented rituals
  • These don’t always seem like rituals
  • Walmart cheer.
    • Call and response pattern
    • Owner got idea from Korean manufacturer
  • Nadal’s and Walmart’s rituals are both condensation symbols

Types of Rituals in Business

  • Every business has its rituals
  • Many of these rituals are just seen as “doing business”
  • American “right to fire” versus Japanese “teamwork”
  • Redundancies (firings) – it’s amazing how fast news of a round of redundancies spreads
  • Firing is designed to help motivate the (remaining) team to achieve their goals (fear as a motivator)

Initiation, Enhancement, and Group Worship

  • Initiation rite (on-boarding)
    • introduce new employees to the team culture that they will need to acquire to function as part of the team
    • act as a condensation symbol to get the initiates to feel that they have crossed a threshold, become a new person and a team member
  • Awards ceremony
    • individuals or teams get recognised for their achievements
    • has effect on other members of the group
  • Annual holiday party
    • the group worships itself
    • related to totemic rites
    • collective effervescence
    • good feelings get called up, and transferred to the group

Corporations in Culture

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Two Examples of Cultural Boundaries

  • A cultural boundary is any difference in culture, such as socially acquired preconceived routines for a specific situation, between two individuals or groups or between an individual and a group
    • Brushing teeth in the morning – some do before breakfast, some do it afterwards
    • Vietnamese couple: ask parent’s permission to start eating (or not)
  • Whenever differences exist, this is a mini-cultural boundary
  • Even small differences can affect team performance.

Why Police Boundaries

  • What are boundaries?
  • When we are talking about he control of movement across physical boundaries in space, we will call them social boundaries (or socio-spatial boundaries)
  • Most business enterprises have boundaries, as well as national countries
  • Sports team – maximum cooperation and coordination is required. Strategy and tactics must be secret, and the discussion must protected by guarding the boundary
  • Companies have trade secrets, keep outsiders out
  • Sometimes the boundary is required to keep things in (e.g. museum or cinema)
  • Since the movement of people affects who can interact with whom and since culture is transmitted through interaction, social boundaries also affect the movement of culture

Culture in Motion

  • Boundaries are about channelling or controlling the motion of culture
  • Culture can move across boundaries, but it can be resisted.
  • Example:
    • Vietnamese couple: in girls’ family culture, no expectation of “permission to eat”, but placed in boys’ family culture there is that expection. This clash  of expectations (a mini boundary) is upsetting.
    • If girl had adapted to different expection, this is an example of cultural movement. The upset feelings of the girl is an example of resistance.
  • Physical boundaries are there to stop cultural transmission.
    • Theatre or museum: boundary used to restrict access, commoditise culture and charge admission
    • Company: boundary use to restrict cultural move outside (trade secrets)
  • National boundaries: prevent national culture from being “watered down”

Golden Arches East

  • McDonald’s opened in 1955
  • Success can be attributed to standarisation and assembly line
    • e.g. Ford: any colour they want, as long as it’s black
    • In McDonalds, every burger should be “the same”
  • McDonalds moving into India was a problem:
    • Hinduism rejects eating meat.
    • McDonalds adapted: removed Big Mac from menu, replace with chicken replacement
    • Alternative: vegetarian McAloo Tiki burger
  • Culture moved across the boundary in both directions

The Art of Smiling

  • When and how to smile is are embodied cultural routines (part of the habitus)
  • In different cultures, using smiling (or not) can give the wrong impression
    • McDonalds in US: wants employees to smile (smiling = “friendly”)
    • However, in  China waiters are expected to be serious (smiling = “laughed at”)
  • “American smile” is considered insincere and insidious in Russia.
  • Japenese businessmen in India:
    • Indians preferred American businessmen, because they smiled more
    • Japanese businessmen took “smile training”
    • American s

The Right to Fire

  • Clash of business cultures:
    • American businessmen: focused on short term (quarterly) profitability
    • Japanese businessmen: focused on long term growth in market share
  • Right to fire:
    • American: emphasis on individual accountability, and the right to dismiss incompetent personnel in order to improve team performance
    • Japanese:  emphasis on teamwork and group responsibility, did not like to dismiss personnel. Team performance can be maximised by finding the right place on a team where an individual best fits.
  • Firing someone is a type of ritual.
    • Example: Donald Trump in The Apprentice: “You’re fired”
  • Many companies have laws that prevent firing without cause (especially in Japan and Europe)
  • Current moves in Japan to change rules to move towards American style “easier to fire” culture

The Law of Jante

  • Case study of globalised company “Scandanavian Technologies”
  • > 5,000 employees, but < 350,000
  • Based in Denmark, with branches in many countries (including US)
  • Company experiencing difficulties.
    • US employees feeling that their contributions were not values
    • Danish management worried that company was becoming too “Americanised”, and looking to keep control in head office
  • The Law of Jante: expression of Danish law from A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks
    1. You’re not the think you are anything special
    2. You’re not to think you are as good as us
    3. You’re not the think you are smarter than us
    4. You’re not to convince youreself that you are better than us
    5. You’re not to think you know more than us
    6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
    7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
    8. You’re not to laugh at us
    9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
    10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything
  • Cultural norms regarding the presentation of the self
  • Self promotion is not valued. Boasing and bragging would be frowned upon.
  • Would the Americans be viewed as braggarts and blowhards?
  • Would the Americans be viewed as violating Jante law?
  • How should we respond to the discovery of cultural boundaries?

Cultural Relativity and Ethnocentrism

  • Methodological cultural relativity: trying to understand an aspect of culture on its own terms, not in terms of your own culture
  • First problem in dealing with cultural difference: defining them
  • When dealing with problematic team performance, ask the question: is there a culturally acquired set of behaviours or thinking that is contributing to the problem?
    • If yes, it’s time to make use of “methodological cultural relativity”
  • Example:
    • Very beautify friend visiting US from Brazil
    • Noted that on the streets of Rio, she received a lot of male attention. Whereas in US, male attention was much more muted, making her feel “ugly”
    • Conversely, american woman travelling to Rio was very uncomfortable with the amount of male attention.
    • Example of culture shock.
  • 3 kinds of cultural relativism:
    • methodological cultural relativism: a methodological principle
    • epistemological relativism: the clam that knowledge and beliefs are relative to the culture; no culture is closer to the truth than any other (not making this claim in this course)
    • moral relativism: the claim that values are relative to the culture; no cultural system has the one ultimately correct set of values (not making this claim in this course)
  • Think of cultural relativity as a tool in your kit.
  • Ethnocentrism:
    • Judging another cultural element in terms of your own culture
    • This is the opposite of cultural relativity

Avoid Stereotyping

  • Stereotyping: assuming that some general, or even specific but highly distinctive trait, found in a group or team applies equally to everyone in the group
  • Because cultural elements are socially acquired, their prevalence is usually a matter of statistical frequencies
    • e.g. Not all Brazillain men are demonstrative, and some American men are demonstrative
  • Some team members will learn cultural elements in different ways
  • Smiling is culturally aquired
    • e.g. Kanye West: don’t smile
    • e.g. bicycle shop employees didn’t smile
  • Shedding workers:
    • Toshiba in Japan – did lay off 7000 employees
  • To avoid sterotyping, when you think about a specific aspect of a culture (such as smiling), think in terms of a normal distribution. You can compare different cultures as a pair of overlapping distributions. e.g.


A Checklist of Little Differences for Business

  • Good books inteneded for a general audience. Expecially recommended book:
    • Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behaviour Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself int he Process
    • How to better adapt to the teams you join, and learn new routines
    • Need to be aware of cultural variation
  • Formality:
    • The amount of deference and respect your are required to exhibit
    • How formally or casually should you dress?
    • Is it customary to engage in small talk?
    • … or should you confine your interactions just to the business at hand?
    • How much personal informaiton about yourself can you reveal?
      • e.g. is it appropriate to talk about your family?
  • Speaking your mind
    • This refers to directness
    • Should you only hint at your meaning
    • … or should you come right out and say it?
    • What is the conversational style?
    • e.g. story about 2 brothers who were always fighting. Father didn’t comment on the fighting, but he did tell a story about 2 brothers who were fighting
  • Expressing your feelings
    • What kinds of feelings can you openly express in business interactions?
    • Is it OK to appear enthusiastic?
  • Self promotion
    • e.g. Law of Jante in Denmark
  • Aggressiveness

Gestures as Boundary Marker

  • Gestures are hugely important and powerful in defining (and crossing) cultural boundaries
  • e.g. Story of Nixon, who visited Brazil in teh 60’s. Nixon gave the American “OK” gesture, which is obscene in Brazil
  • Gestures that mark team membership (or exclusion)
    • e.g. Bryan brothers chest bump
    • e.g. High fives in a team
    • e.g. Scooby Doo “keeping it real” gesture

Corporate Personhood

  • “We” intentions versus “I” intentions.
  • The use of the pronoun “we” is important to the creation and maintenance of group boundaries and identity
  • The use of “we” also implies a contrasting “they”, indicating the people who are not in the group
  • When people form a team, the can both think and speak about themselves as a group
  • Part of the power of team culture is the create the idea of the team. The use of “we” can contribute to the creation of the team
  • e.g. the constitution of the United States, has a pre-amble that starts with “We the people…”
  • The legal idea of a corporation…
  • Corporation: a body formed and authorised by law to act as a single person
  • The collective corporation can own property, and be sued in court.