Nimble teams and cultures of trust

Nimble teams grow and flourish in cultures of trust.

Trust is pivotal In three ways:

  • Teams move at the speed of trust 
  • Trust accelerates collaborative creativity 
  • Trust turns uncertainty into an asset

There are many genres of trust that weave the cultural fabric of nimble teams:

  • Trust in shared direction & plans
  • Trust in shared expectations & decisions
  • Trust in shared learning & strengths



At the fast food restaurant Creator, tasty and affordable burgers are constructed and delivered by robots. Because this cuts costs, higher quality ingredients become possible and employees are given 5% of their work time to pursue their learning interests. A good example of how robotics can add value to all stakeholders.

Simple, the asset

It's amazing how much team struggle has to do with making things more complicated than they need to be. The worst is when convoluted becomes such a norm that no one, except maybe newbies, even questions it. 

I once suggested an approach to change in a company culture of complication and was rejected out of hand by the chief decision despot whose entire argument was: It's too simple. No one will trust it. That was that. Status quo protected.

Complication is a weapon of control. It's a common irrational bias to assume that complicated ideas represent higher levels of competency and efficacy than the more simple. The difference between jargon and natural language is the difference between complicated and simple.

How we can make anything simpler is a golden question in team context of struggle.


Future work super skills

Fast Company reports on 5 superskills for the future of work: personal brand, digital fluency, a tribe, making sense of complexity and resilience.

I would add three to this worthy list:

  • Learning from experience
  • Leveraging uncertainty as an asset
  • Listening with new questions 

These are valuable in a world where the winners are those with growhth mindsets, unpredictability is the new certainty and new possibilities will only be discovered through  new lenses.

Tinker and test

The Amazon narrative on the power of the long view is based on two simple principles.

1. Focus direction on something that won't change in 20 years, or more

2. Tinker and test your way in that direction, leveraging uncertainty as your greatest asset

This is the Amazon formula for success. Focus on delivering the best and most affordable options in the shortest amounts of time. This keeps them agile and open to every new tool and resource they invent and discover in this direction. 

Short view goals, like any from 2-5 years implies predicting what's going to happen within and beyond this window, which is not possible. Predictability is most reliable 2 quarters out. 

So, given this intrinsic uncertainty, what should we be doing each 2 quarters? Experiment in our committed direction of contribution. 

The Chief Enlightenment Officer

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is not your typical leader. Still inspired by a deep meditation practice he spends his days in the largest Silicon Valley tech company making sure culture, trust and transforming neighborhoods supersedes greed-based growth. He believes that enlightened companies succeed only when they help everyone in their communities and companies succeed.

As he says in a NY Times interview:

Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style. I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.

Why shape the long view future

Going out 20 years in planning is not everyone's jam. Some people are more comfortable and interested in the translated near term sense of the future.

The value of the long view is that the depth of our aspiration, alignment and agility is equal to the  length of our vision. The longer our view, the less our vision is limited by self-interest and constraints. The shorter our view, the more we will sustain different versions of the status quo. In the long view, we can create a future different from the past.

The meditation question

Current research by behavioral scientists Dr. Vohs and Dr. Hafenbrack indicate that meditation diminishes motivation at work.

But on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation — striving to obtain a more desirable future — implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.

To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.

What's interesting is how mediation is distinctly different from mindfulness. I would argue that mindfulness is a strong driver of motivation and performance.

The mindfulness-engagement equation

Thinking about engagement as shared responsibility, contrasting with leader bottlenecked responsibility, it's interesting that the more people experience a sense of shared responsibility for belonging and impact, the more mindful they are in their work. They are more in sync, proactive, resilient and attentive to detail.

How inclusion can lead to exclusion

It's interesting possibly paradoxical that giving more voice to people who usually don't can lead to others needing to navigate the new dynamics, possibly feeling excluded as others are more newly included. 

It's a call for the team learning new ways of making everyone feel heard and valued. Structurally the use of small group conversations makes this more possible. It's a learning curve for all.

Reimagining problem solving

One of the more interesting and mindful ways to engage our creativity and collaboration in problem solving is to understand any problem as a constellation of questions unfolding one question at a time. The key is to never get stuck on the first question that emerges. It changes everything.


Preparing the world for worker owned companies

There is no end to the possibilities of preparing people to share company ownership and governance. On the short list of habits to learn and master:

Making decisions together 

Working with inItiative, inclusion and integrity

Working from shared expectations 

Creating a shared sense of the future 

Sustaining a thriving culture 

Working from growth and entrepreneurial mindsets

The more people master these, the more prepared they are for new ways of owning and running companies. 





Incompetence in men as leaders

In "Why do so many incompetent men become leaders" Thomas Chamorro-Premuszic argues that this trend is primarily the result of male leaders confusing confidence for competence. What causes leaders to be effective is humility not hubris. 

"There is now compelling scientific evidence for the notion that women are more likely to adopt more effective leadership strategies than do men. Most notably, in a comprehensive review of studies, Alice Eagly and colleagues showed that female managers are more likely to elicit respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision effectively, empower and mentor subordinates, and approach problem-solving in a more flexible and creative way (all characteristics of “transformational leadership”), as well as fairly reward direct reports. In contrast, male managers are statistically less likely to bond or connect with their subordinates, and they are relatively more inept at rewarding them for their actual performance. Although these findings may reflect a sampling bias that requires women to be more qualified and competent than men in order to be chosen as leaders, there is no way of really knowing until this bias is eliminated."

The worker coop and the end of market greed

It's possible that the strategy of worker coops is one of the most radical disruptors to market greed that further deepens the wealth divides.

Educators, funders and civic program leaders need to focus efforts and investments in these. They are not risks as much as viable ways to make equity possible. Anything less is complicit loyalty to market greed.


The Art of coaching

At the heart of coaching is the discovery of new distinctions. Agile planning, engagement, habit building, growth mindset, mindfulness and momentum are a few of the endless distinctions that support growth.

Behind every gain in growth is working from new distinctions. They are intrinsically interesting and useful. They have more power than the belief we must know and remove our weaknesses.

Visual thinking

Our ability to be creative, especially together, is more possible when we visualize ideas, even if only in words on cards or on a drafting space.

There is something about the visual anchors that stimulate new options, versions and perspectives. Far more powerful than trying to work with words floating in our heads.

Platform cooperatives

New School professor and author Trebor Sholz is a champion of platform cooperatives. These are worker owned platforms that engage gig-economy people in work that is qualitatively more equitable and sustainable. It is a disruptor to abusive companies and the vulnerabilities of self-employment. 

The Symphonic C-Suite

Deloitte's 2018 report on the top business trends globally indicates that the top trend across continents and industries is the Symphonic C-Suite.

As the business environment becomes more competitive and digital disruption continues, organizations have become more team-centric, networked, and agile. While these approaches are taking hold in sales, operations, and other functional areas, a big problem remains: The C-suite must change as well. Rather than behave as independent C-level functional experts, the C-suite itself must now operate as a team. We call this trend the “symphonic C-suite,” and our respondents viewed it as the most pressing human capital issue facing organizations today.

Another reason for an Agile culture.

The Agile C-Suite

Eric Garton of Bain & Company talks about the adoption of agile methodologies by senior teams in organizations. 

Treat your enterprise priorities as a managed backlog. At the enterprise level, think of all of your corporate initiatives as a backlog, just like software developers think of future product features as a backlog. See your leadership team as an agile Scrum that prioritizes the backlog based on importance, then tackles them in sequence until completed. Reprioritize your enterprise backlog when new initiatives are added. This helps maintain focus and velocity while stopping initiative proliferation. Systematic Inc., a 525-employee software company, began applying agile methodologies in 2005. As they spread to all its software development teams, Michael Holm, the company’s CEO and cofounder, began to worry that his leadership team was hindering progress. So in 2010, Holm decided to run his nine-member executive group as an agile team. The group started by meeting every Monday for an hour or two, but found the pace of decision making too slow. So it began having daily 20-minute stand-ups at 8:40 a.m. to discuss what members had done the day before, what they would do that day, and where they needed help.

This is supported and envigorated by turning many decisions unto rapid velocity test and learn iterations where decisions are made by experiential learning rather than death by committee discussions. 


Sortition democracy

Author and activist, Brett Henning in his TED talk reminds us that the Greek originators of democracy practiced sortition, where part of the governing body was a random selection of citizens. Who, importantly, represented real peoplem without the corruption of position purchase and protection. Henning seeks to get this converation to scale. I would argue the experiment applies equally to organizaitional governance.