How do we, as employees and organizations, get better at change, so that it’s a “muscle” we use every day? Atlassian’s resident work futurist, Dominic Price, will discuss how we can influence our people, technology and work practices to drive transformation. He’ll share how Atlassian created the open-source Atlassian Team Playbook, a set of resources for addressing common team challenges, and how teams have since used it to drive their own improvement and adapt their ways of working to our new realities.
Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Hello, wherever you are in the world. I’m actually joining you today from sunny Sydney. It’s not quite sunny. It’s still very early in the morning, but the sun is rising on a beautiful Wednesday. So, for most of you, I am actually in your future. That’s not my real job, predicting the weather for tomorrow. My real job is to understand the future of work. So, we can build today what we don’t know we need yet for tomorrow. It’s a job I’ve been doing for about four years before it even became popular. And then the pandemic hit, and everything got a little bit murky. A lot of the stuff we’ve been talking about in the future suddenly happened very quickly, some stuff maybe not happening.
So, what I want to share with you today is some practical tips, some examples, and some takeaways for you, so that you can build your better version of yourself. So, that you can be the best leader and the best version of yourself in this modern world. Thank you, Rachel, for the wonderful introduction. For those that don’t know about Atlassian, you can Google that. I’m not going to waste your time today giving you a spiel about my company, because I think you know how to use the internet. So, I’m not going to patronize you with that. If you need to contact me, my details are on there.
What I would love for you to do in the next 25 minutes, not only to ask some really gnarly questions to make it tricky for me and Rachel at the end, because we’re going to save some time for questions, and in theory, I have answers. But also, I want you to go mental ballistic on social media. You’ve got the hashtag down there, #Attune2021. The wonderful people from SocialChorus that have put on this event. I’m @domprice on Twitter and LinkedIn. Just go visit. Even if you put lies on there, I don’t care. Let’s just go wild on social media. Now, whenever I start a presentation, I like to talk about Atlassian’s values. This isn’t because I’m pitching to you. I’m not going to mention our products anywhere in here, because we’ve already established you know how to use Google.
The reason I want to talk about values is we’re going through a lot of change. We’re going through a lot of stuff. Let’s just call it stuff. The things that anchor us when we’re going through this stuff are our values. Last year, we actually hired for values. Our recognition system internally called Kudos. When I thank Rachel for doing a great job today, it’s based on our values. Even our annual performance review, a third of your annual rating is based on how you live the Atlassian values. I’m going to try and live them today. I think that open company, no bullshit, right? We are very open in the way we share and we present and the way we care for people. We’re open by default with how we bring people into decisions and conversations.
Playing as a team is going to be paramount in the talk I share with you today. The secret of effective work is about bringing teams together. But also, things like be the change you seek. I don’t want you to just sit there and write spurious amounts of notes today. I want you to find the action that you can take to make a difference. My favorite one, don’t believe the customer. It used to have a different word instead of bleep, but in modern times, we’re more polite. It’s like, “How do you put your customer, whether it be your internal customer or your external customer, front and center of everything that you do?” I want to land on those values. I want to talk about some of those values today.
The next thing I want to talk to you about is, “How can you actually understand this in the modern world? What does it actually mean?” I used to do a lot of traveling before the pandemic ruined everything for the whole world. In fact, in 2019, I did 100 flights around the world. Twelve trips to the US were included in that. I used to read a lot of management business books. I’ll be honest, they drove me insane, because they all say the same thing. I struggled to find, “What’s the purpose? What’s the point of all this?” I landed on this theory about your team performance and elite performance and individuals. It’s about dysfunction. I think Rachel just mentioned this before and it may have come up in some of your intentionality.
Yeah, I believe dysfunction is the gap between what you know and what you apply. Days like today are a prime example of this. The average person will have pages and pages of notes, lots of little bullet points, lots of little reminders, but that’s not the secret to your success. The secret to success is in the next 40 minutes, I don’t want you to write spurious amounts of notes.
I want you to write down the one thing you’re going to do, because I actually fear that we’re suffering with knowledge obesity. We know a huge amount, but we’re not necessarily doing anything with it. So, instead of acquiring more knowledge in the next 20 minutes, just write down the one thing, circle it, star it and be like, “Today or tomorrow, I’m going to do that. I’m going to give that a red hard go. I’m going to give it a try.” I think that’s where we’ll be rewarded.
So, moving on, when we think about the future of work, there’s a lot of thought leadership out there about the utopian view of the future of work, about a dystopian view. Are we all going to be working an hour working weeks? I read that book a long time ago. I’m not doing an hour working weeks. I don’t know about you. If anything, the pandemic has made our working week longer. So, how can we understand what’s happening in the world? I actually built the slide before the pandemic here, and I’ve kept it. The reason I’ve kept it is I think all these things are still true today, right? We have this challenge of always being on 24 by 7, but just because we can always be on doesn’t mean we should be.
We know our customer expectations are increasing every week and they want to pay less for the same thing. We’re working in distributed teams where we’re having to build meaningful relationships without that hand to hand combat and this desire for faster pace of innovation that every company and leader I chat to want to be the disrupter, but someone’s got to be disrupted. And then how do we hire the A players everywhere? I think these things were true before the pandemic. What’s happened is we’ve got accelerant on any change or transformation we were going through.
Now, we could talk about that ad nauseam. When I spoke to wonderful people from SocialChorus, I had about a million things I wanted to share with you today. They’re like, “Dom, you’ve got 25 minutes, pick two.” So, we’ve landed on two things that I’m really hopeful will resonate with you. The first one is context. Now, this for me is crazy important. It’s crazy important, because I think we’re so frenetic in this world of, let’s just call it what it is, change. Unless you’re in the world of consulting, it’s called transformation. The reason I make that distinction is in my career, change has been constant.
Rachel mentioned it in the introduction. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times today. But why have we suddenly landed on transformation? Whether it be agile transformation, digital transformation, culture transformation, pandemic related transformation, everyone’s transforming. The reality is that’s a consultant’s way of charging you more money. The reality is, and I want to make this consumable for you, change is going to happen every day. Please get good at it.
So, what I want to share with you today is, “How do we understand change? What’s our rubric for how we understand all kinds of change?” The first thing we try to understand is, “What is changing?” This, to me, has been like a game changer. Actually, before I start working on actually changing something, I have to pause, right? It’s on me to pause.
The first thing I look at is what I can influence. I can influence people. People are who I hire, who I fire, how I grow my current people, the growth mindset, the abundance mindset, how I help them learn and develop. People is all about diversity and inclusion and belonging, but how do I enable people to do the best work of their lives? How do I inspire them, right? So, if you think about it, the future of work is human. I’m hopeful than it is and believe that it is, and I hope you do the same. But you’ll notice an important word I used, influence.
I don’t think you get to control your people anymore. I think we’ve raised people to be too intelligent, too curious, right? So, they’re not going to be controlled, but they will be influenced. So, if you think about communications, even the work with SocialChorus and we’ve had to do this at Atlassian, how do you influence a group of people that by their very nature are diverse? They have a different background, skillset, and experience.
Once you’ve understood your people, the next thing you get to influence is their practices. Now, I’m old enough, as you can tell by the lack of hair, so I started in work, I started in the year 2000 in London and we weren’t taught about practices. We were taught about process. We were given a 10-step process. We were told, “Dom, you follow these 10 steps and you’ll be good.” For a few years, I did until I realized I was quite a well-paid monkey, right?
The reality was there is so many differences in my environment, it made sense to me to understand my environment and apply it differently. That’s what we talked about practices. Practices are guardrails. They’re a loose structure that say, “You’re intelligent. You’ve got this. I’m going to provide you some guardrails within which to operate, but I want to trust you to understand your environment and deploy that the way that is best.” It’s often called habits or rituals, ways of working, ways of leading. So, this is about your humans, your people working together in teams, practices.
The next thing that you get to influence is your products and technology, things like SocialChorus or Atlassian or any other vendor. This isn’t a vendor pitch. This is about saying that technology for me, when I think about change, comes a firm third. This is controversial for a guy who’s a work futurist at a technology company, but the reason it comes third is a fool with a tool is still a fool. You’ve just made them faster, right?
We’ve all seen the super-efficient idiots that we create in the workforce. You’re like, “No, Bob, please don’t do that.” That’s because we’ve got to go get your people right first. Get your ways of working right. What’s your intent? What are your behaviors? And then use technology to amplify that. Technology’s an amazing amplifier, but you get a bad behavior, it’s still an amplifier of that bad behavior.
And then the fourth thing that we get to influence is place. Historically, this was with a workplace, an office. The fact that the office for many knowledge workers has been doing an overhaul at some point in the last 300 years and the pandemic has brought that overhaul. It brought that forced experiment that we’ve all lived through, but what are the different places that we work in? What are the different mediums of technology and different people and behaviors come into play when we’re in those different places? How do we interact, whether we’ll be all remote or all in an office once we’re out of this forced experiment? So, that’s the things that you get to influence.
The next part is, “Who are you doing this for?” This is a [inaudible 00:10:31] like stakeholder one-on-one. But what we talked about is once you’ve got all those things congruent, you’ve got your people, practices, products, and tech, the next thing to do is to say, “How do we go about doing this and who’s it for?” Now, I don’t mind admitting, we’re entirely selfish of Atlassian, right? We always start out with ourselves. If we’re building a new way of working, a new way of hiring, new way of onboarding, we’ve onboarded 30% of our workforce since the pandemic hit. That’s 30% of our workforce that have never been into an Atlassian office. They’ve had a very different onboarding experience, but we didn’t pause and wait for the pandemic to go.
We’re like, “Well, let’s do it. We just have to build the plane whilst we’re in the air.” So, we’re selfish and start with ourselves. Once that works, we then start to share. In the software world, we actually differentiate between customers and users. That’s because they have subtly different wants and needs. Our customers are people that buy our products. They’re often the administrators or an executive, but the users are the people that our products have been deployed to.
So, their different wants and needs are important for us to understand, as all the influences in our broader system and also for us a thriving ecosystem. This is just those people outside your organization or your customers or users that are going to have an impact on the change you’re driving. It could be a government agency. It could be who you partner with.
For us in the technology world, Amazon Web Services that our cloud products are hosted on, they’re part of our ecosystem, right? If something goes wrong, I can’t say to my customers, “It’s Amazon’s fault.” They’re trusting me to deliver service. So, how do you understand that broader ecosystem of how it comes together? It’s used to be called supply chain, but in the technology, knowledge worker world, a bit more about ecosystem. Again, it’s important for these to be congruent. How do you get a consistent way? If you think about communications, something that SocialChorus does really well.
Again, for Atlassian, we’ve always cared about communication. How do I communicate and engage with these different stakeholders? When I think about communication, it’s not all broadcast. It’s, “How do I listen to them?” How do I use these big floppy things on the side of my head and go, “Communication isn’t about what I said. It’s about what you heard and the behavior that changed”? So, I need to understand their different wants and needs first.
And then the final area of change or transformation depending on if you want to charge more money is when, over what time frame are you solving for. This is fascinating. I felt for years as a work futurist, would share stories about the future of work, and just assumed that people wanted to go there. But the naivety that I had in that moment was Atlassian’s a 17-year-old company. We’re still small and nimble. We feel quite small. We’re very agile over our dynamic workforce. As Rachel mentioned, we recently get [inaudible 00:13:17] here as the Best Place to Work. But my reality of the future is very different from most organizations. So, you have to start with now and then you have to understand what you want in the future. Often, they’re two very different pieces of work.
Now, I’ve seen in many organizations, certainly more heritage or history organizations, that actually what they need to do is to unlearn a huge amount about the past before they can have the space and the time and the freedom to add in the new. The reality is if you start adding in new things and you don’t remove the past, you end up with these really weird, combined ways of working but just don’t work, a Frankenstein. These are the companies that have got a lot of history and heritage. What you’ll find is in the now, that is where you’ll get a lot of firefighting, that is where people are going, “We’ve got to fire. We’ve got to put it out. We’ve got a problem. We’ve got to put it out.” That’s okay. But firefighters often start fires, because it keeps them in work.
So, you’ve got to find your fire proofers. Your fireproof is in the people that are like, “I’m okay to start with a blank piece of paper. I want to build for the future. There’s a better way of doing this. It’s less about iterating on the current way and more about imagining what a better way could be.” We actually use this rubric for all changes that we drive through at Atlassian. I’ve been with Atlassian for over eight years. In that time, we’ve gone from 30,000 customers to nearly 200,000 from privately listed to publicly listed. When I joined, we had about 600 members of staff. We’re now nearly 6,000. We’re spread across 6,000 locations in the world because everyone’s working from home. Every change we drive is about understanding this.
When the pandemic hit, we thought it was about place, right? Everyone had to work from home. It wasn’t. It was all about practices. The place thing was easy. Within 48 hours, we had all of our staff working from home. The technology was already there. What wasn’t there were our ways of working. We were so predefined to work in an office together, in a meeting room, in a workshop. We have had to really invest in the last year in changing our ways of working to adapt to this new environment. We didn’t know what it was like. We’ve never had 6,000 people working from home.
Again, we’re selfish. We dogfooded on ourselves. We practiced on ourselves. As we’ve gotten better at that, we’ve shared it with our customers and with our users. When the pandemic hit, no one cared about the future. My work dried up entirely. No one wanted to hear about 2025 or 2030. They were like now, right? We had to realize the reality we’re in, fixed to now. Only in this current moment are we building a little bit more for the future. As we settled and built the foundations of the now, we’ve starting to invest in the future.
Trust me that if you can find a way of building that rubric for you, using that for project planning, using that for initiatives, using that for understanding “What are we trying to change? What are the current behaviors now? What are the future behaviors?”, it will save you a huge amounts of time. I also promise you, it will cause some great arguments. When you get your teammates together, you’re all going to have a subtly different view of the world. Get that stuff out there. It’s called psychological safety. Have that discussion. Have that rich debate.
So, the second thing I want to talk to you about is teamwork. Teamwork is an interesting one for me. I mean, there’s the Atlassian side of teamwork in that our stock ticker symbol is team. Our mission’s about unleashing the potential in teams. Our products are all about teams. I’ve always loved the concept of teamwork, but I’ve also had this strange relationship, I think, since my days at university. The ones that of nightmare I had at university was the team project, because I felt like I was the only one that pulled my weight. But the funny thing is whenever I speak to people, everyone’s that person. I’ve yet to meet the person that didn’t pull that weight. So, we have to have an honest conversation about teamwork.
The stats say that 90%, 90% of organizations are solving problems so complex. They have to be solved by teams. You’re like, “Cool, teamwork.” You look at all the data. Teams are really high impact. Teamwork’s really hard. When I first started work, I actually purposely got together people like me. In my first year at working in Deloitte in London, I hired three people the exact same as me and we get on so well. We achieved nothing.
Trust me, we achieved absolutely zero, but we were really fast, because we got on so well. I’m like, “I thought that’s what teamwork was.” It’s only as I’ve become a little bit more self-aware in my career, I’ve realized that teamwork is about the friction. It’s about the debate and the discussion. So, I want to unpack with you how we can understand what teamwork is, so you can get better at it.
Most of the literature by a long way is about high achieving teams, high performance teams. You need a mission. You need a goal. You measure progress over time. You have milestones. You have this NorthStar, and you celebrate those milestones and success. The weird thing is we all know what a high achieving team feels like and looks like. But if we’re honest, we’re not all in them, right? I’m not in a high achieving team every day. I work for a great organization, but teamwork has a lot of friction.
I think what the last year has brought us is we flip the coin. Instead of just looking at high achieving teams, we’ve gone, “What’s the other side of that coin?” It’s emotional well-being, right? It’s that psychological safety, the feeling of belonging, the feeling of purpose. I can have an impact here. I feel safe to be the true authentic version of myself. It feels like where you have respectful dissent and you have that friction, that respectful dissent and friction causes sparks that create new ideas.
Emotional well-being is a meeting when someone says, “Thank you, Bob. I like the idea you just shared, but I’m going to politely disagree with you. I’ve got a different view of the world. Do you mind if I share that?” That takes bravery and boldness and the level of team cohesion and safety that we’re not always used to. So, it’s on us, each of us as leaders, whether leader was in your title or not, I don’t care. I believe we’re all leaders of teams, of initiatives, of goals, whatever.
What I want to share with you is about seven or eight years ago, soon after I started at Atlassian, we were really effective. We felt like we were really nimble. Everything was working really well to the point where I was confused why they even hired me. My role at the time was Head of Program Management. I sat down with my boss and I was like, “Dude, I’m loving this place. We’ve just won Best Place to Work in Australia. The food at lunchtime is great. Why have you hired me? What am I here to do?”
He’s like, “Mate, everything today works. As we grow and as we scale, it might not. So, your job is to prevent bad things from happening. It’s to take your 13 years’ experience at seeing fires. I want you to fireproof Atlassian. How do we scale effectively? How do we keep teamwork at the center of that? How do we keep teams empowered and nimble and have that high level of agility?” I’m like, “Cool.” He’s like, “So, go and do your thing.” I’m like, “I have no idea what my thing is.”
My instinct was to go and hire lots of smart people. I challenged my instinct. I said, “How do we enable everyone to be better at teamwork? How do we democratize teamwork?” So, we built something called the Atlassian Team Playbook. Basically, it’s a set of plays, which are exercises for your team to get better and a health monitor purely to build self-awareness of how you work as a team. The funny thing was for three years, we ran with this internally. I used to have a presentation called the Secret Sauce of Atlassian. So, one of our co-founders, Mike Cannon-Brookes said to me one day, “Why is it a secret? Why don’t we just share it? Why don’t we share it for free?” Which I think is why he gets paid the big bucks and I don’t.
So, the Team Playbook is available for you for free. The URL is there. I just want to talk you through what this does for us. We open sourced it about four or five years ago, but I just want to give you a quick guide as to how this works. The health policies, as I mentioned, are intended to give you self-awareness as a team. All you need is a thumb, right? It’s literally that simple. No technology to buy, no credit card. You sit around as a team. We’ve identified what we believe are the eight areas of a healthy team. You read them out and you go, “One, two, three, thumb up, we’re good at this. Thumb sideways, we’re not so good, or thumb down.”
We vote first and we speak second. That’s what diversity and inclusion look like. Everyone gets an equal vote. You’ve not got the boss like me going, “We’re green on this, aren’t we? We’re doing really well.” No, no, no, everyone vote and then everyone speak. We rate ourselves across these attributes. And then what you end up with is this gorgeous tapestry of going, “Where are we doing well? Where are we struggling?” And then as a team, which area do we want to pick? What do we want to improve? This is about you doing this, not the leader second guessing, “I think we’re struggling with X.”
This isn’t one of these weird pulse or vital signs surveys that HR send out that says X percent of people are disengaged and you have to go and fix it. This is you as a cross functional team coming together. What do we want to solve? For us, in our first probably 100, 150 sessions doing this with teams around the world, shared understanding is the area we struggle with the most. Shared understanding says you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. So, we don’t want people to get depressed that they can’t do stuff. We want them to be inspired. So, we built a play called the Retrospective.
Now what you’ll see here, there’s three different ways of doing Retrospective, one with post-it notes. That’s when we’re in the office pre-pandemic, ideally, post-pandemic if the world returns to some level of normality, but also, there’s versions of doing it in Atlassian tools or external tools. We’ve added all those templates for free. So, essentially, this runs like a recipe card, right? Here’s the ingredients you need to do the recipe. Here’s the steps. Here’s how long it goes in the oven. Here’s what it should taste like. We’ve built these light guides, so that anyone in any team anywhere around the world, you don’t have to be a technology team, can do these.
The Retrospective is a great way of looking back at what just happened and getting an understanding of how we can improve. Start, stop, continue. We also have this wonderful thing called the DACI Decision Making Framework. It’s probably one of the most hilarious plays we ever rolled out. That’s because over time, we got really slow at making decisions. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this. It’s where you have giant committees of people in rooms going, “Well, we could do that or we could do that or we could do that or we might do this, we might do that. Let’s just meet next week and have the exact same discussion.”
I would sit there going, “No, how do we increase our decision velocity? How do we get better at making not the company type decisions but fast decisions where we might learn a lot by making the decision?” The DACI Framework helps us do that in a transparent fashion. It’s, “Who’s the driver? Who’s the approver? Who’s consulted? Who’s informed?” Every single time I develop a DACI, the people that are informed think that’s consulted, right? They want to share their views. They want to have their opinion. No, politely, you’re informed on this. These people that are consulted, they are either the subject matter expert or highly impact. Everyone else, you’re informed.
Again, we document these and we share them. We encourage the discussion and the debate and the challenge. We want to see people go, “I politely disagree,” because it’s very rare you make a decision that everyone agrees with, right? This is about collaboration, which is very different to consensus. Consensus is easy, force everyone to agree. Collaboration, you want to bring the differences of opinion.
One of the plays that we released this, this is a brand new play we released as part of the pandemic. It’s called the Work Life Impact play. This has been a superpower for us, especially in the last six months. It basically says that whilst everyone in the pandemic is in the same storm, everyone’s in a very different boat, right? Some of us are in luxury yachts and shipping containers. Others are in these thingies, floating around in a giant storm. We’re not all experiencing the pandemic the same way. So, the Work Life Impact play says, “What’s your work from home situation? What’s your social connections and network? What’s the nature of your role?” You have this discussion as a team.
It’s enabled me with my teammates to understand the chaos behind the camera, right? Everyone’s got different stuff going on at home. This is not an ideal situation. It’s helped me build empathy and understanding. And then the final play that I want to share with you is called the Project Poster. It’s one of the very first plays we introduced and one of our most used plays. We don’t have business cases at Atlassian, because business cases take too long to develop. You know that when you develop a business case and you’re forced to sign it in blood and sweat and tears, then you know that appendix 14.6.7 says, “Here’s the plan.” You know deep down that plan will never happen. You know that the plan you spent months and months developing is the one that will never happen.
So, what’s the point? How do you build? Instead of looking for huge amounts of certainty in your work, instead how do you look for confidence in your work? So, we use the Project Poster in our teams. The Project Poster basically asks four questions. What problem are you solving? What’s the impact of that problem? What do we believe the solution is? What are our assumptions? PISA, problem, impact, solutions, and assumptions. We build it as a team. The poster is a living document.
As teams go through their two-week sprints or their working cadence, every two weeks, they will reflect back on their Project Poster and go, “Is that still the right problem to be solved? What have we learned about the impact of that problem? Is that solution the right solution, or should we look at Plan B or Plan C? What assumptions have we validated? What assumptions do we now need to go and test? What hypotheses do we need to go and test?” We update the Project Poster. It is a living, breathing document that stays with our team. Again, the team owns this. It brings them all together. So, when you think about transformation and change, how you understand all the chaos going on around you?
Trust me, using that rubric or a version of that rubric will help you. And then you’ve got the idea of teamwork. The playbook has over 40 plays in there that are free to you to use with your teams and you understand your team health. You then might call, “What happens next?” I think what happens next is you have to go first. I think there’s a lot of leaders out there that are trying to be selfless. They’re trying to be martyrs, and they’re trying to help their teams by doing all the things. What I’m going to ask of you is find one thing that you can do for yourself. If you get that right, you’ll become a role model for your team and for your organization. You become the force multiplier. I believe that you get to create your future.
It just takes you picking an action from what you’ve heard today, whether it be my talk or any other talks and going trying it, because you are the key to unleashing the potential of you, your team and your organization. If you do that, you also become a work futurist. Because by driving that change, you’re creating the future that you want and you’re role modeling the behaviors you want to see in others. So, that’s 25 minutes of me talking at a rapid pace. Hopefully, they’re translated my Manchester accent into words that were understandable. I believe that you’ve probably all asked a trillion questions that mean Rachel can now discuss and try and unpack.
Dom, I have to say it was completely unfair of you to ask us to write down one thing. How are they supposed to only take one gem from those gems that you rained on us for the time that you spoke? So, completely unfair request. Brilliant. So, now we’ll look to see those questions as they come in. All right.
I love that first one. Yeah.
Yes, I do, too. Okay. Well, let me say it and then you can please share your wisdom. So, one of the phrases you mentioned was psychological safety. I don’t think that’s something that comes to mind often when we’re thinking about workplace dynamics. So, how can we create that space or build it if we think we already have a team that is psychologically safe?
Yeah. Thank you, Sonia. It’s a gem of a question. We’ve got health monitors for project teams, leadership teams, and service teams, because they have different habits. The first thing is understand do you or don’t you. Don’t assume that it’s on you to guess or to know. Ask the team. You can’t ask, “Do you have psychological safety?” It’s not something you keep in your pocket. I think doing something like a health monitor will give you a good diagnostic of where you’re at.
What we found is there’s infinite ways of creating psychological safety if you know the thing that took it away. What’s really hard to do is read a book or read Project Aristotle, Google’s research on psychological safety. You read that, you know more, but you have no idea where to start. That’s why we use things like the health wants to go pause. Let’s just time out. What might be the thing that we’re struggling with before we try and fix it? The challenging today is we’re all so busy. We’re like, “I’ve got a fix,” but you don’t know what the problem is, right? So, just pause and give yourself time.
If it’s at a leadership level, this is a challenge I got set. This is probably the simplest challenge I’ve ever been given in terms of words and the hardest thing to deliver on. I’ll say this phrase twice just for those that will need to pause. It’s argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong, right? Argue like you’re right. Listen like you’re wrong. The reason I say it twice is when the person shared it with me, I’m like, “Yup, no, I argue like I’m right. I listen like I’m right.”
You know if you are because you’re listening to correct the person or to interrupt or you sat there thinking, “Bless,” or “They don’t know. They don’t know yet what I know. It’s a matter of time until they understand,” or worse, you wait for the end of the meeting for that person to leave. You’re like, “Oh, God. That went a little bit awkward. We’ll just carry on anyway.” So, that’s not psychological safety. That’s the opposite. So, argue like you’re right is putting your idea forward with passion. Listen like you’re wrong is saying, “Close your mouth, open your ears, and listen, drawing that diversity of ideas and genuinely hear them.”
Rachel, when you say, “Dom, that was a great idea, but I politely disagree. Here’s my alternative,” I need to actually be willing to listen to that. Otherwise, we don’t have psychological safety. I can’t emphasize enough, investing in this stuff is a force multiplier. When you get that psychological safety, your decision making velocity improves, your collaboration improves, your innovation, everything improves. Without it, you will feel like you’re in quicksand.
I definitely can see how it could be a slippery slope if you’re afraid. Actually, our next question turns into that and brings that in. We’re working with an organization. There are people who are afraid to begin that conversation. So, obviously, they don’t have that psychological safety there. How can you baby step? We learned earlier today about this concept of assumptions of workplace and hierarchy versus a network where we’re all valued. What coaching would you offer someone who’s trying to make that first step into psychological safety in their organization, specifically with leadership?
Yeah. Yeah, Kirk, I do love that question. It’s a reality of a situation a lot of people are in. I think the step one is to understand what your values are and what trade-offs are you willing to make, because I think a lot of time, we go into this coaching with an idealistic view of every organization needs to be like Netflix or Spotify or SocialChorus. You’re like, “That’s not the reality.” Lots of organizations are 200-year-old banks or insurance companies or telcos. They have a lot of history and heritage. It’s going to be harder. So, I think just know what your values are and what your trade-offs are.
Second thing is we have this phrasing when we talk about leadership and going against them. In a lot of cultures, people talk about management. They’re like, “Everything’s going well apart from management.” 99% of the time, the person that says that to me is in management. I’m like, “You have a leadership title. You’re one of them. You’re almost like looking in the mirror and having a debate with yourself.” So, the biggest thing I can recommend here is don’t try and sell the alternative idea to leadership or management. Try and do it. Try and find a cost free or cost effective way of doing it. Break it down into the smallest experiment possible.
I had a tour in an education organization recently a few months ago. They wanted to roll out the playbook. I was like, “Never roll it out. That’s a terrible idea, because you’re going to do a business case. You’re going to try and sell it to someone who does not give a shit.” So, find the one thing you can do, experiment with it, and then show them. They did. They went and ran a play with a team. This team was really struggling. They did a play called Roles and Responsibilities.
And then they showed their boss. They’re like, “Look, this is what we do with this team. Here’s what they said.” Their feedback was they feel more effective now. That leader was like, “Do more of that.” Now, admittedly, that leader then stole it as their idea and it caused other challenges, but at least you’re getting this pseudo permission.
So, I think each of us can lead by doing and I think what a lot of us tend to do is ask for permission. This stuff, you don’t need approval. You don’t need a business case to go do a health monitor. You get to choose how you spend that hour. And then just remember, if that contravenes your values and your ways of working, find somewhere else to work.
I think life is too short to be in an environment where you feel like you have core values and ways of working and ways of operating that are being challenged every day. You’ve got to wonder if that’s the right environment for you. I know that’s a little bit of a utopian view. Not everyone can move all the time, but just think about it. If it’s that bad and you can’t drive change through role modeling, think about where else you can do that, because you owe it to yourself to follow through on that.
I think that’s a brilliant perspective for people to keep in mind, because if you’re in an office organization and you’re inspired to bring change and we follow all your advice and we pilot or we just test it and it still doesn’t work out, is that really the place for us? So, you introduced a really interesting concept, because I agree, everybody who attends these development summits and things are having read that content about high performing teams. You said the other side of that coin is emotional well-being focused teams. Now, do you believe that the other side of the coin is the focus we should have, or is it more of a balance between emotional wellness and high performance?
Yeah, again, great question, [Svenia 00:35:43]. I hope I’ve pronounced your name right there. Yes or no. So, I think the reality is in the last 300 years, we’ve over indexed on high achieving and high performance, which is why way too many articles on a daily basis are published about productivity. My least favorite word right now is productivity. It is a sickness that most businesses suffer, because it was built 300 years ago in a world that we’re not in right now. Knowledge work isn’t all about productive. It’s about being effective and about having impact. Some of that is emotional well-being, how we feel that sense of social cohesion, sense of belonging.
I think what has to happen though is we have to swing the pendulum too far to that emotional well-being knowing that it will bounce back. I think what we want is a balance. I don’t think we’ll get the balance by effectively working there, because we’ve got 300 years of ways of doing that are a little bit sticky that we have to unlearn. It’s going to take us a while. So, I think we’ll swing a little bit too far and bounce back. I think the equilibrium is going to be different for different teams and different organizations at different times.
I think when the pandemic hit, everyone went, “Pause on work for now. How are our people?” Once that people felt, “All right. All right. Cool. Let’s go back into work, because we’re still a profit making organization. We need to get back to work, but let’s focus on people,” I think finding that balance is very environmental and situational. I’m very hopeful. The narrative I’m hearing is definitely trending that way. What I want to see and I think you all want to see is the follow-through. I’m seeing a lot of leaders talking about mental health and wellness and stuff. I’m like, “That’s great, right? You’ve used all the buzzwords. I want to see you follow through on that.”
When someone comes to you and says, “I’m struggling,” are we going to treat mental health the same way we treat physical health and go, “Cool, take some time out”? And then when you come back, you’re healthy again. Or we’re going to do what I fear, which is Rachel, you come back to work. I’m like, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t give Rachel a complex problem. She had a bit of an issue a few months ago, and she’s a bit delicate.” You’re like, “No, no, I’m better now. I’m okay.” I think we still treat mental health like a taboo. We need to get over that and treat it the same way we treat physical health.
Oh, I would love to dive in there, on that specific conversation, but we only have less than a minute. I want to just ask this question, because it’s rapid fire. What future of work trend is predicted that is just dead wrong? What do you see that’s not coming for us?
100% remote, I think it’s just not going to happen. I think the nature of work, there’s always going to be a place for the workplace. So, that’s one that’s wrong. I just want to do a hat tip to one about best practices, look at the Cynefin Framework, C-Y-N-E-F-I-N. It basically takes best practice and flushed it down the toilet for the very reason that someone else’s best practice isn’t yours. So, if you can use that framework, it will help you unpack, “What situation are you in? Therefore, how do you go about getting rid of best practice and find emerging practice instead?”
Amazing. Thank you for just giving us so much inspiration, so much information. To be quite honest with you, Dom, until I met you, I didn’t know that your job function existed. I have seen authors and speakers pontificate about this, but the fact that Atlassian has invested in this practice is just so inspiring. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time today. I’m going to embarrass you just a moment. I need our audience to know-
I like that.
… that Dom donates his entire keynote fee to Room to Read. It’s a charity that you’ll speak to more eloquently than I will, Dom. If you’d like to take just a few minutes and tell us about Room to Read.
Yeah. We have a foundation last year in how we think about how we support not only charities but for purpose organizations. Room to Read is one of our favorites. It’s basically this adage that every child deserves an education. So, Room to Read enables kids in disadvantaged locations who otherwise wouldn’t get access to an education. My fees go to build libraries, schools, hire teachers and get books. So, that these kids get access to an educator, which means they can become the force multiplier in their family.
So, I could take that money for myself. I don’t need any more artwork or any more plants. So, it enables me to sleep at night a little bit better knowing that every time I do one of these events, we get to enable 100 plus children to get access to an education. I think if we want to build a better future and a better world, we need to do that by helping the people that are struggling and not necessarily supporting the ones that are already doing well for themselves.
Brilliant. Thank you for letting me put you on the spot. Thank you-
That’s all right.
… for all of the energy and knowledge you delivered today. We definitely appreciate you.
Thank you. Thank you to everyone from SocialChorus. It’s been a lot of fun.
Wonderful. It’s been our pleasure.