For today’s episode, we’re diving into what we’ve seen as the number one barrier to remote teams being truly effective: That’s risk. More specifically, risk tolerance. We’ve seen this on our team, and we’ve seen it for the client partners that we’ve consulted with from all over the world. With all of the challenges that companies are facing right now. It’s critical that teams continue to have space to share their best ideas with one another.
For a team to innovate, you need to be able to solve problems. To solve problems, especially ones that your team has never seen before, you need to take risks. If the people on your team don’t know how to tolerate risk, or are unwilling to explore options together when they’re faced with uncertainty, how can a team come up with new ideas?
Without risk tolerance, and the ability for your team to work through challenges together, it becomes a huge barrier to virtual teams. Risk tolerance is really just another way of saying resilience in the face of uncertainty. It’s important for the psychological safety of a remote team especially to be able to lean on one another and navigate that uncertainty together. Ensuring your team is more resilient in the face of risk, instead of being risk averse, could make a huge difference in how your remote team comes to work every day.
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hello there, and welcome back to Inclusion in Progress! So, as this episode is coming out today, Team IIP will be on our way to - drumroll please…. I can't do a drumroll. Imagine there's a drumroll!
We're going to Kenya!
That definitely deserves a drumroll.
But, seriously, we're finally going to get some co-working and brainstorming sessions, to do some sightseeing together - for those of us who it's our first or some of us our second time in Africa - and, of course, make up for all the real life hugs that we haven't gotten over the last couple of years working fully remotely across the different geographies that we occupy. So since some of our team is based in Nairobi, we'll be spending a few days getting a tour of the capital city before heading to Mombasa along the coast. I'm very, very excited, and I know all of us are too. As much as we've loved working together virtually, and with how much we've been able to accomplish together despite having never met before, there really is nothing like being able to see one another in person, is there?
So all that to say we're very excited. And if you want to follow along to see how the trip is going, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn - pretty much the only social media platform I’m on these days. But look up Kay Fabella: that's F as in Frank, A as an apple, B as in boy, E, double L, A. And I'll do my best to post at least one or two photo updates from our in-person meeting for Team IIP.
Now, of course, I know you're listening to my voice on these episodes every month but getting these episodes out, and I cannot stress this enough, it really is a team effort to make sure that listeners like you continue to benefit from our latest industry insights into how the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion conversation is evolving in the companies we work with, like Red Hat, Instagram, the IMF and more. We're really committed to creating accessible content to support equity-minded listeners like you to lead change in your workplace. It's obviously something we're incredibly passionate about.
So, with that in mind, as we close in on our 100th episode this year in 2022, could you please do us a five minute favor? Now if you're a longtime listener - or you've just discovered us - welcome! And if you found value in the first few episodes that you've binged, we would really appreciate you leaving us a review on either iTunes or Spotify or whatever podcast player you are listening to us on. Because every review really helps us reach those who would gain value from these episodes who decide whether or not they're committing themselves to a new podcast, especially when we really want to disseminate our open conversations around diversity and inclusion, around accessibility, around the future of work, around remote work, and, of course, cross-cultural teams. Reviews like yours really help boost the show in the algorithm of wherever folks are finding us so that more people leading equity and inclusion have access to the discussions that we're having here. The easiest way to support us in our mission to support greater inclusion at work is to take a few minutes to leave a review so that more people who need these resources can benefit and can continue our mission to change workplaces for the better. We'll leave instructions as always for you to leave a review at the link in the show notes of the episode. So please check that out. And Team IIP puts a lot of work into making these episodes every month for you, so we'd really appreciate your feedback!
Now for today's episode… we're diving into what we've seen as the number one barrier to remote teams being truly effective.
Now, we've seen this on our team and we've seen it for the client partners that we've consulted with from all over the world. Now, we've already talked about the importance of psychological safety for remote teams in previous episodes (so please check those out if you haven't already) and, of course, psychological safety is important to innovation. With all the challenges that companies are facing right now, it's critical that teams continue to have space to share their best ideas with one another and, for a team to innovate, you need to be able to solve problems; and to solve problems, especially ones that your team has never seen before, you need to take risks. So if the people on your team don't know how to tolerate risks, or are unwilling to explore options together when they're faced with uncertainty, then how can a team come up with new ideas in the first place? Without risk tolerance, and the ability for your team to work through challenges together, it becomes a huge barrier to virtual teams working effectively. Risk tolerance is really just another - you can call it a “fancy way” - of saying resilience in the face of uncertainty. And it's important for the psychological safety of a team, that a remote team has especially, to be able to lean on one another and navigate that uncertainty together.
So for today's episode we're going to look at specific ways that individuals can increase resilience or risk tolerance on a remote team and contribute to an environment where you and your team can lean into uncertainty, rather than shying away from it in a virtual work environment.
So a big risk that folks feel when they're talking on a team is not being seen as the “Nice One.” You know, you love my air quotes if you've been listening for a while, so I'm definitely putting “Nice One” in quotes.
Now, I say this because the people who are less likely to raise ideas that will challenge the status quo on the team are often underestimated or overlooked voices. If we go back to a theme through several episodes we've had on this podcast - cultural differences that we have in raising concerns and ideas in front of authority during discussions - it's usually these overlooked voices that may also face some sort of bias, because they are perceived as, say, not contributing to the conversation, or they feel like they're working against a stereotype against their particular group. So an example here would be, say, a Black or a Latina woman who is constantly weighing whether or not contributing to a conversation will actually confirm a stereotype that their colleagues already have of them, especially when they're saying something that goes against the status quo of the group. Or another example could be a non-native English speaker or majority language speaker who comes from a culture that usually doesn't feel comfortable openly challenging an authority figure on a call, and so they might be labeled as not contributing to the conversation as often. So people who may also disagree with the direction of a team may just be simply intimidated to raise their concerns and suggestions, whether they come from an underestimated or overlooked group or not, especially when we have a team status quo.
Another reason why folks are afraid to risk not being seen as the “Nice One” in a group is there often is this pressure to be seen as an expert, right? So it's important when we're discussing this with teams to allow space to help team members raise their hand to ask a question, instead of avoiding not asking for help or clarification when they need it. Now, some team members we've worked with struggled to share ideas because they feel that pressure to look like the expert and don't want to be seen asking the dumb question in front of their peers. So to alleviate this, we normally work with a team leader or more senior members of the team who've been there for longer to model an environment where asking questions is actually encouraged. When you are leading a virtual team, it's important to let your people know that you also do not think of yourself as the smartest person in the room, which will allow for, hopefully, a more collaborative atmosphere where people can risk not being seen as the “Nice One” and sharing their ideas more freely. Now acknowledging that you are not the expert or the smartest person in the room will actually encourage those on your team to give their own insights, to not be limited by groupthink, and maybe even motivate folks who may not have been willing to step up in the first place.
The challenge of groupthink is often intimidating to people because they don't really know how to share their ideas when working in a distributed environment because they don't want to be seen as being difficult. Now, many of us have the idea in our heads that working on a team means that everyone agrees all the time, or we're working to reach consensus in the quickest time possible. But, unfortunately, research actually shows that consensus-based problem-solving groups are often where innovative ideas go to die. So those groups are actually highly prone to groupthink, meaning that quick agreement around the status quo to find those solutions with little discussion or deliberation means that the group often tends to fall into a groove or pattern that doesn't encourage innovation.
So some of the ways that we recommend to avoid groupthink include, first, giving permission, or modeling how to challenge the status quo, especially for those who may not necessarily know how to voice their opinions on their teams. Groups generally tend to gravitate towards the status quo because they face a high cost if they fail. So what we saw in groups that have overcome groupthink in our research is that it began with one member expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo and, eventually, just by having somebody model and say, “Hey, is this an idea that we really actually want to move forward with?” or, “Can we discuss this a little bit more?”, for example, could be a trigger on your team that can give other folks permission to say whether they're not satisfied, or they might be more open to embracing new and different approaches and would like more time to discuss it. Creating these triggers on your team gives other team members an opportunity to reveal how they each view the problem at hand and give them the permission to discuss in an environment of psychological safety.
Another thing that we recommend is adopting a placeholder solution. Now, teams often get stuck on a way forward because they are pressured to come up with an answer, instead of finding time to discover the best answer. And this is common in every organization. So creating a placeholder solution that the team can revisit later. While it may not be the final solution can function as a transitional placeholder that allows the group to think both concretely. So drilling down on how the idea might work, and abstractly, meaning developing agreement around the broader principle that they're discussing. So think about this, like treating a new idea as being in rough draft phase. Rather than forcing a final draft to meet a deadline, helping your team to relieve the pressure of finding an answer. And entering into a space where experimentation and going against groupthink is encouraged.
Another recommendation we have for going against groupthink is celebrating progress towards agreement. Now teams who adopt something like a placeholder solution can come to consensus around the why of the idea that they're trying to execute, even if they disagree about how they're going to execute it. Because if you frame the lack of final agreement as progress, it maintains team morale and encourages forward momentum for you. So you can always revisit this placeholder solution at a later date, or utilize your asynchronous tools to continue brainstorming on it after the initial discussion is done, which again, encourages innovation. So we looked at first the risk of not being seen as the nice one and some ways to overcome that challenge, which is groupthink. Now, let's look at another risk that we need to build into our teams, which is that of not being seen as the “overthinker”. Now, if you need time to make a decision, you're actually avoiding the bias that's common in many organizations and on many virtual teams of needing speed, to get things done as quickly as possible. And so making time to actually come to a decision that makes the most sense for the team gives people on the team the ability and the time to be thoughtful.
It's no secret that teams, especially when they're working in a high pressure work environment where they don't see one another often feel pressure to come up with an answer quickly, as we've already discussed. Now, this is detrimental because it means that the fastest answer is usually seen as the best one, rather than encouraging the type of deep work and thinking that complex problems and innovation require. Now this Need for Speed is especially true when teams are working virtually when team members are distributed across time zones and countries and cultures, and are often waiting on others to be able to continue their own work. Worse yet, team members who value and want to engage in deep thinking, don't want to be perceived as the slow ones, or the people who are the over-thinkers, which they're worried will hold up the process for the rest of their team. Again, this is where we work with teams to increase risk tolerance by modeling and encouraging pauses. Now, if you visited our website, inclusioninprogress.com, you'll see in our values section, one of the things that we model is called pause to progress, or progress, depending on where you are in the world. And the importance of pauses really is just about giving yourself the time and space to encourage deeper thinking to ask questions and process information in a way that actually leads to a deeper and more lasting solution. So if your team is asking you a question that you don't know the answer to, either encourage them to come up with the answer themselves so they can practice or inform them that you'll get back to them once you have the answer. And then of course, be sure to inform them of the answer as soon as you have it. By modeling this, it shows other team members that it is acceptable and even expected that you don't know everything at a given time. And that it is absolutely okay to double and triple check before getting back to others with an answer that, you know, will ultimately affect your workload. And there's, with that said, of course, teamwork in a distributed environment still requires effective decision making.
So where's the balance? One of the tools we share with teams is the 10-10-10 rule. So when you're worried about taking a risk, and it goes poorly, think about how you'll feel about that decision. 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years from now 10 10 10 It's likely that once you go through this exercise, you won't even remember it was a big deal when you look back on it. And it encourages you to develop a greater risk tolerance to make decisions in a timely way. Now, the answers that your team members may give to this 10-10-10 Rule can help everyone put things in perspective, when you come across a challenge that requires higher risks and therefore deeper solution, thinking and solution finding. The 10-10-10 rule gives teams the ability to evaluate which decisions require deeper thought, and which ones actually require timely action.
So let's take a brief pause here. At Inclusion in Progress, we know that the diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI conversation continues to remain relevant as we're seeing more identities, more ideas come into the fold. And as an organization, it's your job to understand what your people across those different identities need today, to keep them long enough to continue to recruit even better people tomorrow. So trying to tackle all of these different lenses of DEI, with all the different voices who are coming into the fold can of course feel overwhelming. But rather than looking at the entire room of options, we recommend starting in one corner, and working your way outward to make the most impact.
Now if you want someone in your corner to tackle the future of work, especially around how to make remote teams more equitable and inclusive, we can help you. We are excited to continue partnering with forward thinking leaders like those of you listening, who know that the future of work will require creativity, agility, and consistency. To meet the challenges of recruiting and retaining your best people. One of the ways we can support you is through our inclusive virtual work survey. Now as a fully remote team that is comfortable gathering data across cultures and borders, and knows the challenges and benefits of supporting teams working virtually. We've guided the likes of client partners like Red Hat, Instagram, and more with how to implement structures and systems that support your teams in achieving their best. No matter where they come from, or where they choose to work. So that you can increase the likelihood of retaining your best people and your best ideas on your team.
If you'd like to learn more about our inclusive work survey, and how we can start rolling it out for your global DEI strategy, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more. We've already started finalizing work on this survey for client partners for the first half of 2023. So if you'd like to book a call with us before 2022 ends, email us directly at info at inclusion in progress.com to book a call and learn how we can help you gather the data that you need for an inclusive flexible work strategy that retains your best people and propagates your best ideas.
Finally, let's look at the risk tolerance that we need to embed on remote teams which is the risk of not being seen as a “slacker”. Now, by this point, all of us have heard of this term quiet quitting, which I may do a hot take on another day. But honestly, we've seen so many different conversations around the topic that it should be its own episode. But for virtual teams, we know that there is an expectation to perform, whether Of course, it pertains to your actual job performance, how well you're doing your job on a day to day basis, or even the practices and the behaviors of a virtual work culture, which is how you're perceived by your team members, whether it's on your Slack or your symphony or your team's channel.
Now, the reality is with so much uncertainty in the world, in the future of work right now and how things are going in companies, many team members can feel overwhelmed, which is leading many team members to burnout or engage in that so-called Quiet Quitting. Now, the solution that we found here is creating a virtual work environment where you track effective output, or time spent working.
Now this is a concept that we've already discussed on many episodes on this show. But really focusing on effective output over time spent, really helps reduce the risk that someone on a virtual team feels when they ask for time away, or indicates that they'll be taking a pause during their workday. Again, as a leader or a fellow team member, you can highlight knowing when to take time away, setting clear expectations about when you'll be available and when you won't, coming down to clear communication and encouraging others to share what they're going through without the fear of being seen as an underperformer is really done through modeling that behavior ourselves. When you're able to open up conversations about taking time away, and the importance of taking time to recharge, it really does have a knock on effect for the rest of the team.
So it's really important for not just you as a senior leader, but also a team member, to set that example on the team. Taking your mental health breaks as needed, communicating when you need to step away, and when you'll be back, and showing up when you say you will, and letting folks know when something else is occupying your mind in time and asking for patience.
Now, for example, on Team IIP, we have a weekly wrapup channel where we share something that we're doing for our mental health that weekend to disconnect. And we normally spend a good chunk of our actual live calls, catching up and asking how we're doing in a non-work capacity. More recently, as we shared in Episode IIP092 on the podcast, we highlighted why our team took a month-long break in July 2022, which for me, personally was the first month that I've taken off in nearly 10 years. And it was easy for us to share this with our client partners, because we've also embedded practices that support our mental health into how we communicate with them, and how we deliver work.
So when you're able to model navigating overwhelmed openly with your own virtual team, and a non-work capacity, you'll be amazed at how much more folks will open up when discussing your next big idea together. Because they feel that they're seen, heard, valued and supported and able to take risks personally will have a knock on effect and how they show up in their work capacity on your virtual team.
So there you have it, the number one barrier to virtual team effectiveness, and a few of the common risks and recommendations. And even if you exercise is to help increase risk tolerance and resilience for your distributed team.
Now at Inclusion in Progress, we know that the DEI conversation might seem daunting for organizations especially with all the things that are happening. Everything feels urgent. Companies and leaders are taking on new roles and defining future workplaces that work for everyone. So if you're a forward thinking leader listening to this, you know that it's your job to understand what your people need today, to keep them long enough to continue contributing their best ideas to your organization, and help recruit even better people tomorrow. Trying to tackle all the different lenses of dei can often feel overwhelming. And it's okay to ask for help. So if you want someone in your corner, Inclusion in Progress partners with forward thinking leaders like you through both data driven and qualitative strategies that center the wellbeing of your people, no matter where they come from, or where they choose to work. Making flexible work truly equitable and inclusive is our mission. And it's how we can support you through things like our inclusive virtual work survey. We are a fully remote team that spans EMEA, APAC and the Americas. And over time we’ve grown comfortable gathering data across cultures and borders. And we know the challenges and benefits of supporting teams working virtually.
So with that in mind, we guide you on how to implement structures and systems that support your teams and contributing their best ideas and perspectives to your company. So to learn more about our inclusive virtual work survey, and how we can start rolling it out to support your global DEI strategy, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more. Now, again, we're finalizing our bookings for this year, and we're already booking some client partner work in 2023. So if you'd like to learn how we can support you before the end of 2022, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your call. As always thank you so much for listening. Thank you for continuing to share these episodes with others, and we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress.