People complain about how email is making them less productive at work. If Slack and other similar companies are to be believed, the road to team efficiency lies in chat apps. This early in the game, however, we are already hearing very vocal complaints about how Slack is killing work productivity.
We have become like Pavlovian dogs. We hear the bells and rings of our notifications, and off we go to check our rooms and our channels. This wreaks havoc on the focused work that we need to do.
A Solution No One Listens To
Over and over again we hear the same advice for managing the chat age’s constant stream of information: Manage our notifications so that we get them only at specific periods or for specific topics. This will give us solid blocks of uninterrupted time to get real work done.
And yet, many of us refuse to do it. We always want to be in the loop. We don’t want other team members to think that we are not paying attention. Because if we are not paying attention, then we are not doing our jobs.
Is the real problem then not Slack or the other chat apps we use, but rather the condition of our team and the quality of our team communication? Are we giving in to FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, because we cannot switch off for fear of being seen as lazy?
The Future of Work Today
They say that the future of work will have team members working remotely. For us at Wizy.io, this is already reality. The management team is comprised of four nationalities, all based in different countries, the US, Philippines, France and Australia.
In creating Wizy.io, I combined two teams that worked with me in my previous ventures, Revevol and Collabspot. The two companies were based continents apart. I have been hopping between our different offices, but the other co-founders met for the first time face to face only in March, 2016, at GCP Next in SFO. That was one year after we started Wizy.io.
Working across four continents and their different time zones, it is simply impossible for us to subscribe to the always-on culture engendered by Slack and its competitors.
We work with a variety of communication tools – chat, email, and video conferences – but learning to use them well is only secondary to what really matters. The real priority is building a relationship of trust.
I see this as one of my key preoccupations as CEO and team leader: Nurturing a company culture that sees team members trusting that quality work is being done whether or not we catch each other in our chat and video conferencing apps.
I was very interested to read that Google has come up with a list of five qualities that make a successful team. Psychological safety was found to be of no. 1 importance. This translates to how confident team members are about taking risks and being vulnerable in front each other.
A team would score high in psychological safety if, for example, each member is given equal opportunity to talk. There is no one person or group of persons taking center stage all the time. A team would also score high if members exercise empathy. They can tell if another member is feeling uncomfortable, or left out.
Building Psychological Safety in a Remote Team
The culture of trust that is necessary for Wizy.io to function is possible only if psychological safety exists. It is already not an easy task to build this in a traditional office set-up. It requires even more effort for a remote team.
In my more than 30 years working in enterprises in four continents, the last 15 years as an entrepreneur, I have seen my fair share of teams in their various permutations. In a previous startup, I witnessed how lack of psychological safety can create havoc on overall productivity. While confidence in each other was at acceptable levels when we worked in the same building, it was not enough for remote work. That team did not work long together.
With Wizy.io, I have seen that there are several effective strategies that foster psychological safety, but the most important in our multicultural environment is understanding how individuals from different cultural backgrounds will behave when they interact with their colleagues. For example, our French CTO has a markedly different way of expressing his ideas from that of our Filipino CPO. What is this difference? And how can effective communication transpire despite it?
Managers need to understand how to get out of their own cultural comfort zones to understand others, and ultimately to work effectively with them. Once everybody accomplishes this, you create a unique company culture, somewhere in the middle between all your management team cultures. But the lead must come from the CEO’s own behaviour.
Let me share with you how I do it:
- Understand the different cultures of your management team. Actual experience living in multiple countries help, but even if you have only experienced one culture, this great tool from the Harvard Business Review can help. Also pay attention to the following chart, and this article about it. The chart was built for “negotiation,” but will work perfectly for your company’s internal use.
- Go to your offices, sit down face-to-face with your managers and show them this chart. Help them understand what the behavior of the other team members mean, in the context of those team members’ culture. And – the most difficult part for most CEOs – leave your own preconceived ideas at the door. Realize that these come from your own socialization, your own cultural biases. Talk to the manager in front of you as if you shared the same background. Your goal here is to teach each manager to adapt. He must learn to interact with the other manager’s default cultural settings, and not his own. This will quickly break down barriers.
- Spend one management meeting on this topic. Give real-life examples about how you behave differently, and how you adapt to other cultures to make things happen “in trust.”
- At each management meeting, try to compensate for cultural differences as much as possible. Aim for all your managers to express their real thoughts. For example, the French love to argue, but Filipinos don’t like confrontation. When debates get hot, and the French don’t stop talking, I make sure that the Filipino CPO has the space to express himself.
With these techniques, your corporate culture will slowly establish itself somewhere in a unique center field between all the cultures making up your management team. On a side note, it’s interesting to see that the US is in the middle of the chart above. This may be a result of all the different peoples of this culturally diverse country living through a similar process.
Once every manager feels psychologically safe, your job as CEO becomes so much easier and the company so much more productive. The team members get rid of FOMO, learn to connect in the morning when they start work and not in the middle of the night. They will become empowered to disconnect when they need to concentrate and work on a subject.
This healthy and positive communication will permeate how managers interact within their own teams and with your customers, across all modes of communication, including chat streams in Slack.
From 2006 to 2012, Wizy.io CEO Laurent Gasser headed Revevol, a consultancy in Paris that he co-founded and built to become one of the most important Google Apps resellers in the world. He moved on to head the startup Collabspot, a Gmail extensions. In 2015, he founded Wizy.io from teams from the two companies.