Ep. 242 – Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams on What it Takes to Align Teams, Build Trust, and Get Better Results

Ep. 242 – Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams on What it Takes to Align Teams, Build Trust, and Get Better Results

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams: Five Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust and Get Results Faster. This is part of our IO Live and was recorded in front of a live online audience. Stefano and I talk about what it takes to align teams, build trust, and get better results.

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Interview Transcript with Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams

Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams: Five Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust and Get Results FasterBrian Ardinger:  Welcome to our IO Live event. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger. As always, we have another amazing guest. This is our first Inside Outside Innovation podcast of 2021, that we’re doing live. We’re super excited to have a special guest here. Stefano Mastrogiacomo is the author of High Impact Tools for Teams: Five Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust, and Get Results Fast. Welcome Stefano to the show.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Thank you for inviting me. It’s an honor and hello to all of our listeners and viewers.

Brian Ardinger: I’m excited to have you on here. I think you wanted to show some slides and give the audience a little bit of background on the book and then we’ll get into a Q and A session.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Author of High Impact Tools for Teams: Five Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust and Get Results FasterStefano Mastrogiacomo: Yes, of course. Thank you. So, I’m going to share the screen right now. This book, High Impact Tools for Teams, fully integrates with the Strategizer series. And as you know, the Strategizer series proposes amazing tools to help team innovate and deliver creative products and services. In this journey, in delivering innovation, I started working with teams in 2000.

So as a project manager, I’ve been using many of these tools, starting from delivering a banking application for large teams. We thought that there was a gap to cover, which is the human side of innovation journeys. And mostly what I’m talking about here is how can we help cross-functional teamwork do better.

In particular, make us more successful team members, because these are journeys in very difficult conditions. A lot of uncertainty. Things keep changing all the time. And so the idea was how to help us become more successful team members and more successful project managers, knowing that there is real room for improvement. This was a study entitled We Waste a lot of Time at Work. Where they report that 50% of meetings are considered unproductive and a pure waste of time.

And that was true before the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but at least for me, I’ve participated in numerous Zoom meetings now, where actually I felt that that statistic could be even worse when the meeting isn’t structured, unfocused, and on top of that, we have the barrier of distance, and all the constraints of these new communication channels.

So, we published that book. It’s been a long journey, been like 15 years in the making. Where we designed, experimented, draw into many various disciplines like psycholinguistics, evolutionary anthropology, things that could help us design tools that help create better alignment in the team. As things keep changing all the time, build more trust and psychological safety. And we know the, I’ll come back on that later, the impact of trust, the direct impact of trust, on the capacity to innovate in a team, and in more generally, how to communicate better.

So, this was prior to the pandemic. You know how important it is for us, that things are visually shared by the team. That’s why we designed these canvases. And that’s how we used to work prior to the pandemic. And if you allow me and let me share you a workshop that took place last week. Same setting, but this time online having in parallel Zoom and digital whiteboard.

So, what you see here is 110 agile professionals together. Establishing a team contract. You have 110 agile professionals arguing and exchanging, brainstorming on rules of the game to hold more productive meetings, using one of the templates that is presented in the book, namely the Team Contract. So that tool, called the Team Contract, is a tool designed to help teams very quickly define and agree together on team rules and behaviors.

Why do we believe this is important, but first of all, let me show you an example of how it works. So, the idea is we sit together in front of that poster, whether it’s in the same room or on a digital whiteboard. This is a simplified version of a real Team Contract. And that’s where every team member, before we enter the journey, especially if we are a newly created team or if the project is very different from what we’re used to do. The idea is let’s sit together and respond to these two questions.

One. What are the rules and behaviors that we want to abide by in our team during that journey? And as individuals, do we have preferences to work in a certain way. I mean, we all have maybe certain preferences, so let’s put it that, all these things out there, and you can see here, some of the examples of what people put on these team contracts.

It changes a lot the fact that these are said, and shared in the beginning versus not doing it, and keeping all this in our mind. Presupposing that the other think the same thing we do. That actually is a potential source of conflict. As you know, given the pace at which innovation journeys take place.

So, this is a very simple example. A team contract conversation typically lasts between 20 minutes to one hour, depending on the complexity of the rules the team wants to put in place. And the rules we agree are in the center. And also, we can define things that we don’t want to see in the team. For example, here, not apologizing, if not attending, to give a very simple example.

Now that has implications, that very fact of making the rules of the game visible and transparent by everybody in terms of psychological safety. As we know how to position that increases our confidence that we know on which rule we will play. And psychological safety, I’m quoting here at the amazing work of Amy Edmondson is the belief, that the team is a safe place for me, for interpersonal risk-taking, that I will not be punished, humiliated if I speak up.

And that is crucial for innovation journey, because I guess one of our worst enemies in innovation journeys is silence. When we don’t feel confident enough to share our ideas with the rest of the team, because that might backfire on us. So very simple poster, but with the domino effect of important consequences, for the later unfolding of the innovation project.

Another tool, for example, very quickly here presented in the book is called the Team Alignment Map. And this is a co-planning tool. This tool is as information keeps changing all the time. The idea was to have a very simple poster on which we can align frequently whenever we actually needed. But especially in the beginning of a project, where the level of alignment, the need of alignment is the highest because we have all different views.

So that poster, what’s new with that poster is that we plan together. It’s no longer a ping pong mechanism. We’re sitting together and we talk about each other’s role and negotiate a few things. Let me show you an example of how this works. Just also before I show you the example, know that Geneva’s University Hospital has used the Team Alignment Map to become a COVID dedicated center in just five days.

And we’re talking about an institution of 10,000 employees, with 2000 patients. And they manage that successfully. So, I’m giving that example because the poster looks simple. However, the effects are major, and the case is well-documented on Strategizer’s website if you want to learn more about that.

And I also use at home with my kids, but that’s a different story. So how does it work? Very quick example. So, we sit in front of the poster again in a meeting room or online a digital whiteboard. So, let’s say we want to run an innovation sprint about an idea. We have to finish that by the end of this month. This is the period. And we start discussing together. First, the joint objectives, the first column you see here.

So, this team agrees to design and run experiments, coach teams on the process itself of innovation, and also ensure team set up and is driven forward. So, the first column, consistent responding to the question, what do we intend to achieve together? And what matters really is that we do that together.

Next step, we move to the next column, okay. Who is doing what? And for whom? And we place next to each objective, people who commit to that objective. So, all the team agrees to design and run experiments. There is fortunately, a Strategizer coach in the room, to coach teams on the process. And the executive sponsor accepts the responsibility with the team to ensure a team set up and is driven forward.

Now it’s not finished. Every human activity uses resources. So, let’s have a conversation, not about resources in general. But what do you need to do your part? What I need to do my part, and let’s be clear about that. So, for example, we need the Strategizer app, and we have it. Let’s put that in green. We need 15 Mondays, but we miss that resource. So, let’s have that in red, for example, and we need a budget of 10 K to run this innovation sprint and we miss it.

Now that we have the very high level discuss the resources we need. Let’s take a moment to discuss what might prevent us from succeeding. And these are the risks. And let me show an example here. So, for example, we want to design and run experiments, but imagine we can’t contact customers. And as another risk, not for example, not dedicating enough time.

Now, what you see here? That movement from left to right in our conversation. The idea of the Team Alignment Map is to structure the dialogue, is what we call the Forward Pass. Now there is a problem. And the problem is that we have the big picture, but we still miss 15-man days, the budget, and there are these two risks that are open.

So, a team alignment map session is concluded with the so-called backward pass, where we do a live risk mitigation together, and maybe try to make risk management also an engaging and funny process. So, let me give you an example. We miss these 15 Mondays. So, we start talking about this and we transform that problem of 15-man days missing into a new objective. For example, validate, and allocate Mondays and budget.

And the executive sponsor agrees to do that. Now, while we’re doing the backward pass. We realized that that new objective and that new commitment from the executive sponsor, also takes care of the budget of 10 K and also of that risk, not dedicating enough time. And we removed simply these problems from the posters.

So, this is what we call the Backward Pass. Very quickly, another example, can’t contact customers. Well, we transformed that into a new objective, which is asked the customer success team to book clients time ahead, and the executive sponsor, again, agrees to do that. We’re giving a lot of work to our sponsors and we remove that.

So now, we’ve performed the Forward Pass the Backward Pass, before engaging into action. That makes a world of difference in terms of understanding and having negotiated who is doing what. We’ve measured the impact of alignment on task performance. If you ever come to one of our training, we run an experiment where you can measure that yourself.

And we’ve measured that for the same task to be performed, the difference in performance between an aligned team and a misaligned team is 400%w faster, up to 1200% faster, for an aligned team. What’s the cost of that this 10, 20 minutes where we sit together and talk for, I believe figures that are still today after all these years, measuring that still standing for me.

Okay. So winning combination today, we live in a time of pandemic and we have to make the best, out of the communication channels out there. So definitively a communication platform like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and many others, but also double that with a digital whiteboard where we can co-construct, share, and co build brainstorm collectively and work together in parallel and prepare these spaces so that meetings are structured and guided.

I gave you one and two examples on how we do that. For example, with the Team Alignment Map and the Team Contract, because meeting time is precious and we believe that with that approach, we can bring a lot more productivity in this precious time, we spend online together.

Just before we move to the Q&A and the discussion. Brian adopting these sort of visual tools, putting things out there so that everyone can see and using a digital board is also, we believe what will remain after the pandemic. As teams, will be able to work physical in the same room while remaining connected with people that are absent. I don’t believe after the pandemic, it’s going to be relevant to not attend to a meeting because of distance. So, we have to prepare also for these mixed type of meetings where some people are in the room and some others are not.

To conclude, consider these five tools, presented in a High Impact Tools for Teams as plug-ins. It’s not methods. It’s just plugins that we can use to take care of our own teams. They work with any beautiful method available out there. And surely, I believe with the methods that are in place in your organization. And this was a short introduction about High Impact Tools for Teams.

Brian Ardinger: Awesome. Thank you very much for doing that. I did put the book preview and the Amazon link in the chat. We are going to open this up to Q & A and live discussion, but I’ll get the ball rolling. You know, one of the things we think about in innovation, we often have this misperception that the lone inventor or the lone person in the garage comes up with new ideas and that, but we all know if you’ve been in the trenches of building things, it takes a team to do that. Why are teams so important in making innovation work?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Because we’re solving complex problems, Brian there is a limit to what a person can do now. I mean, we have amazing capacities, amazing capabilities, amazing skills, and the challenges we’re facing are of complex nature now.

Brian Ardinger: You’ve been in the trenches and worked with teams for a long time. Like you said, I think you’ve been building this book over the last 10 years and looking at examples. And how does this all work? Where do most teams go wrong? Is it the forming portion of it? Is it later on when things go wrong and they run into obstacles, where do most teams go wrong in this particular process?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: At least in my experience, but I have some data to support my thinking, I believe we neglect two key aspects of teamwork. We take that for granted actually. The first aspect is mutual clarity. Share their understanding. All these are synonyms. In the book, I refer to that as a Team’s common ground, is the fact that we share the same information and remain on the same page. Perception. Gaps is one of the biggest enemies of team performance.

And that’s where I believe there is a neglect, because we take it for granted that communication is going to be successful or that people think, or know what we know, while it’s not the case. That is challenge number one. And challenge number two, is in what climate are we working? Is the climate safe enough for me to really speak out, exchange my ideas with others, so that information flows freely, and triggers an incredible domino effect?

The domino effect is not that complicated. If I speak up, my information comes to you. You might see that differently than you will change perspective. We start entering into learning behaviors. And from learning behaviors, we enter into complex problem solving, because we benefit from the richness of our different perspectives.

Now what enables this virtuous chain is the climate and the quality of our relationships. And that is also for me a blind spot. That explains why some teams, even if peoples are not in question individually, we might have super talented people. The challenge is in the interaction between these people where mutual understanding and psychological safety is not taking care of.

Brian Ardinger: And that’s one of the things I like about this book and about the Strategizer series in general is it gives a visual way to walk you through the steps, and to give you visual way to ask the questions that you want to ask. And this idea of collaborative planning and building the team together and thinking through the core questions seems to be one of the key differentiators that I’ve seen versus other team dynamic applications I’ve seen out there.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: This is a great point, and I’d like to quote Peter Drucker here, the management thinker. He was saying in the sixties already, I believe, you cannot manage a knowledge worker. Of course, if I hire you as a specialist, there is no way I can tell you what you do, because that’s just specialty.

Now imagine a cross functional team. One of the strong assumptions between the book is that the best manager in the world today, when we’re confronted with the cross-functional team is not a single person. It’s the team. So that’s why we spent quite some time designing, refining these tools so that they are accessible very quickly, and can be put in practice very quickly by any team member, because we believe it’s a shared responsibility now to feel accountable for the success of the team.

Brian Ardinger: So how do you introduce these new techniques into an existing or a long running team? What are the typical barriers that you encounter when you do this and how can teams effectively introduce these new tools into an already existing system?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: That’s a great question. In the beginning, I was doing a mistake. I was starting by explaining some theory why it’s important and so on. And now I don’t do that at all anymore. When I introduce these new tools in a team, I asked them, please, what is the current challenge you have? And we start immediately, immediately, no explanation.

We start immediately by solving one of the current problems with these tools. And then at the end, I ask them was that useful. And then they are maybe more open to listen to the theory and so on. I mean, I start by solving a concrete problem together with the tools. That’s how I introduced it.

Brian Ardinger: Is it best to have a third-party kind of moderator walk the team through that? Or how would you suggest teams introduce these tools into the dynamics?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: It’s true that we’ve built these tools as self-coaching tools. However, to be guided in the first steps, they’re not complicated, but if you do it right with an experienced facilitator, so for example, with the case of transforming the Geneva as a hospital in a COVID dedicated center, we had a facilitator because people wanted to focus on the content.

If you wish to have an experienced facilitator brings benefits. I, I, in my opinion, in two situations, one when you’re introducing them for the first time. And then second, when even the, if the stakeholders, they know the tools, but they want to be focused so that they don’t have to think of the process. So, these are the two areas where I see a lot of benefit in having someone external.

Brian Ardinger: Do you see the power and the tools being in the fact that it forces the teams to kind of work through the problem together? Or is it the fact that it asks and forces questions and answers. That communication portion of it? What’s the key component to using these tools well and where do you see that playing out?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: To communicate has Latin roots, and it means to put in common. What these tools do is provide a structure to put things in common that are based on solid science. One poster for example, is how to put things in common to maximize each other’s contribution of the work we have to do. Another one, so this is pure efficiency on processes and work.

Another tool is how to put in common things that help improve the quality of our relationship. So, if you wish what matters is the conversation we have, what these tools do is provide guidance for it in a transparent and visible way for everybody. But what matters is the conversation we’re having? Yeah. Okay. That’s where collective power comes from. The tool guides that.

Brian Ardinger: Guides you through what questions to ask and makes sure you’re not missing things.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Exactly. Exactly, exactly. And a lot of experiments, a lot of experimentation to get to that level of simplicity and have like the right, what we call trigger question so that the conversation goes in the right direction and create the right set of information for us to be effective together. A lot of design, oh.

Brian Ardinger: So, we want to make this session as interactive as possible since we are doing it live. We’ve got a number of people in the chat room here. You can ask your question in the chat. Or this particular tool is Run The World.  You can grab the mic and come on stage if you want to ask a question.

So, if somebody has a question for Stefano, you can click the little icon with the mic. As folks are figuring that out. Can we talk a little bit about diversity in teams? You mentioned cross-functional teams and that, but how important is diversity in teams and what’s your experience or what case studies have you seen revolving around this idea of diversity and making sure you have the right people on the right team?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Diversity is paramount, and it has multiple dimensions. From our cultural background to our specialty, I believe it’s a source of creativity. Now that source of credible creativity, under the constraints of time, the pressure, I still believe deserves some guidance on how to be channeled in the right direction. So, there is a tool we haven’t been talked about, which is the Nonviolent Request Guide. The idea is this, if we disagree because we have different point of views, due to our different background and so on et cetera.

I mean, conflict is okay if handled in a constructive manner, if not, it can damage relationships and then have a negative effect on psychological safety and what we know in innovation. So, we provided a tool to help precisely diverse teams manage disagreement in a constructive manner. I don’t, I’m not sure we have time to go through that tool now, but it’s a template on how to express your disagreement in a constructive and empathetic manner based on nonviolent communication for those of you who know that.

And by the way, if you Google Satya Nadella, Microsoft Nonviolent Communication, you will find a series of articles where he explains that nonviolent communication is probably what helped him turn Microsoft toxic culture around to become what they are today. So again, here, diversity crucial again, how we put in common our differences, paramount.

Brian Ardinger: So, Darren in the chat asks how many different tools are in the book? I understand there’s five different tools. Can you maybe just walk through what are the five tools and what are they good for?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Five, Cinque, Cinq. So, we’ve seen the Team Alignment Map, which is to maximize each other contribution. The Team Contract, to establish the rules of the game between us. We have a tool called the Fact Finder that we designed to help each of us ask good questions. And the good question is a question that reduces the perception gap between us. And bring us back to reality and the way from presupposition, judgements, and things like that. So another tool to ask good questions, which we believe is an important quality of leadership.

We have the Nonviolent Request Guide to prepare what we’re going to say when we disagree so that it’s not perceived as an attack for the other person. And then we have another card, another tool called the Respect Card. Because to display a little gratitude, especially when the project has been completed in an impossible timing.

And the team is kind of being heroic. I have noticed that we tend to lack very basic rules of politeness, just like saying thank you and stuff like that. So, and that is called the Respect Card that provides many ideas on how to demonstrate respect and how to value others. These are the five tools.

Brian Ardinger: You talked a little bit about the evolution of teams. So obviously COVID in 2020 disrupted everybody and quite frankly, changed team dynamics across the board. Everybody’s moved to remote environment and while that’s been challenging and difficult and people have tried to figure that out. I think the next evolution, when we go back to kind of a hybrid approach might actually be harder. What’s your take on how people have moved team dynamics in the COVID era? And what do you see for the future?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: The COVID amplified, in my opinion, what was there before? The biggest change I have seen during this COVID period is probably the fact that what was used by a minority, I mean, videoconferencing, digital whiteboards have been around. What happened during the COVID is that the majority now is moving into these new practices. And you can see that from the growth rate in adoption of Zoom or Microsoft Teams, which is absolutely stellar. Now, for me, one of the challenges there is really how do we keep everyone on board with the right skill set to benefit from these tools?

Because to multiply communication channels and platforms might not necessarily be useful to the team if they’re not used efficiently. And so, for that, one of the challenges I see working with organization now is how do we infuse all these new skills in the majority, say it’s a training issue.

Then second, that brings the second challenge, which is this idea of okay, I know how to use the tool, but if I transfer my old practices into this new world, we’re going to have the same problem. And that’s where I, and I advocate so strongly going visual and using canvases, so that we can really co-construct and work at over distance. So, this is for me, the two important things I’ve seen during this pandemic.

And I believe that the teams that will thrive post pandemic actually will really have the right skill set, for the majority to be fluent with the tools, they will master the tools, but we, they will also structure and go visual.

Brian Ardinger: Let’s dig into some stories or case studies. Can you talk about some of your clients or some of the folks that have used this particular methodology and some of the tools and what are some of the results? And you mentioned one hospital and that, but can you talk through a couple more examples?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: So, it’s been used by Doctor Without Borders. It’s been used by luxury industry companies. It’s used in innovation startups. As I mentioned, I use it at home sometimes with my own kids, because we need serious alignment from time to time. I have two teenagers at home, so we established Team Alignment Map for the school, and we do the team contract and the rules of the game for home.

Brian Ardinger: Do you have a war room canvas for that where you or is that on the kitchen table?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: No. So, for example, we don’t, one of my teenagers, we have a team contract on the frig about the rules of the game in the house. So, and we did that, and we established that together.

One example I can share is a typical ERP project about to start in an organization and people were quite aligned. And felt they were aligned, and they were about to start the project and initiate the project. And one of the participants heard about the Team Alignment Map and said, okay, we’re aligned, but let’s test this tool.

They decided to sit in front of the poster. This was like about 10 people coming from all over the world for a worldwide project. And they realize during the alignment meeting, that actually they were not aligned. And that project actually has been split in three subsequent projects. It makes a world of difference to start with one project, everyone believing it’s one project, or to start with three different projects there now we understand it’s three separate things.

Imagine the level of latent conflict, that has been reduced by the fact that they spend this time aligning, ah, no so we’re not talking about the same thing. So that is a story I will remember for a very long time.

Brian Ardinger: Amanda has asked to grab the mic, let me invite her to the stage so she can ask her question. Let’s try that out.

Amanda: So, I’m working with kind of a change management program. And what are the markers that you look for that a team or an organization is actually ready to change and start taking part in a lot of these different techniques that you’ve been talking.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Would you help precise the question a little bit?

Amanda: Sure. A lot of the case studies that we talked about so far, it seems like those teams have actually been ready to change. They’ve been ready to make this agreement and push forward and finding out where they have common ground. But some of the organizations that I work with, their economic development, community leadership, and some of them are extremely resistant to change.

And I want to find out where I should actually place my energy and place my efforts. And what I should look for that says this organization, this team, this group is ready to make this sort of agreement and push forward with this.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Oh, that is an amazing question. Thank you for asking it. I’m confronted to the same situation, each time I joined a new organization because in the end we’re talking about change management also.  I see two scenarios here. Scenario one is both are great for me.

Scenario one is there is one volunteering team. And with that team, we start just like working with these new practices. When that’s done appropriately, you start seeing beautiful effects in that team. And then the other teams start noticing it. And that’s what I call the organic approach. It’s a pure, bottom-up approach. You guys want to do this. The others don’t want, so I’m not trying to convince anybody. It’s just on a volunteering basis. So, the organic approach works. The disadvantage is that it takes time, for one team to deliver. And then the others…

I’ve experienced a situation where there has been so much positive change in one team that members from the other teams, applied to join that team. I mean, everyone wanted to go there. So that is a great signal that you’re on the right path. For larger organizations that can take up to one year or two years of incubation on that bottom-up approach.

That’s what I see in experience, but at the team level works beautifully. Now for having faster, implementation of these new practices, definitely it’s leadership support. If the top is convinced and I have recent examples of that, where like the C level people said, this is what we need now for our practices. Level of alignment happens at stellar speed.

Brian Ardinger: Is there a particular tool that you should start with?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Yeah, it’s definitely the Team Alignment Map, which helps everyone understand who is doing what negotiate resources, talk and mitigate risks together. That is the best tool to start with. I wouldn’t start necessarily with the team contract because then we enter into rules of the game relationships and so on.

So that’ll requires a certain level of practice already and opening to it. But the Team Alignment Map is a great way to start.

Amanda: How do you market success? I’ve had some teams that have actually succeeded, but how would I package that and display that so that others would look at that and say, yes, that is my thing I need to do.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: I define success in using two criteria. First, we deliver what we intended to deliver. But what we imagined we would do is what we have done. And second, the vast majority of stakeholders is satisfied. So, it means we deliver, but not in any condition. There has to be some shared level of satisfaction when we have completed our work. So, these are my two criteria to define success.

Brian Ardinger: Are there ongoing measurements to see if you’re on the right track? Is it something like a Net Promoter Score where you kind of continually evaluate the progress?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: I was talking about the definition of success. So now how do you measure progress? Of course, you have all the body of knowledge of project management. As I said, these are plugins. Okay. So, they’re not substitutes to a scrum or the PMI or waterfall approaches and, and the other KPI methods, scorecards you want to put in place. They’re not supposed to do that.

The result one way to use the Team Alignment Map is a mirror of our trajectory. I’m not sure we have time to develop that, but there is one way, very simple way to understand if our team is on the right path using also the team alignment map as a KPI for the trajectory of our team.

The idea is simple. If we are aligned, we will get there faster. So, if we can use the Team Alignment Map to display our level of alignment versus our level of perception gaps. So, for example, one person might think that the objectives are clear while another person thinks that the objectives are unclear.

One person thinks that we have enough resources and other thinks that we don’t have enough resources. So, the Team Alignment map can turn into a vote system. Votes take literally one minute. And the dispersion of votes is an excellent KPI for the trajectory of our project. So, this is a, an additional KPI, as I said, these are plugins you can use on top of your preferred methodology.

Brian Ardinger: Anybody else want to come up or again, you can put your questions in the chat.

Amanda: I do actually have one other question. Once you’ve gotten like the successful team that’s out there. And so, you’ve talked about some different metrics and different ways to have that conversation within the team, but I’m looking at ways to demonstrate the value of the process too. I work across a state. So, I’m looking at how to demonstrate the value of this process across organizations, not just within it.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: I think I get it. You tell me if I’m wrong, but this is outside of the pure collaboration space we are discussing. But what I’ve realized when I have to onboard people on a new project, it’s also, if I’m struggling, implementing the idea, one of the first things I do is really try to reframe the challenge, the problem, not from my perspective, but from their perspective.

And then use, for example, the value proposition canvas, the right side of it, or an empathy map, to understand their challenges and how this initiative we’re having brings value to them. Most of the time I struggled pushing a project was because I was presenting things from my perspective. And that’s the best I can say for now.

And then, so it takes work really to put these posters out there and imagine for each stakeholder, what would be a benefit. For them in joining that initiative. So, it’s changing perspectives and showing the benefits in their own words.

Amanda: So, I’ll put what I did wrong out there for anyone who has also done this wrong. I triggered a fear in people. I did it completely unintentionally, but I started a workshop and used the Miro as the shared whiteboard. But I found out that people were actually afraid to use the tool because it was unfamiliar. So, I have an unfamiliar process on top of an unfamiliar tool and it was just too much new.  It raises people’s hackles and I was just shut down immediately.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Yes. So, you know, that, you’re not the only one. It happened to me too in my early days with Miro. By the way at the time, it was the Realtime Board. It had another name when I started that’s part of our learning process, isn’t it? But then referring back to what I said earlier, Brian, when we mentioned, okay, what, what are the teams that will and organizations that will thrive post pandemic?

I think when we start using these new technologies, we need really to onboard people on the platform itself so that they feel confident, they can play together with us because there is a playful aspect once you master these tools. So now whenever I start a new workshop with a team that needs help on a Team Alignment Map or Team Contract or reboot a project, for example.

I always make sure in the first 15 minutes, maybe half an hour, or even sometimes I have an entire hour to ensure that people know how to use the tool. That’s the skills challenge I was mentioning. And one thing that is worrying me a little now is that I see a divide that gap growing between those people who know how to master that, and those who remain in the classic practices, which are okay. I send you an email with an attachment and then you work on the poorer point and then you send it back to me.

So, the way now I cope with this is really onboarding people in a playful way before we jump into the work. And I need to have evidence, personal evidence that all member of the teams are confident enough with the platforms before I make I make them actually jump into the world.

Brian Ardinger: So, you start with the tool and then move to the methodology.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: For example, it depends on if it’s a startup with young, very young people. The introduction takes 10 minutes because they’re digitally native. If I’m working with more senior and experienced people and professionals, sometimes I need one hour to explain all the setting and explain the different, I take this part of my successful workshop, which is to deliver a Team Management Map, but you know, the risk.

Of not doing it, that I take it from my own, one of my own failures in the beginning, because they didn’t know I was using these tools every day. It’s not very positive in terms of reputation and face, for a person, a competent person to be on one of these tools and don’t know where to click in front of their colleagues.

And that’s where I got the strongest reaction. So now, if you look at the psychology of it, it’s totally understandable. Not being able to click on a digital whiteboard in front of all of your colleagues is a sign of incompetence.  You don’t want to put people in that position. So that is a mistake I did in the past. I’m not doing it anymore. Trust me.

Brian Ardinger: Well we are working on a new tool with this, with one Run The World. And so, I’m sure there’s some people in the audience that are feeling the same kind of trepidation as they learn new tools and that so, but hopefully some of these things will get people more confident in working in a hybrid kind of environment.

So, we have a time for maybe one or two more questions. If people want to jump in, I would like to thank Stefano for joining us. One of the questions I have is, so you’ve just launched the book. You’ve been on a lot of podcasts and a lot of places you’re trying to get feedback in that from it. What’s the question that people aren’t asking you that you wish they would ask?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Well, that’s a tricky, tricky one. Thank you, Brian. Uh, what’s next?

Brian Ardinger: What’s next. So, what’s next? Yes. How do you see this playing out?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: So, what we’re doing now is to think, of course there is a demand for having an online course on how to use these tools. So, we started working on this. But we started on another, also another project in parallel, which is more, a deeply anchored in my heart.

Basically, these tools reflect probably most of the mistakes I did managing teams. And I wished I knew some of these things earlier in my career. So, it would have made my life a lot easier. So, we started with a group of volunteers. Or project, and I’m opening a, the conversation here. If some volunteers want to join us on how to teach collaboration in schools.

And what we’re trying to do now is with this group of volunteers, we’re not actually targeting students. We are targeting professors. And the idea is to create a kit for teachers with playful exercise and, and so on so that these good collaboration practices can be taught early on. So that when we enter our professional lives, at least we know some of the basics that it takes quite a few years to discover if you’ve not been exposed to them.

So, we are building this kit for teachers and please reach out to me if you would like to join this volunteering team. We are preparing kits for teenagers, but also for graduate students. So, it’s not the same exercise is not the same content.

Brian Ardinger: So, there’s one other question that came in and this will be the last one. How much effort do you need to put into developing the team members, in addition to getting your work done.  How does it fit into the everyday work flow and how much additional effort do you have to use?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Okay. So here is the thing. There is a quote in the book from a non psycho linguist Herbert Clark at Stanford. He said working together itself takes work. So, the answer is quite simple. If you don’t invest a little time in how we’re going to collaborate as a team, you’re going to pay the price of misalignment later on in terms of difficulties to integrate the parts of everyone in terms of perception gaps, then things that have gone in a different direction. It’s not what we expected and so on and so on.

So now if I had to put the metrics on it, I agreed to the principle that preparation and alignment is always a good thing because working together itself takes work. These tools really help do that in a very fast way. So, when I started the project now, a new team, et cetera, we spend half an hour on the Team Alignment Map, half an hour on Team Contract. I believe is not a heavy price to pay as compare to the effect it has both on our ability to innovate, and the real significant reduction of coordination problems because we predict each other, we know what the other person is doing, and so on. Half an hour and a half an hour, just as a first priority.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: A nice initial investment to make everything go smoother throughout the process. Well Stefano thank you very much again for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. Tell us a little bit more about this whole world of work that we are in. I appreciate your time. I appreciate your efforts. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about the book and that what’s the best way to do that?

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Of course, the Strategizer.com. You will find posts, articles, and a beautiful resources and references about the book. And also, I have my own personal blog teamalignment.co.

Brian Ardinger: TeamAlignment.co. Well, thank you again for coming on. Thanks all the audience for coming in and tuning in live. We will keep you posted if you subscribe and follow us at Inside Outside Innovation. At insideoutside.io you can follow more events and more podcasts that we have and appreciate your time today. Thanks everyone for joining.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo: Thank you for having me on bye bye. Bye. Bye.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Episode 242

Ep. 242 – Stefano Mastro...