What we need to do is take a step back and think about what's the role of the manager in the first place, because it's changed from what it was even 15 to 20 years ago. We have to help them move from managing based on attendance to managing outcomes. We need to help them understand what it takes to build successful and inclusive teams.
In this episode
Middle managers don’t have it easy.
They actually have worse stress levels than anybody else, including individual contributors and executives.
In episode #120, Brian shares many results and interesting statistics done from pulse surveys at Future Forum on the way people are working.
Brian Elliott is the Executive Leader of the Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack to enable leaders to redesign work to be better for people and organizations. Prior to Slack, Brian was General Manager of Google Express, Google’s full stack commerce platform.
Brian shares how managers are coping and what kind of strategies are actually working, what workplace culture is and how to offer real flexibility.
Tune in to hear all about Brian’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Why middle managers are burnt out
Flexibility with remote work
Why executives want in-person work
Meeting habits (Hybrid meetings, Brainwriting, W.A.I.T.)
Great leaders are motivational but humble
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 00:17
Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 04:24
Great to be here.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 04:26
Yeah, very excited to have you on. You’ve had quite the career. I mean, you’ve worked at everything from consulting companies to start ups to larger companies like Google and today you are an Executive leader at Slack. So very excited to dig in. One of the things we like to do on the show is start from the very, very beginning and ask you about mistakes. It’s funny how we started the show always asking about mistakes. It’s like hi, nice to meet you. Tell us about some of your mistakes. But early on, do you remember some of the things that you would have done that maybe you don’t do these days? When it comes to people management, absolutely,
Brian Elliott (Slack) 05:02
super clearly. So I had been a consultant with Boston Consulting Group early on in my career was great experience, learned a ton and got a lot of exposure, and created some challenges for you after I left. So I went to a startup company called Libras, in the internet, 1.0, you know, bubble, frothy times, and all that. And I took on a job as not only doing business development, but also sales leadership. And I didn’t know what I was doing. I was very used to leading of not only leading, but hiring and training, you know, consultants who are all have a very similar, you know, type in shape and form in terms of how they thought how they worked, and what orientation they had around work. I got into the situation and found myself very quickly struggling with think about how different people are oriented in terms of their balance of work and life, but also even what they think in terms of how they get motivated, what gets them excited, what gets them moving forward. And so working with salespeople, engineers, others, there were just some really rough moments for me in those in those early days of figuring out, like, how do I find alignment, common purpose across them. And honestly, even just some of the basics of good management of helping people feel like they can trust me, and sort of make a more productive team out of a group of people that have very different perspectives, in terms of what it would take to be successful as an organization.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 06:23
Okay, so you said you had some challenges with alignment? Because it was such a diverse group? Do you remember what one of those challenges were? What did you do that maybe you would do differently? If you had that role, again,
Brian Elliott (Slack) 06:34
senior head of engineering, and I were working on a set of projects together. And I really thought that we should have had a more crisp project management schedule behind something. And he was very much an agile, let’s just develop it as it goes type of thing. And so I kept arguing and arguing and arguing, to the point where eventually he just basically threw me out of the room. And, you know, I then went and talked to a person who was at that time or head of HR, you know, and said, Hey, I’m really struggling with this, what are we doing? And she said, you know, you’re kind of a jerk. And she was right, I was pretty arrogant. I thought that I was right. And he was wrong. And I wasn’t really listening to his own background and history and perspective there. And, you know, part of it is I got training as a consultant, and his phrase, seldom wrong, never in doubt, which I have come to regret and took me out. And now a decade plus to unlearn that one. Because it basically meant that, you know, early on in my career that paid off really well. Because being the smartest person in the room, when you’re a consultant can often be the thing you’re expected to do. But it really doesn’t work very well, if you’re trying to get people to share with you what’s really working and what’s not working, and to build trust across a team, not to mention the fact that I wasn’t always right in the first place. And that’s gonna not help you solve those problems. So it was a pretty rough set of experiences for a while.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 07:52
They’re super interesting, I’d never heard that so seldom wrong, never in doubt, I can see how that can cause some issues. How would you have if you were to, you know, think about those days? Like, how would you have maybe approached it if you were going to do it differently?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 08:05
I think, you know, it’s hard for me almost to think about going back to that person and who that who I was at that point in time, a lot of it would have been helped me understand, right? Here’s my perspective on this. But how would you solve this problem and make it more about like, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? And what’s the right approach to getting there and see if we can get alignment even on that? What’s the problem we’re trying to solve, as opposed to me proposing the solution to the problem? Because it’s kind of classics of product management, as well as management overall, like, let’s focus on making sure that we’ve got alignment on, you know, what the need is in the first place before we try to figure out what the solution might look like?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 08:41
Yeah, I like that. What problem are we trying to solve and getting alignment on that as a starting point? So one of the things that I know you’ve had a lot of thinking on, especially at different sorts of companies, large companies, consulting companies, startups and throughout is just the notion of culture. I’m sure all of these places have had different types of culture. But you’re really a fan of this culture eats strategy for breakfast phrase. I’m curious if you could maybe tell us a little bit about why and maybe some of the experiences or stories that you have that really cemented that learning for you?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 09:18
Yeah, you can have a great strategy, meaning you can know your customer really well and have a business model that makes tremendous sense. But if you don’t have a team that can align across different functions across different people to actually carry it out, then you’re going to spend all your time and all of your energy internally squabbling, you know, finding the challenges rustling through the internal muck of you know, making the team work together as opposed to focused on what’s the common set of deliverables that we’re after and what we’re trying to create here. So culture eats strategy for breakfast is basically that if your internal culture results in infighting, lack of trust, lack of belonging, lack of inclusion, then people are going to disconnect and then Can I bring their best selves are the best ideas to the work in the first place. And it can lead to real friction. And that friction is just destructive to like your business objectives much more broadly. So that’s what it means. I’ve seen this play out in a variety of different places. I saw it play out in those early day experiences, working with, you know, the startup that I was in at that point in time, I then was in a position where I was CEO of a startup, and we actually acquired a couple of companies. And it was really hard and challenging. And a lot of that was around, how do we find common purpose and common understanding of each other. And it wasn’t around the fact that the businesses didn’t belong together, it was that the people hadn’t worked together in the past. And they brought their own history and their own challenges to the conversation. And what I learned is you just have to really step back and get to know each other as people first to sort of develop that trust in one another, before you start trying to do you know, the hard work of then merging these things together and trying to build something better. And then went on to Google, I spent a few years and at Google, I ran a, I took over a product that, honestly, the product itself had its challenges, but the team itself was actually more challenged than the product, you had almost open warfare in the hallways between a couple of the functions within the team. And well, a lot of what we spent our time doing is figuring out how do we create a more inclusive environment for everybody that was involved, not just because inclusion is good as a word, but because we weren’t gonna solve the problems that were underlying the product and the business if we weren’t honest with each other about the root causes of those problems. And so those experiences really conditioned a lot of like, how I shifted my own mindset away from going back to early stage consultant, that the math will prove out the answer, right, that there’s a business model here that makes tremendous sense to, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a group of people that come from different perspectives, from different functions, from different backgrounds that can work together productively in the trust when each one another in order to actually try to achieve that objective.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 11:58
Yeah. So it sounds like the first thing to do is to get everybody to really know each other, as people create alignment, get them to work well together, before thinking about how to specifically go about solving a problem. What were some of the things that you did to turn that around at Google? Did you take everybody to an off site? Did you do like a values brainstorm? How did you turn it around?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 12:22
Yeah, there were a couple of things there. One was we made some changes. And some of the people some of the people who simply had been at loggerheads for too long, went and found other opportunities within Google, and it was no muss, no fuss, you probably need to do something different. Let’s get a fresh start for everybody and do something. And that wasn’t the case for everybody. But there were a couple of folks where that was the right answer. And then we spent time talking about how do we want to operate as a team. And we’ll give you one of the examples of the challenges, my team was much more diverse than most teams at Google, the gender balance was actually almost 5050, which was unusual for the group at the time. And there are a lot of people who felt a lot of women who felt like the men in the room were the ones dominating the conversation, in particular, the the people who were more senior more experienced, and they couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So we did a set of surveys of the team to actually even understand what was going on, I sat with people to hear them out and talk about it. But I also sat with some of the people, including myself, who were the ones that tended to dominate the conversation in a room and said, Look, we’re gonna figure out a signal here, but I’m gonna, I’m gonna give you a some sort of a hand signal or a wave or something else, but I’m gonna need you to back off more often. And let it make room for other people to speak their piece to share their knowledge to get into this, in order to do it. Maybe another one that’s super simple. We all these days, everybody talks about how hybrid meetings are horrible. Hybrid meetings have always been horrible. I had a team that was distributed. I’ve had teams that are geographically distributed for 20 plus years. At Google, I had a team where we had a central group of people that sat in California, and then other people in a bunch of different locations. And because of how video conferencing works, those people often couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So we did two simple things that I still recommend to this day one, which is person sitting closest to the screen is your hybrid meeting moderator. Their job is to watch the screen and call out Hey, John, or Jane is trying to get in, let’s give them a chance. And the second is, whoever is on the screen wins. If you’re in the room, and you want to talk Next, you’re gonna hold on while we give that person an opportunity. And that feels mechanical. But those mechanics end up mattering. Because what it means is that the people who are you know, in your satellite offices feel like they’re on a more level playing field with those that are otherwise sitting there at headquarters.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 14:31
I like that. So this the two rules of making hybrid meetings where you have a hybrid moderator, and also the person on the screen wins. I like that. I did want to dig into something you just said though, which was this concept of a hand signal. So you said you’re gonna have a hand signal and that’s gonna get someone to back off and maybe allow other people to also participate in the conversation. This is a very tactical question, but what was the handset Hold on?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 14:56
I lost this way. When I said it. I was trying to remember what it was. It’s never been five years and The two individuals that I did this with, it was pretty specific, but I think it was just like, I’ll put my hand up here and just sort of leave my hand handed in my head. And when you see me doing that, it means you’re kind of doing it again. Could you could you back off a little bit. But I also just said, like, I’m gonna, I will call it out in the room. So I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. But if that doesn’t work, I will say, hey, so and so I need you to hold on a minute. Let’s let Lisa, get a word in here. Yeah. Don’t be afraid to as the leader of a team to intervene. And you can do it politely. Right? It doesn’t have to be yo, you’re doing it again. It can be Hold on one second, let’s give somebody else a chance for a minute.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 15:35
Yeah, that makes sense. Sometimes you have to go to different links and strategies to make the behavior change stick. And it is hard when you’ve been doing something a certain way for a long time. I mean, that kind of behavior change. Even if you’re very pro making it happen. It still requires some extra crutches here and there. Oh, yeah.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 15:53
Tell me about it, I still wrestle through a lot of those things myself.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 15:58
So this is really interesting. So that I made sure that I understand this correctly, from a cultural standpoint. And when you think about culture eats strategy for breakfast, is a cultural aspect more around just making sure that people are working really well together, or is it other things as well, for example, like a mindset around thinking about customers a certain way? Or would you put that more on the strategy side,
Brian Elliott (Slack) 16:22
that orientation actually does matter? Like what is your purpose of your organization is a big part of culture, and making sure that people understand what the purpose is in the first place. So for example, if your customers are front and center, you need to make sure you know who your customer is. And you need to be able to envision that customer and be able to talk about their needs and how you’re going to service their needs. And then you need to think about everything else that goes into that not just the product that you’re building, but how you support them, how you service them, how you deal with issues when they arise, whether you’re putting their interests first or your own. But if you need to do that, that’s actually a great centering point for an organization. And that is a big part of culture. So it’s both the team dynamics, but it’s also what’s important. The other factor is what gets rewarded within an organization, right? What behaviors, what outcomes, who gets promotions, who gets new opportunities, because those are signals of culture, right? If you are promoting piece people on the basis of they deliver great outcomes, then people understand that that’s the playing field. And that’s how you compete for promotions and things like that. If on the other hand, you reward people, because you know, John shows up at eight o’clock in the morning, and John is there at eight o’clock at night. And John hustles, that doesn’t necessarily tie back to outcomes. And your what you’re doing then is you’re sending a signal that presenteeism is the thing that you reward. So those things end up being a big part of culture, the team dynamics, especially the trust aspects of it, what’s important to you that you espouse in terms of your business? And what behaviors and actions get rewarded in the organization?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 17:54
Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. It almost seems like if you’re at a company, you’re at a team, and maybe you’re thinking, hey, my team isn’t winning, we’re not achieving the results that we want. You know, I think a lot of people may jump into first, well, maybe our strategy is wrong, maybe we’re approaching this differently. But there could be other things to look at first, before trying to investigate why you’re not able to stick to plan or get to those targets.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 18:20
Yeah, and a lot of times the root causes, some of those basically does boil back to trust in a lot of different ways. I’ll give you another quick example. People talked a lot about creativity and innovation. We did a study. So I Future Forum, the think tank that I lead, did a piece of research in 2021, where we looked at teams on basis of like, who rate your creativity, innovation, how well you’re doing it creating new products, new services, new processes. And what drove more creativity was not where they’re located. It wasn’t whether they were co located or distributed, or hybrid or fully remote, that had nothing to do with it. The biggest drivers were basically factors of psychological safety. There’s my team take risks, is my team feel safe taking risks? And do I personally feel safe? Asking questions. And the reason why those two things are important is the alternative essentially, is groupthink, right? So classic brainstorming activities are someone who might look like me who may be a loudmouth grabs the pen stands at the whiteboard and says, Okay, who’s got a great idea. And the people in the room who are newer, more junior don’t look like the majority, are introverted may have a tendency to sit on their hands at that point. And especially if then what happens is a couple people pop up ideas and they get shot down. They’re not going to do it again. And so creativity, innovation comes from the safety to actually raise concerns or to share new ideas that may be outside of the mainstream, because that’s the stuff that’s actually going to get you going in a different direction. So at the end of the day, there’s a lot of that from a cultural perspective and a business results perspective that comes down to trust. Because trust is what enables employees to be more engaged, and it’s actually what drives for it tension, but it also drives outcomes.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 20:01
So that’s interesting. I was going to ask you about future forum. So tell us about that. So it’s a think tank. When was it established? What is the purpose? How did you get involved with it.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 20:12
So along with Helen cough and Sheila Subramanya, and my two co founders, we founded it in 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, so Future Forum is the think tank, backed by slack. We also have partners at Boston Consulting Group, Miller, Knoll, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow. And we do two things we have research that we do every quarter, we really say what we call Future Forum pulse. It’s a survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers around the globe, to get at what habits and practices are working for people and who it’s working for. And then the other side is we do a lot of work with executives in companies helping them think through how they build a more flexible, inclusive and connected way of working. But a lot of it has been as you can imagine the past two years thinking about like, what’s the right model for our business going forward? How do I create flexibility that works for my teams, as well as individuals? How do we increase retention? How do we make hybrid work, work, that type of thing.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 21:02
Hey, there, just a quick pause on today’s episode to let you know that we really appreciate you helping us spread the word about the Supermanagers podcast, if you’re enjoying what you’re hearing so far, dial into your podcast app of choice, whether that’s on Apple, or Android or Spotify. And just leave us a quick review. Now back to the interview. The study that you mentioned around psychological safety, I’d read something similar. I think it was a project Aristotle or something at Google where yeah, they also effectively found the same thing, which is psychological safety is the biggest determinant of whether or not a team actually succeeds. So very interesting that that continues to be the case. And you have also found that independently, too. Yeah, the thing that I wanted to dig in on was one of the things that Future Forum also did work on and did research on was the role of middle managers in this new hybrid remote world. What did you find out about middle managers and their abilities,
Brian Elliott (Slack) 22:07
they’re pretty stressed, burned out and, and really challenged. So one of the things that we do is in this 10,000 person survey, we actually look at, you know, people by level, right, so individual contributors, middle managers, senior leaders, executives, and middle managers actually have worse stress levels than anybody else, meaning they are worse than individual contributors. And their ability to manage stress is like 50%, lower than executives, their satisfaction overall with their workplace is also like 30%, lower than senior executives. It’s kind of understandable, we’ve put a lot there’s already even before the pandemic, there’s already a lot on frontline managers, many of whom in many organizations, by the way, were promoted to the job of manager because they just happened to be the most experienced person on the team. And all of a sudden, one day congrats, you’re the manager, how much training have you been given how many tools you have you been given. And in some cases, it’s people that raise their hand and say, I want to be a manager, because what they’re really looking for is a promotion and advancement, not necessarily that they’re looking to manage people, right. And so those people that are in that first sort of leadership role, already had a set of challenges. And then all of a sudden, in most organizations with first thrust them into congrats, you’re now managing a distributed team where people are working from home, by the way, for about a year and a half, two years of that. They’re also dealing with health concerns, child care issues, deaths in the family, like all these issues, that historically a manager would have faced, maybe one or two of those a year, were showing up almost every week, right? The stress levels are really high. And third, if you’re a manager who’s used to managing people through sort of the inputs, right, attendance management by walking around, you know, people showing up, then you lost all those tools, which by the way, were sort of weak sauce in the first place. But you’re kind of left adrift. And so what a lot of those managers did, and we saw this in our in our results early on is I don’t know what else is going on. So I’m going to add another status meeting onto the calendar. And then I’m going another add another status meeting on the calendar. And all of a sudden, you know, 30 minute vehicles became the solution for every known problem, that all of those status checks, just added yet more burnout and fatigue among teams as well as managers. So what we need to do is take a step back and think about what’s the role of the manager in the first place, because it’s changed from what it was even 1520 years ago, we have to help them move from managing based on attendance to managing on outcomes. Yeah, really challenging. We need to help them understand what it takes to build, you know, successful and inclusive teams.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 24:37
Yeah, so one of the things that you said that sounded really interesting to me was that you thought that middle managers also had 50% less ability to manage stress as compared to executives. What do you attribute that to?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 24:52
Some of it is training and tools and support? Some of it is executives have different support networks and infrastructure. So think about it. This Well, part of this returned to Office push that is, you know, all in the news and being discussed about this, by the way, Labor Day is our third time that we’ve, we’ve heard the same story. execs that are coming back in have an office, that’s probably going to draw the closest, they probably have an executive admin, they may have their own IT staff or certainly a person who’s going to be willing to support them and give them the help that they need. Their ability to afford childcare at home, when things are otherwise in crisis is also higher. executives have different lived experiences than people on the frontline of management. And by the way, executives also have a lot of experience they’ve been leading, they’ve been managing teams for years. So it’s not surprising that overall, their work satisfaction, their scores would be much higher. The burden that’s on middle managers just increased dramatically during the pandemic. And it increased for them not only in terms of the workload that we were talking about earlier, and the challenges that they faced for them personally, right, because a lot of these people are younger, earlier in their career, a lot of them may have young children that they’re grappling with in terms of how they balance this out. And in particular, we see this in our research, women with children more than men with children have greater stress on them. We’ve seen it in the data, right? 1.5 million working mothers in the US basically pushed out of the workforce, like a 30% decline, year over year in people thinking about whether or not they need to slow down their career, because of the challenges in balancing the demands of work with the demands of home.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 26:27
Yeah, that’s super interesting. I mean, that’s a large portion, I didn’t know the numbers were that high about a lot of mothers having to leave the workforce. So from some respects, I guess this whole move to remote work has enabled a lot more flexibility for people and now potentially that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. We’re starting to lose a bunch of that. What do you think about I guess, like this shift in the way that we work from a flexibility standpoint, what what are the repercussions second, and third order effects that maybe we’re not explicitly thinking about?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 27:02
Yeah, I think the first thing is to notice in our own research, we like globally 80% of people want flexibility in their work location, we should talk about scheduled flexibility as well, because it’s almost that actually is more important. But location flexibility. 80% of people want it. Vast majority of those people, though, don’t want to be fully remote, that number is actually quite small. It’s like 15%, most people want some time together on a regular basis with their team. For working moms, 60% of them want to work from the office two days a week or less. Working dads, by the way, that number is 50%. So it’s not exactly zero. The challenge is executives are more likely to want somewhere between three and five days a week, and you’re seeing a lot of the pressure to come back into the office sort of ramp up on an episodic basis. Because executives more comfortable there. It’s the experience we all had for 20 or 30 years. And even though we’ve had this disruption and all these questions around conventional wisdom that have rightfully been raised, often if you’re an executive, it’s easier to fall back on what worked for you. The second order Impact Challenge, that’s a huge one is proximity bias. As people are coming back into offices, what we’re seeing in the data is they’re more often white male, more senior and non caregivers. If you then turn around and say okay, I’m going to reward people on the basis of who’s showing up, right, John, again, John shows up at eight o’clock in the morning, John leaves at eight o’clock at night, then the people that are gonna be left behind in that are more often Black, Hispanic, Latinx Asian American women with children. And that’s a real risk to your diversity, equity, inclusion goals, as well as just your business performance. If you don’t, if you’re not aware of that risk. The key to all of this is focused on outcomes, right? Like if you’re rewarding people on the basis that John crushed his q2, and you crushed his q1 and his team is doing great, therefore we’re going to promote John, that’s a very different conversation.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 28:49
Yeah, that makes sense. So the way to think about it is to focus on the outcomes and try to not be I guess, affected by whether or not you’re seeing people in the office, and they’re coming in, or they have different sorts of routines. So it’s really interesting to me that the executives, are the ones that want to come to the office the most, do you think it’s because executives typically just have more experience, so they’ve been working a certain way for just a longer period of time, and maybe the more junior folks don’t have that long term, habitual way of working?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 29:25
I think there’s a couple of things that are going on here. One is just think about even from my own experience, a lot of the spent decades literally where the culture we wanted to build was all done in an office environment, right? Because you would have the all hands presentation, you would do the rah rah type of stuff, by getting everybody together physically in the same building in the same room as much as you possibly could. Or you would do it with events or you do it by traveling to each office to spend that time to get that to happen. And there is an essential ingredient by the way of people getting together to build relationships, but it’s definitely not the only way to do it. And so I think what A lot of executives are falling back on especially as the economy is tightened up is two things. One is, in order to inspire people to have them feel a sense of connection to the organization, I need to get them back in because I need to talk to them about it, I need to convince them why this is an exciting place to be. And we got evidence that that’s not actually accurate these days for a couple of reasons. Number one sense of belonging with my team is one of the things we track, it’s actually the worst for people who are five days a week in the office. Really, yeah, it’s actually better for what has some sort of flexibility, because what you’re doing there is you can still build belonging in a lot of ways that actually are occasionally getting together to build relationships, right, breaking bread, having meals together, doing volunteer activities, and finding ways to keep that going through, you know, the virtual meetings that you do every week, simple example, my team does an icebreaker at the beginning of every staff meeting that we do on Monday mornings, the questions are anything from like, what kind of winter Olympian would you want to be to? worst job you ever had? This Monday? It was? Where do you stand on pumpkin spice? And we went for 12 minutes on where do you stand on pumpkin spice with a group of like, you know, 15 people. And it’s one of those things, that sounds kind of silly. But God, it just unlocks all of these ways in which you know each other better, and you feel like you’re connected to one another, that actually end up mattering. So that sense of connection can be built that way. I think the second challenge, though, is that a lot of executives still have fear. And the fear that I might have is, if I can’t see my people, then how do I know they’re really working? And one of my favorite quotes from an executive we work with who said this to her CEO was, how do you know they were working when they were in the office? And the answer there is to is, again, twofold. One is, if you’re measuring on the basis of whether or not somebody’s sitting someplace, you really don’t know, you want to be measuring on outcomes. The other isn’t our own research, flexibility actually builds more productivity, right? I’ll give you a really simple example. Even if you just took everything else away and said, I’m cutting the commute out of people’s lives, you know, three days a week, there’s plenty of evidence out there that shows you know, of an hour commuting roughly 40 minutes goes back to your personal life, about 20 minutes goes back into company work, there’s a pretty reasonable trade off to make that in our study location flexibility boosts productivity by 9%.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 32:15
Yeah, I mean, that’s a big, big increase. And it’s interesting. So it’s not necessarily about going into the office or not, it’s more about the flexibility so that you can work things around your schedule. And if you do that, you will have a more diverse workforce. And if you don’t do that this actually works against your D AI initiatives.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 32:33
That’s right, exactly. So if you’re insisting on five days a week, nine to five in the office is the working model for my organization, not only will you you will lose people number one, because 70% of people who are unhappy with their workplace flexibility are open to new jobs. And it’s second only to compensation these days in our research and others. So you’re gonna lose people out of trust gonna lose more often, the more diverse aspects of your workforce.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 32:58
Yeah, it’s very interesting how all of this is shifting, it seems that a lot of the larger companies are doing the three days a week back in the office. And you know, a lot of other companies, including ours, I mean, we’ve made so many structural changes and hired people in so many diverse places that I think we’ve made changes that make that sort of thing potentially impossible at this stage. But it’ll be interesting where to see where the pendulum swings next.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 33:24
Yeah, I think so too. I also think like one size fits all generally doesn’t work, especially when you’re pastoring certain size, right? Because the needs and rhythms of a sales team are different from a finance organization are different from a product and engineering team, right? So we see this one things that were the gap that gets up is start with principles, not not policy, and then use team level agreements. So team level agreement might be sales team says, hey, look, we’re going to center our weeks where if you’re in the office and not traveling, or if you’re around and not traveling Tuesday and Wednesday, try to be in the office. We’re approaching engineering team, I think more about what’s the week of the month or the week of the quarter that we fly people in, we get together we spend three to four days, that’s just as much about the meals. And the socialization is about, you know, the next cycle planning type of activity. And those types of rhythms are almost always different across different parts of an organization.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 34:15
Yeah. And a very tactical question. So let’s talk about your Monday meeting with the 15 people. On average, have you decided that we want everybody to be virtual for that? Is it hybrid, and you have the hybrid moderator you on duty? How do you play that?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 34:33
We’re a pretty virtual team. So my team actually gets together once a quarter in terms of physically gathering. So that Monday meeting is everybody dialed in. Now, some people may be dialed in from the office, but more often than not, because we’re also distributed across North America. People are distributed in different places. I’ve also done it though, where a couple of us happen to be sitting in the same place, right? And what we’ll do sometimes, by the way, is one screen per person, right? So pop up in your laptop. Two of us are going to sit there we’ll use the mic in the room. For the audio portion, below the screen in front of us, you can see not only can you see my face, but almost more importantly, these days, I can access the chat and the document you just shared, right? It’s just, we’ve all gotten used to the setups that we’ve gotten at home in some ways. And when you go back into the office, I’ve done this a few times where I find myself going, the Zoom is on the screen. Now, how do I see that something’s going on in the chat? But I’m can’t tell what’s going on. And you know, Dave just shared a document. Now, how do I access that? And it’s one of the things you’re like, this is pretty simple. Open up your laptop, put in a laptop stand, close the mic, use the in room mic, and things work really well. Yeah,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 35:37
you know, this is one of the things that we often talk about to you used to be there was a time where if you brought a laptop into a meeting room, there would be a certain class of person that would protest this activity. And they’d say, like, no, no devices, and now every meeting is uses a device. So we’ve come a long
Brian Elliott (Slack) 35:54
way. It’s one of those people, by the way.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 35:57
That’s awesome. So let’s talk about because I knew that you, you know, you work at SLAC you study and research behaviour and productivity. One of the terms that I haven’t heard of before, is this term brain writing. I’d love for you to explain that. And how does that work? Is it a hybrid thing? Is it a virtual thing?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 36:16
I mean, I’ll give kudos to Adam Grant, who’s the first person to use the term with me, and he got it from somebody else. So it’s one of the things we want to pass it along. So here’s the concept, I talked about brainstorming and some of the problems with groupthink. And I often think that people who really want that whiteboard back at the people really want to control that pen in a brainstorming session. But setting that aside, here’s the idea. Brain writing is at the before, if you have a problem you’re working on or a piece that you’re trying to develop. What we do with our own research, for example, is the initial research report goes out, which is like 120 pages long of findings out of the most recent survey, give people time, give people a week to go through it, read through it, pull out what they think are the most interesting ideas and the salient ideas, write it down, spend some time on it brain writing, come up with your five top ideas, don’t share it. But when we all come together in a session, throw all the ideas in at once right, you can do it with just a shared doc, a Google Doc or anything else. And by doing that, what you’re getting is all of the ideas that people have. And then you spend your time as a team going through and finding like, what’s common, what’s novel, what’s new. And what you get out of that is more ideas, more good ideas, more bad ideas, and prevents the groupthink that will often happen in a classic brainstorming type of situation.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 37:35
You know, I liked that idea a lot for a number of reasons. One is from a inclusivity standpoint, I think it also helps, you know, that person that previously maybe had to elbow their way into the discussion. You know, everybody has their five ideas, it’s there. But the other nice thing is I mean, at least for me, a lot of times I might have difficulty on the spot coming up with all the brilliant five ideas like at that moment in time. And so yeah, giving me the opportunity for a few days to really muse on it. Because otherwise it’s you know, two days after all say, ah, like, now I have the idea. But you know, the ship has sailed?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 38:09
Absolutely. It’s not just about the junior person in the room, or the fact that it maybe you only have one person who’s black and a team that’s white or a woman. It’s neurodiversity to, right? It’s introverted people who don’t just automatically jump forward with the idea.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 38:22
Yeah, these are really good ways to encourage more and more people to participate, and for all those voices to be heard, and speaking of voices to be heard, and I’ve heard this before, as well, but just the acronym Wait, maybe we could talk about that, because I think that ties in nicely here as well.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 38:43
So wait is why am I talking to you a it. And it’s something that I got told that I needed to adopt myself. And this is like you said this earlier, when you said this earlier, I was thinking about this who said something effective, we all get told these things, and then we sort of forget them, and we have to relearn them and re adopt them. This is one where I slip backwards in my own behavior. I know sometimes, but why am I talking is, especially if I’m the most senior person in the room are amongst the most senior person in the room? Do I really need to chime in at this point? Or can I let the room work it? Can I let other voices get in there. And if I think that something is going off track, I can bring my idea up later. But let’s make some space for other people. And the real benefit of that is you’re creating that space, you’re creating the ability for people to feel like they can actually contribute their ideas forward. They can ask what they think might be a silly question that turns out to be super insightful, as opposed to well, it’s the three loudest people in the room that are yet again, dominating the conversation. You know,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:43
I’ve done some silly things like this where but they work which is you know, because you know, I’m at home and unable to participate in the meeting. Sometimes I’ve taken a sticky note and like literally put it on my screen so it’s impossible not to to remind me of something like that which is Talk less or ask curious questions versus make statements and, and those sorts of things. But this could be added to my list of sticky notes there.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 40:10
I’m adding that to my list as well.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 40:13
Yeah, that’s awesome. So, Brian, this has been super insightful. We’ve talked about so many different concept starting from alignments. And getting to the point, were really emphasizing people working well together and prioritizing culture over strategy, at least as a starting point, we’ve talked about D AI, and how remote work and flexibility can definitely help there. And some fun acronyms like wait, one of the questions I wanted to ask you, before we go into the last question we ask everyone usually is tell us about future form. It sounds like you have a lot of very interesting studies, and you’re doing this stuff on a very frequent basis. And I feel like things are changing so rapidly, that it’s nice to have a pulse on where the world of work is going, how can people stay in touch with the studies that you’re creating?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 41:02
So future forum.com Is the website and it’s got our quarterly pulse surveys and everything about them. It’s got playbooks and content that come from our work with a variety of different companies. It’s got some storytelling from slack, where I also am an executive, but also companies in almost every background and industry, we also pulled it all together into a book, how the future works, you can find that on future forum.com as well. And how the future works is a bit of an aspirational title. But it’s a blueprint, it’s a set of toolkits that companies can use, but also managers themselves can use to think about how they enable flexibility for their teams to unlock their team’s full potential.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 41:42
Awesome. So that’s added to the reading list as well. And you can find it at Future forum.com Brian vid last question we always ask everybody is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft? Are there any final tips, tricks, or parting words of wisdom that you would leave them with?
Brian Elliott (Slack) 42:01
I think the biggest thing, and this kind of goes back to my early career and things I had to unlearn back around that topic of seldom wrong, never in doubt, which is transparency is actually key building trust with your organization. And I think a lot of leaders wrestle with that, because they think that as especially if you’re a CEO, which I’ve been before, you have to be motivational, inspirational, you have to have all the answers. And the truth is you have to do two things simultaneously, you have to be motivational, inspirational point to the vision and the purpose of your organization. And you need to say I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know in full how we’re going to get there, I need your help. In doing that and invite your organization into that conversation. We see this in our own research, people who don’t believe their organization is transparent with them are far more likely to be heading out the door matter of fact, three times more likely. So it’s essential in terms of retaining talent. But it’s also often hard for executives to do because what you’re really saying is, we’re going to open up a two way door to communication here, right? We’re going to share more about why we made decisions much as the decision was made, we’re gonna invite a conversation on some of these topics. And that can feel weighty and hard and challenging. But it is so worth it in terms of the buy in and the engagement of your organization. That, you know, finding ways to manage that and make that happen is probably one of the most essential lessons I’ve learned as a leader over the past couple of decades.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 43:20
That’s great advice and a great place to end it. Brian, thanks so much for doing this.
Brian Elliott (Slack) 43:25
Thanks. I really appreciate it.