A culture of safety – Alla Weinberg "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs September 09 2021 False Culture, Empowered product teams, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 7000 A culture of safety feature Product Management 28

A culture of safety – Alla Weinberg

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You may have heard about Project Aristotle — an effort by Google that revealed Psychological Safety as the common element in their highest-performing teams. Understanding what that is — and how we can create a culture of safety in our teams — isn’t quite as easy. We spoke with Alla Weinberg, author of A Culture of Safety, about the elements of safety, how to recognise teams that have it, and how to support the teams that don’t.

Featured Links: Follow Alla on LinkedIn and TwitterSpoke & Wheel|Read Alla’s book, A Culture of Safety|David Marquet’s book ‘Turn the Ship Around!’: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules

Discover more: Visit The Product Experience homepage for more episodes.

Episode transcript

Randy Silver:
Hey, Lily. What did you have for breakfast today?

Lily Smith:
Well, I had black coffee but why do you want to know?

Randy Silver:
I was just thinking about that line, culture eats strategy for breakfast. It kind of got me thinking about what culture actually is and also kind of got me thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast tomorrow.

Lily Smith:
Okay. I guess you’re talking about yoghourt or something, which personally, I think is a bit of a weird breakfast but anyway, yeah, no, culture is interesting. Creating a great culture is one of the hardest but also one of the most satisfying parts of our job.

Randy Silver:
Yeah. Making jokes about yoghourt and culture, I mean, that’s just the fringe benefit of having the podcast, right? It’s a good thing we get to talk with Alla Weinberg today. She just released an entire book on this topic, not about yoghourt but it’s called a culture of safety.

Lily Smith:
I loved this book. It’s short, it’s practical, and it’s really relevant. I mean, she even uses [inaudible 00:01:06] as an example, that’s been [inaudible 00:01:10] N-E-F-I-N. We didn’t get a chance to talk about that but we did cover a lot of other great stuff.

Randy Silver:
I love that your last job was in Wales but you still can’t pronounce [inaudible 00:01:23]. We talked about a lot of great stuff in this chat so let’s just jump straight into it.

Lily Smith:
The Product Experience is brought to you by Mind The Product.

Randy Silver:
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Lily Smith:
Visit MindTheProduct.com to catch up on past episodes and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos.

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Become a Mind The Product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMAs, round tables, discount store conferences around the world, training opportunities and more.

Lily Smith:
Mind The Product also offers free product [inaudible 00:02:10] meetups in more than 200 cities and there’s probably one near you.

Randy Silver:
Alla Weinberg, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast tonight.

Alla Weinberg:
Thank you so much for having me.

Randy Silver:
For anyone who doesn’t already know who you are, who hasn’t already read your book, can you just give us a quick intro? What do you do? Tell us a bit about the book. How did you get into this world?

Alla Weinberg:
Yes. I call myself a work relationship expert and I work with leaders in the product and design space to create trusting teams and cultures of safety. I’m the author of a book called A Culture of Safety: Building Environments for People Who Can Think, Collaborate and Innovate.

Alla Weinberg:
I came to this work because I had been a product designer for about 15 years now and what I’ve learned as I matured as an individual and as a leader in product design is that you can’t build great products without great relationships at work. That’s what I’ve just focused on and what really fascinated me. I went and I got a bunch of training to be like how do I make relationships better? How do I help people build trust and safety so that we can build great products? That’s how I ended up where I am today.

Randy Silver:
I’m curious. We talk about psychological safety a lot but you just mentioned safety without psychological but I’m also a little bit woolly on what the definition of psychological safety is and just to be sure, what does it actually mean and is that the end of it?

Alla Weinberg:
Okay. Great question. Psychological safety is when any person feels okay to share a thought that they had, an idea that they had, and they’re not scared that they’re going to be embarrassed or punished for speaking that idea out loud. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
It’s like a lack of fear and to being relaxed enough in your work environment, with your teammates, with your coworkers, with the folks that you’re partnering with to share an idea or to share a thought. That’s it. That’s psychological safety. But that’s the last kind of place of safety that we can get to but before that, there’s several other types of safety that have to happen for psychological safety to even be possible.

Randy Silver:
Okay. Before we even get into those other types, just one more thing on clearing up psychological safety, so if I feel comfortable saying whatever comes to my mind, is that psychological safety or is it everyone feeling comfortable?

Alla Weinberg:
It’s not just one person feeling comfortable, it’s in your team everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts or ideas or any kind of cognitive basically thought. As long as everyone feels comfortable sharing that with each other, not holding back in the meeting, then you have psychological safety.

Lily Smith:
What are the other foundations that you need from a safety perspective?

Alla Weinberg:
You actually need physical safety and emotional safety before you can have psychological safety. Before you can share and feel comfortable sharing your thoughts without being scared that you’re going to be embarrassed or punished, and this is how our brain is wired, this is the structure of our brain, our brain always first checks are we physically safe? Meaning our physical body, is it safe from harm?

Alla Weinberg:
What our brain does not understand is the difference between a tiger that’s about to eat us and an angry stakeholder or a very senior person in the room. Our brain does not understand the difference. If we are feeling scared, we don’t know how they’re going to react. If our job is in danger, if we’re going to be harassed in any way, our brain is constantly checking. This is physical safety. Our brain is constantly checking am I physically safe? If our body can’t relax, our brain takes all of the blood that’s in our head, a lot of different types of hormones and reroutes it from our thinking brain to our survival.

Alla Weinberg:
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this in a meeting but sometimes you almost get tunnel vision. This is what people call a tunnel vision. Something happens and even your physical peripheral vision narrows. You can’t even see physically to the sides. Right? This is your brain going into survival mode. It’s saying, “Oh, there’s a danger here. You got to run. You got to move forward.”

Alla Weinberg:
Until we as human beings feel physically safe, we can’t have psychological safety. There’s no way that we can even formulate the thought to share with our colleagues. Before even that, the next part of our brain … Let’s say we’re in a meeting and we do feel physically safe, we feel okay, “I’m not going to get fired, I’m not going to get harassed in any way”, then the next part is emotional safety. Can I share how I’m feeling with my colleagues? And then not be dismissed or invalidated in my feelings.

Alla Weinberg:
If I can’t, then again, there’s no way I’m getting to psychological safety but if I can, if I can say, “Hey, I’m feeling concerned or I’m feeling scared about this direction that we’re going in”, whatever project that we’re working on, if I can say that and people can say, “Huh, okay. Tell me about that. What are you concerned about? We can have a discussion about it”, then that’s a signal to your brain, “Okay, we’re feeling safe, we’re feeling good” then and only then will it be okay to your brain to actually share thoughts and ideas that you have and that’s how you get to psychological safety.

Alla Weinberg:
But all those things, the physical safety, has to happen before emotional safety happens and emotional safety has to happen before psychological safety happens.

Randy Silver:
How can I tell when we’ve got that culture? I mean, it’s one thing for me to feel safe but how do I know if other people do? I guess I could ask them but that doesn’t always seem to work, does it?

Alla Weinberg:
No. I think asking people that would be very I think circumstantial. In the moment, do I feel safe? Maybe, maybe not. You can tell culturally if you have that, if people are regularly sharing their feelings with each other. If people are regularly talking about boundaries with each other, what’s okay and not okay with me? If people are sharing thoughts, that may be contradictory or may not have their manager look good necessarily, right? If that is actually something that’s still being discussed, then you have safety.

Lily Smith:
It’s really interesting because I think there are so many different reasons that I can think of people not feeling safe, not just in the current team that they’re in but in experiences that they’ve had before so can we ever actually … It feels almost like utopian to get to the point where everyone feels so safe from all of those different aspects.

Alla Weinberg:
I think there is a big gap between how we work now and that but I do think that that kind of environment and culture is possible and that’s actually a huge message that I do want to send to anyone listening to this podcast is that that’s possible. It’s just difficult to imagine, given our current work cultures, which actually aren’t very safe. Right? Where people don’t feel that they can contradict their manager or the executive or the stakeholder, right? That they have fear that maybe that’s going to give me a bad review and then I won’t get my raise and then I maybe even get fired. There’s all this fear that is in the modern workplace.

Alla Weinberg:
I truly believe that it is possible to get to that place. There have been instances … It’s not that this never has existed in the current life, right? One of my favourite stories and I talk about this in the book is about [inaudible 00:10:38] who’s a captain in the military, a Navy captain, right? He inherited a ship … He spent a year setting a specific type of ship, a submarine and he just knew the ins and outs of it.

Alla Weinberg:
Then the very last minute, he got assigned to a completely different ship, which he knew nothing about. He didn’t know how this ship worked because every ship is technically very complex. He had to rely on his crew to actually make this work but not only was this a different ship, this was the worst performing ship in the entire Navy.

Alla Weinberg:
Then the normal way that people in the Navy and in the military act is they give orders, right? I give an order and my subordinates follow through with that order. They don’t have to think that much. They just have to do. Right? He couldn’t do that with this specific ship and so what he did was he had to change the culture of the ship. He had to trust that the people, and their expertise, they’re on the ship, they’ve been trained, they had to go through a very rigorous process to make it onto this ship, he had to trust them and create a safe environment where somebody can come to them and say, “Captain, I want to do this” and then he doesn’t even say yes or no. He just says, “What would a captain say about this?” Or, “If you were the captain, what would you say about this?”

Alla Weinberg:
He just gave the people the power to do their job. It was amazing because he created a culture of safety. It wasn’t instantaneous. It took a good year for that to happen. That’s the other thing is it’s not something that can happen quickly. It’s something that emerges over time. You can’t go into a meeting as a leader and say, “Okay, feel safe now and there’s no repercussions. Everything is going to be fine.” It’s not going to make anyone feel safe, right? It has to happen over time.

Alla Weinberg:
But what he did was, he said this in one of his talks, actually in a talk he gave to Google that his job was to create safety all day long. That is it. That’s all he could do. He couldn’t change the people on the ship. He couldn’t change anybody’s roles. He had no power to do that. All he could do was create an environment of safety. He took that worst performing Navy ship to record breaking, like broke every Navy record in the books, and this is what safety can create.

Randy Silver:
They were judging that ship based on crew retention, weren’t they? That was the metric of success?

Alla Weinberg:
It was crew retention but it was also performance in specific simulations, in war-like simulations, and they just completely blew it out of the water. Before he joined, the retention … I mean, people would not reenlist. It was just huge turnover. After that, 100% of people reenlisted. That’s just such a huge difference. It’s absolutely possible [inaudible 00:13:41] it’s just absolutely possible to create that environment, even in such a highly structured, highly hierarchal environment like the Navy.

Randy Silver:
Okay. That leads to two totally different questions. Let’s go look back and then let’s look forward. Looking back, you said in the modern workplace that we don’t have this culture of safety, that there’s all these problems. Is that unique? Is that different now than it was in the past?

Alla Weinberg:
It’s actually not unique and that’s the sad part I think about it. Our modern workplace has a lot of holdovers from the industrial era where in the industrial era, in order to create efficiency, what happened was a system was setup where managers or leaders were the thinkers and employees or workers were the doers. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
Just like the Navy example, the managers would tell the doers, the workers what to do and all they had to do was execute. They didn’t have to think. They just had to execute. There was this belief that’s underneath all of it is that the workers are pretty lazy, dishonest and just there for the money. Right? We would never give them the power to actually have any kind of economic decisions. You know? About the company.

Alla Weinberg:
Although, a lot of people aren’t conscious of it, those same beliefs are still true today. That’s still how our companies are structured, even though, we’re not in factories anymore. We’re not on assembly lines anymore but still the leaders are the ones that set the vision and the strategy and say, “Okay, this is what we’re doing” and the ICs execute.

Randy Silver:
You’re setting me up so nicely for the second question, so [inaudible 00:15:34], was the one who made the decision to change the culture? Does it have to be the persona at the top? Are they still the thinker that is deciding we’re going to change the way it works or can this be starting bottom or in the middle?

Alla Weinberg:
It’s a good question. I think it’s a tough question. It kind of depends on what kind of culture is currently present, to know what levers to pull to be able to change it. In the Navy where it’s a very hierarchal culture, it had to start at the top.

Alla Weinberg:
I actually believe in tech organisations, for example, starting in the middle, like middle management is where we will see a big change if middle management decides, “Okay, I want to shift the culture” or this is where it needs to change and how I can create more safety, so actually starting from the middle.

Alla Weinberg:
I don’t and I have not seen good evidence showing that it can start from the bottom and stick because the organisation in itself has already momentum in the way things are being done and if you go against it too much, it’s kind of like an antibody the organisation is going to kill that initiative. It has to come from I think from middle management is where a lot of the power is and they’re the closest to the ICs and the people doing the work.

Lily Smith:
You don’t think it should come from the top? Because it’s generally that leadership level who set the tone for the rest of the business and the way that they behave sort of filters down through, their behaviours set the culture for the business.

Alla Weinberg:
I do think there should be support from the top and kind of coverage from the top but to make the actual change that needs to come from the middle. A lot of times what I see is people just working with the C suite, let’s just change the culture of the leadership team, right? We’ll make the leadership team more safe or more inclusive or more diverse or whatever it is and think it’s going to trickle down.

Alla Weinberg:
Culture does not trickle down that way. It just doesn’t. I haven’t seen that work. I think if leadership is onboard and supportive and empowers middle management to make the change, then the middle management can make that change, can actually operationalize it, put it into action, then the change will actually happen. I haven’t seen change trickle down. That’s actually kind of an unpopular opinion I think.

Randy Silver:
I love that, the culture does not trickle down. That is a totally different thing than many managers believe. I can identify with that one really well. A lot of people who work in the product field, they’re kind of middle management. You know, we talk about having all of this power and responsibility but the reality is most of us are somewhere in the middle of the organisation.

Randy Silver:
I’m trying to create a good environment for my team. I’m trying to create safety within the scope of control that I have. Should I just be the [inaudible 00:18:55] umbrella for them? Is that the thing that does it? Or is there a better way of being honest about what stresses I’m dealing with and to create that environment?

Alla Weinberg:
Yes and no. To some degree, the pressure that you as a middle manager are feeling from upper management does not need to be handed to your team. Right? In that case, you do want to be some kind of an umbrella.

Alla Weinberg:
I think it should be a transparent umbrella, like not an opaque one where you do share vulnerably with your team about the pressures and your thinking about it or your feelings about it so that you open up a dialogue and you model to your team that it’s safe to talk about stress and pressure and feelings and thoughts you have about it.

Alla Weinberg:
You can use your team to brainstorm strategies of how to deal with things. This is a big mistake most managers make is I have to have all the answers, I need to know how to do all of this, I need to figure this out on my own for the sake of my team and I know they’re coming from a really great place when managers think that but it’s not actually involving the people that it impacts. If you want to create safety with people, you need to involve them in the solution that impacts them directly.

Randy Silver:
Fancy levelling up your product management skills?

Lily Smith:
Always.

Randy Silver:
Are you ready to take that next step in your product career?

Lily Smith:
Of course.

Randy Silver:
Well, you’re in luck. Mind The Product is offering interactive remote workshops where you can dedicate two half days to honing your product management graft with a small group of peers.

Lily Smith:
You’ll be coached through your product challenges by your expert trainer and walk away with frameworks and tools you can use right away. You can choose from product management foundations, communication and alignment, metrics for product managers or mapping to solve product problems.

Randy Silver:
Find out more and book your place on a monthly workshop at MindTheProduct.com/workshops. That’s MindTheProduct.com/workshops.

Lily Smith:
What other things can you do as a leader of teams to try and create more of a culture of safety?

Alla Weinberg:
Well, I think there’s different things you can do to create different types of safety, right? We talked about physical safety, emotional safety, and psychological safety. All three of those require different conversations that you as a manager need to have with your team.

Alla Weinberg:
These are conversations that, again, are not currently normal within our work context so for physical safety, talk to your team about boundaries. What is okay on this team? What is not okay on this team? Is it okay to have cameras on or is it okay to have cameras off? Is it okay to have flexibility about the times you work or is it not okay and you want people to be online a certain block of time?

Alla Weinberg:
You need to talk about things that physically affect people. Right? Can I leave and do I have to tell you if I have to go to the doctor? What are the norms for this team? Right? Those are conversations to have with each other.

Alla Weinberg:
Then emotional safety. This can be as small as talking about your fears … Let’s say a project is kicking off. Right? Talking about your concerns, your fears about this project and talking about your hopes about this project. Giving people an opportunity to talk about their feelings or at a staff meeting, talk about how you’re feeling about the current pressures or that you’re exhausted because of the pandemic and it’s just not ending. Or you’re worried and concerned that some people are going to want to leave because of the new office policy where now you’re required to go back a couple times a week. Who knows but give space and have conversations about feelings.

Alla Weinberg:
Finally, let’s talk … This is my favourite thing to recommend to people is hold a meeting that’s what I call a mistake celebration. A mistake celebration, this creates psychological safety because you will share as a leader mistakes you’ve made and you invite others too and people over time will see I did not get punished, I did not get a bad review, and nothing happened to me because I shared a mistake that I made. In fact, what happened was we learned from that and we made a better product. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
There’s just a lot of conversations as a manager that you need to start having with your team from which the outcome is safety. You cannot create safety directly. It’s an outcome of being able to have a lot of the conversations we’re not currently having at work.

Randy Silver:
I love that. A friend of ours, Adrian Howard, who has been on the podcast before, one of his favourite things to do back in the real world when we could all get together was to hold a failure swap shop and I absolutely love that idea.

Alla Weinberg:
Yes. I love that.

Lily Smith:
I imagine there’s a few challenges with having some of these conversations. If we think about people who are less inclined to share in this way, are we almost making some people feel more uncomfortable and less safe because we’re trying to encourage them to share?

Alla Weinberg:
I think that’s a good question. I don’t think anybody should be required to share. Right? If somebody wants to pass … If you’re in a meeting and somebody wants to pass and not share, then they should have that right to pass and not share. People need to … It’s actually funny. [inaudible 00:25:07] people need to know that they can leave in order to feel safe to stay.

Alla Weinberg:
I think it’s a really great point, Lily. Making sure that there is an exit that people can take care of themselves if they need to and that they are not required to do that is very important for them to start to feel comfortable and feel safe to over time share to whatever extent that they feel comfortable sharing.

Randy Silver:
Okay. I’m going to change the subject a tiny bit. Again, back in the before times when we could actually go into offices and see people and get a feeling for a culture through the ambient signals … Singles? Signals. I know what I’m saying. Through all that. There was an easier way to tell, you could see, do people look happy? How is the environment setup? Are these people I think I might want to work with? Things like that.

Randy Silver:
Now everything is remote or it is for many of us. How do I tell if a company is or a team that I might be thinking about joining is a good team? If they’ve got that kind of culture. Every company has these wonderful values on their About pages and I’m not sure I believe them all.

Alla Weinberg:
Well, I definitely don’t believe any of the values on any of their About pages. They’re very aspirational but Brene Brown did some research and she found that I think only 10% of companies actually operationalize their values. They’re very much meaningless in that respect.

Alla Weinberg:
This brings me to the point of what is culture anyway? What is culture? I think people have different definitions. My definition of culture is the way that people relate to each other. Again, it’s an outcome of how people relate to each other. What I mean by relate or relationship is how people behave towards each other, how they feel and behave towards each other. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
How can you tell in a virtual environment if somebody has a good culture? In the interview process, you ask them questions about relating and relationships. How are relationships built in this company? What causes relationships or relationship breakdown in this company? Give me an example of when that’s happened. Give me an example of a conflict. How was that handled? How would you describe your relationship with your manager? How would you describe your relationship with the executive team? Tell me about meetings. What do you talk about? What is not talked about in these meetings?

Alla Weinberg:
That focus on relationships and how people relate to each other, especially cross-functionally, is going to give you a really good indication of what the culture is like. I just consulted with a startup that just had these crazy silos where it’s design, product management, and engineering and nobody talked to each other. There wasn’t any relating that happened. I was like, “What kind of meetings do you have with engineers?” “Oh, we don’t really have meetings with engineers.” Okay. “What kind of meetings do you have with PMs?” “Oh, we work really closely with PMs and we do stand ups with them every single day” so those … Now you can tell, here’s a difference in how people are relating to each other.

Alla Weinberg:
I would focus on that. What are people talking about? What are people not talking about? How are they relating to each other? How do they build relationships?

Lily Smith:
I think it’s really interesting as well because you will not always get honest answers if you’re trying to get a job in one of those places and they really want you. With resources like Glassdoor … Do you have that in the US as well?

Alla Weinberg:
Yes.

Lily Smith:
Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know how global that is but really, really helpful to get an insight from people who have left the business on what wasn’t working quite so well in that business.

Alla Weinberg:
Yeah.

Lily Smith:
Okay. If you are a leader in a business and you are aiming to create a culture of safety, how do you prioritise this? How do you build a programme to measure how safe your team is feeling and how do you work towards getting this to a good place in your company?

Alla Weinberg:
I think measurement is difficult in … I think measuring a culture can be challenging but what can happen and what I’ve recommended to other folks is applying a tool like a retrospective to culture or a stop/start/continue to a culture. You can have people anonymously on some kind of digital whiteboard add their thoughts. This is very much behaviour-based because that’s where culture really shows itself.

Alla Weinberg:
What kind of behaviours do we want to stop? What kind of behaviours do we want to start? What kind of behaviours do we want to continue for our company? You can pull out themes when you do that as a leader. You can pull out themes and say, “Oh, okay. I’m seeing what’s happening in our specific company and what’s not working and what is currently working.” It’s never all good or all bad. There’s always a mix of things that are actually working well and empowering the team and supporting the team and things that are detracting as well.

Alla Weinberg:
Reflecting on how the work is being done, not just what is being done, is very important and then how the people are behaving towards each other when they’re doing the work. Right? I think that’s a pretty easy and quick way to take that pulse. It will be in that moment to take that pulse of what’s happening with our company right now. If you’re scaling very quickly, if you’re going through a big merger or acquisition, if there’s a big transition, that’s a very important time to survey and take that pulse.

Lily Smith:
Yeah. I think that’s a really good point because I guess that was another kind of question I was going to ask is I imagine there are moments where either something in the market has happened or something in the business has happened where it can cause a lot of unsafe feeling in the business.

Alla Weinberg:
Yeah. A lot of that unsafety is … Again, it’s back to physical safety. Is my job safe? Do I still know my role? Can I still do it successfully? Do I have what I need to do it successfully so that I can keep my job? It always backtracks to physical safety for people. That’s number one, before you can get to anything else.

Randy Silver:
That’s interesting. You’ve mentioned physical safety a few times but right now, many people working remote and there’s the physical safety or their home life, which is one thing, but from a work perspective, it may not be a thing or maybe I’m getting this wrong. I’m just curious. Over the past year and a half, what kind of challenges have come up from people working primarily remote?

Alla Weinberg:
There have been a lot of challenges. I mean, when the pandemic hit, first, it was setting up your work environment in a place that you can work. Then it was potentially you having to physically take care of somebody else and trying to juggle work at the same time. Then as time has gone on, it’s burnout and exhaustion from just the very long lasting pandemic and change and that’s a physical phenomenon. Like I feel tired, I can’t think … This is what people say, right? I can’t think when I’m tired. That’s 100% true because if your body is not feeling well in any way, if you’re feeling emotionally burnt out, physically burnt out, there’s no way you’re going to come up with innovative ideas, new ideas, new solutions. Your brain doesn’t even send blood in that direction. It’s not going to happen.

Alla Weinberg:
Now as people are potentially returning to the office part-time, then it’s like, “Okay, how is my life going to change as a result of that? Maybe I don’t want to go back to the office.” Some people are like, “I 100% want to go back” and some people are like, “I don’t ever want to go back” and everything in between. You know? It’s another readjustment physically. Do I have to commute? Are some folks going to be in the office and I’m going to be remote? Is that going to put me at a disadvantage then? They’re going to be able to chat with the executive and I can’t because I can’t meet them in the hallway.

Alla Weinberg:
All of these questions start to come up and then mostly what people want is flexibility. I think people have always wanted that but most companies have refused. We’ve learned over the course of the pandemic people can work in different settings, in different ways, in different times and so what people want is to have choice and to have that flexibility about where they do the work physically, when they do the work physically, how they do the work physically. All of those questions, everybody is still trying to figure out. Nobody has a great answer to it.

Lily Smith:
Yeah. I think it’s very challenging with all of that right now. I guess we just have to inch our way forward and try and find a way together. Just one more question before we wrap up and it’s been really great talking about this subject. I always find it very healthy to kind of put some focus in this area. In your book, you talk about the drama triangle. Tell us a little bit about the drama triangle.

Alla Weinberg:
The drama triangle is a framework that was created by Stephen Karpman and it talks about the three different ways that people begin to behave when they’re in fear or in conflict. If you’re not feeling safe then you’re in fear. That’s what’s happening for you. Safety is the absence of fear. It’s I’m not afraid of getting hurt, I’m not afraid of being emotionally invalidated, I’m not afraid of being embarrassed if I share an idea. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
If you’re in fear, which all of us are throughout the day, multiple times throughout the day, that’s just a human condition, if you’re not aware that you’re in fear, what happens is, depending on your personality, you’re going to get on the triangle. The triangle has three different positions.

Alla Weinberg:
Position one is victim, position two is rescuer, position three is persecutor. If I’m scared, the way I’m going to react is in these three different ways. Okay? If I’m the victim, that means something is happening to me. “Oh, the executives made this decision. It’s out of my control. This is happening to me. The market changed. I have no control over that. Poor me. This is happening to me. I have no power whatsoever.”

Alla Weinberg:
If that’s the case then I’m just going to complain a lot. I’m not going to do work. I’m just going to complain a lot. I’m going to point fingers. I’m going to blame a lot. My way of relating to people will be through blame. That’s not productive and that doesn’t create safety for people and people are like, “I’m not going to tell you anything because you’re just going to blame me.”

Alla Weinberg:
But if you’re the rescuer, then you’re like, “Oh, I can fix this. I’m not going to actually look at my fear, I’m not going to look at what I’m scared of. I’m going to fix it. Whatever it is.” A report comes to you and says, “Hey, I have a problem.” You can be like, “Don’t worry. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll fix it. I’ll take care of it. I’m always busy fixing and doing things.” But then I’m just exhausted and I’m burnt out and I don’t have any more energy for anything else because I’m so busy fixing everything. What I’m actually doing is avoiding my fear.

Alla Weinberg:
Then the persecutor is the one that is pointing fingers at other people, “Well, it’s not my fault. Engineering should have done their job. If they did their job, we would have been fine” or, “Product managers dropped the ball here.” Right? They’re the finger pointing ones. Again, what’s happening for people is you’re scared but the way you are reacting to it is by finger pointing. Okay?

Alla Weinberg:
These are three different and very common ways that we react to fear. What’s important for leaders to know is it’s just important to recognise the fear instead of letting it drive you and the way that you behave and relate to other people.

Alla Weinberg:
The fear is what’s going to diminish safety for your team. If you don’t acknowledge it and you don’t say, “Okay. Yeah. I’m actually just scared that this isn’t going to go well or something is going to happen”, you don’t acknowledge it, you’re going to probably fall into one of these positions. Everyone has a favourite one. My favourite one is victim. I love being a victim. I have pillows setup in that position. It’s very comfortable for me there. I like to hang out there. But I also know that. You know? I’m like, “Ooh, getting a little too comfortable in the victim position. What do I actually have control over? What is my responsibility? What is my role in creating what’s happened?” I can start to get myself out of it.

Alla Weinberg:
It’s just important to know that this is what happens for people, it’s natural to fall into these positions, each of us has a favourite one but a lot of times we will just ping pong around the triangle. We will ping pong around it and around it and around it and this is … If your team is feeling stuck or if the work and momentum has really slowed down, what that means is as a team or as a leader, we’re on a triangle. 100% we’re on the triangle.

Lily Smith:
Alla, this has been so interesting talking about this [inaudible 00:40:01]. I feel like we could go on for ages more. Sadly, our time has run out. Thank you so much for joining us, though. We will put a link to the book if people want to read more into the show notes.

Alla Weinberg:
Wonderful. Thank you both so much. I just had so much fun talking to you.

Randy Silver:
Thank you.

Randy Silver:
Lily, we didn’t get to use any Welsh words in this one. Are you disappointed?

Lily Smith:
I’m pretty sure I must have said something a little bit Welsh. But no, in all seriousness, it’s a really important topic and really interesting and such a massive challenge. I would love to know if anyone feels like truly, truly safe in their job and doesn’t worry about anything that they’re saying at any point in time. I just think that that’s amazing, if they’ve managed to achieve that.

Randy Silver:
I think I’ve met people like that but I also tend to think that they’re delusional. [inaudible 00:41:15]. This is really interesting, as leaders within our teams and within our organisations, how we can deal with stress, how we can create cultures of safety with the people we work with, both the people who work directly for us and those who work all around us. It’s really critical, especially when we don’t know the situations everyone is sitting in every day.

Lily Smith:
Yeah. Exactly. Cool. We have more coming up next week. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out, then please hit the subscribe button, give us a like, and leave us a review.

Randy Silver:
We’ll see you then. Bye.

Lily Smith:
Our hosts are me, Lily Smith and …

Randy Silver:
Me, Randy Silver.

Lily Smith:
Emily Tate is our producer and Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver:
Our theme music is from a Hamburg-based band Pau, that’s P-A-U. Thanks to [Anna Kitler 00:42:14], who runs Product Tank and MTP engaged in Hamburg. [inaudible 00:42:18] in the band for letting us use their music.

Randy Silver:
Connect with your local product community via Product Tank at regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide.

Lily Smith:
If there’s not one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more, go to MindTheProduct.com/producttank.

Randy Silver:
Product Tank is a global community of meetups driven by and for product people. We offer expert talks, group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share learnings and tips.

[buzzsprout episode='8750066' player='true'] You may have heard about Project Aristotle — an effort by Google that revealed Psychological Safety as the common element in their highest-performing teams. Understanding what that is — and how we can create a culture of safety in our teams — isn't quite as easy. We spoke with Alla Weinberg, author of A Culture of Safety, about the elements of safety, how to recognise teams that have it, and how to support the teams that don't. Featured Links: Follow Alla on LinkedIn and TwitterSpoke & Wheel|Read Alla's book, A Culture of Safety|David Marquet's book 'Turn the Ship Around!': A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules Discover more: Visit The Product Experience homepage for more episodes.

Episode transcript

Randy Silver: Hey, Lily. What did you have for breakfast today? Lily Smith: Well, I had black coffee but why do you want to know? Randy Silver: I was just thinking about that line, culture eats strategy for breakfast. It kind of got me thinking about what culture actually is and also kind of got me thinking about what I'm going to have for breakfast tomorrow. Lily Smith: Okay. I guess you're talking about yoghourt or something, which personally, I think is a bit of a weird breakfast but anyway, yeah, no, culture is interesting. Creating a great culture is one of the hardest but also one of the most satisfying parts of our job. Randy Silver: Yeah. Making jokes about yoghourt and culture, I mean, that's just the fringe benefit of having the podcast, right? It's a good thing we get to talk with Alla Weinberg today. She just released an entire book on this topic, not about yoghourt but it's called a culture of safety. Lily Smith: I loved this book. It's short, it's practical, and it's really relevant. I mean, she even uses [inaudible 00:01:06] as an example, that's been [inaudible 00:01:10] N-E-F-I-N. We didn't get a chance to talk about that but we did cover a lot of other great stuff. Randy Silver: I love that your last job was in Wales but you still can't pronounce [inaudible 00:01:23]. We talked about a lot of great stuff in this chat so let's just jump straight into it. Lily Smith: The Product Experience is brought to you by Mind The Product. Randy Silver: Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practise and build products that people love. Lily Smith: Visit MindTheProduct.com to catch up on past episodes and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos. Randy Silver: Become a Mind The Product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, AMAs, round tables, discount store conferences around the world, training opportunities and more. Lily Smith: Mind The Product also offers free product [inaudible 00:02:10] meetups in more than 200 cities and there's probably one near you. Randy Silver: Alla Weinberg, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast tonight. Alla Weinberg: Thank you so much for having me. Randy Silver: For anyone who doesn't already know who you are, who hasn't already read your book, can you just give us a quick intro? What do you do? Tell us a bit about the book. How did you get into this world? Alla Weinberg: Yes. I call myself a work relationship expert and I work with leaders in the product and design space to create trusting teams and cultures of safety. I'm the author of a book called A Culture of Safety: Building Environments for People Who Can Think, Collaborate and Innovate. Alla Weinberg: I came to this work because I had been a product designer for about 15 years now and what I've learned as I matured as an individual and as a leader in product design is that you can't build great products without great relationships at work. That's what I've just focused on and what really fascinated me. I went and I got a bunch of training to be like how do I make relationships better? How do I help people build trust and safety so that we can build great products? That's how I ended up where I am today. Randy Silver: I'm curious. We talk about psychological safety a lot but you just mentioned safety without psychological but I'm also a little bit woolly on what the definition of psychological safety is and just to be sure, what does it actually mean and is that the end of it? Alla Weinberg: Okay. Great question. Psychological safety is when any person feels okay to share a thought that they had, an idea that they had, and they're not scared that they're going to be embarrassed or punished for speaking that idea out loud. Okay? Alla Weinberg: It's like a lack of fear and to being relaxed enough in your work environment, with your teammates, with your coworkers, with the folks that you're partnering with to share an idea or to share a thought. That's it. That's psychological safety. But that's the last kind of place of safety that we can get to but before that, there's several other types of safety that have to happen for psychological safety to even be possible. Randy Silver: Okay. Before we even get into those other types, just one more thing on clearing up psychological safety, so if I feel comfortable saying whatever comes to my mind, is that psychological safety or is it everyone feeling comfortable? Alla Weinberg: It's not just one person feeling comfortable, it's in your team everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts or ideas or any kind of cognitive basically thought. As long as everyone feels comfortable sharing that with each other, not holding back in the meeting, then you have psychological safety. Lily Smith: What are the other foundations that you need from a safety perspective? Alla Weinberg: You actually need physical safety and emotional safety before you can have psychological safety. Before you can share and feel comfortable sharing your thoughts without being scared that you're going to be embarrassed or punished, and this is how our brain is wired, this is the structure of our brain, our brain always first checks are we physically safe? Meaning our physical body, is it safe from harm? Alla Weinberg: What our brain does not understand is the difference between a tiger that's about to eat us and an angry stakeholder or a very senior person in the room. Our brain does not understand the difference. If we are feeling scared, we don't know how they're going to react. If our job is in danger, if we're going to be harassed in any way, our brain is constantly checking. This is physical safety. Our brain is constantly checking am I physically safe? If our body can't relax, our brain takes all of the blood that's in our head, a lot of different types of hormones and reroutes it from our thinking brain to our survival. Alla Weinberg: I don't know if you've ever experienced this in a meeting but sometimes you almost get tunnel vision. This is what people call a tunnel vision. Something happens and even your physical peripheral vision narrows. You can't even see physically to the sides. Right? This is your brain going into survival mode. It's saying, "Oh, there's a danger here. You got to run. You got to move forward." Alla Weinberg: Until we as human beings feel physically safe, we can't have psychological safety. There's no way that we can even formulate the thought to share with our colleagues. Before even that, the next part of our brain ... Let's say we're in a meeting and we do feel physically safe, we feel okay, "I'm not going to get fired, I'm not going to get harassed in any way", then the next part is emotional safety. Can I share how I'm feeling with my colleagues? And then not be dismissed or invalidated in my feelings. Alla Weinberg: If I can't, then again, there's no way I'm getting to psychological safety but if I can, if I can say, "Hey, I'm feeling concerned or I'm feeling scared about this direction that we're going in", whatever project that we're working on, if I can say that and people can say, "Huh, okay. Tell me about that. What are you concerned about? We can have a discussion about it", then that's a signal to your brain, "Okay, we're feeling safe, we're feeling good" then and only then will it be okay to your brain to actually share thoughts and ideas that you have and that's how you get to psychological safety. Alla Weinberg: But all those things, the physical safety, has to happen before emotional safety happens and emotional safety has to happen before psychological safety happens. Randy Silver: How can I tell when we've got that culture? I mean, it's one thing for me to feel safe but how do I know if other people do? I guess I could ask them but that doesn't always seem to work, does it? Alla Weinberg: No. I think asking people that would be very I think circumstantial. In the moment, do I feel safe? Maybe, maybe not. You can tell culturally if you have that, if people are regularly sharing their feelings with each other. If people are regularly talking about boundaries with each other, what's okay and not okay with me? If people are sharing thoughts, that may be contradictory or may not have their manager look good necessarily, right? If that is actually something that's still being discussed, then you have safety. Lily Smith: It's really interesting because I think there are so many different reasons that I can think of people not feeling safe, not just in the current team that they're in but in experiences that they've had before so can we ever actually ... It feels almost like utopian to get to the point where everyone feels so safe from all of those different aspects. Alla Weinberg: I think there is a big gap between how we work now and that but I do think that that kind of environment and culture is possible and that's actually a huge message that I do want to send to anyone listening to this podcast is that that's possible. It's just difficult to imagine, given our current work cultures, which actually aren't very safe. Right? Where people don't feel that they can contradict their manager or the executive or the stakeholder, right? That they have fear that maybe that's going to give me a bad review and then I won't get my raise and then I maybe even get fired. There's all this fear that is in the modern workplace. Alla Weinberg: I truly believe that it is possible to get to that place. There have been instances ... It's not that this never has existed in the current life, right? One of my favourite stories and I talk about this in the book is about [inaudible 00:10:38] who's a captain in the military, a Navy captain, right? He inherited a ship ... He spent a year setting a specific type of ship, a submarine and he just knew the ins and outs of it. Alla Weinberg: Then the very last minute, he got assigned to a completely different ship, which he knew nothing about. He didn't know how this ship worked because every ship is technically very complex. He had to rely on his crew to actually make this work but not only was this a different ship, this was the worst performing ship in the entire Navy. Alla Weinberg: Then the normal way that people in the Navy and in the military act is they give orders, right? I give an order and my subordinates follow through with that order. They don't have to think that much. They just have to do. Right? He couldn't do that with this specific ship and so what he did was he had to change the culture of the ship. He had to trust that the people, and their expertise, they're on the ship, they've been trained, they had to go through a very rigorous process to make it onto this ship, he had to trust them and create a safe environment where somebody can come to them and say, "Captain, I want to do this" and then he doesn't even say yes or no. He just says, "What would a captain say about this?" Or, "If you were the captain, what would you say about this?" Alla Weinberg: He just gave the people the power to do their job. It was amazing because he created a culture of safety. It wasn't instantaneous. It took a good year for that to happen. That's the other thing is it's not something that can happen quickly. It's something that emerges over time. You can't go into a meeting as a leader and say, "Okay, feel safe now and there's no repercussions. Everything is going to be fine." It's not going to make anyone feel safe, right? It has to happen over time. Alla Weinberg: But what he did was, he said this in one of his talks, actually in a talk he gave to Google that his job was to create safety all day long. That is it. That's all he could do. He couldn't change the people on the ship. He couldn't change anybody's roles. He had no power to do that. All he could do was create an environment of safety. He took that worst performing Navy ship to record breaking, like broke every Navy record in the books, and this is what safety can create. Randy Silver: They were judging that ship based on crew retention, weren't they? That was the metric of success? Alla Weinberg: It was crew retention but it was also performance in specific simulations, in war-like simulations, and they just completely blew it out of the water. Before he joined, the retention ... I mean, people would not reenlist. It was just huge turnover. After that, 100% of people reenlisted. That's just such a huge difference. It's absolutely possible [inaudible 00:13:41] it's just absolutely possible to create that environment, even in such a highly structured, highly hierarchal environment like the Navy. Randy Silver: Okay. That leads to two totally different questions. Let's go look back and then let's look forward. Looking back, you said in the modern workplace that we don't have this culture of safety, that there's all these problems. Is that unique? Is that different now than it was in the past? Alla Weinberg: It's actually not unique and that's the sad part I think about it. Our modern workplace has a lot of holdovers from the industrial era where in the industrial era, in order to create efficiency, what happened was a system was setup where managers or leaders were the thinkers and employees or workers were the doers. Okay? Alla Weinberg: Just like the Navy example, the managers would tell the doers, the workers what to do and all they had to do was execute. They didn't have to think. They just had to execute. There was this belief that's underneath all of it is that the workers are pretty lazy, dishonest and just there for the money. Right? We would never give them the power to actually have any kind of economic decisions. You know? About the company. Alla Weinberg: Although, a lot of people aren't conscious of it, those same beliefs are still true today. That's still how our companies are structured, even though, we're not in factories anymore. We're not on assembly lines anymore but still the leaders are the ones that set the vision and the strategy and say, "Okay, this is what we're doing" and the ICs execute. Randy Silver: You're setting me up so nicely for the second question, so [inaudible 00:15:34], was the one who made the decision to change the culture? Does it have to be the persona at the top? Are they still the thinker that is deciding we're going to change the way it works or can this be starting bottom or in the middle? Alla Weinberg: It's a good question. I think it's a tough question. It kind of depends on what kind of culture is currently present, to know what levers to pull to be able to change it. In the Navy where it's a very hierarchal culture, it had to start at the top. Alla Weinberg: I actually believe in tech organisations, for example, starting in the middle, like middle management is where we will see a big change if middle management decides, "Okay, I want to shift the culture" or this is where it needs to change and how I can create more safety, so actually starting from the middle. Alla Weinberg: I don't and I have not seen good evidence showing that it can start from the bottom and stick because the organisation in itself has already momentum in the way things are being done and if you go against it too much, it's kind of like an antibody the organisation is going to kill that initiative. It has to come from I think from middle management is where a lot of the power is and they're the closest to the ICs and the people doing the work. Lily Smith: You don't think it should come from the top? Because it's generally that leadership level who set the tone for the rest of the business and the way that they behave sort of filters down through, their behaviours set the culture for the business. Alla Weinberg: I do think there should be support from the top and kind of coverage from the top but to make the actual change that needs to come from the middle. A lot of times what I see is people just working with the C suite, let's just change the culture of the leadership team, right? We'll make the leadership team more safe or more inclusive or more diverse or whatever it is and think it's going to trickle down. Alla Weinberg: Culture does not trickle down that way. It just doesn't. I haven't seen that work. I think if leadership is onboard and supportive and empowers middle management to make the change, then the middle management can make that change, can actually operationalize it, put it into action, then the change will actually happen. I haven't seen change trickle down. That's actually kind of an unpopular opinion I think. Randy Silver: I love that, the culture does not trickle down. That is a totally different thing than many managers believe. I can identify with that one really well. A lot of people who work in the product field, they're kind of middle management. You know, we talk about having all of this power and responsibility but the reality is most of us are somewhere in the middle of the organisation. Randy Silver: I'm trying to create a good environment for my team. I'm trying to create safety within the scope of control that I have. Should I just be the [inaudible 00:18:55] umbrella for them? Is that the thing that does it? Or is there a better way of being honest about what stresses I'm dealing with and to create that environment? Alla Weinberg: Yes and no. To some degree, the pressure that you as a middle manager are feeling from upper management does not need to be handed to your team. Right? In that case, you do want to be some kind of an umbrella. Alla Weinberg: I think it should be a transparent umbrella, like not an opaque one where you do share vulnerably with your team about the pressures and your thinking about it or your feelings about it so that you open up a dialogue and you model to your team that it's safe to talk about stress and pressure and feelings and thoughts you have about it. Alla Weinberg: You can use your team to brainstorm strategies of how to deal with things. This is a big mistake most managers make is I have to have all the answers, I need to know how to do all of this, I need to figure this out on my own for the sake of my team and I know they're coming from a really great place when managers think that but it's not actually involving the people that it impacts. If you want to create safety with people, you need to involve them in the solution that impacts them directly. Randy Silver: Fancy levelling up your product management skills? Lily Smith: Always. Randy Silver: Are you ready to take that next step in your product career? Lily Smith: Of course. Randy Silver: Well, you're in luck. Mind The Product is offering interactive remote workshops where you can dedicate two half days to honing your product management graft with a small group of peers. Lily Smith: You'll be coached through your product challenges by your expert trainer and walk away with frameworks and tools you can use right away. You can choose from product management foundations, communication and alignment, metrics for product managers or mapping to solve product problems. Randy Silver: Find out more and book your place on a monthly workshop at MindTheProduct.com/workshops. That's MindTheProduct.com/workshops. Lily Smith: What other things can you do as a leader of teams to try and create more of a culture of safety? Alla Weinberg: Well, I think there's different things you can do to create different types of safety, right? We talked about physical safety, emotional safety, and psychological safety. All three of those require different conversations that you as a manager need to have with your team. Alla Weinberg: These are conversations that, again, are not currently normal within our work context so for physical safety, talk to your team about boundaries. What is okay on this team? What is not okay on this team? Is it okay to have cameras on or is it okay to have cameras off? Is it okay to have flexibility about the times you work or is it not okay and you want people to be online a certain block of time? Alla Weinberg: You need to talk about things that physically affect people. Right? Can I leave and do I have to tell you if I have to go to the doctor? What are the norms for this team? Right? Those are conversations to have with each other. Alla Weinberg: Then emotional safety. This can be as small as talking about your fears ... Let's say a project is kicking off. Right? Talking about your concerns, your fears about this project and talking about your hopes about this project. Giving people an opportunity to talk about their feelings or at a staff meeting, talk about how you're feeling about the current pressures or that you're exhausted because of the pandemic and it's just not ending. Or you're worried and concerned that some people are going to want to leave because of the new office policy where now you're required to go back a couple times a week. Who knows but give space and have conversations about feelings. Alla Weinberg: Finally, let's talk ... This is my favourite thing to recommend to people is hold a meeting that's what I call a mistake celebration. A mistake celebration, this creates psychological safety because you will share as a leader mistakes you've made and you invite others too and people over time will see I did not get punished, I did not get a bad review, and nothing happened to me because I shared a mistake that I made. In fact, what happened was we learned from that and we made a better product. Okay? Alla Weinberg: There's just a lot of conversations as a manager that you need to start having with your team from which the outcome is safety. You cannot create safety directly. It's an outcome of being able to have a lot of the conversations we're not currently having at work. Randy Silver: I love that. A friend of ours, Adrian Howard, who has been on the podcast before, one of his favourite things to do back in the real world when we could all get together was to hold a failure swap shop and I absolutely love that idea. Alla Weinberg: Yes. I love that. Lily Smith: I imagine there's a few challenges with having some of these conversations. If we think about people who are less inclined to share in this way, are we almost making some people feel more uncomfortable and less safe because we're trying to encourage them to share? Alla Weinberg: I think that's a good question. I don't think anybody should be required to share. Right? If somebody wants to pass ... If you're in a meeting and somebody wants to pass and not share, then they should have that right to pass and not share. People need to ... It's actually funny. [inaudible 00:25:07] people need to know that they can leave in order to feel safe to stay. Alla Weinberg: I think it's a really great point, Lily. Making sure that there is an exit that people can take care of themselves if they need to and that they are not required to do that is very important for them to start to feel comfortable and feel safe to over time share to whatever extent that they feel comfortable sharing. Randy Silver: Okay. I'm going to change the subject a tiny bit. Again, back in the before times when we could actually go into offices and see people and get a feeling for a culture through the ambient signals ... Singles? Signals. I know what I'm saying. Through all that. There was an easier way to tell, you could see, do people look happy? How is the environment setup? Are these people I think I might want to work with? Things like that. Randy Silver: Now everything is remote or it is for many of us. How do I tell if a company is or a team that I might be thinking about joining is a good team? If they've got that kind of culture. Every company has these wonderful values on their About pages and I'm not sure I believe them all. Alla Weinberg: Well, I definitely don't believe any of the values on any of their About pages. They're very aspirational but Brene Brown did some research and she found that I think only 10% of companies actually operationalize their values. They're very much meaningless in that respect. Alla Weinberg: This brings me to the point of what is culture anyway? What is culture? I think people have different definitions. My definition of culture is the way that people relate to each other. Again, it's an outcome of how people relate to each other. What I mean by relate or relationship is how people behave towards each other, how they feel and behave towards each other. Okay? Alla Weinberg: How can you tell in a virtual environment if somebody has a good culture? In the interview process, you ask them questions about relating and relationships. How are relationships built in this company? What causes relationships or relationship breakdown in this company? Give me an example of when that's happened. Give me an example of a conflict. How was that handled? How would you describe your relationship with your manager? How would you describe your relationship with the executive team? Tell me about meetings. What do you talk about? What is not talked about in these meetings? Alla Weinberg: That focus on relationships and how people relate to each other, especially cross-functionally, is going to give you a really good indication of what the culture is like. I just consulted with a startup that just had these crazy silos where it's design, product management, and engineering and nobody talked to each other. There wasn't any relating that happened. I was like, "What kind of meetings do you have with engineers?" "Oh, we don't really have meetings with engineers." Okay. "What kind of meetings do you have with PMs?" "Oh, we work really closely with PMs and we do stand ups with them every single day" so those ... Now you can tell, here's a difference in how people are relating to each other. Alla Weinberg: I would focus on that. What are people talking about? What are people not talking about? How are they relating to each other? How do they build relationships? Lily Smith: I think it's really interesting as well because you will not always get honest answers if you're trying to get a job in one of those places and they really want you. With resources like Glassdoor ... Do you have that in the US as well? Alla Weinberg: Yes. Lily Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know how global that is but really, really helpful to get an insight from people who have left the business on what wasn't working quite so well in that business. Alla Weinberg: Yeah. Lily Smith: Okay. If you are a leader in a business and you are aiming to create a culture of safety, how do you prioritise this? How do you build a programme to measure how safe your team is feeling and how do you work towards getting this to a good place in your company? Alla Weinberg: I think measurement is difficult in ... I think measuring a culture can be challenging but what can happen and what I've recommended to other folks is applying a tool like a retrospective to culture or a stop/start/continue to a culture. You can have people anonymously on some kind of digital whiteboard add their thoughts. This is very much behaviour-based because that's where culture really shows itself. Alla Weinberg: What kind of behaviours do we want to stop? What kind of behaviours do we want to start? What kind of behaviours do we want to continue for our company? You can pull out themes when you do that as a leader. You can pull out themes and say, "Oh, okay. I'm seeing what's happening in our specific company and what's not working and what is currently working." It's never all good or all bad. There's always a mix of things that are actually working well and empowering the team and supporting the team and things that are detracting as well. Alla Weinberg: Reflecting on how the work is being done, not just what is being done, is very important and then how the people are behaving towards each other when they're doing the work. Right? I think that's a pretty easy and quick way to take that pulse. It will be in that moment to take that pulse of what's happening with our company right now. If you're scaling very quickly, if you're going through a big merger or acquisition, if there's a big transition, that's a very important time to survey and take that pulse. Lily Smith: Yeah. I think that's a really good point because I guess that was another kind of question I was going to ask is I imagine there are moments where either something in the market has happened or something in the business has happened where it can cause a lot of unsafe feeling in the business. Alla Weinberg: Yeah. A lot of that unsafety is ... Again, it's back to physical safety. Is my job safe? Do I still know my role? Can I still do it successfully? Do I have what I need to do it successfully so that I can keep my job? It always backtracks to physical safety for people. That's number one, before you can get to anything else. Randy Silver: That's interesting. You've mentioned physical safety a few times but right now, many people working remote and there's the physical safety or their home life, which is one thing, but from a work perspective, it may not be a thing or maybe I'm getting this wrong. I'm just curious. Over the past year and a half, what kind of challenges have come up from people working primarily remote? Alla Weinberg: There have been a lot of challenges. I mean, when the pandemic hit, first, it was setting up your work environment in a place that you can work. Then it was potentially you having to physically take care of somebody else and trying to juggle work at the same time. Then as time has gone on, it's burnout and exhaustion from just the very long lasting pandemic and change and that's a physical phenomenon. Like I feel tired, I can't think ... This is what people say, right? I can't think when I'm tired. That's 100% true because if your body is not feeling well in any way, if you're feeling emotionally burnt out, physically burnt out, there's no way you're going to come up with innovative ideas, new ideas, new solutions. Your brain doesn't even send blood in that direction. It's not going to happen. Alla Weinberg: Now as people are potentially returning to the office part-time, then it's like, "Okay, how is my life going to change as a result of that? Maybe I don't want to go back to the office." Some people are like, "I 100% want to go back" and some people are like, "I don't ever want to go back" and everything in between. You know? It's another readjustment physically. Do I have to commute? Are some folks going to be in the office and I'm going to be remote? Is that going to put me at a disadvantage then? They're going to be able to chat with the executive and I can't because I can't meet them in the hallway. Alla Weinberg: All of these questions start to come up and then mostly what people want is flexibility. I think people have always wanted that but most companies have refused. We've learned over the course of the pandemic people can work in different settings, in different ways, in different times and so what people want is to have choice and to have that flexibility about where they do the work physically, when they do the work physically, how they do the work physically. All of those questions, everybody is still trying to figure out. Nobody has a great answer to it. Lily Smith: Yeah. I think it's very challenging with all of that right now. I guess we just have to inch our way forward and try and find a way together. Just one more question before we wrap up and it's been really great talking about this subject. I always find it very healthy to kind of put some focus in this area. In your book, you talk about the drama triangle. Tell us a little bit about the drama triangle. Alla Weinberg: The drama triangle is a framework that was created by Stephen Karpman and it talks about the three different ways that people begin to behave when they're in fear or in conflict. If you're not feeling safe then you're in fear. That's what's happening for you. Safety is the absence of fear. It's I'm not afraid of getting hurt, I'm not afraid of being emotionally invalidated, I'm not afraid of being embarrassed if I share an idea. Okay? Alla Weinberg: If you're in fear, which all of us are throughout the day, multiple times throughout the day, that's just a human condition, if you're not aware that you're in fear, what happens is, depending on your personality, you're going to get on the triangle. The triangle has three different positions. Alla Weinberg: Position one is victim, position two is rescuer, position three is persecutor. If I'm scared, the way I'm going to react is in these three different ways. Okay? If I'm the victim, that means something is happening to me. "Oh, the executives made this decision. It's out of my control. This is happening to me. The market changed. I have no control over that. Poor me. This is happening to me. I have no power whatsoever." Alla Weinberg: If that's the case then I'm just going to complain a lot. I'm not going to do work. I'm just going to complain a lot. I'm going to point fingers. I'm going to blame a lot. My way of relating to people will be through blame. That's not productive and that doesn't create safety for people and people are like, "I'm not going to tell you anything because you're just going to blame me." Alla Weinberg: But if you're the rescuer, then you're like, "Oh, I can fix this. I'm not going to actually look at my fear, I'm not going to look at what I'm scared of. I'm going to fix it. Whatever it is." A report comes to you and says, "Hey, I have a problem." You can be like, "Don't worry. There's nothing to worry about. I'll fix it. I'll take care of it. I'm always busy fixing and doing things." But then I'm just exhausted and I'm burnt out and I don't have any more energy for anything else because I'm so busy fixing everything. What I'm actually doing is avoiding my fear. Alla Weinberg: Then the persecutor is the one that is pointing fingers at other people, "Well, it's not my fault. Engineering should have done their job. If they did their job, we would have been fine" or, "Product managers dropped the ball here." Right? They're the finger pointing ones. Again, what's happening for people is you're scared but the way you are reacting to it is by finger pointing. Okay? Alla Weinberg: These are three different and very common ways that we react to fear. What's important for leaders to know is it's just important to recognise the fear instead of letting it drive you and the way that you behave and relate to other people. Alla Weinberg: The fear is what's going to diminish safety for your team. If you don't acknowledge it and you don't say, "Okay. Yeah. I'm actually just scared that this isn't going to go well or something is going to happen", you don't acknowledge it, you're going to probably fall into one of these positions. Everyone has a favourite one. My favourite one is victim. I love being a victim. I have pillows setup in that position. It's very comfortable for me there. I like to hang out there. But I also know that. You know? I'm like, "Ooh, getting a little too comfortable in the victim position. What do I actually have control over? What is my responsibility? What is my role in creating what's happened?" I can start to get myself out of it. Alla Weinberg: It's just important to know that this is what happens for people, it's natural to fall into these positions, each of us has a favourite one but a lot of times we will just ping pong around the triangle. We will ping pong around it and around it and around it and this is ... If your team is feeling stuck or if the work and momentum has really slowed down, what that means is as a team or as a leader, we're on a triangle. 100% we're on the triangle. Lily Smith: Alla, this has been so interesting talking about this [inaudible 00:40:01]. I feel like we could go on for ages more. Sadly, our time has run out. Thank you so much for joining us, though. We will put a link to the book if people want to read more into the show notes. Alla Weinberg: Wonderful. Thank you both so much. I just had so much fun talking to you. Randy Silver: Thank you. Randy Silver: Lily, we didn't get to use any Welsh words in this one. Are you disappointed? Lily Smith: I'm pretty sure I must have said something a little bit Welsh. But no, in all seriousness, it's a really important topic and really interesting and such a massive challenge. I would love to know if anyone feels like truly, truly safe in their job and doesn't worry about anything that they're saying at any point in time. I just think that that's amazing, if they've managed to achieve that. Randy Silver: I think I've met people like that but I also tend to think that they're delusional. [inaudible 00:41:15]. This is really interesting, as leaders within our teams and within our organisations, how we can deal with stress, how we can create cultures of safety with the people we work with, both the people who work directly for us and those who work all around us. It's really critical, especially when we don't know the situations everyone is sitting in every day. Lily Smith: Yeah. Exactly. Cool. We have more coming up next week. If you want to make sure you don't miss out, then please hit the subscribe button, give us a like, and leave us a review. Randy Silver: We'll see you then. Bye. Lily Smith: Our hosts are me, Lily Smith and ... Randy Silver: Me, Randy Silver. Lily Smith: Emily Tate is our producer and Luke Smith is our editor. Randy Silver: Our theme music is from a Hamburg-based band Pau, that's P-A-U. Thanks to [Anna Kitler 00:42:14], who runs Product Tank and MTP engaged in Hamburg. [inaudible 00:42:18] in the band for letting us use their music. Randy Silver: Connect with your local product community via Product Tank at regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide. Lily Smith: If there's not one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more, go to MindTheProduct.com/producttank. Randy Silver: Product Tank is a global community of meetups driven by and for product people. We offer expert talks, group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share learnings and tips.