How to use the power of ‘WE’ to build cohesive, high-performance teams

This episode is with Laura Kriska, author of The Business of WE – the proven 3-step process for closing the gap between us & them in your workplace. Laura is an expert on cross-cultural relations with more than thirty years of experience bridging gaps in diverse workplaces. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies on four continents helping them build trust across Us versus Them differences based on nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, age or any factor of identity. We talk about how to build cohesive, high-performance teams, regardless of members’ differences.

LINKS

You’re listening to The Growth Manifesto Podcast, a Zoom video series brought to you by Webprofits – a digital growth consultancy that helps global and national businesses attract, acquire, and retain customers through digital marketing.

Hosted by Alex Cleanthous.

SHOW NOTES

  • 00:00:43 Laura Kriska’s introduction to the Growth Manifesto Podcast.
  • 00:01:30 The “Us vs. Them” Dynamic.
  • 00:03:10 What are the negative implications of “Us vs. Them” in a business?
  • 00:06:17 Who is the “We”?
  • 00:08:35 Why “We-building” is important in organisations and why it’s good for business.
  • 00:11:15 What are some of the warning signs that a company is having issues in terms of their inclusivity and “We-building”?
  • 00:13:29 Laura recounts an experience where she helped clients understand the importance of assimilating into the culture and how it can give you successful outcomes.
  • 00:23:32 Laura provides some examples of when companies fail to properly tackle the “Us vs. Them” dynamic and what they could have done differently to avoid the damage.
  • 00:29:34 What are some of the things that companies can do to understand culture better and to build better trust?
  • 00:37:20 Laura discusses intergroup anxiety and how everyone has felt like a “Them” at one point in their lives
  • 00:40:01 Laura talks about the strong “Us vs. Them” dynamic happening in the United States with regards to race and how being a leader means having to have a lot of uncomfortable conversations with your team.
  • 00:41:40 Laura explains “We-building” and how it’s a solution to the “Us vs. Them” dynamic.
  • 00:47:51 What are some examples of free “We-building” tactics that companies can do?
  • 00:52:51 If you want to have the most productive team, you need to put effort in creating trust and understanding.
  • 00:54:45 What are some suggestions you can give to companies that want to start “we-building” in the world we are in today where everyone is at home or in a different location?
  • 01:02:57 Quickfire Questions with Laura Kriska.
  • 01:07:57 Where you can get Laura’s book and how you can get in touch with her.

TRANSCRIPT

Laura Kriska: We-building means we’re going to push people slightly outside their comfort zones to deliberately address the Us vs. Them dynamics that we have. So let’s say in your organization, marketing and sales don’t get along, never have. Well, we’re going to build a plan for those people, the human beings in those departments to slowly build up their relationships together. We don’t care about their friendships. This is not about kumbaya, everybody let’s be friends. I don’t advocate that. I want We-Building to occur for better business.

Alex: Today, we’re talking with Laura Kriska the author of the Business of We, the proven three-step process for closing the gap between us and them in your workplace. Laura is an expert on cross-cultural relations with more than 30 years of experience, in bridging gaps in diverse workplaces. She’s worked with Fortune 500 companies on four continents, helping them to build trust across the Us vs. Them divide.

Today, we’ll be talking about how to build cohesive high-performance teams, regardless of member’s differences. And just quickly before you get started, make sure to go ahead and hit that subscribe button, so you get the latest episodes as soon as they’re released. Now, let’s get into it. Welcome Laura.

Laura Kriska: Thank you, Alex. I’m glad to be here.

Alex: Yeah. I’m excited about this conversation. This is one that’s I think very relevant in the world that we live in today. Let’s just get straight into it. What is the Us vs. Them all about?

Laura Kriska:You’re a business person. You’ve been in many organizations. Every single organization I have ever worked in has Us vs. Them dynamics. Usually, it’s related to occupational mandates sales versus marketing, legal versus HR, engineering versus manufacturing. Those are inevitable, they are predictable, but those same type of Us vs. Them dynamics happen based on identity factors.

One that used to be much more prominent was men versus women and that thankfully has really narrowed over many decades. But there are an endless number of Us vs. Them dynamics that exist in every workplace I have ever been in. Some of them are necessary, executive versus non-executive, management versus non-management, but the degree to which those gaps exist impacts the organization.

So even though these Us vs. Them dynamics are inevitable and predictable and they can exist without causing great damage, it really depends on the organization and how it happens to be handled. So the idea of Us vs. Them cannot be erased or we won’t ever cure this. I’m not trying to cure this problem. I’m trying to eliminate the damaging impact that divisive Us vs. Them dynamics have.

Alex: So what is that negative impact? Let’s look, the easiest thing I can connect with sales versus marketing. That’s like a nice, easy one for all the marketers and salespeople in the world. The leads aren’t good enough, salespeople aren’t closing the leads. So can we just talk about the negatives of it at the moment? So where is that a challenge?

Laura Kriska: So what I have found is that in most organizations, they have the money-earning departments and the money-using departments. You need marketing to promote your products and you need people to sell those products. And in some organizations, there is this inherent hierarchy that if you’re in a money earning position, you’re more important. The same thing happened in my very first job in automobile manufacturing in the United States. Automobile manufacturing, there was a lot of weight put on white collar workers if you had an MBA and people who actually made the car were not viewed as important, they were bluecollar workers.

So when you give this preferential treatment, hierarchical power to one group, sometimes they wielded in such a way that it damages relationships. For example, the way you talk about a different group, the way you give all kinds of benefits or even income, if you are prioritizing one group so much more than another group, you’re really saying this group is way more important. But in actuality, well, sorry, what happens when you prioritize one group so heavily is that they start to think that they’re more important and this divide occurs and they begin acting as competitors.

I’m sure you have seen organizations, those marketing guys or can you believe the people in such and such a department and they talk about each other as competitors, they behave, they won’t share information. They will even sometimes purposely sabotage another person or another group. And this is ridiculous because the real competition is outside. We have plenty of other competition outside, different companies with different names. And what the organization, the people in that organization who are behaving as competitors forget, is that the name on the paycheck or the pay stub is the same.

We all have that in common inside an organization, whether it’s a financial organization, car manufacturing organization. So anything we are doing to limit the productivity, the trust, the relationship, the communication inside our own organization in between departments makes the whole organization weaker, and that doesn’t help. It may help one person or one group temporarily, but fundamentally, it’s causing the entire organization to be less competitive.

Alex: And so, we’re really talking about the dynamics within the same organization. So this Us vs. Them, it’s within the same organization. It could be across departments, it could be across offices, it could be across the regions. But it’s kind of an internal thing that we’re thinking about. Is that the best way to frame it at the moment?

Laura Kriska: Yes. It depends on who is the We. So the We-

Alex: So who is the We? Because oftentimes it feels like the way it… Well, there’s the We, yeah. Let me ask you that question. I was about to just go into a tirade of having some guesses, but that’s why you’re here. So let me ask you, who’s the We?

Laura Kriska: The We is who you decide the We is going to be and it’s usually up to the leaders to decide who is the We going to be. And again, I’m going to say that traditionally, there is a group in the organization that is prioritized. That is the We and everybody else is them. Again, to a degree that needs to happen, but if I have an organization and I know you do have an organization, I know that you want engagement. You want everyone to be operating at their best potential and feeling like the goal of the organization is in alignment with their goals as individuals, so that everybody is pulling, if we’re going to use like a rowing metaphor, pulling those in the same direction. It’s so obvious, but in terms of we can be many things.

So in global companies, I tend to work with huge global companies with headquarters, for example, the headquarters might be in Tokyo and they have regional offices all over the place. Well, sometimes the We is limited to Tokyo. So if you’re not somebody who has worked there or speak Japanese or travel there, you feel like a marginalized outsider. And again, that’s not good for business. So it’s really up to the organization to determine who is the We, and then how is that expressed? How do leaders talk about the organization? Where do they put their resources? Where do they spend their time and that kind of thing?

Alex: So it really starts with the leadership of a company, doesn’t it? That’s where it starts, isn’t it? I think the most obvious statement of the Us vs. Them is the us is the leadership payment of them is everyone else in the company, right?

Laura Kriska: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s-

Alex: And closing that divide, if everybody feels like they are part of the us, then they feel more included, they feel that they’re part of the same team, and they don’t feel so, is the word isolated the right way of thinking about it, is that?

Laura Kriska: Yes. A different way I would say is that they feel seen, they feel heard by the leadership. And when you feel seen and heard in any circumstance at a cocktail party, in your family gatherings, being picked for a sports team, when you feel seen, you feel good. We’re humans, we want to belong. And certainly, the workplace is one of the most important places outside of our family lives that we want to belong. Even if we’re just doing a job.

So many people are just doing a job. Many people have careers. Once you’re in leadership, you definitely feel a sense of connection in a way that perhaps is someone just doing a job doesn’t. But even people who are just doing a job need to feel some level of connection for the organization to be operating at their peak potential.

Alex: And I think that last point that, that like I just heard about peak potential is key for an organization because yeah, you can still operate with this in terms of the divide. But the thing that I’ve seen in the companies I’ve been involved with is that, if people are having a good time and if they feel connected and if they feel that they’re part of the same team and if they feel like they’re part of the us, they perform better.

They’re happier, the teamwork is better. There’s less friction between people, there’s more collaboration. And So the benefits are there to figuring this out. And I just wanted to get that first part out and just why people should care. Because it is about creating the best sports team that can win the championship. Right?

Laura Kriska: Absolutely. Yeah, you’ve nailed that right on the head. That is fundamentally why, WE-building is important in organizations and why it leads to better productivity, more inclusiveness and people feeling safe, welcome. All of those things are good for business.

Alex: So what are the warning signs that this is happening? And it’s what are some places to start. And I know that in your book, there’s a questionnaire, like a survey thing, but just for the listeners and so what are some of the warning signs that some companies may think we are inclusive, and we are basically, all of us are us. But then if you were to ask, maybe their team or their employees or some people in their organization, potentially, they’re not. So what are some warning signs that this is happening?

Laura Kriska: Well, one of the warning signs is just the way people behave on a daily basis. The way they talk about different groups. If you hear them, “Oh, that accounting department, they never, they, they, that.” I hear people talking about regional offices, “Oh, the New York office. blah-blah-blah.” Also where they spend their time in their little off moments. Right now, it’s hard to see that because many people are still working at home. But during regular times, who are people eating lunch with? Those are little indicators. When you have social functions, who’s showing up and who do they spend time with. When you have all team meetings, are the same people always together? If you’re looking, and this is something leaders should do, you should assume that there are Us vs. Them dynamics and you look for them. Sometimes it’s less obvious and sometimes it’s pretty obvious.

Alex: Yeah. And it sounds like, it feels like the obvious ones are the big things, which are like extremely obvious. But I think what maybe a lot of leaders probably aren’t thinking about is the little things, like what you’ve just said. And I think taking note of the little things and we’ll get to all this as well, but I think that’s going to be a key, key part of it that we don’t think about because it’s just kind of how we talk, how we be. It’s who we choose to hang out with, and it’s then like how we make the jokes. It’s like sometimes the jokes are divisive, they’re not inclusive. Right?

Laura Kriska: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex: But let’s talk about: what can we do about it? How do you make everybody feel like “Us”? Because I think that feels like such a big task. So where do companies start?

Laura Kriska: One of the important things is just thinking about your organization, what it looks like. Does it reflect the communities that you’re working in? Does it reflect your customer base? So if you have a very homogeneous organization in terms of the big identity factors. The big identity factors, there are so many identity factors, but the big ones tend to be things like gender, gender orientation, race, ethnicity, age, and religion.

So if you have a very, very homogeneous team — but especially your community, your customer base, your work, your business partners are not homogeneous — that is a big indicator and you really need to look carefully at that. It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to try to operate from a very homogeneous place when you’re serving a diverse clientele. This is something I saw a lot with some of my Japanese clients.

Japan is a very successful country. They run many organizations that are just, oh, the people are intelligent, they’re hardworking. They care so much about doing their best at all times. However, often, when they go outside Japan, these hardworking, intelligent loyal workers are deeply uncomfortable working with non-Japanese people. And part of the reason goes back to the fact that Japan is 98% Japanese. 98% Japanese.

For people living in Australia or the United States, it’s hard to imagine being in a place that’s 98% the same. Same face, same language, same history, same religion — like a lot of things are the same. And so when you grow up in that environment, it’s hard to feel the comfort you need to be successful in the global marketplace today. And so I would see that Japanese executive teams were not making appropriate decisions because they didn’t have all the information.

For example, they might look at customer needs in Texas, but they didn’t have people from… They had hired people in Texas. They were literally in Texas, but the people making the decisions about a Texas-related product or customer were all Japanese. And they had some information, but they didn’t have the information from people who had the lived experience of being in Texas or of understanding what Texas customers want and the legal and social, and all these various spoken and unspoken rules come into play in those kinds of situations. So, if you are an organization operating with a very homogeneous group, especially at the top, I think it’s important to look at that.

Alex: So let’s take the Japanese example. Yeah?

Laura Kriska: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex: What would have been a different way that they could have done it that would have led to more success in the local market?

Laura Kriska: Well, I spent 20 years working on this problem and I can tell you exactly what I did to help them. Over the years, I would encourage. 20 years ago, I was younger than many of my clients and I would say maybe you should have more conversations with your local colleagues. You should go to lunch. I would be very gentle. And then 20 years passed and then I got mad because I saw that they would say, “Yes, yes, we should.” And they wouldn’t take action.

I had a pivotal conversation one day. I was in San Francisco working with a group of Japanese men, professionals, again, highly competent, intelligent, hardworking people. And there was a guy there who had lived in China. In Japan, you do a lot of rotation to different, especially when you’re at the top of the organization, you travel a lot to different locations.

And he said I’d lived in China for five years and I said, “Oh, when you lived in China, how much of a Japanese life did you lead, like Japanese food, Japanese language people.” And he said, “90%.” And I thought, huh, and he immediately started excusing this. He said, “With food, you have to be so careful suggesting that it might be dangerous to eat Chinese food and I said…

So we’re in San Francisco, this beautiful office looking over the city and I said, “okay, well now you’re living here in the United States, how much of a Japanese life are you living now? And he paused, 90%. This was a light bulb moment for me. And I recognized that his level of comfort, he was so uncomfortable that it didn’t no matter where he was going to be. He was taking his Japanese life with him no matter where he went.

And I understood very clearly at that moment that I had to help my clients in a different way because I had been suggesting things for many years. And the thing I did was put the fact that they were living in a Japanese life. I put that into data in the form of questions and then I linked that to their profitability. And as you probably know, almost every Japanese company’s revenue is growing, not in Japan, but it’s growing in South America, in Europe, every place else other than Japan. And then if you look at their revenue year after year, you would see domestic sales or revenue and global revenue and the global revenues climbing and climbing and climbing.

And so the people from Japan who were being sent outside needed to be as integrated and knowledgeable about their locations. But if you’re living a 90% Japanese life, you’re missing a lot of information. So I developed a tool which is very close to the self-assessment I have in my book. It was 10 questions in Japanese asking Japanese colleagues, how much English do you speak every day, if they’re living in America. If they’re living in Germany, it was how much German are you speaking every day? Who do you have lunch with? Five days a week, how many of those lunches are with people who don’t speak Japanese? How often do you spend time in small talk? Where are you getting your news? What about weekends?

And so these series of 10 questions, gave them a score from zero to 100%. A 100% meant that a person had really integrated, had really invested a lot of face-to-face time in increasingly in-depth interactions. And my premise was that the more that they had spent time with local people, the better prepared they would be to make decisions related to the local marketplace. And they would probably learn a lot of other in good information and they probably have a more enriching life in that place.

And so it was this tool, this physical 10 questions, relatively simple. It gave them a number and then we gave them a plan for how to increase their score. Most of the executives and professionals that I would work with, who had arrived within their first six months would score, I would say, 30% or below. And I called this dangerously low.

It’s also why the way, if your 30% are low on a particular cultural group, you’re much more likely to cause the type of damage that results in complaints, in damaging information to your company reputation, or even legal problems. And a higher your score, of course, you’re much more likely to avoid those problems, but better than that, you can leverage your cultural data into successful outcomes.

Alex: And so what we are really talking about is immersing yourself in the, them side of things. Is to understand them at a level that maybe you don’t understand before. And this Us vs. Them seems to be a better understanding as a first step, kind of putting yourself in their shoes.

Laura Kriska: Absolutely because you don’t need to agree with or like what another cultural values or data is. But if you don’t understand it, you’re operating at a deficit. You’re operating with a partial data source. That’s like going into doing a spreadsheet without a decimal point. No sales person would ever, whatever use six months worth of sales data to do predictions for the next year. That would be ridiculous. You’d use a full year sales data to do predictions. So if you’re not gathering up data and I say visible and invisible data is essential, then you’re not well prepared. You really have no business doing the work in with that other culture, if you haven’t gathered up all that data.

Alex: So what happens when this goes wrong? Have you got any examples of companies that have maybe failed in this respect and what happened as a result?

Laura Kriska: Yeah. There’s so many great, great awful examples.

Alex: Great, awful examples. That’s right.

Laura Kriska: The most recent one that I think is really relevant and is in the book is about Dolce & Gabbana And this luxury brand, everybody knows has been very successful and their largest market is in China. Again, one of the largest luxury brand markets in the world and two years, no, three years ago now. 2018, they were planning their largest fashion show in their history in Shanghai, huge event.

I don’t know millions and millions of dollars and time being put into this fashion show. And days before the fashion show, they purposely released three videos. These videos were carefully made for the social media to promote the fashion shown and they released these videos. The videos, show they’re very short, just a few minutes. They show a beautiful Chinese woman jewelry, makeup, this beautiful dress, and she’s eating Italian food.

There are three videos. In one, she’s eating spaghetti, a calzone, and pizza, and she’s eating them with chopsticks. And as she’s eating it, and you can imagine this is not easy to do. She’s having trouble eating the food. And a male voiceover is saying, “Oh honey, you can’t eat that, or” it’s very patronizing. It was meant to be humorous, but it didn’t work. In fact, it had the opposite impact.

The Chinese customer base was furious. They reacted to this, they found it very insulting. And as a result, the fashion show was canceled, products were burned, stores had to take their Dolce & Gabbana products off the shelves. And it has continued to have a negative impact on their bottom line. Their revenue has been impacted for years.

I read about this extensively. I thought about this and I learned that Dolce & Gabbana had been in China for quite a while. They were not able to be like newcomers, oops. Oh, sorry. They had been in China for many years and had clearly had employees and hopefully executives. So I think one of two things happened. Either, they had no Chinese representation at the table while they were making these videos, when they were deciding to use these videos, or they did have colleagues that understood the Chinese market, but those colleagues weren’t listened to, because it was an awful decision they had an immediate negative impact that could easily have been avoided.

Alex: All this could have happened in China and there may have been some ex-pats at the table and Chinese at the table, at the same time. And the ex-pats may have been the, us because they’re connected maybe with head office and the, them could have been a Chinese. It’s all theoretical now because it’s happened in the past, but what could they have done differently to really make sure they didn’t screw it up so bad?

Laura Kriska: Well, if they had trusting relationships, like really, really deep trusting relationships, not just acquaintance or colleague level, I believe that they would have listened to those colleagues. They would have been able to defer to somebody who knows more about the market than somebody visiting from Italy. Who made those videos? I don’t know. I hope someday there’s a detailed report or book about what happened, but it’s the same as Japanese executives trying to make a decision about customers in Texas.

Yes, they can know a certain amount. Yes, they have some expertise. But if you’re not listening to people with the lived experience, whether that’s Houston or Shanghai or whatever the factor is, you’re missing data. So I think creating in us in that case would have been… So let’s go back in time and I am a consultant to Dolce & Gabbana and they say, “We’re doing this. We have this fashion show. China is a growing market.” I would say, “Well, who are your top people there and how well integrated are they in the Chinese culture and Chinese business world?” And I would ask them to take the survey, the Us vs. Them self assessment.

This is a tool that I have in my book. It’s also a free tool on my website. Anybody can go there and download this tool. I hope this will be a often used tool for global business people, all over the world. And I would say, I would get their top people and I’d say, take the test. It would take them 10 minutes, yes or no questions, and tell me what your score is. And if their score was low, I would say, “Ooh, you need to do some work.”

If your people are not investing time and effort into building trusted relationships with the Them, the Them, in that case, it was maybe the Chinese market, the chance for making a mistake is so much higher. You may make a mistake. We don’t know. But if you educate yourself, if you look at cultural data as a important part of doing business in the 21st century, you’re much less likely to make these kinds of mistakes.

Alex: Yeah. And we as we’re profitable, we expanded into Singapore three or four years ago. We could never understand why, how can they keep saying yes in the meetings and then afterwards it’s a no right? They don’t ask questions if they don’t know because it reflects poorly on their status. So you can’t ask yes or no questions because will be yes, all the time. And there was always like this separate cultural thing that always happened. And if you’re a Singaporean, you got it. If you were like an ex-pat, you didn’t get it.

And it took us a while to get that difference. And no matter what we thought about how good our marketing services were, if they’re not trusting of us to say, well, we’re going to listen to you because you’re talking to us, like in a way that we want to be spoken to, then it doesn’t work. And so, we went through that the hard way because I’m… And I’m sure lots of organizations will go through this the hard way, but what are some of the things that we could’ve done to understand the culture better and to build trust with local partners or local potential clients. So what are some of the things that we could have done as an example?

Laura Kriska: It’s such a great question. And usually people are asking those questions again, after —

Alex: After.

Laura Kriska: So you’d go into it knowing that there’s cultural, visible, and invisible data. So I would say anybody in your organization that was going to be engaged with that entity should take the self-assessment on Singapore. And it starts with, do you know any person who identifies with this cultural group. And some of you would have said, yes, some of you would have said, no. I think the next question is something like, have you ever had a 20 minute-small talk conversation? These are not hard things. But you live in Sydney, right?

Alex: Yes.

Laura Kriska: So I’m going to guess there’s some people from Singapore or that understand Singapore in Sydney and that if you really wanted to, you could use the computer and find people who know way more about Singapore than you do. And you could have even invited someone you could have spent two hours paid somebody, a relatively small amount of money to speak to your entire staff about business culture in Singapore, history, just basic information. How do people greet one another? I know English is an often used language, but the biggest problems I sometimes see Alex are when there’s this false notion that we’re the same, like we all speak English. Of course no, it’s not going to be, right?

Alex: Yeah. Wrong–

Laura Kriska: So–

Alex: It’s not true.

Laura Kriska: It’s almost easier when it’s like in China or in Spain where there’s clearly a different language. The U.S., UK issue is exactly the same where there’s this false notion that, Oh yeah, there’s no cultural differences here. So just being aware of this other cultural group, that there are differences and recognizing that I don’t see those differences. Why don’t I see them? Because I’ve never been exposed to this culture. I’ve never met somebody. I’ve never built a trusting relationship with somebody from that culture. So I’m going to do a little homework to learn.

And when I then start to engage with my colleagues, when I start going to travel there, I’m going to avoid those little things as you were referencing earlier, that might cause somebody some discomfort. I’m going to avoid causing discomfort and instead I’m going to create comfort. I’m going to do a thing that they aren’t expecting me to do. A very good example of this is saying one word in a different language when you meet someone, especially people from the United States are not famous for these kinds of gestures.

Alex: Yes. True. True.

Laura Kriska: And so when you do it now, it’s recognized and appreciated. I’ve seen it, especially with Americans going to Japan. I insist, if I’m advising a person who’s going to work in Japan, even for one day, I teach them how to say hello or good morning, which is really easy by the way, because I grew up in the state of Ohio. And the way to say, good morning is Ohio and you can even just say, Ohio. But it’s just this small gesture that can have an immediate, positive impact and carry through the whole business relationship.

Alex: I think it applies to product and to services. And basically, anything where you want to try to connect with that other culture is to really understand them. I underestimated the importance of it, and then we did hire a culture expert and she did explain all these things. I’m like, “Oh my God, that makes so much sense now.” And again, that’s why this podcast is awesome, but I wish I had somebody telling me do this first because we thought that’s marketing, this is marketing. If we just explain it, they’ll get it. But what we appreciate as candor here in Australia, they don’t appreciate in Singapore. It’s actually almost the opposite can be seen as rude sometimes.

Laura Kriska: Absolutely. And I think when, especially in your case where Australia is the headquarters, right?

Alex: Yes.

Laura Kriska: So there’s that Us vs. Them dynamic as well. The tendency is to obviously see the headquarters as the power place, so it’s especially meaningful when people from the headquarters, when they travel all the way there to engage in these relatively small gestures in order to make that feeling of we. And one of the mistakes I’ve seen organizations make in the United States is that they’re starting a new entity in a different country, and they’ll bring me in and they’ll say, “This is very important. This initiative, this new office in Hong Kong, or Japan, or wherever is the most important thing we have on our schedule this year and I’ll say, “:Oh great. This is exciting. By the way, who are the three or five most important people in that new office, what are their names?” Can’t even name a person.

They can tell me all day long how important this initiative is and they don’t know the names of the people. Or they’ll go there and they’ll do the business, but then afterward they go sightseeing or go out with each other and, “Oh, what fun it is to have an adventure in Tokyo with the guys from the office,” but they fail to notice. Obviously, it’s fun to do those kinds of adventures and you should do those adventures, but you also should use some of your time to leverage good relationships, to purposely deliberately spend time with people who might not speak your language, who you might find it’s awkward.

Intergroup group anxiety. This is a researched phenomenon. Intergroup anxiety is a level of discomfort that humans feel when they are with people who are different. It is the absolute definition of feeling like a “them” feeling like an “other”. And one of the things I’ve realized in my work is that everyone has felt like “them” at some point in their lives. In a moment, I’m going to ask you Alex, to tell me in your life when you have felt like of them. But it’s because all of us have felt like a them that we know how we should be behaving when we have these opportunities. I don’t think that all them experiences are equal.

Alex: Of course.

Laura Kriska: I categorize them actually. I categorize them as inconsequential experiences, consequential experiences, and game-changing experiences. So do you have an experience of feeling like an outsider that you would be comfortable sharing, from any time in your life?

Alex: Sure. I’ve got personal, I’ve got professional. I’ll go a personal one. I’ve had a stutter since I was young, so I couldn’t even speak. So for my whole life, I was with them and everyone else could speak and I couldn’t talk. And I was like, “That felt.” So that’s one side of it. On the other side of it, just working at different companies and having the management just never tell you about the company success, about their health, about what is the strategy, about what is it? And you just their thinking, are they okay? Is this happening?

So with web profits now, we’re extremely transparent and we want to tell everyone everything. And sometimes it’s a lot of information for people that have just started, but I saw what it was like on the other side. And I’d rather be on the side of more sharing and there’s more inclusiveness on the direction of the company, the health of the company, than otherwise.

It’s never perfect. Like there’s always challenges on both sides, but it’s a lot more productive to be inclusive with people and to pull them into the fold, not to keep them separate for some fear of, I don’t know what the fear is that people have of not sharing. Maybe they’re going to share this information or maybe they’re going to do something with it, or I find that the opposite is better.

Laura Kriska: Yeah. But it’s easier not to share. It’s easier to hold all the problems and power to yourself. It’s easier and more comfortable to just be in your little circle. And I think that’s a big reason why a lot of leaders don’t, and especially in the United States, there’s a lot of Us vs. Them within about race. It’s a very important conversation. It’s one of the issues I care mostly deeply about in relation to Us vs. Them and building a weak culture.

In the United States, being white, being part of what I call the home team, it was deeply uncomfortable to talk about this. And very, it felt really dangerous. It felt very risky and there’s no penalty not to discuss it. So why discuss it? That was the old attitude and clearly has been an unsuccessful attitude.

The civil rights legislation was passed over 50 years ago and there has been negligible change and part of that is this place for white people not to talk about race, not to name race, not to find ways to develop the comfort. So that idea applies like you were talking about, it takes more work for you to be a transparent leader. I bet you’ve had to have some uncomfortable conversations. Is that right?

Alex: Yes. Definitely. Because they ask questions. Because if you share, they ask questions. Sometimes those questions are not questions and that’s okay. But if you’re a good leader, you continue to go through it. And what happens is that, it’s our experience of it anyway is that it builds stronger teams. It builds more trust. Like I said, though, it’s not perfect, but it’s way better than the alternative.

And we are very kind of transparent. That’s an important thing for us to really share. But we’ve really been talking about cross-cultural things. So what are some things that companies can do? And this could come back to the race conversation, to the gender conversation, on how… Or even just the Salesforce marketing conversation, just like grand separate departments, but kind of it’s how people identify themselves, right?

Laura Kriska: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex: Well, how do you reduce this Us vs. Them things? So what are some things that leaders can do to bring people together better?

Laura Kriska: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We-building.

Alex: Expand, please.

Laura Kriska: Okay, drop the mic, we-building.

Alex: Done.

Laura Kriska: I want people to understand We-building because I really do feel like it’s an all-inclusive solution that aches… We-building is an all inclusive solution that manifests itself differently in each organization. So I’m working with organizations that in various groups and issues, but it all fits under the idea of We-building. We-building is taking action to bridge any “Us vs.Them” gap that is causing damage. Damage in the form of poor communication, poor relationships, ineffective teamwork, misunderstandings, false notions, stereotypes, all of that.

So We-building can occur in many, many forms. I have a lot of ideas. I’m going to tell you some of my specific examples of that, but I’m hearing ideas from readers now, all the time about what We-building looks like. We-building can be one person researching on the internet, how to say hello in Chinese, that’s We-building. But sorry, and using it actually actively using it, but We-building could be Alex deciding, “Hey, everybody in my organization, we’re going to take a trip when COVID is over. We’re going to go on this massive team building trip to Fiji Islands. And we’re going to do a week of getting to know each other.”

And obviously, organizations do that kind of thing. But the We-building part means that it’s not just social. We-building means we’re going to push people, slightly outside their comfort zones to deliberately address the, Us vs. Them dynamics that we have. So let’s say in your organization, marketing and sales don’t get along, never have, Well, we’re going to build a plan for those people, the human beings in those departments to slowly build up their relationships together.

We don’t care about their friendships. This is not about kumbaya, everybody let’s be friends. I don’t advocate thank. That I want We-building to occur for better business. It’s the right thing to do. You might become friends with somebody who has a completely different background than you that’s bonus. That’s not the reason we do it. So We-building can be these very expensive, really involved campaigns, or they can be actually a campaign within your organization in the way we talk about things.

I do campaigns with organizations that are zero cost, zero costs, because I believe what we really need to build connection with somebody who is them, we need two things. Number one, we need the genuine willingness to want to build that. So if the sales person and marketing person don’t see that they need to build a connection and a trusting relationship for the benefit of the whole organization, that’s a problem.

So if we can help people see that and we can do that by explaining here’s our competitors. You are not competitors. I use lots of tools and a simulation exercise. That is a wonderful tool for helping people see and help them understand that if you genuinely need to want to connect. So that’s number one. And the second factor we need is the ability to look honestly at our life choices.

So if I am in marketing and I say, if I take the, Us vs. Them assessment and that the target group is the sales department, and I answer these questions, well, have I ever had lunch with somebody from sales? Do I spend any amount of time? Have I tried to understand what their business mandate is, so that I can align what I do a little more successfully? It’s that kind of thing. So We-building can be, I think doing it organizationally is great and supporting staff, providing opportunities.

We can’t force people into We-building, but we can set the table and make it really delicious food, and we can have our leaders enjoying that and modeling We-building. And what happens I’ve seen is that people get inspired. They see their leaders, they see their colleagues going outside their comfort zone and seeing success. And then the payoff occurs.

Then you get a great business deal because sales and marketing has worked well, or you get a brand new client because the Singaporean office and the Sydney office have this great communication. And they’re able at midnight, in one place to communicate with other people and because of their trusting relationship, they say, “I’ll be ready for your call tonight, even though it’s Saturday or whatever it is.” And they get the job, they get the business and everybody benefits. So the pay off of We-building starts to perpetuate more We-building.

Alex: You said before that there’s obviously the expensive one things like the trips, and the lunches, and the entertainment side of things where it’s there to build the relationship and to build trust. But you also said there are some free things that don’t cost anything. So what are some examples of some free things that don’t cost anything that companies can do?

Laura Kriska: I’ve been doing some partnering, now that people are virtual, where I usually give a little lecture, talking about why We-building is important. And then we ask for volunteers, would you be willing to engage in We-building conversations? Usually we do three over a period of time. I provide questions. They’re not difficult, but they’re just a structure to help people get to know each other.

I wanted to mention something though about the social stuff. I just want it to be really clear-

Alex: Yes, please.

Laura Kriska: … because most organizations do invest in social things, but I view We-building social events differently, so that you purposely, deliberately, create opportunities where people have to engage with the people they normally don’t engage with. And you might even do things that people like, “Oh, why do we have to have assigned seating, or should breakout”-

Alex: I know that one, yeah.

Laura Kriska: Right?

Alex: Well, but that’s my buddy. I want to sit with my buddy, you know?

Laura Kriska: Exactly. And so we talk about We-building, we set it as a notion as a kind of intention for the organization, usually for a period of time, six months to a year like We-building. Often when there’s a new initiative is a great time. And there’s an American company that’s going to be doing something new overseas and they have their own us and them dynamics, but we’re using the opportunity of this international location as a reason to build our own connection. And then you build events, but you expect them to do more than just show up and be social.

Alex: Got it.

Laura Kriska: I think that We-building word, the We-building concept, it’s very simple to understand. And when you put the word We-building in front of lunch or party or whatever, people come into it, knowing, “Oh, I’m going to have to, or I’m going to have the chance to engage with somebody who’s outside my usual circle.” And here’s the thing, almost all the professionals that I work with will do it. They’ll do it. There are a few people who are cynical or dragged their feet, but most professional people happily engage fully-wholeheartedly because they’re professionals and it’s usually not painful. Sometimes there might be discomfort, but they get over that.

Well, I’m thinking about the Us vs. Them assessment. This is free. Anybody can do it. Any listener right now can go to my website, laurakriska.com and you click the Us vs. Them self-assessment, and then you pick the other, the Them. Again, maybe it’s departmental inside the organization, maybe it’s related to an international location, or maybe it’s about race or ethnicity or gender or transgender. I think there’s so much more, for example, about transgender culture, much more today than say when I was starting my career.

So if I am a leader and I decide transgender culture is the one I’m going to measure myself against and I get a low score, well, then I need to take an action. And almost half of the actions are free actions. So for example, go on the internet and research. Read a book. I read a book called A Man Named Carol recently, it’s a wonderful memoir about a transition. And I learned stuff from that book that I just wasn’t aware of.

I didn’t have that exposure. I didn’t have that experience in my life. And so when Elliot Page an actor a couple of months ago came out as Elliot Page, as the actor formerly known as Ellen Page, it’s like I understand this. And I understand a little more than I would have otherwise had I not targeted this cultural group as a group that I don’t know a lot about and started to educate myself on.

Alex: So it’s really about understanding, isn’t it? Because as soon as you understand the other person or the Them, you’re so much more patient, you so much more understanding, and if you’re a good person, which most people are, you want to change how you act because now you get it. And I think it’s kind of “getting it” that is the effort. And that’s why you say, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s just putting in a bit of intention to understand what the other side is. I love your examples before about, have you done small talk. Say for example, if the person is from the sales team, have you ever just done small talk with them? Well, have you any ideas what their day is like? So what are some of their challenges that they have to go through? And vice versa.

It’s to bridge the understanding part of it. Let’s not go into it, but the political side of things, it seemed a couple of months ago like everybody in the U.S. was so… Well, it seemed that way. You couldn’t talk about the other side. But they’re people too, they’re smart people, they just have a belief and kind of understanding each other is a first step to these things. And there’s so many places where there can be a divide. There’s so many places. But from a company’s perspective, if they want to have the most productive teams, they need to put a bit of effort in creating trust and understanding between whichever two departments, officers have that divide. And that’s kind of the self-assessment that we spoke about that intention and so on.

But it’s getting more complicated now with everything being remote. So let’s just talk about that for it… Well, if it feels to me. Before, it was easier to bring people together because they’re in the same office in the same location, there’s certain social constructs that happen because of that. Now, we’re all on Zoom. Do you have any suggestions on how companies can at the company level, none of the individual level, but at the company level, start to do some of the We-building stuff, which is where everyone’s at home. You know what I mean? Or where everybody is in a different location?

Laura Kriska: I would agree with you that working from home does limit the essential work of building your relationships. It’s just harder. And my premise is that it’s face-to-face relationships of increasing depth that lead to the important work of rebuilding. So I agree with you and yes, there are things we can do. I was working with a company recently and I was working with all their new employees, the big bank, and there were about 30 people. And so many of them had never been to the physical building. And I was doing a kind of poll and I was asking about what it’s like to work from home. And many of them said, “I feel lonely. I feel isolated.” One woman stayed on later and said, “She just felt completely disconnected to her new boss.” It was just an awful way to be starting a new job.

And I was advising the company afterwards and they really had not done many fun virtual activities. People are Zoomed out. It’s tiring to be on Zoom all the time. But in deference to that, they missed an opportunity to really engage people in a fun way. And again, this is something companies can do for zero cost. You can engage your employees with fun activities, using the resources you already have and using technology. I want to tell you about two pieces of technology that I have found to be game changing during this time.

And I highly recommend organizations, plan a very short, like one-hour fun event. And part of this is coming from my own experience. I launched a new book on January 12th just recently, and I didn’t have a book party because of the pandemic. And then I realized I’m going to have an online book party. And it turned out to be so much fun. Over 400, almost 500 people signed up to join. We did activities. I had more people at my virtual book party than would have shown up to a physical book party.

Alex: Of course, yeah.

Laura Kriska: So the two tools, one tool is a newish one. It’s called mmhmm. Have you heard of it?

Alex: No, but what are you search for, M-M-H-M-M?

Laura Kriska: M-M-H-M-M, mmhmm. Yes, that’s what it’s really called. It’s not a typo and it is a fun platform that makes your presentations more interactive and it’s just fun. And if you go check it out, you’ll see what I mean. You can put different rooms up, you can put yourself looking like you’re in a rainstorm or in a radio. It’s clever and it just makes presentations more engaging. The other tool is Mentimeter.

Alex: Okay.

Laura Kriska: No, you’re with this one?

Alex: No, this is great. I’m learning new tools. I love when I learn new tools, it’s my favorite thing.

Laura Kriska: These two tools I’ve only learned since the pandemic and they have transformed my virtual presentation life. So Mentimeter, it’s based out of Europe is an online polling, but it’s more than polling. You can do games and people use their phones. So you can have 100 people in a 100 different locations in the world, participating on the same quiz or employee engagement, or you can use it for business purposes, or you can use it just for fun. And so using those tools, you can create quizzes for example, about your organization, true or false. Alex started the company with this much money in his bank account, or so-and-so has a typing speed of such and such, just fun little things.

Then another reason a resource is using people in the organization and just doing little videos. All of us are much more functional with this kind of technology these days, but you could have top 10 pandemic workspaces. You can have a little contest, send in your picture of the biggest workspace with the smallest worker, most compromised. You could just have fun with it. And has these, we are each other’s colleagues. It’s engaging. People want to know, if I said right now, “Alex, take a picture of what you’re looking out on.” If I tell you what I’m looking out on, it’s not pretty.

Alex: Sure.

Laura Kriska: But it could be fun to find a few people who’d be willing to share. So it’s endless, the kind of information, if it requires a little bit of revealing of yourself, but especially if somebody like you or other leaders in your organization say, to your employees, “Hey, we’re having, oh, unfortunately, a one-year pandemic anniversary party. We’re going to try to make the best of it.” Some organizations, if it’s smaller, they’ll send a bottle of champagne to every employee. Or other organizations have these cooking things and they send all the ingredients and they cook together.

But this type of activity, as I said, you can create it for fun, for free. You need to have a team of people. But it takes effort and time, but the payoff is enormous because it’s a shared experience that you have instead of seeing each other every day. So I think every single organization should be hosting virtual fun We-building experiences now. And again, you can’t just be like, “Hey, everybody show up at five.” You have go to put some time and effort into this-

Alex: Yeah, definitely.

Laura Kriska: … but you do it with free resources.

Alex: Yeah. That’s a great point because I remember back when the office life was that life and everyone had to be in the office, and was culture was different. I don’t know if it stronger, but the engagement was stronger because you see people every day, you’ve got water cooler conversations, the coffee shop walks, and stuff like that. You know what I mean? And so it was easier to build it, but I do like the thinking around just doing the virtual kind of engagement activities. And I do like those two topics. But we are almost out of time, so-

Laura Kriska: I had more step, one step.

Alex: Yeah, please. No, please.

Laura Kriska: Doing free giveaways, fun games, where you might have like “Hey, how about the Business of We as a free tool? That was totally–

Alex: I love it, I love it. You can see behind me too–

Laura Kriska: Oh, thank you.

Alex: … if you can see-

Laura Kriska: Oh, thank you.

Alex: … right there.

Laura Kriska: You spend a little bit of money and you can do these wheels. So it’s not a competition. But it’s just random, somebody who’s going to win. So that’s how you can attract people to join. Or I’m going to tell you my very first job and the time I was fired. You make it enticing. And again, using our stories, our own narratives can really generate excitement.

Alex: Fantastic. Now I’ve got a few quickfire questions and then we’ll just finish up with how people can get in touch in the book and so on. These are the questions I’d like to ask everybody on the podcast and it’s five simple questions. Number one, what book has had the biggest impact on your success, except for the one that you wrote?

Laura Kriska: What book? Oh, there’s so many books, so many books. A book I really found inspiration from is called Loving, it’s by Sheryll Cashin. She is a law professor at Georgetown, and it’s about the couple named Loving. There was a movie about them. It was a white man and a black woman who were married in Virginia and it was outlawed and it was awful. But the book itself is about much more and Sheryll Cashin talks about cultural dexterity. This is her phrase. And cultural dexterity is this idea of reaching out and branching outside of your normal cultural relationships. I love that idea of cultural dexterity and I feel like We-building is encouraging people to do that.

Alex: Fantastic. Fantastic. Number two, what’s your number one piece of advice for hiring awesome people, especially now considering the book that you wrote? So complex, but what’s your number one piece of advice?

Laura Kriska: Okay, here’s what I’ll say. It’s incumbent upon leaders today to look outside of their own cultural tribe when hiring people, because too many of us, us means people in the cultural norm, the cultural dominant norm, tend to default to people who look like us, sound like us, pray like us. And I believe we are missing important voices, important skills, and important talent when we have such a narrow pool. So looking outside of that actively, deliberately challenging ourselves to look outside of that norm.

Alex: Fantastic. Love that one. Number three, what’s your best time management or productivity tip?

Laura Kriska: I don’t have any, I’m awful. I am awful. Don’t asked me that question.

Alex: Well, you wrote a book, so you must’ve had something in play to write a book. That’s not an easy feat.

Laura Kriska: When I was writing the book, I was very regimented. I rode my bike to a quiet writer space here in Brooklyn. I got out of my house. I had to do that. I have three children, so I had to get out. I would make my tea and I would listen to a specific song, and then I would sit down and write. So for me having that little ritual, I had little things I would put. I had this little spray that I would go and really create a space to really focus. When I’m writing, I need that type of clear open space and time that is created for that purpose.

Alex: That’s fantastic. And that’s fantastic for anyone who wants to write a book because there’s lots of people who do. Number four, what’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve received, if you can pick one?

Laura Kriska: I need more pieces of business advice. I’ve had a very small boutique consultancy for many years and just now is when I’m expanding the business. So I’m in the process of listening to people like you who have been successful in a way that I’m hoping to be with sharing a much broader message. So I’m not doing very well, best piece of business.

Alex: No, you’re doing great. I love how humble you are. You’re so humble. Stop it. Number five, how do you relax after a crazy day in the office or the home office or wherever you’re working?

Laura Kriska: This is the great thing about a family. On Friday, I will have three teenagers, officially. And for better or worse, they force me to engage and get out of my work. It’s so easy when you have your own business, when you’re so passionate about what you do. It’s so easy to put no limits on that. Because it’s my book and because I had this idea 10 years ago.

Alex: Wow.

Laura Kriska: 10 years ago, my children were three, five, and eight and it took me all this time. I spent the past two years writing it. And so now, I know I care more about this than anyone and so I feel like every moment I’m thinking about it and it’s exhausting. So my family really helps me. It forces me to disengage with that work. And watching a show at night is one of the ways that I just check out of my business brain.

Alex: Yeah. Fantastic. Cool. Now just wrapping up. Okay, so the few things that we mentioned. The first is the book, the Business of We, so where can they buy that?

Laura Kriska: Any retailer. Amazon is a place a lot of people buy their books. The publisher HarperCollins Leadership has a page. I’m always in favor of supporting the small business owners and small bookstores, so that’s another avenue.

Alex: Sure. And you mentioned before the self-assessment and that’s available @laurakriska.com and the links are in the show notes. And now can people hire you directly as a consultant if they want your fantastic experience and the brain and all that type of jazz to come in on Zoom and help? Is that something available to people? And if so, how can they get in touch?

Laura Kriska: It is available. And if they go to my website or they go to info @laurakriska.com, you can send me an email. It is my great wish to inspire a we-building revolution. And I can’t do this by myself. I need everybody’s help and I’m eager and available to talk to groups. Being in this virtual world means that I’m talking to people all over the world and we can do things in a pretty short amount of time. It’s also great. I used to be a lot on site and I would travel to different locations and conduct team building experiences. And I love that and I hope I’ll get to go back to that. But I do work with organizations. It is my life’s work to inspire leaders everywhere to follow We-building, to be We Builders themselves, and to get people in their organizations to be we-builders.

Alex: And it’s definitely the right time for it, which is now. Laura, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. This has been such a fantastic chat. I have so many ideas that I’m going to pass straight to the team right now from a selfish perspective. And I am sure that all the listeners will get a lot of value out of this podcast as well. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.

Laura Kriska: Thank you so much. It’s been so great to talk with you today.

Alex: Awesome. Thanks Laura.

Laura Kriska: Take care.

Alex: Thanks for listening to the Growth Manifesto Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please give us a five-star rating on iTunes. For more episodes, please visit growthmanifesto.com/podcast. And if you need help driving growth for your company, please get in touch with us @webprofits.io.

Adrian Clark

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