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Managing Through Chaos (w/ presenter notes)

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ManagingThrough
Chaos
Spike Brehm
@spikebrehm
Asbury Agile 2019
• Hey everybody, how’s it going? I’m really excited to be ...

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And in a transparent attempt to try to generate some Jersey Shore street cred, I’ve got a very hot take for you right here...

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managingthroughchaos
• But seriously, folks,
• Today I’m here to talk about the topic of Managing Through Chaos.

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Managing Through Chaos (w/ presenter notes)

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Spike Brehm's talk at Asbury Agile 2019. Includes presenter notes, because the slides are designed to be spoken over.

Spike Brehm's talk at Asbury Agile 2019. Includes presenter notes, because the slides are designed to be spoken over.

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Managing Through Chaos (w/ presenter notes)

  1. 1. ManagingThrough Chaos Spike Brehm @spikebrehm Asbury Agile 2019 • Hey everybody, how’s it going? I’m really excited to be here today speaking at Asbury Agile. • My name is Spike Brehm. I’m a Software Engineering Manager at Airbnb, where I’ve been for over 8 years, most of that time spent as a frontend engineer building out Airbnb’s product and JavaScript infrastructure, and the past few years as a manager. • On a personal note, I’m excited to be here because I actually just moved to New York after 10 years in San Francisco, in order to be closer to my wife’s family, who live down the shore not far from here. So I’m glad to be representing the Jersey Shore as a semi-local!
  2. 2. And in a transparent attempt to try to generate some Jersey Shore street cred, I’ve got a very hot take for you right here. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it, and “Hi YouTube!”
  3. 3. managingthroughchaos • But seriously, folks, • Today I’m here to talk about the topic of Managing Through Chaos.
  4. 4. Airbnb’sR&Dteam REDACTED • What I’m going to share today is based on my personal experience over the course of my career, and the past few years managing Airbnb’s R&D team. • Here you can see some of our team at the Apple Spaceship building, also known as Apple Park, in Cupterino. • We’re working on… something we hope to be able to share at some point. Sorry for the tease, but you know, I gotta keep our patent lawyers happy.
  5. 5. chaos • So, what do I mean by chaos. In the context of working at a tech company or startup, we can face some pretty tough situations. •
  6. 6. “bescrappy” “domorewithless” “beahero/ninja/rockstar” “BHAG” • Basically what we’re being told, is “go do something AMAZING and INCREDIBLE”, but maybe without the support or resources or structure we need to really be successful.
  7. 7. And so sometimes it feels like this. We have the weight of the world on our back, trying to make a product work, or make the business work, or make a team work.
  8. 8. ↑risk ↑ambiguity ↓support • And so what often ends up happening is, we find ourselves in a situation where we’re trying to accomplish something that feels like there’s: - A high amount of risk: risk of the project failing, risk to our career - A high amount of ambiguity: how exactly do we do this? Why are we doing it? What are the goals? Who are my important stakeholders? - A low amount of support: budget support, support from management, guidance, mentorship
  9. 9. teamdysfunction • And when this happens, it can lead to team dysfunction. • So I want to share a bit about: - some of my experiences with this - how it manifests for individual team members - how it affects the team as a whole - some tools to build a strong foundation for a team to navigate this chaos
  10. 10. Samara • Our story begins when our R&D team was first started a few years ago. • We formed initially as a sub-team of Samara, which is Airbnb’s “experimental product development group”. Samara started out as a group of really interesting, smart people that were brought together to explore what the “deep future” could look like for Airbnb. • A few of us got together and were interested in how we might stand up an official R&D effort within Airbnb.
  11. 11. newteam,whodis? • For those of us starting the R&D team, it was our first experience creating a team from scratch. • We had to learn a lot of important lessons the hard way.
  12. 12. 2 How exactly do we do R&D? 1 What are we, exactly? 3 What’s our relationship to the Mothership? howtoR&D? - What are, we exactly? • Are we an innovation lab? Are we new product studio? Are we an R&D group? • We kinda just started by saying “yes, we’re all these things”, but because we didn’t have a really clear team definition at the outset, we had to deal with this lingering ambiguity for too long. - How exactly do we do R&D? • What’s our process? Are we doing design sprints? How much research do we do before doing development? How long do we invest in building a prototype? When do decided to kill an idea and move on? - What’s our relationship to the Mothership? • How do we interact with the rest of Airbnb, and how do our explorations and prototypes make their way into the core product?
  13. 13. ↑risk ↑ambiguity ↓support • So were in a situation where we felt high risk, high ambiguity, and low support. • High risk: maybe our careers here could be at stake? What if we can’t figure out how to make R&D work inside a big company? What happens to our ego then? • High ambiguity: none of us have ever done this before. how do we do it? will work? will executives accept us? • Low support: because we were operating out of this “experimental product development lab”, we were separated from the main company, and we didn't have a lot of the structure and resources at our disposal that Airbnb proper had.
  14. 14. thanks,founders!! • To be clear, I’m making it sound like we had no idea what we were doing — and in many ways we didn’t — but I’m really grateful for the support of the Airbnb founders for giving us the space and time to figure it out. • Because once we did figure it out, we started creating some really interesting things that I hope we will be able to share sometime soon.
  15. 15. chaos⇨fear • While that’s true, what I saw was that: • In high doses, chaos creates FEAR. • It’s scary. It leads to anxiety for people. • And when that happens, team members start to shut down.
  16. 16. fear⇨fight-or-flight • So what happens when we experience fear? • We feel it, in our body. We have a physiological, biochemical reaction to fear. Our adrenal glands kick in and we start producing stress hormones. Our heart rate goes up, our breathing changes, we start trembling. • This sensation is called “fight or flight”. It’s a survival mechanism, back from our Paleolithic roots, when danger meant something that we should literally fight or run away from.
  17. 17. corporatefight-or-flight • But in the modern day, in the corporate world, it’s not some big predator that we’re facing. • Here’s a question: have you ever experienced a fight-or-flight sensation in response to something at work, like: - giving a presentation - receiving a performance review - having a difficult conversation with a peer or your manager • Or even, not really being sure about what you’re doing, maybe feeling imposter syndrome, not knowing if your project or team is going to work out, or what the future holds? • These situations can cause this stress response, and put our bodies into a tailspin.
  18. 18. defensemechanisms • When this happens, our insecurities often come to the forefront, and we turn into, shall we say, not the best version of ourselves. • The fight-or-flight response is a defense mechanism. • If you’ve ever been part of a dysfunctional organization, what you see is people trying to act in their own best interests at the expense of their peers, cover their ass, play politics, and worse. • And these people are acting out of fear. They’re trying to survive, to protect themselves when they feel vulnerable. • I got really interested in this phenomenon based on some of my own experiences, at work and in my personal life, but also seeing friends at other companies going through really similar situations.
  19. 19. “everythingIknowaboutmanagementI learnedfromcouplestherapy” alternativetalktitle: • I came up with an alternative title for this talk as I was working on it: • For some background, my wife Amanda & I started going to couples therapy before we got married, because we knew that we had some shit to work through, as all couples do. • From our experience in individual therapy, we had learned that a lot of the time, our negative responses to situations are often a manifestation of some defense mechanism that we learned as children, some way of coping with the world around us. •
  20. 20. innerchildwounding • In therapy, it feels like you spend a lot of time talking about your inner child, and trying to understand what your inner child’s wounding is. • I’m no psychologist, I’m just an engineering manager, but from what I’ve learned, most of us experience some sort of emotional wounding as children, whether it’s something really intense like trauma or abuse, or whether it’s a feeling of neglect, or even just common childhood experiences like being bullied on the playground. • And more often than not, that childhood experience sticks with us all the way through to adulthood, and if left unexamined, it shows up in situations when we experience fear and it colors our response to it.
  21. 21. primitivedefensemechanisms • And it usually shows up as an unconscious reaction to a situation. These reactions are sometimes called “primitive defense mechanisms”. • Depending on your personality and your past experiences, it shows ups differently. - Maybe you pull inward and shut down; maybe you lash out at others. - Maybe you work crazy hours to try to get some semblance of control over the situation; - Maybe you stop showing up to work, or spend all day scrolling through social media.
  22. 22. teamdysfunction • And when this starts to happen to a few people on team, the team becomes dysfunctional. • And there needs to be an intervention of some kind.
  23. 23. • Garry Tan, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist, tweeted about this phenomenon a few months ago. • He said: “…”
  24. 24. whattodo? • So, what are we to do about this? • Now, to be clear, I’m not advocating for you going to work next week and try to play therapist — leave that job to the professionals. • BUT I do think that a place to start when you see someone who seems to be activating one of these primitive defense mechanisms in response to a stressful situation, what you can do is rather than feeding into it and getting caught up in it, try to take a step back and recognize when someone seems to be reacting out of fear. • And more importantly, try to recognize when you are reacting to a situation from a place of fear, and step back and take a deep breath.
  25. 25. “everythingIknowaboutmanagementI learnedfromcouplestherapy” • So coming back to this alternate talk title idea I had of, “…” • I first made the connection between the tools of management and therapy when my wife became a manager at Google a few years ago, which was before my own venture into management. • I was reading through the folder of materials Amanda brought home from her management training workshop at Google. • As I read through it, I just kept thinking, “holy crap, this is exactly what we’re learning in therapy right now”.
  26. 26. Emotionalintelligence • How to cultivate compassion • Being mindful of boundaries • Building empathy • Emotional triggers & physiological responses • How to give feedback Google’smanagementtrainingcurricula rework.withgoogle.com • I remember reading through this and thinking, “this is basically just a roadmap for how to show up in any relationship”
  27. 27. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - Aristotle ProjectAristotle Google’s research project to determine what makes effective teams. • As it turns out, Google conducted a big internal research project to determine what makes effective teams. They called it “Project Aristotle”, a tribute to the quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” • They first defined what an “effective” team is, then collected a bunch of data and surveyed their employees to evaluate team effectiveness. • They were a bit surprised by the results of their research.
  28. 28. • What they discovered is that it mattered less about who is on the team, and more about how the team worked together. • In order of importance, the major factors the Google researchers identified for team effectiveness are: • What I want to focus today is the first, foundational factor — psychological safety
  29. 29. “Psychologicalsafety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safeforrisktaking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety,teammatesfeelsafetotakerisks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.” rework.withgoogle.com psychologicalsafety • It’s become a bit of a buzzword in the tech world these days. Here I want to just use the definition that Google uses on its management training guide. • “….”
  30. 30. creatinganenvironmentwhere teammembersfeelsafetaking risksandspeakingtheirmind • And not being afraid of negative consequences, like looking dumb, or being retaliated against. • And this really important. Can you think of a time in your own career when you’ve been in a situation where there was a decision being made that you didn’t agree with, but you didn’t feel comfortable enough to speak up and challenge someone’s idea? When this happens, important voices aren’t heard, and a lot of the time it leads to poor outcomes. • In the extreme cases, a lack of psychological safety causes teams to implode, because there’s no more communication happening between people.
  31. 31. howdoyoucreatepsychological safetyonateam? • I’m an engineer, so I like frameworks. And there’s a framework we’ve used that has been really helpful and has transformed the way I look at team dynamics, or really any relationship dynamic.
  32. 32. • There’s a famous business leadership book called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, by Patrick Lencioni. It uses parables — basically, fictional short stories — to illustrate what happens with dysfunctional teams.
  33. 33. https://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions • And he’s identified five common dysfunctions of teams, which are additive. Meaning, they build on each other’s foundation like a pyramid. • Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust - The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team. • Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict - The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict. • Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment - The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to. • Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability - The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable. • Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results - The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success. •
  34. 34. https://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions • But really, I want to focus on this version. • When you flip that around, you get the five behaviors of a cohesive team. • … • And essentially, these first two layers represent a foundation of psychological safety, on which a successful team ultimately rests.
  35. 35. themoreambiguity&risk, themorepsychologicalsafety • Now, tying this back to our discussion of chaos, what I’ve found to be true in starting an R&D team, and i’m sure applies broadly, is: • The more ambiguity & risk you ask a team to take on, • The more as a leader you need over-index on psychological safety. • The more unknowns there are, and the more you’re asking someone to get outside their comfort zone and do something big and audacious, • The more likely they’re going to experience fear, and that fear will inhibit the way they show up on a team, especially if there’s not a strong foundation of psychological safety. • If they feel trusted and have trust in you, if they feel able to go out on a limb and speak their mind, if they feel like they can engage in productive conflict and debate about an idea, then they have the foundation they need to achieve something big.
  36. 36. Astro Teller, head of X This idea was echoed by Astro Teller, who leads X, which is Google’s “Moonshot Factory”. Formerly known as “Google X”.
  37. 37. Astro Teller, fan of rollerblades He gets a lot flak for doing his own thing, being a bit weird, wearing rollerblades around the office,
  38. 38. “celebrating failure” Astro Teller • He talks about the importance of celebrating failure • Which seems counter-intuitive, but it’s his way of trying to create a culture that supports taking big risks
  39. 39. “Failure is the way to advance those audacious projects. Encouraging teams to take on only the most ambitious projects and allowing them to fail at them is what leads to profoundly amazing things.” Astro Teller • <read quote> • And it's not about failure as the goal; it's about creating an environment where people feel like they can shoot for the moon, and not be afraid to take big risks.
  40. 40. “People will do profoundly amazing things if you set the social norms correctly.” Astro Teller • He goes on to say •
  41. 41. “Most teams don't think it's safe to tell you that the business plan that you asked them to make isn't really great. It's just good. Wouldn't that be amazing if they would actually tell you that, because you don't want them working on something that's good but not great.” Astro Teller • So basically what he’s talking about here is the importance of creating an environment of psychological safety, so they can go on to do great things. •
  42. 42. “chief culture engineer” Astro Teller • And this is why he calls himself the “chief culture engineer” •
  43. 43. atoolfortherestofus
  44. 44. range.co • There’s a company called RangeLabs that was founded by a handful of veteran tech folks places lie Google, Medium, and Adobe. • It’s basically a web app that helps teams foster better communication and run better meetings. • But more than just that, they were heavily inspired by Google’s Project Aristotle effort, and they’ve built in some features designed to help build psychological safety on a team.
  45. 45. • They’ve built small nudges into the product to teams build trust by getting to know each other. • For example, in this Daily Update tool, there’s a section dedicated to “connecting with your team” • And building vulnerability by encouraging people to share how they're feeling. • We all know how hard it can be to build a sense of culture and trust on a team, especially a distributed team. •
  46. 46. icebreaker.range.co They also have a really neat tool called “Icebreaker", which is meant to be used at the beginning of meetings to help break the ice. It says “Start your meetings and gatherings with over 200 questions designed to build trust, connectedness, and psychological safety.”
  47. 47. icebreaker.range.co • When you use it, it gives you three levels of difficulty to choose from — about by difficulty, it’s really about level of trust and vulnerability to get into. • “Easy” - for new teams • “Medium” - for tight-knit teams • “Hard” - it’s time to get real
  48. 48. icebreaker.range.co • Soft ball
  49. 49. icebreaker.range.co • Takes a little more vulnerability and opening up to the group, but still it’s talking what you do yourself, rather than critiquing how the team is operating.
  50. 50. icebreaker.range.co • In the hard section, there’s a bunch of questions like this, • “…” • These provide openers to speak vulnerably and invite some conflict and difficult conversations.
  51. 51. • So I just want to leave with a call to action. • We each have the opportunity, and responsibility, to do this, and fortunately there are and more tools and research available to us to do this. • So, let’s go help create effective teams with the strong foundation to whether any sort of chaos.
  52. 52. ! @spikebrehm • Thank you so much. • I believe it’s happy hour now, so, enjoy! Let’s hang out.
  53. 53. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, by Patrick Lencioni https://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions re:Work by Google rework.withgoogle.com Range Labs Icebreaker https://icebreaker.range.co resources

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