My guest in this episode is Alla Weinberg, the CEO of Spoke & Wheel, a learning, leadership and people development company. She is a workplace relationship expert helping companies build loving leaders, trusting teams, and cultures of safety through training, coaching, and facilitation.
Alla talks about the important topics in her book, A Culture of Safety: Building an Environment for People to Think, Collaborate, and Innovate published by Sense & Respond Press. A must read for anyone in business and, well, life.
- Spoke & Wheel
- Alla on LinkedIn
- Alla’s book, A Culture of Safety.
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Hi, and welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels, zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation, and onto changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer and writer. My guest today is Alla Weinberg, the CEO Spoke and Wheel, a learning leadership and people development company. She is a workplace relationship expert helping companies build loving leaders, trusting teams, and cultures are safety through training, coaching and facilitation. And he’s also written a book all about that called A Culture of Safety, building an environment for people to think collaborate and innovate, published by a Sense and Respond Press. Alla, welcome to Power of Ten.
Alla Weinberg 00:52
Thank you for having me, happy to be here.
Andy Polaine 00:54
So what got you into this line of work and made you decide this book was needed?
Alla Weinberg 01:00
It actually came from my own personal experiences at work, I was a designer for close to 15 years, working in various roles starting as an Information Architect back when that’s that was the title, focusing later in my career, in research, and, and then eventually, teaching design and design thinking. And I’m in the majority, I’m not gonna say all but in the majority of my work environments, I felt unsafe, I didn’t feel internally relaxed. At work, I was worried about what I could say what I should say, to whom, when, and if, if I say something, will, my job, I know be in danger, in some respect. And then therefore my livelihood and ability to take care of my basic needs. I certainly never felt safe to talk about my emotions at work, because that’s not professional. That’s not considered professional. And right before I wrote the book, I had an especially I would say traumatic experience with that at work, and decided, I really want us to talk about this topic, because I want workplaces to change, I want to, to see a shift in how people relate to each other at work.
Andy Polaine 02:26
So clearly, this, this conversation is still necessary. But why? Why is it that we’re still talking about this, or you know, only just beginning to in some cases, why is work so broken?
Alla Weinberg 02:37
I think it’s just, I write about this in the book, I think it’s the held over entrenched beliefs back from the industrial era. So just as the industrial era was burgeoning, there was this thought that Frederick Taylor had, which was specifically and it was called Taylorism. Now, which he went around and did talks, he spoke around the country about this, which is how to create more efficiency on the assembly line. And in his view, the way that you create more efficiency is by having managers that think, and workers that execute the workers don’t think they just execute, and that set of beliefs that Frederick Taylor had, and that set of principles still carries on to this day got very much entrenched in how people think about work. And now we just don’t question it anymore. We just assume, yeah, that’s how we work together. But honestly, it was a guy’s idea. It was one guy’s idea. A caught on, it got very popular, but it just has taken hold and hasn’t been questioned, I think, for a long time. And I’m here to question it. And I was like, I don’t think it has to be this way.
Andy Polaine 03:46
I was reading it Jamie McCallum’s book worked over. And there’s a whole being that we dives into it and talks about how much Taylor actually fudged his data.
Alla Weinberg 03:55
Andy Polaine 03:56
And so it’s all kind of based on some pretty shonky data. So listen, in the book, you also talk about different kinds of safety. So I thought, it may be quite good to sort of unpack those to start with when it comes to sort of talk about the nature of fear, too. And that’s perhaps a good place to start. Because I guess safety is… or fear is an absence of safety. And then we could maybe kind of unpack each type of safety. And then, you know, go from there.
Alla Weinberg 04:21
Andy Polaine 04:22
So do you want to start with, you know, the three kinds of safety?
Yes, so when I was starting to write the book, I thought there are only two kinds of safety, which is emotional safety. So being able to express how we’re feeling and psychological safety, which many people know about, which is feeling safe to express our ideas. But as I was writing it, I learned from a biological standpoint, that there’s a third type of safety, which is physical safety, and that’s feeling safe and relaxed in our bodies physically. And this is intimately tied to our biology. So our entire body And neurobiology, our brain the way that it works. And our nervous system, the entire time that we’re alive, is constantly checking for if we’re safe from danger to our physical body. And the way that it does that is through a process called neuro ception, which is our nervous system, through our five senses, is able to pick up signals and send signals of danger to our brain. And that’s the first thing that our brain checks for, is my body physically safe. Unfortunately, our brain cannot tell the difference between a lion trying to eat us, an angry stakeholder.
Andy Polaine 05:41
It feels the same…
It feels completely… to the brain into the nervous system, it feels exactly the same, it’s your physical body, your life is in danger. And our entire system is organised to keep us alive to keep us safe. So if that’s the case, what happens is we’re going to get flooded with a bunch of different hormones, we’re going to go into fight flight or freeze mode, and we’re not going to be able to think because of the the blood that normally rushes to the part of our brain, which is the frontal cortex, the front part of the brain where your forehead is, the blood will rush out of that part that where we are actually have the ability to think, and it will redistribute to let us you know, run to put you know, blood and resources into other areas to keep us safe.
Alla Weinberg 06:28
So if we do not feel physically safe, because our bodies look different, have different abilities, or a different gender, or just a minority in a group. our nervous system is going to start to send signals, you’re not physically safe. And we’re not going to be able to think. So that’s the first sort of check that your body does. And then secondly, after that, if let’s say your body does feel safe, okay, great, you know, you are feeling relaxed in a group, for example of people. The second thing your body, your brain is going to check for is, am I emotionally safe? Can I connect with these people and not be hurt? emotionally, because there’s physical hurt, there’s physical pain, there’s also emotional pain. And so at work, when we’re not allowed to really there’s not okay to express our emotions, we have to suppress it, that sends a signal to our brain that we’re not safe. And again, same thing happens, blood rushes away from the part of the brain that can think and it prepares to protect ourselves. So this is still a protection mechanism that’s happening. And only after we feel physically safe, emotionally safe, can we feel psychologically safe? Which is, is it okay to share ideas, by idea or disagree with the boss, you know, or, or say, Hey, I’m concerned that this is going in the wrong direction, can I raise a flag, only then will we be able to address psychological safety and, and having the ability to feel relaxed enough to share your thoughts. So those are the three different types of safety.
Andy Polaine 08:14
It’s interesting, you know, I coach, and quite often that expression comes up if I was in this meeting, or I was in this, I was asked this question, and I felt like a rabbit in the headlights, you know, or a deer in the headlights. And I felt like I couldn’t think of that moment.
Alla Weinberg 08:30
Andy Polaine 08:31
Yeah, freeze, right. And so and it’s where you felt like a deer in the headlights? Because that’s exactly what you were at that moment.
Alla Weinberg 08:39
Yeah, I actually had an experience last week, I was like
Andy Polaine 08:43
Sorry I don’t know why I’m laughing, that seems a bit mean.
Alla Weinberg 08:49
But there was a individual that was aggressive towards me and I got flooded. This is what happens to us and our nervous system I got I got overwhelmed. And so I froze and blanked out and didn’t know how to respond. An hour later. Once I was able to calm down, I was like, Oh, I wish I would have said, X, Y and Z. But I didn’t.
Andy Polaine 09:14
I mean, I think everyone’s had that experience of the brilliant repost that comes half an hour too late. So you know, we have it all the time. And I’ve seen it, you see it in all sorts of different areas. And let’s, I want to go back to this idea of being professional. I mentioned before, because I feel like there’s a lot of horrors kind of wrapped up in that expression of “you need to be more professional”. What’s your reading of that phrase? And, you know, what does it mean to be professional?
Alla Weinberg 09:45
My reading of that is that it’s almost would mean you need to be more mechanical. So that means more productive, less emotional. Much more task and tactical oriented, producing more and more output over time. That’s the kind of again holdover from that Industrial Age of this is what it really means to be professional, is you’re, you’re almost acting like a machine versus a human being.
Andy Polaine 10:19
And yet the word you know, the professions were non-working class professions, right? The professions were to be a doctor or a lawyer and so forth, which were much more or should be much more human things, I mean, I have a, I have a whole kind of bugbear with the way medicine is taught, because it feels like that’s become very kind of mechanical as well. And in fact, there’s this weird arc that – sorry this is a complete sidetrack from design – but is this weird arc that kind of medical professionals seem to go through where start off getting into medicine, because of a very human desire, have that completely sort of stripped out of them when they’re studying and then sort of beaten out of them in very, very hierarchical environments as they kind of rise up, and the sort of humanity bit only comes back in once they become the very top again, as kind of specialists, often they become… I think it’s a confidence thing, actually. I had this very conversation with the coachee today about, you know, the more confident you are, the more you’re able to be yourself. And of course, the more you’re able to be yourself, the more confident you are. And that kind of cycle, which I can see how you know that what you’re describing in your book, really, you know, talks to that, I’ve got a question, which is the, you know, the question from the business side of things, because I can imagine there’s a conversation, that’s you probably have had plenty of times that goes somewhere along the lines of, “well, that’s all very nice, making people feel kind of happy and safe at work. But you know, how does that help us? How does it help us as a business? Why should we bother?”
I do get that question a lot. So the way I talk to business about it is that safety and trust and all the things that I talked about even loving leadership, which is something I teach is the means to get businesses what they want, in the end, what they want a lot of times is I have to hear this a lot is velocity, they want their teams to be able to work faster, you can’t do that without trust, because then you’re not going to speak to the person, if you don’t trust them, you’re not going to work well with a person, you don’t trust your not going to share information with a person you don’t trust, there is velocity now that goes down. But we I also talked often with people, they want innovation, they want creativity. Well, people need to be able to think in order to get that. And in order to be able to think and have full access to their intelligence, then they need to feel safe, they need to feel trust in their team. And this is a biological fact. Right? So I often talk about that the safety is the means to the ends, that businesses are looking for and wanting.
Andy Polaine 13:00
That does seem to be a kind of paradox in that I mean, all of this is kind of based in fear, and all of this really sort of steeped in fear. But there’s that paradox being that the fear that a project is going to go off the rails, or isn’t going to go fast enough – and I hear veolcity of it a lot too and I kind of hate it, as if kind of speed is somehow automatically better – but the fear that that project is going to go too slow, go off the rails or whatever creates behaviours, mostly in leaders or leadership that actually make it go off the rails in that they their grip tighter.
Alla Weinberg 13:31
Andy Polaine 13:32
One of the ways I’ve described it is if you imagine being you’re skydiving, right, and you’re, you’re doing a tandem skydive, and you’re afraid of that you’re going to wait, you pray, you’re going to splat on the ground. And so you grip the instructors hands really tightly, because you’re so afraid. And of course, then you can’t pull the chute. You know, because there’s no, there’s no space. I was quite surprised by one thing, which is this that you… Well, first of all, you talked about in a ways to build safety. And I wonder if you know, enable safety. I wonder if you have a differentiation between kind of enabling safety versus sort of building safety? For starters, maybe I’ll start with that question. Is there a difference? Or am I just using different words?
I don’t think in my mind, I don’t feel like there’s a difference. Safety isn’t something that you can make happen. It’s something that emerges from the environment and the interactions that people have with each other. So as a leader, I can’t go around and be like, now you’re safe. And then act that way, you know, that doesn’t work.
Andy Polaine 14:33
But that happens though. Right? I mean, that’s the same as that sort of culture thing of like," Hey, everyone can say anything they want. Okay, if you got that everyone can say anything"
Alla Weinberg 14:42
Go! Say it! No, no, thanks.
Andy Polaine 14:47
I have actually heard an anecdote from a friend of mine he used to be in, in management consulting now he does kind of similar thing to me. And his boss came and said, “right we’re gonna brainstorm different ways we can do stuff” and he made a suggestion, and was actually about reducing their margins because he said, you know, our clients just think our margins are too high. And his boss turned to him – that was the first suggestion – his boss said, “Well, I can tell you all, we’re not going to do that. Right. Any other suggestions?” It was like a scene from the office.
Alla Weinberg 15:17
Andy Polaine 15:21
So, but I thought there was a crucial point. And so you can’t just kind of give someone safety or sort of make someone directly safe that is emergent between the relationships between people. And the bit that I was surprised about, though, was how you suggested meetings are a good place to start. So maybe you could take away my surprise there tell me why.
Alla Weinberg 15:38
I’m curious why it was so surprising?
Andy Polaine 15:43
Because meetings have a lot of problems, too.
Alla Weinberg 15:47
Yes, meetings do have a lot of problems. And the reason I suggested meetings was because that is the place where people come together, and they relate to each other in a specific way. And that’s where a lot of the cultural norms, which are, again, the ways people relate to each other, are present are surfaced are available. And so for why is he just changing meetings is it’s something operationally that people can do immediately, but they can, they can actually affect change on even if you’re just an IC, you can still create a meeting, right? You don’t have to be a leader to do that. Although, of course, I want leadership to model and show the way. And it’s almost a sandbox for me of practising different ways to relate to each other. Because a lot of what I see just for safety in the way people need to talk to each other, what they talked about how they talk about it, is very unfamiliar, because we don’t have it in our in our place. And we need a sandbox to practice it into a mess up. And to get better with each other and through the messing up and cleaning up the messes. That’s how safety gets built, oh, I can say the wrong thing. And it’s okay. And I’m still supported. And I’m helped by my team by my group. I now I’m like, Ha, okay, I feel a little better, I feel a little safer, it starts to build.
Andy Polaine 17:17
You mentioned people, particularly minorities, in the workplace having to work twice as hard. You mentioned code switching. And this, you know, people of.. I was gonna say, people of colour, but it’s also kind of other minorities too. Anything that’s outside and guess what is the established “norm” which, in workplace, which is, you know, tends to be people who like me, middle aged white men, you know, maybe we can talk about what code switching is, and the kind of cognitive overhead of that in terms of safety?
Alla Weinberg 17:48
Code switching is in some respect, mirroring the dominant culture in the way that your talk in the way in the cadence of your speech, in how you present things. And it’s not necessarily maybe your more authentic way of speaking of being of presenting yourself. And so you’re… as a person that would do that. And even as a female, I have seen other females do code switching when they’re in an executive suite, acting, speaking more aggressively, more like their male counterparts. Right? And so I as a, as an, let’s say, a woman in that kind of environment, have to then put on a performance I have to put on a show to to try to match what I’m seeing, rather than just being relaxed, and being myself and speaking in the way I would normally speak and phrasing things or presenting things in a way that feel more natural and, and authentic to me, specifically. And so that takes a lot of like, that takes emotional work to do an exhale, cognitive work to do as well, on top of the other work that I do.
Andy Polaine 19:05
Right. And so that’s an overhead on top of everything else. So it doesn’t take much to kind of push you into kind of moment of freeze, right?
Alla Weinberg 19:12
Andy Polaine 19:13
And whereas someone like me, who looks like me, which I don’t have think about that, because the established norm is people who are looking and speaking and being like me.
Alla Weinberg 19:21
Andy Polaine 19:22
So in a sense and respond are well known for the books, they produce a very practical and there’s a lot of practical tips and, well, practices actually, in your book. Could you share some? What do you think are some of the kind of most essential? We’ve talked about changing meetings, but there’s quite a lot of other practical things in there that people can do.
Alla Weinberg 19:43
I think the most essential especially for team leaders, at any level, so you can be a leader of ICs or other managers or of the whole organisation. So for team leaders because again, of how we’re biologically wired for team leaders to be able to regulate their nervous system, and to feel more calm and centred themselves so that when they’re coming to their team and they’re talking to their team, what happens is that people will be able to co regulate with that leader, meaning “Oh, the leader is feeling calm, feeling centred feeling, okay.” My nervous system will take that as a sign that I’m safe, I’m okay, everything’s okay. And for leaders to do that, I do have a little exercise in there about a body scan. So really just checking in with your body. What that does your like from a neurological standpoint, is it tells your nervous system and your brain that I am safe, because I’m putting my attention on the sensations in my body and sensations being like, “Oh, I feel a tightness in my stomach, I feel some heaviness in my chest, I notice I’m clenching my jaw, my brow is furrowed, it feels it feels kind of tight in there.” Just noticing your body, your physical body sends a signal to your body into your brain that you’re safe and that you’re okay. And so even just that small practice couple minutes of a leader before going into a meeting, doing a body scan, noticing the sensations that you’re feeling, coming into that meeting much more centred, much more calm, will help everyone else pick up on that signal and also feel safer and calmer and be able to think in that meeting.
Andy Polaine 21:35
Right, because that was the thing I was getting to is what what can you do for everyone else or, how can you make it safe for everyone else? So the fact that you’re coming in with that energy, I’m gonna say it’s going to sound a little bit kind of hand wavy for some people, but you know, with that energy transmits it to everyone else and sends the signal to everyone else that this is this is okay.
Alla Weinberg 21:55
It’s just we have to understand our biology, like, this is just this is more such social creatures. This is how we’re wired. If we regulate ourselves, we also co regulate with others. And this makes sense because a lot of for a long time in our human history, we lived in tribes, and their job was to protect us from lions or from hostile other hostile tribes and keep us alive. And so if somebody else in the tribe is feeling calm, like everything’s okay, that gets sent around to everybody else. And I was like, okay, we’re not under attack, everything’s fine. I can, I can relax, I can feel safe. And that’s still true for us.
Andy Polaine 22:36
Yeah. And yet so much language, we talked about velocity, but so much language is about kind of speed. Well, why speed? Because, in one sense, or another bad things are going to happen, if we don’t go fast enough, we’re gonna run out of money, our competition is gonna take over, there’s always this kind of push. And again, it’s become a very dominant management practice to, to push in that way of kind of creating fear. I mean, FOMO is still fear, right? Fear of missing out is still a fear, like, you know, all the food will be gone by the time we get to the watering hole.
Alla Weinberg 23:07
And this is also practice I write about in the book, which is a fear inventory. And I think that’s also very, very important for anyone at work, I do this every day, this is part of my practice, is to start to be honest with yourself about the fears you have maybe around a certain project, maybe you’re on your team, anything work related that you want. And I suggest just a stream of consciousness, write it down, I have a fear that this project is going to fail, I have a fear that this project is going to take too long, have a fear that this project is going to cost too much if you have a fear that we’re going to spend all this time and it’s going to be a flop you know, get all those fears out so that the fears are no longer driving your actions and your decisions, because that’s the driver right now, in most companies and organisations.
Andy Polaine 23:55
I think also sharing them you know, there’s an activity I do, it’s a territory map. It’s basically a kind of affinity cluster map, actually, at the beginning of projects quite often, but also, you know, when I was consulting as the kind of pre-activity, to try and work out what’s the problem space, which is an or get people to map across, or think about their loves, hates hopes and fears. And, you know, loves and hates tends to give you the sort of present and past that these are the things that really, I’ve enjoyed or really irritate me, but hopes and fears were as interesting because they, they kind of give you the dreams and also obviously the fears and worries. And they would often be things like “I hope this isn’t going to be another project where we do a load of kind of stuff upfront and that nothing ever happens.” But the act of doing that collectively, or people do it individually first, and then you kind of do a post up collectively was very useful because you get this shared sense of, you know, well the shared sense of fear actually was and hopes was was very useful because people don’t feel alone. And the more you do it, the more people feel like they can they can share.
Alla Weinberg 24:59
Andy Polaine 25:00
And be sort of honest, which brings me to a bit where you said about, you know, emotions, bringing emotions to work or bringing, allowing for emotions to be all emotions to be heard. And he said, You know, when you talk about this, you get pushback from leadership, you know, saying what you’re surely not any emotion, what about rage or lust, and yet…
Alla Weinberg 25:18
And yet, and yet. Even just what you spoke about being able to have the safety to share any emotion creates connection between two people, because sharing an emotion is actually a very vulnerable act to do. And it’s, it’s a way of revealing something that’s happening for you individually to another person. And it’s vulnerable, because it’s you’re taking a risk in in sharing that and you’re exposing yourself, which is the definition of vulnerability, risk, exposure, or yeah, like it’s it’s risk or exposure or emotional exposure, right. Or uncertainty, I was trying to remember the definition, uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, that’s the definition of vulnerability. And so you’re being vulnerable with another individual. And when we do that, we’re saying to the person, I want to be closer to you, I want to connect with you. And so for both people, to be able to know how to receive somebody else’s emotion, a lot of times people will be like, Oh, I need to fix it now. You don’t need to fix it, right? Or I need to solve this, I need to fix it. You don’t. But knowing how to receive that. And knowing that that’s what the person is doing is being vulnerable? not asking, it’s a bid for connection. It’s asking for a connection, and just holding that hearing them and receiving that with kindness, not dismissal, not fixing, creates that connection. And so it does, it does, there is some skill, honestly, that we’re missing in the workplace about first how to express all of those emotions in a healthy way. And then also how to receive it if somebody is expressing it to you, as well.
Andy Polaine 27:14
Yeah, I feel like the latter of those is the tougher one to avoid the more unpracticed or the least practised skill, because the the other side can be dressed up in the kind of “well, I just tell it how it is, you know, and I just tell it like I see it,” or whatever it is, and “I’m just direct and I’m, you know, even aggressive, you know, I’m aggressively truthful about this than the other” right?
Alla Weinberg 27:35
No, you’re just angry
Andy Polaine 27:39
What often is also actually not expression, emotions, and certainly not vulnerably it’s often actually just kind of being aggressive. Yeah, but you talk about having a venting session as a practical thing. Now, I’ve seen those, there’s a, there’s a practices method called Stinky Fish that I think comes from Hyper Island, or I’ve seen it kind of elsewhere, people can Google that one. But the idea being that the, you know, the, if you have a stinky fish, you you carry them along, you carry it with you, the more it stinks, and so you kind of get this this method where you can put the stinky fish on the table and talk about it. I’ve seen, I’ve experienced, I facilitated actually, badly, it seems one that really turned into a venting session. And you know, we had to have lunch, we had to have a break to kind of just reset. So how do you prevent a venting session from just becoming because that can become really toxic.
Alla Weinberg 28:30
I think the structure of that session is very, very important. And any actually, whenever you’re having a conversation about emotions, specifically, having a good strong structure of how you’re going to talk about it is super, super important. That helps create a container. So it doesn’t all sort of go off chaotically and off the rails in a lot of ways. And so far a venting session, I recommend what’s called a circle process, which is allowing everyone to talk and vent and say what they need to say in turn one one at a time. And there’s no cross talk about it. I don’t need to as another individual in the group. Question your feelings. You are feeling what you’re feeling. Feelings are unarguable. This is how you’re feeling at this moment. And it’s so important, again, as a group to validate Yes, you are feeling this right now. It’s okay that you’re feeling this right now. And it is real, that you’re feeling this right now. And I don’t have to make a comment about that. And so just letting everyone in, kind of have a couple rounds, maybe a couple questions that people answer like what are you most frustrated about right now? What hasn’t been said? That needs to be said? What are you feeling in this moment? couple rounds. Everyone takes a turn. There’s no cross talk. Just let people speak and let others witness and listen as people are speaking
Andy Polaine 30:01
So I want to kind of… not push back, but I want to kind of give you an example, which I’m sure you also know and wonder how you kind of think about this and dealing with it, which is, it’s possible for the expression of feelings, to become a passive or just literally aggressive act in the sense that a team can end up being completely revolving around sort of pacifying someone else’s feelings. And in that, you know, it can be it can drift into a cultural thing, where’s that everyone’s feelings are kind of equally important, and everyone and in once sense they are, but on the other sense, that doesn’t mean say, everyone has to then kowtow to everyone’s feelings. So, I guess you would call it that sort of entitlement culture, but that’s not quite what I’m saying. Do you? Do you know what I mean by that sort of situation where it can kind of drift into a sort of stasis, because no one wants to kind of ride over anyone’s feelings or hurt anyone’s feelings, and it can be used and abused as in “Well I son’t really feel this, I didn’t really want that.” And so nothing happens.
Alla Weinberg 31:07
I feel like you mentioned two different things.
Andy Polaine 31:10
I probably did, I think I did.
Alla Weinberg 31:11
So I’m trying to do I think I’m trying. One is maybe if if folks are aggressively are really stuck in a blame, sort of attitude, it’s somebody else’s fault. And that’s how I’m feeling and I have strong feelings against someone and I’m blaming them. And another one is, maybe when they’re not feeling safe, to share their true feelings, and emotions. Is that correct?
Andy Polaine 31:34
Yeah, I think so. I think one of it’s also about using that “we’re all about a culture of safety here, so you have to do what I want,” is, I guess what I’m kind of getting at, you know. That can be used against kind of a group to sort of control a group. So you know, if that’s why I mean, it’s kind of like a passive aggressive kind of thing really.
Alla Weinberg 31:55
Yeah. This goes to conflict, specifically, then. right, and that… I don’t write about this directly in my book, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about in my work a great deal, which is, how do we create spaces for people to have productive conflict. It’s not productive to say, Well, I feel the strongest about this, so you have to do what I say. But productive conflict is taking time to deeply understand each other’s feelings and how we arrived at those feelings. Our life experiences, our thought processes of how we arrived at those feelings, and then finding a third way. So that means not the way you want to do it, and not the way I want to do it. But a completely – this is where creativity can come in – a completely third way of doing something that’s different, that’s novel, but that has both of our needs be met. And what often happens in groups and feeling sessions is people will relate to each other, and I need to get my needs met, even if that means you lose.
Andy Polaine 32:59
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m getting at.
Alla Weinberg 33:01
I have to get my needs met. And the shift in mindset. And I say this directly to groups, how can we get all of our needs met, let’s get creative. People don’t have conflict around needs. Everybody can understand and empathise that you have your certain needs. And I have my certain there’s never any conflict about that. That conflict is always about the strategies we use to meet those needs. And especially if I’m feeling very strongly about something, I’m going to want you to use my strategy to meet my needs. And the key here is how can we find a strategy where all a completely different new strategy that we’re all of our needs can be met.
Andy Polaine 33:45
So I fellow podcaster and friend of mine, John Curran, who’s a business anthropologist, he talks about – he specialises actually talking about conflict or conflict in the workplace, and not like people fighting, but this. You know, he’s in the UK, he’s British, too, which maybe says something about, which is that, you know, in general, there’s a lot of conflict avoidance, so a lot of the kind of politics and behind the scenes stuff, and all those things are actually to kind of avoid out and out conflict or open conflict. But actually, that conflict is, in fact, a good thing. And particularly most creative teams, that your team is trying to be creative, not as necessarily creative teams, because it’s a symptom of something that is showing you that there are different ways of looking at this thing is showing you that there are different ways of thinking about this structure, this organisation ways of working all of those kinds of things, and actually that to avoid complex conflict, if you’re ever been in a very conflict avoidance culture, everything so drifts towards a kind of mediocre middle.
Alla Weinberg 34:43
And so does the work. The quality of the work sort of drifts to this mediocre middle and everybody knows it. And if you ask anybody, what do you how do you feel about the quality of the work? They’re gonna go “Meh.It’s okay. Meh.”
Andy Polaine 34:56
Yeah. And I always have to think of the you know, famously Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album, you know where they’re all having affairs with each other. And it’s this kind of crazy thing where they kind of all hate each other and yet, you know, they somehow managed to create this amazing sort of legendary album. And it seems to happen a lot actually, in music, I think it happens probably in a lot with bands, it seems to happen, reasonable amount in in sort of theatre and acting and film and so forth, where where it’s somehow it’s, it’s more allowable, or I don’t know, if it’s because you’ve got this third medium of the music or any other kind of characters, you’re playing so forth. I think there’s probably also a lot of lack of safety. By all accounts, I mean, the #metoo movement is obviously, you know, the biggest indicator,
Alla Weinberg 35:42
But look how much creativity comes out of that tension, how much really amazing creativity is available. And I look at conflict, not as necessarily that we’re in a fight with each other, but that something new is trying to happen, something some new information is trying to be seen, some new understanding is trying to emerge. What is it? Like this is a question I put to myself like, what is it that’s trying to emerge here? What do you think is wanting to get created? It’s really a creative like, I really look at it conflict as creative tension. There’s something new that’s wanting to be created between us. What is it? What is it?
Andy Polaine 36:25
Yeah, I think this is often the misunderstanding between – I think Lisa Welshman said this me or Theresa Neil — one of them said “you’re, you’re saying I’m not being collaborative, when actually what you’re saying is I’m not being cooperative” but collaboration is really about exploring that third space. So we’re coming up to time, as you know, the Power of Team is named after this Ray and Charles Eames film. And the last question is always what one small thing - and it may be something that’s kind of overlooked and undervalued - if it was redesigned or kind of rethought would have an outsized impact on the world.
Alla Weinberg 37:00
I think if we rethought, of course, everything I think about is work related. So if we rethought organisations, away from the paradigm of a machine, towards a paradigm of what martin luther king called a beloved community, I think that would fundamentally change how we think be work with each other. And we spend 90,000 – the average person – spends 90,000 hours of their life at work, which is more than… Really? That’s shocking. Yeah, which is more, we spend more time with the people we work with than the people we chose to be within our life, our children, our spouses, our partners. We deserve as human beings to work in a beloved community that fulfils and nurtures us and loves us and supports us not as part of a cog in a larger machine.
Andy Polaine 37:59
Thank you very much. So, where can people find you online? on the interwebs?
Alla Weinberg 38:05
Yeah, my website is a spoke and wheel.co. So that’s dot c o. I’m also on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, my handle is I am Alla W.
Andy Polaine 38:17
And we’ll put all those in the show notes and the link to the book as well. Thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.
Alla Weinberg 38:24
Thank you for having me Andy.
Andy Polaine 38:27
As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter, or polaine.com, where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you like the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us. And as always get in touch if you have any comments, feedback or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.