What Makes a Team Successful Is You Meet Your Objective
Richard Kasperowski:00:10 Hi friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high-performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. This episode is a conversation with DiDi Vaz. DiDi is an Agile coach working on the data science platform at the Broad Institute. DiDi and I chat about connection, connection to each other as teammates and connection to your shared goals. She offers advice on this kind of connection as well as on team dynamics and overall team culture. To support this podcast, sign up for my newsletter at Kasperowski.com. Thanks for listening.
Richard: 00:45 Hi friends. Welcome back to With Great People. We are on location today at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts with our special guest, DiDi Vaz. DiDi is an Agile coach and the data sciences platform here at the Broad Institute. Hi DiDi, welcome to the podcast.
DiDi Vaz: 01:01 It’s great to be here, Richard. Thanks for inviting me.
Richard: 01:03 Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me back here to the Broad. It’s really cool to be here.
DiDi: 01:07 I recall our journey and our introduction to each other. For listeners, Richard is one of the reasons I am at the Broad Institute. I feel like you were one of my interviewers when they were [crosstalk 00:01:18].
Richard: 01:19 Kind of, yeah, sort of an interviewer, sort of a let’s just get lunch and have a great conversation and make sure you want to work here.
DiDi: 01:31 It was a great conversation, I felt. I really enjoyed talking to you. It was so helpful to me to have you as this consultant that’s what’s helping these folks through their first Agile adoption. Then of course, you know, you didn’t want … I don’t think you wanted the full-time engagement so then they went and looked for a full-time Agile coach. I remember that lunch we had before I got here and it was really great.
Richard: 01:50 I knew they were in good hands with you.
DiDi: 01:53 A lot of love fest happening right now on your podcast.
Richard: 01:55 Isn’t that great? Let’s see, is there anything else we could add to that introduction?
DiDi: 02:00 I’ve been here at the Broad for two years. Before that I worked at a payroll software company as a Scrum master, an Agile community leader, you could say. I was their first full-time Scrum master and then we hired more. Then before that, I was an everything at another software company for a number of years that made products for media and film. Yeah, that’s been my journey. I’ve been in the software dev biz for about 13 years.
Richard: 02:31 Great.
DiDi: 02:31 Then before that I was a broadcast journalist, which is a whole other podcast and a whole other story.
Richard: 02:40 Right. As I recall, we grew up neighboring towns in Western Massachusetts, although we grew up in different eras. I think I’m a little older. I think your town and my town, at least my town thought of it this way, that your town was our high soccer rival just because he had a lot of good soccer players there.
DiDi: 03:03 Yes. We still do.
Richard: 03:05 I don’t know if you even thought of my town at all because, you know, it’s kind of-
DiDi: 03:07 I actually don’t remember your town.
Richard: 03:08 Yeah, see? See?
DiDi: 03:08 What was your town again? I feel like everybody in western Massachusetts thought that my little town, Ludlow, was their soccer rival. In fact, we have other Western Massers over there in my office and they often will tell me … They’ll tell me that. I’ll meet folks and they’ll say, “Oh. Oh, we were your rivals in soccer.” I’m like, yeah, everybody was our rival in soccer.
Richard: 03:32 This is the podcast about great teams. What I’d like to ask every-
DiDi: 03:39 Great soccer teams, right?
Richard: 03:40 Great any teams. This is actually the question, what was your best team ever? That could be any team that you’ve ever been on in your life. Could be some sports team from the past, could be one of your current work teams or a past work team, any group of two or more people aligned with a common goal. It could be you and your family. What was your best team ever?
DiDi: 04:02 I only get to pick one, eh? Well, there’s one team in particular. It has to be the first software development team where were we actually introduced Agile. I was working for this company where we had very much Waterfall practices. I was a software tester at the time. Waterfall is no good if you’re at the end of that crushing cascade of water, which is, hey, we have to release next week and, well, I just got to testing this and there are a lot of issues and how could we have discovered these things earlier, right? Then we had a VP come in who said, “You know, I’ve been doing this thing called Scrum,” so long time ago, “I’ve been doing this thing called Scrum at my company. I think it would help us out,” and introduced it to us. Then some of us were shipped off to training.
DiDi: 04:54 These Scrum teams were created. The product owner was on the biz dev side. They found the right product owner for the team. Cross-functionally we were all set there. We had different engineers who had the skills we needed for the goal they had assigned our team. Then everybody on the team looked at me and they said, “We need a Scrum Master, you can do it.” I was sort of voluntold to be the Scrum master of the team.
DiDi: 05:21 In fact, that’s a team that even though this was … We were first … That team was born maybe 13 years ago about, at least more than 10 years ago, we still get together for lunch sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year. Every year we find a time to have lunch with each other. We stay in touch and we’re connected on social media.
DiDi: 05:47 Now this would not be a team you look at and think, “Oh, all these people have a lot of things in common.” Not to divulge identities, I don’t know if they want their names mentioned on a podcast, but came from all different backgrounds, experiences, cultures. I was the only woman on the team. Everybody else, most folks are now in their sixties. There was definitely a diversity in age too. When you look at this team, you think, “Well, this doesn’t look like a team where there’s a lot in common among these folks,” but what made it great, I think, is that we all had a certain amount of grit and good work ethic and we were aligned on values. We were all, I think, hard-working, motivated people and because of that we quickly earned, I think, each other’s respect and each other’s trust. When you really think about that, nobody’s slacking off. Everybody’s there to move the ball forward.
DiDi: 06:58 I think that was common ground, that we all respected each other’s work ethic. Then we also, I think what made us a great team was that we had .. You mentioned a common goal, that’s what a team is. To have a team you need a common goal.
Richard: 07:15 Right.
DiDi: 07:16 That common goal was clear, crystal clear. We all knew if we delivered at the end of the month, we would get $20,000,000 in revenue.
DiDi: 07:29 Clear goal, right? We knew what we would be missing out if we can get that goal. That was really motivating too. I think everybody on the team was so respectful, but at the same time we worked together for so many years that we were also very direct with each other. I felt very lucky because one of those senior engineers mentored me, saw … Starting out as a Scrum master, had some good ideas about what would make us successful as a team and did not mince words, did not tell me like, “Hey, hey, the way you ran that retro was no good.” Just give it to me, you know? But always was coming from a place of … I always saw that feedback, that direct feedback was just to make me better.
Richard: 08:25 Right.
DiDi: 08:26 I knew that person had my back. That’s why it was never … I mean, you know, it hurts sometimes to hear feedback that isn’t positive, but knowing that that person was looking out for me made it okay. When I think of these attributes of great teams, there is a foundation of trust that has to be built on this team.
Richard: 08:54 Right.
DiDi: 08:55 I folks out there, they call it psychological safety, and that’s a component I know, but I think there are a lot of things that can enable trust. For example, I mentioned all of us respecting each other’s skills and work ethic, I think was a way to create trust among us too. We could count on each other to do the thing. That’s a layer of trust. Then we get to know each other. We had lunch every day. I’m being a little … I shouldn’t say every day. Sure, we didn’t have lunch every day, but most days we had lunch. You get to know each other.
Richard: 09:38 Right.
DiDi: 09:38 I get to know what’s going on in these people’s personal lives and their families. They get to know what’s happening in mine. Now we are human beings to each other.
DiDi: 09:50 We’re not just not just colleagues. We’re friends.
Richard: 09:58 Right.
DiDi: 09:58 That’s another layer of trust. Then there’s a third layer of trust. This trust just, I think of like a root system. Now, these roots of trust are just getting deeper and deeper. We went through the recession together, so we saw colleagues get laid off. This was the last major recession.
Richard: 10:18 Right, right.
DiDi: 10:19 We saw folks get laid off. Now we’re having to do more with less and changes in the organization. We went through hard times together too. We battled together. That created a layer of trust because we had all been through a thing together.
Richard: 10:42 Supported each other and came out the other side.
DiDi: 10:44 Yeah. We survived and we came out the other side. We were there for each other indeed, but there was also this … We had a war story together. This is me just spit-balling, but these things, these are the things that come to mind when I think about that work team that was really successful.
Richard: 11:11 Now if we could take this team and this experience of being on that team and condense that whole thing into one word, is there one word that you could use to describe the sensation of the experience of being on that team?
DiDi: 11:31 Sure. Are you ready for my one word?
Richard: 11:32 Yeah.
DiDi: 11:33 Connection.
Richard: 11:33 Connection.
DiDi: 11:34 That’s my one word. You think about it, we’re connected to our goals and we’re connected to each other. That’s how you synthesize.
Richard: 11:44 Connection. Now what are some other ways in which you know that this was the best team?
DiDi: 11:55 Oh.
Richard: 11:55 Subjective things, objective things.
DiDi: 11:58 I think outcomes. What makes a team successful is you meet your objective. We did get $20,000,000 in revenue. We met our goals. I think I am using that as a criterion of a great team.
Richard: 12:22 You already shared a few concrete behaviors that you engaged in together that went into that.
DiDi: 12:27 Right.
Richard: 12:27 Are there any other concrete behaviors that you did that led to that success?
DiDi: 12:36 In addition to that … I think I laid a lot of them out there.
Richard: 12:43 You did.
DiDi: 12:44 I did.
Richard: 12:44 You talked about things like almost every day you had lunch together.
DiDi: 12:47 I’m sure there are more.
Richard: 12:48 You had respectful, direct feedback with each other.
DiDi: 12:54 Direct feedback, right. That came later, of course, where I think … It took a while for that to feel good, but eventually, it did. I think as you build a relationship with someone the direct feedback comes at you, but you don’t have that trust, it’s no good, but then later on it … Once you have that trust and then the feedback comes, a funny thing happens. Your trust even builds because now you’re able to have this direct conversation with someone and tell them things that might make them uncomfortable, but it reestablishes the trust that you have.
Richard: 13:28 Right. You’re not letting each other coast. You’re not letting each other’s skills degrade.
DiDi: 13:39 I got to a point where I could interpret that direct feedback to me as somebody believing in me. It shifts. It’s no longer, oh wow, my ego feels bruised. I’m not good enough, which with women, imposter syndrome, all of that, I think a lot of us go through that. I’m certainly a victim of this as well, but now we’ve established trust. You get to a point where you understand that this person has so much belief in you and that’s where this feedback is coming from. They want you to be great. How did I know this? Because they said so.
Richard: 14:22 Right.
DiDi: 14:22 They said this, “You know, you could do this. You could do this if you keep learning and growing, you could do this.” I left that place really knowing what I was capable of because I had these mentors and these people who believed in me on this team and were looking out for me. Then, this company that I’m thinking of had some struggles with politics. There a lot of politics and cross-team issues. Sometimes I would just get in a room with these mentors and we would strategize, and talk about people’s motivations and how to influence them. I think strategizing too, with folks, towards a common goal also established, I guess, a connection or strength on the team. It goes back to that war story thing. It’s really coming up with a battle plan. It’s like, okay, we have to navigate all the politics in this organization, but we’re doing it together.
Richard: 15:26 Right.
DiDi: 15:28 We’re teammates in this.
Richard: 15:30 A battle plan for the organizational politics.
DiDi: 15:33 Yeah. I feel so lucky because I don’t have to deal with this in my current organization, which is … What a blessing. What a blessing.
Richard: 15:41 I was just going to say that. You really are blessed here at the Broad Institute.
DiDi: 15:45 Oh, it’s an amazing place to work, amazing place to work. I feel very lucky to be here because I don’t have any of that stuff anymore, politics and you know.
Richard: 15:54 Well, and there is a profound shared goal here.
DiDi: 16:00 Right. Right. We have a mission, or vision really, to transform medicine, accelerate science and cure disease. Is there a bigger and better mission? Probably not.
Richard: 16:19 Yeah, that’s part of why I really loved consulting and coaching here. It was so easy to be aligned with the Broad Institute’s goals.
DiDi: 16:28 It feels good to be here.
Richard: 16:30 Yeah, absolutely. Now, how about some advice for our listeners? What could they do? What could our listeners do to reproduce some of the success that you experienced on that best team ever?
DiDi: 16:45 Sometimes it’s small things. How do you establish trust? What are the interactions the team is having? Create the affordance for those interactions. What are the events? What are the social opportunities? Create those. It could be a puzzle in your common room. It could be ice cream delivered once a week and everybody has to wait in line for the ice cream. What are the opportunities that people can talk to each other, face to face, not via Slack channel, not in a particular team or work event where it’s all business, but create events.
Richard: 17:36 Right.
DiDi: 17:36 Create connections or opportunities for connection where people can get to know each other.
Richard: 17:41 Right. Create opportunities for connection.
DiDi: 17:46 Yeah.
Richard: 17:47 Something as simple as, “I see them here at the Broad,” a jigsaw puzzle in a common area and it’s not quite done yet. Somebody sits down, maybe two people sit down together and work on it. Anything else as advice to our listeners to reproduce such awesomeness?
DiDi: 18:02 That’s connection to each other, but then what are we doing to connect people to their goals. Who is going to benefit from them achieving this goal? Get those people in front of your teammates. What’s at stake? What’s the win? Have them feel that, know that intimately.
Richard: 18:37 You can hear me doing the equivalent of scribbling notes as you talk, tap, tap, tap, tap with the pencil. Create opportunities for connecting with each other as people and create opportunities for connecting with the shared goals.
DiDi: 18:53 The shared goals, yeah. A way for everybody to align, when you see teams not working out, how often … Richard you can weigh in on this too. How often is it because that goal … They’re not aligned on what that outcome should be.
Richard: 19:07 Yeah, totally.
DiDi: 19:09 That’s a prerequisite. That’s a must-have on any great team is everybody is on the same page. In fact, visualize it. Put it on a page.
Richard: 19:21 Literally the same page.
DiDi: 19:21 Yes, and post it near where the team is and go, this is what success looks like. It helps that team have the right conversations and make the right trade-offs, often come to consensus more easily because they have something guiding them on what the right thing is. Crucial.
Richard: 19:45 Crucial. I love how clear you are about connection as the sensation and connection to goals and to each other and really concrete ways to get that to happen.
DiDi: 19:57 Yes. I think about this stuff all the time. As you know, I think when people hire Agile coaches, a lot of organizations think, “Oh, this is somebody who’s going to tell us what to do as far as practices, processes,” but as so many of us have discovered, a lot of that overlaps with culture and the human stuff, emotion and connection. I’m always surprised by how surprised other folks are by that. It often happens where we have a … I see it happening with my Scrum masters now. We’ve hired Scrum masters here in our group and actually, we’re hiring more. I see them do it. They come in and they want to establish team norms and practices and then the bulk of their work is team dynamics.
Richard: 20:55 Right.
DiDi: 20:57 It’s really an incredible thing. I know folks in our discipline know that because it’s everybody’s experience, but it always surprises me by the folks who hire us don’t necessarily realize that yet.
Richard: 21:12 Yeah, that’s interesting.
DiDi: 21:13 All the time. They know it’s a thing that they don’t see the overlap. Like, “Oh, maybe this team isn’t successful because there’s something going on that’s not necessarily related to a process, but in how they’re connecting to each other or their goals.”
Richard: 21:28 I’ve never heard a boss say it just like that.
DiDi: 21:32 Right.
Richard: 21:34 Which is why they need somebody like you here.
DiDi: 21:37 Then it’s work. Sometimes folks will come up to me and be like, “Oh gosh, this is such a great place.” I see all the work that’s happening behind the scenes to keep it a great place. It is a living thing. Culture is a living organism. For it to thrive, you need to feed it. You need to give it … You need to nurture it. You need to feed it. It does not just exist.
Richard: 22:15 Culture is a thing that you need to feed and help it thrive.
DiDi: 22:19 Think about it. I know we’re at the scientific institute right now, but think of culture, the actual word is to culture something.
Richard: 22:26 Oh, we could go into that room back there and see some actual living cultures.
DiDi: 22:28 See cultures.
Richard: 22:30 Cell cultures.
DiDi: 22:31 Right. Those things … Well, I’m not even going to move into like I understand all the science around here. I won’t even posture that way. It is something that needs to be fed and grown and nurtured. I think you cannot have a great team without a great team culture.
Richard: 22:59 Well said. You can’t have a great team without a great team culture. Is there anything else you want to add?
DiDi: 23:07 Well, I could talk to you forever, Richard. I like talking to you. I had to course correct as we thought about these things because I always go to what not to do. I’m always like, this is what you don’t want on a team. What was nice about this conversation is I was able to frame things on what you should do.
Richard: 23:30 Let’s not even go into what not to do.
DiDi: 23:31 Let’s not go over there. I guess that’s just the way my mind works. I’m always like, oh, this is what you shouldn’t do. Even if you have that in your mind, it’s easy to reframe those things into what you should do. I’m very proud of myself.
Richard: 23:45 There’s this pedagogy theory that when you tell people what not to do, you’ve created some new brain structures that they didn’t need to have.
DiDi: 23:57 That’s so interesting.
Richard: 23:59 Just tell them what they need to do. Just tell them what you want them to learn versus what not to do.
DiDi: 24:04 Right. There are powerful lessons in the mistakes and the failures.
Richard: 24:09 For sure. That’s how people learn, but [crosstalk 00:24:14].
DiDi: 24:14 That’s how you learn.
Richard: 24:14 In a condition where there’s trust and you feel safe and you can learn from your little mistakes.
DiDi: 24:16 Right. Right, but I agree it’s probably better to process all those mistakes into guidelines on what to do. It definitely seems more efficient.
Richard: 24:30 How could our listeners contact you if they wanted to?
DiDi: 24:34 I do have a sad Twitter account, which I have to admit I don’t use very often, but I believe it uses my full ethnic name, which will be difficult here. It’s Diolinda, D-I-O-L-I-N-D-A, underscore Vaz, which is sad I had to use an underscore and that there’s another Diolinda Vaz out there, but such is life. Then also I think I’m on LinkedIn, again with my fancy ethnic name, Diolinda Vaz.
Richard: 25:08 Full, fancy, ethnic name. I love my fancy, ethnic name. … I want people to be able to find me, and they can.
DiDi: 25:21 Nice. I know it’s such an achievement.
Richard: 25:23 Right.
DiDi: 25:24 Luckily I have that last name that’s quite easy to remember, V-A-Z, like a vase. You put flowers in it.
Richard: 25:33 DiDi, thank you very much for joining us today. I really, really enjoyed having this conversation with you, thanks.
DiDi: 25:38 This was great. I’m happy to talk to you anytime.
Richard: 25:44 Hi friends. Thanks for listening and remember to support this podcast. Sign up for my newsletter at kasperowski.com.