There Was This Buzz in the Organization

Richard Kasperowski interviews Johanna Rothman. Johanna is known as the Pragmatic Manager—that’s the name of her email newsletter, where she shares her thinking on practical pragmatic approaches to hiring people, looking for a job, and managing projects, programs, and portfolios. Johanna talks about the best team of her life and the energy they felt together. Connect with Johanna at


Richard:                        00:11                Hi, friends. Welcome back to With Great People, the podcast for high-performance teams. I’m Richard Kasperowski. This episode is an interview with Johanna Rothman. Johanna is known as the Pragmatic Manager. That’s the name of her email newsletter, where she shares her thinking on practical, pragmatic approaches to hiring people, looking for a job, and managing projects, programs, and portfolios. Johanna talks about her best team ever, and the energy they felt together.

Richard:                        00:43                I also want to let you know about IIL’s Agile and Scrum Online Conference 2019. We just did the video shoot for my session at the conference; I’ll be talking about team-building and high-performance teams, and I think you’re going to love it. The conference includes 24 of the most interesting current speakers on agile. For more information and to register, visit the events page of my website at And remember, to support this podcast, sign up for my newsletter at Thanks for listening.

Richard:                        01:18                Hi, Johanna. How are you?

Johanna:                       01:19                Great, Richard. How are you?

Richard:                        01:21                Good, thanks. And we’re here in Johanna’s secret hideout on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful day, the breeze is fantastic up here on the hill. I love it.

Johanna:                       01:35                I love it also, and you should know that Richard already told me that while cleaning my office was the last thing on my list, it should be the first thing on my list.

Richard:                        01:48                I love your office.

Johanna:                       01:50                So do I.

Richard:                        01:53                All right, will you introduce yourself to our listeners?

Johanna:                       01:56                Sure. People know me often as the Pragmatic Manager because that’s the name of my email newsletter, and I provide practical, pragmatic approaches for everything from hiring people, to looking for a job, to managing projects and programs, to managing the project portfolio, to management. If it’s got a P and an M, I probably have some writing about it.

Richard:                        02:22                All right. So, this is the podcast about high-performance teams, and what I like to do is ask guests about their best team ever, best team of your life. And so, if you can identify the best team of your life, that’s any group of two or more people aligned with a shared goal, that’s what I say a team is, from your whole life, can you think of the best one of those that you’ve ever been part of?

Johanna:                       02:52                So, I have to choose… So, I’m actually thinking of three, and I will choose the middle one. Not the one where I was a lowly engineer, and not the one where I was already a consultant, but the one where I was a program manager, and we had a fairly large program at… This is at Symbolics back in 1988.

Richard:                        03:21                Symbolics.

Johanna:                       03:21                I know, I know. So, for those of you not around here, Symbolics… And for those of you who are young, Symbolics was a Lisp machine manufacturer back in the ’80s.

Richard:                        03:36                Wait, a Lisp machine?

Johanna:                       03:36                Lisp machine, I know, I know.

Richard:                        03:37                What’s that?

Johanna:                       03:38                We thought we were going to compete with Sun, oh… So our marketing was not so good, but the engineering environment was amazing, and it was amazing in several dimensions. We all trusted each other to both do the right thing and do the thing right. So, the nice thing about Lisp is that you’re always… It always runs, right?

Richard:                        04:06                Yeah.

Johanna:                       04:07                So we were doing small stories, I used to call them “inch-pebbles,” every single day. We would come in to work, and the command was “(load-patches),” so we would load up the previous day’s work since the last time, everything that people had checked in. And so we were running this particular… We were running everything that people had developed.

Johanna:                       04:31                Now, did it all work? No, we had problems. But that’s not the point; we trusted each other to fix the problems once we found them. So, we had a lot of trust, we moved fast. We didn’t try to break things, but we discovered that things worked sometimes in ways we did not expect, and we had a great time. I was the program manager for that program from January 1988 until the end of August. Well, I guess the end of… Yeah, the middle of August, because we had a big trade show on August 22nd. And the reason I remember these dates, right, this is 1988, how can you possibly remember dates like that? My daughter was born on August 21st, and the trade show was August 22nd.

Richard:                        05:33                Oh.

Johanna:                       05:34                So we had a demo-able product, which was a board, the changed operating system, and the operating system that ran on the board, and a few applications.

Richard:                        05:46                Oh my God.

Johanna:                       05:46                That was MacIvory, yeah. So, I don’t know how much you remember of Symbolics, but it was-

Richard:                        05:52                In 1989, my first real tech job was a company called [ICAD 00:05:58] in Kendall Square in Cambridge.

Johanna:                       06:00                Yeah?

Richard:                        06:02                I had a Symbolics Lisp machine on my desk.

Johanna:                       06:06                You had a 3600.

Richard:                        06:07                It was so great.

Johanna:                       06:08                Yeah.

Richard:                        06:10                Looking back at it, before we had the jargon that we use today, we were doing continuous integration every day.

Johanna:                       06:17                Absolutely, yeah.

Richard:                        06:17                Just because of the way the read-eval-print loop worked, and the way we all shared code together, you could just incrementally add other people’s code as we went, [inaudible 00:06:29] load patches.

Johanna:                       06:30                Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so you know.

Richard:                        06:32                Yeah, it was continuous integration before we called it that. We did a form of test-driven development, we had great tests, we had a great packaging system, stuff that my company added on to what your company built, yeah. Yeah.

Johanna:                       06:47                Yeah. Yeah, so we couldn’t do continuous delivery then, because we were still shipping on tapes, right?

Richard:                        06:54                Yeah.

Johanna:                       06:54                But we could do everything else. And when I say to people, that was my experience with agile approaches. We used [inaudible 00:07:02] true agile approach. When I managed the program, we had a monthly deliverable, so everybody focused on that monthly deliverable so that we could build what we needed to do to show people progress. And I used rolling-wave planning so that we would have… We had the plan for next week in, the proposed plan for a couple weeks after that, and as we finished a week, I would update the plan, and the plan was always on stickies on the whiteboard, because I didn’t have any project management software. We didn’t need project management software, because we… I mean, first of all, it doesn’t make sense for a program. We had too many teams, we had, you know, 150 people or something working on this program. So everyone took care of their own stuff. We all focused on, what was this goal for this month? Right? We had the program goal, and what was the goal for this month? How could I as a human contribute to this goal? And it really worked out well.

Richard:                        08:08                Awesome. I love the story of that team, and I want to see if we can sum it up in one word. Sometimes people do this sort of like a guided meditation. If you… You’ve already taken yourself back to the experience of that team. When you re-experience it, and really re-experience even the physical sensations of being part of that team, is there one word that you could use to describe the sensation of being with that group?

Johanna:                       08:43                I think the one word might be “energy.”

Richard:                        08:46                Energy.

Johanna:                       08:47                Yeah, because I had the trust with people, but we were… There was this buzz in the organization, where you could go to the hardware people and there was a buzz. Yeah, some problems were really hard, and they would kind of complain and whine, but they went back to work. And the mechanical people said, “I really need a bigger footprint,” and I said, “You don’t got one.” Right? So, you know, you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need. And the software people were very excited, so I think that there’s something about energy in that entire experience.

Richard:                        09:28                Oh, really? Energy. And you’ve talked about some of the things that you did with that crew; how do you know it was so good? Is there anything else subjective that you could use to gauge that it was the best team ever, or anything objective that you could use to gauge that it was the best team of your life? Are there any metrics, is there… What do you have?

Johanna:                       09:54                When people ask me about the best teams I’ve ever been a part of, I think about when I used to run AYE with Jerry and Esther and Don, because we were a cohesive team, and we had Dave Smith and Steve Smith a few years before that, because we understood how to work together. And I think of, also, of the team when I was a young software developer working with a mechanical guy and a hardware guy back at Digilab, and then another team at Automatix.

Johanna:                       10:32                And I think that the key for this particular experience at Symbolics is… Why I think it’s the best is because it’s not that everybody had a great time every day, right? You always have ups and downs. But the entire experience was so focused and so goal-oriented, and we were doing something that was really important. So that’s how… I mean, it made a difference in our professional lives, and it made a difference in other people’s professional lives.

Richard:                        11:13                Certainly in mine, as one of your customers.

Johanna:                       11:15                Yeah. Yeah, because whatever we learned there on MacIvory, we put back into the 3600.

Richard:                        11:20                Yeah.

Johanna:                       11:21                Yeah, so it was… It ended up being something really, really wonderful.

Richard:                        11:28                Yeah.

Johanna:                       11:29                Yeah.

Richard:                        11:29                All right. Now, what were three or, you know, one, two, three, you pick a number, what were some of the concrete behaviors that people on that team engaged in together that went into that success?

Johanna:                       11:46                There were a few things that were technical, right? You’ve talked about continuous integration, so we could always see where we were, right? We had literally continuous integration. People would create something on a Monday afternoon, check it in, ask for code review, and we had… not instantaneous code review, but there were people affiliated in small groups who were able to do code review as we proceeded. So we had the technical excellence circle, so that really worked.

Johanna:                       12:28                We also had… How can I say this? Well, I’m just going to say it. We did not have a lot of management, right? So every team did not have a project manager, they didn’t have a coach, they didn’t have a scrum master. I mean, scrum hadn’t… I’m not sure was invented yet. We had a program manager, and we had a few people who corralled, for lack of a better word, several teams to make sure that they had their deliverables, they were all focused in the same direction. So I actually talked to the technical leads for many of those teams on a fairly regular basis, and I said, “Are you with me? Are we going in the same direction? Because if we’re not going in the same direction, we need to fix that right away.”

Richard:                        13:23                Yeah.

Johanna:                       13:23                Right? “Because we have this milestone coming up, our monthly milestone. We need to make sure we’re headed in the same direction.” “Oh, JR, you don’t understand.” “No, I do understand, and we need to be headed in the right direction.” “Do I have the wrong direction?” is a question I always asked. Right? Because if I had the wrong direction, I would fix that. So I was happy to re-plan, I was happy to rethink, and they were happy to re-plan. So I think the key is that our plans guided us towards this deliverable, but they were not set in stone.

Richard:                        14:00                Right, so you weren’t locked into them.

Johanna:                       14:02                Yeah.

Richard:                        14:02                Which is important if you’re not going in the right direction.

Johanna:                       14:05                Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Everyone had this very high focus on technical excellence. I had a high focus on program excellence, which meant I could ask people to move in the same direction. And I didn’t tell anybody what to do. I think that this… Oh, for too long in projects and programs, somebody has been in charge of telling other people what to do, and you know, we hire adults. They can get themselves dressed, they can feed themselves. They have mortgages, they have children. Nobody tells them what to do in any other portion of their lives, so why would we tell them at work? So that was part of the trust, right? Everybody trusted each other to do the best job they could, and they checked on each other with code review.

Richard:                        15:01                Okay, yeah.

Johanna:                       15:03                Because, you know, we are blind to our own faults. And I trusted each other, everybody on the program to do the best job they could, and to check with me, or to tell me I was wrong, and that was fine too.

Richard:                        15:21                Cool. Now, how about advice for listeners? What can… 30 years later from Symbolics and the MacIvory project, which was really, really awesome. And honestly, working with Symbolics Lisp machines way back, 30 years ago, these are some of the defining moments of my career as a techie. It was actually like the beginning of my career. I’m blessed to have been able to work in that kind of environment, where we were doing continuous integration, and good testing, and we have good tooling that other people who weren’t using Lisp machines didn’t have.

Johanna:                       16:02                No, they did not have it.

Richard:                        16:05                Yeah.

Johanna:                       16:05                Yeah.

Richard:                        16:06                And kind of lucky, because it took at least a decade, maybe a couple of decades before people had similar tooling to be able to build software that effectively.

Johanna:                       16:14                Even just the windowing system and the fact it was a multi-application system, right? You could keep several applications open at the same time.

Richard:                        16:24                Yeah.

Johanna:                       16:24                That was new back then.

Richard:                        16:27                Yeah. Memory management, garbage collection.

Johanna:                       16:33                I know, yeah. When I got there, my boss… I went in as a tester, because they told me, quote, I was “too stupid to be a developer,” end of quote. Because I didn’t know Lisp, right? My first Lisp programs look a lot like FORTRAN. But that’s what I do.

Richard:                        16:50                I think mine looked like C.

Johanna:                       16:51                Yeah, yeah. So my boss asked me to test the scheduler and the garbage collector, so I… I mean, I’m a developer by training. I wrote little tests and asked people to review them, and they said to me, “I never thought of the scheduler like that. I never thought of the garbage collector like that.” Oh, my tests didn’t work, but the fact that I was asking people for feedback, and it was a safe place to ask for feedback, that actually helped. And now I’ve totally forgotten your question. What was the question?

Richard:                        17:29                So, back to the question: What advice could you share with listeners for how they could reproduce some of the kind of success that you experienced on that team?

Johanna:                       17:37                I think the biggest thing is the courage to be vulnerable.

Richard:                        17:45                Okay.

Johanna:                       17:46                So, I did not say, “I’m the program manager, I have all the answers.” I didn’t do that, and I think that that made a huge difference in how people perceived me.

Richard:                        18:02                What’s the specific behavior that goes along with courage to be vulnerable?

Johanna:                       18:07                I put everything out for review. So, I tried to write a little script that would send out specific questions to specific people, and I made a mistake in the script, and I ended up sending blank emails to people, and so I sent out another email that was an apology. I said, “Sorry, my script had [inaudible 00:18:31]. I’m going to fix this.” And Mike McMahon, who was a very famous guy in the Lisp world, said to me… What was his response? It was actually very funny. There was something like, “Insufficient data,” or something like that, in my email to him. So I’m thinking, “Oh…” But you can make mistakes, and it doesn’t kill you.

Richard:                        19:02                Yeah.

Johanna:                       19:02                Right? People might make fun of you, they might laugh at you for a little bit, but then they don’t… The mistake does not kill you, and it does not define you as a human. I’ve made tremendous mistakes, and I’m still here, right? And I’m not just alive and kicking, I’m thriving. So if I can make mistakes in a job that was big for me at the time, if I can make mistakes at conferences, if I can make mistakes even with clients, I’m still here.

Richard:                        19:37                Yeah.

Johanna:                       19:37                I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? So I think that the courage to be vulnerable makes you human, allows for you to make mistakes, and allows and encourages other people to take that step, so that they might make a mistake also.

Richard:                        19:55                All right, this has been a great conversation. I’ve had a lot of fun; you can tell by the smile on my face, you can tell by the smile on your face.

Johanna:                       20:00                Yeah. Yeah.

Richard:                        20:00                If we had a metric for great conversation, it would be size of smile on number of faces.

Johanna:                       20:08                We would have the maximum, yes, the maximum.

Richard:                        20:13                Is there anything else you’d like to add, anything else you want to share with listeners? I know you have a new book out.

Johanna:                       20:20                So, Create Your Successful Agile Project is out. I’m working on another Distributed Agile Teams book with Mark Kilby, and the management myths… I’m collecting the management myths into three books instead of one humongous book, so those should be out, in quotes, “soon,” as in a first draft, a first iteration will be available on Leanpub… When does this go out? When do you think that this will publish?

Richard:                        20:52                Oh, this could be a couple of months, so yeah, it might be out by the time this gets published.

Johanna:                       20:56                Oh. Oh, so yeah. Yeah, so those will probably be available, at least on Leanpub, by then.

Richard:                        21:03                Okay.

Johanna:                       21:03                Yeah.

Richard:                        21:04                All right, great.

Johanna:                       21:04                Yeah.

Richard:                        21:06                And if listeners want to get in touch with you, is there a way for them to do that?

Johanna:                       21:09                Absolutely. Everything is on jrothman, J-R-O-T-H-M-A-N, dot com, because I got my URL back when first initial, last name was sufficient. Yeah.

Richard:                        21:22                All right. Johanna Rothman, thank you very much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure.

Johanna:                       21:28                Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Richard:                        21:31                Hi, friends. Thanks for listening, and remember, to support this podcast, sign up for my newsletter at

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