In these fast-paced times that we live in, the key to keeping your organization standing is team resilience. Kian Gohar is a futurist who inspires organizations to harness the power of possibility and innovation to build transformative futures. He is the founder of Geolab, an innovation research, coaching, and leadership development firm. In this episode, he chats with host Adam Markel to expound on team resilience and how leaders and managers can instill this within their organizations. The two also discuss how this plays into creating high-performance teams and why recovery periods are a necessity. Kian also touches on the skill of foresight in staying resilient amidst uncertainty and shares different practices that will help businesses develop this skill to pivot faster and better during crises. There are plenty of gold nuggets you won’t want to miss in today’s episode. Stay tuned to learn more about the leader’s role in creating a resilient high-performing team.
- 00:00 Introduction
- 01:21 What’s not in Kian’s bio
- 02:50 Defining resilience
- 06:57 Individual vs team resilience
- 13:26 Taking responsibility for each other in a team
- 21:06 Asking the right question matters
- 23:27 High-performing teams and recovery for resilience
- 27:07 Relationship between uncertainty and resilience
- 28:12 The skill of foresight
- 31:20 Practicing foresight and adaptability
- 47:18 Emotional and psychological safety in a team
- 40:21 Growing in resilience virtually as a team
- 46:05 Closing Thoughts
How do we leverage continuous uncertainty to thrive in this unprecedented new world?
The answer is to build the resilience we need to power us through the challenges we face so that we become “Change Proof.” Prepare to tackle the future with confidence by reading Adam’s latest book Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience.
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Navigating Uncertainty: Team Resilience And Foresight With Kian Gohar
You guys are going to love my conversation with Kian Gohar. He is a futurist who inspires organizations to harness the power of possibility and innovation to build transformative futures. A former Executive Director of the XPRIZE Foundation and Singularity University, Kian has coached the leadership teams of dozens of Fortune 500 companies on innovation, moonshot, leadership, and the future of work.
His bestselling book, co-authored with Keith Ferrazzi, Competing in the New World of Work, reveals the most effective hybrid team leadership strategies of the pandemic era. He is the Cofounder of Geolab, an innovation research, coaching, and leadership development firm. You’re going to love this conversation. I did. Please enjoy it.
Kian, having probably read your own introduction more times than you can recall, I’m always curious, what’s not a part of that beautiful introduction of you and things you’ve done in your life that you would love for people to know about you at the outset?
Thank you so much for having me on the show. I have been too courageous for my own good throughout my life. I’ve taken decisions and gone in pathways that go against the typical career grain and have oftentimes found myself in fascinating stories that I’m grateful to have lived to tell the stories about, but don’t always necessarily in retrospect seem to be the smartest thing to do.
From traveling to over 100 different countries from North Korea and camping across Africa to deciding to go against the grain in my career and choices that have been a wildly rich life. I’m grateful for that, but an unusual one. That brings us to a place where we have the flexibility to learn constantly and to adapt to language to be resilient whenever we face adversity. That’s something that I’m proud of, but oftentimes gets skipped in the bio.
Let’s jump right into it. How do you define resilience? As you said, I speak about it regularly. It’s my bag, but why we have this show at least in part is because we want to get the sense of how other people have defined it for themselves and developed it in their professional and personal lives. Let’s get right at it.
Maybe I can give it in the context of what I think about resilience. I wrote a book called Competing in the New World of Work, which looked at the best leadership practices that the most successful teams of the pandemic era demonstrated. We interviewed over 2,000 teams from across the world and we were trying to better understand what were those characteristics that allowed them to thrive in a world of uncertainty.
We pattern matched them into four key characteristics and one of those was resilience. What we found was that everybody comes to life with different levels of individual resilience. Some people have more financial resources to deal with complexity and uncertainty. Some people have more social and family resources. What matters at least in the team setting is the level of resilience that the team has together to be able to overcome obstacles and cross the finish line together.
From a perspective of accomplishing great goals as a team, how do you do that? Resilience is something that is learned over time. It’s not something that you can instantly learn, but it is a practice that people develop after many years of putting themselves into growth opportunities. One thing that is clear is that you have to learn how to measure resilience.Resilience is something that is learned over time. Click To Tweet
Unless you know how to measure it first, then you can’t improve it. Whether it’s your own state of mind, your teams, or your organization. Being able to identify how you diagnose and measure it, and then how you model that behavior, reinforce it, and incentivize it, are all the things that I’m interested in as it pertains to team resilience.
You threw me a softball because we have a resilient assessment tool that we’ve used for a bunch of years and had thousands globally take this resilient leader assessment. It takes 3 minutes with 16 questions. It’s RankMyResilience.com. Go there and take it, and get your own score, but it’s important that we have a baseline to work from.
If you’re trying to improve anything, it doesn’t matter whether it’s your golf score, how well you play the piano, or how well you communicate with your partner. Those are more difficult to measure in an objective way, but if we start with a baseline and know where we’re strong and potentially we’re weak, we’re starting with self-awareness, to begin with, and then we can do something about it. Do you agree with that?
100%. That self-awareness is critical and oftentimes in our own lives, we have blind spots in how we operate. We can observe others powerfully, whether it’s family, loved ones, teammates, or colleagues, but it’s hard to have that level of self-observation. Having an assessment as you suggest is a great way to unpack some of those blind spots.
The second way I’d like is doing a 360, oftentimes asking loved ones, trusted ones, friends, or colleagues, what am I good at and not good at, and asking them maybe even to write that up even anonymously. Being able to better see where our blind spots are, is hard for us to do. It’s like having some measuring diagnostic as you suggest. An assessment is a great way to figure out where you’re at and where you need to get better.
Sometimes the answer is, “Now, I see that I’m not so particularly good at this particular part of my life, but do I need to be good at it in order to achieve my goal?” The next question is like, “Where do I need to improve upon in order to meet the goal that I want to have?” Rather than saying, “I need to increase my level of X on ten different dimensions.” The assessment is key and then prioritization of, “Where do I want to go? What’s important for me to get good at to get there?”
I want to track two separate things that you said with regard to developing resilience. You said that there’s individual resilience and some people are born with some added resilience. Maybe they’ve got wealthy parents that might help them to be resilient. We know that money can solve a lot of things. It can solve the most profound issues in our lives. We find that out, but it can make things go away. It can pave the road literally and figuratively. There’s that individual resilience and then there’s team resilience where you talked and alluded to the fact that this is something that has to be learned. It’s not something the team is automatically endowed with.
I would like to get more specific about both of those things. With respect to individual resilience, what has your research suggested about what makes people resilient or not, more so or less so? I have my own opinion, but I’m more interested in yours. Can they learn to be resilient? Can they be trained to be more resilient individually? On a team side, the same question, but now you get a collection of 5 or 10 people together. How do you help them as a collective develop team resilience? There are two parts to that.
I’ll answer the first one or the individual resilience question from a personal perspective because all of my research around the topic has been around the team focus. I don’t have research back data to give you on the individual side, but I’ll share with you, anecdotes about my own life and how things have made me resilient.
Personal growth is putting yourself in situations where you’re constantly going outside your comfort zone. It is an area that gives you flexibility, adaptability, and stronger individual resilience skills. I deeply believe in that. That’s what stretches us and allows us to accomplish great things in life. An example, I was 24 years old and one of the decisions I alluded to in this episode was I was deciding to go to business school and received an amazing opportunity. I was admitted to Harvard Business School and I turned it down. Everybody thought that was the craziest thing one could possibly do because so many people’s dream is to go to Harvard Business School.
I thought, “It’ll always be there. It’s been there for a couple of hundred years. It’ll be there for a few more years.” I received this other opportunity. I won an international fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation to spend a year living and working in China. This is in 2002. China was still evolving and developing from a century of growth and becoming the economic powerhouse that it is now.
It was a dynamic opportunity to spend a year living and working in China at the time. I was working in venture capital and was a faculty member at a local business school. This opportunity came up and I jumped at it. Everybody thought I was crazy to turn down Harvard. I said, “This is going to help me grow more than going to an academic institution, which will always be there.”
When I was in China, I struggled because not many people at the time spoke English. At the firm I was posted at for the year, nobody spoke English. I had to learn Mandarin and I felt for the first time in my entire life as a White person living in a 1.3 billion country of Chinese people that I was an outsider. Learning how to overcome struggles, daily challenges, shopping, and putting myself in a foreign environment stretched me.
I’m grateful for that because it taught me how to be able to accomplish even minor daily tasks that might completely go upside down and not let that face me. This is a personal example of a decision I made to grow individually. That was early in my life and my career. It hardwired my brain for how I approach decision-making. That’s on the individual side.Team managers and leaders have to become really good at making sure the team is resilient, so that no matter what comes at them, they're able to help and coach each other to succeed and accomplish the goal. That's what great teams do. Click To Tweet
On the team side, resilience is critical to helping everybody overcome obstacles. As I said, you come to work with different levels of resilience. Some people are doing great one day and the next day, they’re not doing well, and how you feel in a work setting on a daily basis is different than how your colleague might feel.
In leadership and team settings, we typically rely entirely on our manager to help us solve problems. If we can’t solve a problem, we go to them and say, “Can you help us solve the problem?” The reality is that’s not always possible. Over the last few years of the pandemic era, we realize that everybody struggles in different ways. For the first time in our lives, we were able to see into each other’s living rooms in a work setting and see what was going on in the background, and not have this veneer that’s sometimes superficial in the work world. We were able to see what was a struggle.
The key learning we had was that team managers and team leaders have to become good at making sure that the team is resilient no matter what comes at them, they’re able to help each other and coach each other to succeed to accomplish the goal. That’s what great teams do. Let me give you an example. There was this woman by the name of Krystal Zell. She was the Chief Customer Officer of the Home Depot.
She had a team that she was managing and early in the pandemic, she realized that people were struggling emotionally for all the reasons that we know about. She came up with an elegant solution. It’s a virtual easy-to-do assessment to try to better understand where her team’s level of resilience was. She would ask them on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being low, 10 being high, to type into chat on Zoom, “What’s your energy level?”
Over the course of a few weeks of doing this, she started seeing patterns emerge from her team members. Mary was typically a two. John was usually a four. In the event, that one week that assessment by Mary spiked from her baseline of 2 to a 7 that led the team manager, Krystal, to better understand that there was something going on in this person’s life, whether personally or professionally, that was a block. The first step was this assessment.
The second thing is, how can we now try to coach each other to try to solve that problem? As the team manager, I can’t help solve every single problem. How can we help each other to develop the skills and help de-block some of those challenges that we face on an individual level on a team basis? This is a very powerful tool for how we think about measuring diagnosis in a very casual way, much more casual than an assessment that you suggest, and trying to better understand what’s going on in people’s lives, and then trying to unblock that. That level of team resilience is so critical to accomplishing goals that if you’re not able to figure out how the team can challenge and solve those problems, you’ll get stuck in the block.
I’m curious and fascinated. Are you suggesting that in order to create team resilience that the team members have to be actively engaged in helping each other solve their individual challenges?
100%, I researched it.
Let’s unpack that a little bit because that’s pretty controversial if somebody’s on a team and they’re listening to this, “I get my s*** together. I work on myself and it’s not easy. It’s ugly, but I come to work prepared to do whether it’s virtual work or hybrid work, but I show up ready to play or ready to go.” There are four other people on my team and you’re telling me that even though I have my s*** together, I have to also make sure that they’re ready to go?
That’s what makes high-performing teams high-performing. If you take this analogy and apply it to athletes on a team relay, whether it’s a track and meet relay, swimming relay, or even if you are a double tennis team, you come to the track, pool, or tennis court every day individually, ready to walk, but if your teammate has some challenges, you’re going to suffer. It doesn’t matter how good you are as an individual. It matters how good the team is.
How do you make your team stronger to overcome those efficiencies that they might face that day whether they have a sloppy backhand or cramping in the pool or track? Think about how we try to win as a team. In athletics, it’s always trying to lift each other up and we’re trying to help each other get that best part of us out. It’s not just the individual capability. That’s the baseline, necessary but not sufficient. We have to go out and be able to help our teammates do their best as well so that we as a team can achieve it. The key is peer-to-peer coaching.
I wrote this book Competing in the New World of Work with my dear friend, Keith Ferrazzi, and he’s interviewed thousands of high-performing teams to better understand what were the things that mattered. This key component of peer-to-peer coaching to help each other overcome individual obstacles is critical. That might be more comfortable with an athletics analogy, but in a corporate or team, or business analogy, how do we do that and create the psychological safety for us to be able to feel that we can share positive advice to help each other get better, rather than thinking that this is potential criticism?
The first step is to develop that level of psychological safety and trust and, and deeper relationships to know that people are coming at this from a good place. This will be critical. There are a couple of other things you have to do before you start having this conversation, “How do we get better as a team?” in terms of resilience. I’m curious, why do you think it’s controversial that this is what I said?
I don’t know that it is, but I’m putting myself in the eyes of the people reading this and thinking again, this idea that I have enough on my plate to get my whole house in order and my life in order that added responsibility is not something I’m getting compensated. I’m going to be the angel’s advocate here. It’s one thing if you’re playing for the New York Yankees, Celtics, or you’re on the Olympic team or something, and the stakes are high and the reward is tremendously high.It doesn't matter how good you are as an individual. It matters how good the team is. Click To Tweet
These are multimillion-dollar athletes or there are multimillion-dollar opportunities for a personal brand, team brand or recognition, etc. to perform at a high level in a relay in the Olympics for it to play in the NBA finals. You understand that there’s this interdependency and interdependent responsibility that’s also being rewarded in a particular way. In the average workplace, that may not be the perception if that’s the case. The stakes aren’t as important or as high. Certainly, my own personal benefit from that play isn’t the same as what the millions and millions of dollars that some of these other folks are getting paid.
There’s one other thing that came up for me too, which is where I went in my thinking. A manager or even a senior level leader asking their team for information about how they’re doing is in part an issue that’s going to drive this point. When you ask somebody how they’re doing, for the most part, it’s almost like a social contract where I go, “Fine. Good. Hanging in there. How are you doing?” You go back and forth, but nobody’s transparent or revealing too much. It’s not because we’re not interested.
There’s a Jackson Browne line from one of his songs that says, “Maybe people only ask you how you doing because that’s easier than letting on how little they could care.” It’s a beautiful line and a bit cynical. I don’t believe that’s the case. Let’s say you’re a manager or a member of the team, and you ask one of your team members, “How are you doing?” They say something like, “I’m struggling. I had trouble getting out of bed this morning. I’m getting up in the middle of the night. I can’t get myself back to sleep. I’m having anxiety. My thoughts are going to some pretty dark places.”
You ask somebody a question like, “How are you doing?” If what we’re saying is that we’re going to get involved in helping people to overcome their challenges, and they’re going to be transparent, somebody might say, “I don’t have any training with that question.” If somebody says to me, “I’m having trouble at home with my marriage.” “What? We got another Zoom starting at ten minutes. We’re getting a coffee or a virtual coffee.” I’m not prepared for that. What do you say to that team member who feels like in over their head, it’s not their responsibility, or it’s too big a responsibility? Maybe they don’t even feel like they’re being compensated enough to take on anybody else’s problems.
Maybe you asked one question, but I want to comment on the first part, which was the lower level of investment that everyday work has compared to a high-performing team, whether let’s say it’s athletics, the NBA, or the Olympics. Isn’t that a shame that we have such low expectations of how we show up to work and show up to treat each other? Even if we are not in the Olympics, we are in the Olympics of work on our team trying to achieve something great. Isn’t that a shame that we have such low expectations of ourselves and our colleagues? Everybody wants to achieve excellence. They don’t oftentimes have the right environment, the tools, or the skillset to be able to do that.
Imagine even if at the everyday workplace, your team shows up and you’re committed to each other’s success, well-being, kindness, and excellence. You show up every single day with that mindset. It doesn’t matter if you work at a small company or a small team, you’ll still achieve remarkable success. I want to help everybody who’s reading this to think that this isn’t about being an Olympic champion or an NBA player. It’s the NBA of your team and how do you every single day show up and make sure that you guys are committed to each other’s success, whatever you might suggest a smaller task or goal?
To your point about not being prepared to be able to challenge or be able to deal with some of these blocks that people might suggest, I’d say two things. One, listening is as important as having a solution. Oftentimes hearing your colleague out is a therapeutic and empathetic situation. They’re more likely to want to have themselves heard rather than having a solution for you to offer to them. Even if you don’t have the skill set to be able to say deal with a particular personal challenge that they might be facing, being there to listen is something that is powerful.
The second thing is that asking the right question matters. You said, “How are you doing?” It’s almost a throwaway and most people say, “Fine. I’m doing great.” They don’t want to respond to that question in any way that is transparent. As a team manager thinking about how you ask that question to develop an aperture to how your team is doing is critical.
One tool that we use in our work is an interpersonal question at the beginning of a meeting, and people can answer this any way they want personally, or professionally, but the extent that they lean into it is the extent that they want their team to get to know them how they’re doing. The question that I co-authored with my dear friend, Keith Ferrazzi, came up with is this question, “What’s sweet and what’s sour in your life right now?” What’s sweet is something that is lifting up your energy level and what’s sour is something that maybe isn’t going as well as you had hoped or up to expectations.
Asking that as your team, what’s sweet and what’s sour or a different way of asking it is, “What are some roses and thorns in your life?” Roses are things that smell good and thorns are things that prick your fingers. People will answer this in any way they want. It is a very powerful tool to get past the unwillingness to share. Also, the easier response to say, “I’m fine. Everything is fine,” because these people will require teammates to spend a minute thinking about it. Again, this level of transparency is a learned behavior. The better you get at doing it, the more honest and powerfully communicative you are with your teammates that develops that level of strong team trust, which then allows you to accomplish hard things when the going gets tough.
I so love that and I’m glad I get to have you reflect it back to me when we talk about this in organizational work that we do or when I’m doing a keynote or something like that. Sometimes I’ll put that question out there the, “How are you doing?” question, which we all get where that goes. It goes nowhere. The object is to reframe it or find a better question.
I love the questions that you pose. One of the questions we use is, “What are you doing?” More specifically, “What are you doing in your free time?” You go, “What free time?” You’re already into something. “What are you doing that you enjoy outside of work?” “What are you talking about? I don’t have any time outside of work.” It leads in a different direction when you ask what are you doing instead of how are you doing. That reframing is key.
You were talking about creating the right environment for this optimal performance. I often speak about it. I was so happy to hear you say it back to me and I got to play the one pushing back on the concept because I’ll often ask people, “If you were going to compete in an Olympic event, what would you have done differently last night? What would you have done differently over the last five days? Would you have eaten the crap that you ate and all the sugar? Would you have gotten too little sleep? Would you have had as much alcohol as you had?
There’s an element of inspirational or motivational to talk about it in those terms, but I don’t know that everybody wakes up in the morning and approaches their day the way they would if the stakes were as well-defined. My question is, what’s the responsibility of a leader, whether it’s a mid-level leader or even a senior-level leader, to get their team on board with how important it is that we produce that widget now or whatever it is that is the equivalent of the gold medal pursuit?We have these peaks and valleys of resilience in our everyday lives. Click To Tweet
One thing we have to clarify is that not every day is an Olympic day. Even the most high-performing teams, athletes, heart surgeons, and NASA astronauts are trained for many years for these high-performance very critical days of activity that they need to be beyond excellence, and not every single day is that even at the workplace.
The responsibility of a team leader team manager is to recognize that not every day can be like that and not everybody has that same level of energy every single day. I might show up to work one day with low levels of energy, but my team is still dependent on me to accomplish what I need to get done that day. I like to use this analogy. How do we create that framework of trust and help each other cross the finish line together because every single day we do that? We need to do that in order to get our work done.
The point I want to make here is that every day is not Olympic day and the team manager has to recognize that. We have these peaks and valleys of resilience in our everyday lives. Some days we have to perform, deadlines, goals, and all of this has to get accomplished, but as soon as you cross the finish line or as soon as you get to the top of the hill, you need some downtime to recover.
When you are an athlete and you go to the gym and lift very heavy to train your muscles, your muscles don’t grow when they are in deep exertion or during the actual time of the gym. Your muscles grow when they are resting, following the exertion at the gym. You need to have downtime to let your muscles recuperate and grow. The same analogy applies to any team setting or work setting. If you’re accomplishing great things and working hard to get to a particular goal, you must have some downtime on the other side in order to recover and recuperate and be able to refresh yourself so that the next time you’re climbing that hard hill, it’s an easier climb than it was the first time around.
The recovery is so key. In fact, there’s some great research on this that came out to me years ago that we about a lot that in many ways, the definition that people have about resilience is outdated and outmoded. It has a lot to do with bouncing back, coming back from a setback, taking the punch, taking the hits, and getting back up. When resilience is born out of recovery, it’s born out of the times when we are actively resetting, restoring ourselves, and regenerating.
It’s in that regenerative stages that we get stronger, our muscles grow, and we grow mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I want to get a sense a little bit more about uncertainty. You mentioned that word and I’m selfish here. I’m owning it. I’m curious personally because I have a book that came out earlier this year called Change Proof and the subtitle is Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience. I want to get your sense of the relationship between uncertainty and resilience, or anything else that you want to bring into that conversation.
Uncertainty is not a new concept. Everything is uncertain always in human history, even before human history because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. As a result of mass communication channels that have been explored in years with otherwise the internet and also new technologies, we are seeing more change happen faster. Whereas change happens at a slower pace earlier in history, now it is happening more quickly and impacting more people. There are more people on the planet to make that change happen.
How do we, as individuals, as team leaders, and as business owners think about managing with uncertainty knowing that it’s a constant and it’s not going to go away? The way I look at it is this key skill set of foresight. I’m a futurist and a historian by training. It sounds ridiculous, but I studied History early in college and grad school, and I’m a trained futurist because I spent many years as an Executive Director of the XPRIZE, designing futuristic solutions to big problems.
We can learn to look around corners and become better prepared for an uncertain future if we are able to practice the skill of foresight. Foresight means being able to have a set of perspectives to understand the variables that are impacting your particular situation, whether it’s your business, your team, or your environment, and then tracking those variables. See if there are any blips or changes in those variables in the short to medium term and how those blips might potentially significantly impact your organization, your team, or your environment, and then have an action plan to deal with that potential change if it does come to fruition.
We wrote about this in our book as foresight is one of the key skillsets of successful teams to better understand what are the variables that are going to impact their environment, understand those, and develop an action plan and this muscle for rattle adaptability. Regardless of what the future brings, whether it’s a technology shock, an economic crisis, or a biohazard, you have the capability to constantly build that muscle to be prepared for whatever uncertainty comes. I love how you brought up the idea that uncertainty and resilience are the yin and yang of each other. We know uncertainty it’s always going to be here.
Uncertainty is the new certainty.
How do we as individuals, teams, or organizations develop the skillset and be prepared to challenge whatever comes up because of new times? They’re critical. From our research, there were some teams that are good at it at developing this foresight. It’s a skill set that any team can learn and something we talk about step by step in our book.
It’s super important knowing that we won’t know exactly what the future will bring. Even if a future me tells you that X is going to happen, don’t believe them because we don’t have crystal balls, but we can get better at predicting the general direction of how things might go, and then getting ourselves ready for those potential situations.
It sounds like you have to practice foresight. That’s an interesting thing when you think about how you practice predicting an uncertain future or even learning from the future that has not yet occurred. I want to get your thoughts on this. History in many ways is a great teacher and often as the cliché as we don’t learn from history because people don’t read and don’t know about it, so then we repeat a lot of the same mistakes, but to some extent, history can get in the way of foresight. Don’t you think?We can learn to look around corners and become better prepared for an uncertain future if we are able to practice the skill of foresight. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting. Cicero once said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to always remain a child,” and I don’t think history repeats itself, but history does rhyme. We have to better understand the patterns that we’ve seen and then better predict what might happen in the future. We have to practice it on a consistent basis.
I’ll give a simple practice. I’ll share with you an example from our research. The San Jose Sharks is an NHL team. Their business was to have people in the stadium or sell food concessions in the stadium. When the pandemic occurred, the business model went from a successful NHL hockey team to nothing overnight. The CEO, Jonathan Becker, is a friend of mine. He wanted to try to figure out what is going on and how he can better prepare for what future might come.
If you remember back in the early days of the pandemic, things were changing so quickly from week to week. He asked this team to identify 30 possible scenarios that might happen six months from now. From those 30 scenarios, they voted together the 5 most likely and impactful situations that they thought that an environment might occur, and then how would an NHL hockey team react to that. For each of those five scenarios, they developed the one-page action plan, so that if this scenario were to come to fruition, they would do X, Y, and Z. They’re not going to get caught flatfooted as a result of whatever the future comes.
While they weren’t exactly 100% correct on their predictions, they were able to develop action plans that they could execute much faster than they could if they hadn’t even thought about this. For your readers, here’s what I would recommend. Identify the 5 or 6 variables that impact your business, whatever they are. They could be technology, socioeconomic, financial, or environmental variables. As futurists, we use this framework called STEEP and there are five different variables that we can look at to see how the environment is changing. Ask everybody on your team to become a mini expert on one of these variables over the course of the next few months.
Ask them to follow experts on Twitter or follow experts on that topic on LinkedIn, and become better knowledgeable about that one particular variable. At your existing monthly team meeting, spend twenty minutes asking everybody, “Have you heard of a potential blip in the variable that you have been following that you think is important for the rest of our team to know about? If so, give us a two-minute overview of what that is.”
Together as a team, you can decide if is this a potential early signal or something that is going to be impactful, influential, and likely to our team. If so, let’s set aside a separate foresight planning conversation to better create an action plan for that one particular early signal of change. Every team can get better at this. This sounds a little bit wonky at first, but you get better at it. It’s become a powerful tool that some teams are very good at doing. I highly recommend it because it helps you rewire your brain as to what is possible in the future. Even if you’re wrong in your prediction, it creates the capabilities of your team to think through different variables and be able to scan the environment more effectively.
It’s reminiscent of something I read about the Coast Guard and how it was that The Coast Guard in the early ‘ 90s started future casting and creating these unlikely scenarios or black swan scenarios of things that might occur in the future and prepared for a number of them to the point where when on September 11th, they were prepared for the eventuality that we saw. What ultimately occurred, which seemed to be highly unlikely and was an event that many people never thought they’d ever see, we all saw it. We all were in disbelief. Many people in government and even in the military were caught off guard, but the Coast Guard was not because they had a future cast for that eventuality or that potential.
That’s a brilliant example. Some mission-critical organizations can be good at future casting or foresight. Most often in our research, we found that foresight and future casting only happens in crises. Companies and teams are like, “What’s happening? What do we do? How do we think about the future?” By then, it’s too late.
It’s like resilience. Folks will say, “When is the best time to develop resilience?” Before you need it. It’s a simple answer.
From our research, only 25% of Fortune 500 companies have this foresight or future casting capability and skillset in-house. Oftentimes, they don’t have it and they only think about it in crises, but the reality is this has to be part of your ongoing team analysis of the environment and scanning. The method that I shared was a simple way to get everybody to constantly think about this. You’re not doing it when a crisis happens and not every single day is an Olympic day, but it’s part of your practice to scan and see things that are around corners.
Anything that happens was not unpredictable. It’s obvious, but these things were caught off guard certainly in life, but in a business world that is disruptive to the degree that it is where the velocity of change is greater than it’s ever been and will only get greater and faster. You do need to be able to see around corners. You do need to be able to see through walls and you get better at it. You can get better because it is awkward.
As futurists, an analogy we use is hurricane tracking maps. If you remember hurricane maps, you know whether a hurricane is somewhere like the Atlantic, and then you have projections of where the hurricane is likely to go. What is the cone of the probability of where this hurricane’s going to go? That’s what’s like when you’re tracking. Our responsibility is to get better at seeing what that cone of plausibility is for our own lives, teams, and organizations. It’s wonky at first, but you can practice it like any sport or any skill, and you can get better at it.
I’m fascinated by what you said about energy and the idea that checking in with people to also see where’s their energy at and why is it that that’s the case. I wish I knew who said this because I repeated it to myself and share it with others, “Problems are good.” Our natural instinct is to say, “No problems are not good. We don’t want problems. I certainly don’t want any more than I already got,” but problems are good because they show you where your problems are. It’s nailing something so accurately.
It’s our blind spots that are the most challenging. When you work in a team setting, one of the great aspects of that is that you don’t have to have blind spots, but you do have to be transparent and you do have to be willing to be vulnerable with people, to be honest, truthful about where you’re coming from because otherwise, maybe they don’t feel like they have permission even. It’s structurally not safe as you said. Emotional safety and psychological safety are big deals so that people can feel comfortable reflecting on us.Uncertainty and resilience are the yin and the yang to each other. Click To Tweet
The role of the team leader is to create that safety and to create the structure and the environment so that these conversations can be had. First, inorganically because they tend to be led by a leader, but then organically between team members over the course of time as they become more trusting, vulnerable, and comfortable with providing that level of feedback.
The role of a leader is to create those guardrails of how we operate. It’s critical. One thing we haven’t talked about in this conversation, we have a lot of experience doing this in person. We have less experience of doing this in a virtual component, even though we’ve learned over the last couple of years, and even less so in a hybrid world. In a world, where you’re in two dimensions and you’re seeing each other right now visually. You don’t necessarily understand body movement sometimes or intonation. You’re fed up with my conversation already, but you’re holding your hands underneath the table and I can’t see them.
There’s a lot of that that we are not trained and you’re missing a lot of those cues that you would otherwise have if you’re in the room with a person.
When we are working in this virtual, hybrid environment and on teams, we have to be intentional about how we approach it because we don’t have those skills honed over decades of experience, centuries, and millennials of human intuition. We have to be a lot more intentional and purposeful around how we design our work and interactions to make sure that we have that level of safety, space, trust, and belief that we can accomplish great things and do it in a way that everybody feels well and resilient, and they’re not completely exhausted from the experience.
Something important that came up that I want to underscore here is that there’s awkwardness and almost always, especially at first. Not that I’m trying to pretend that I got this assessed out because I don’t, but I’ve led a number of teams and played many different roles within organizations, including ones that I’ve founded. There’s a level at which a great leader is able to get past their own hesitation with doing something that feels awkward at first or even for a while.
I remember one of the companies I was with. We had organizational leadership in four different continents. We spread out and we were using Zoom early. We were early adapters of it. My wife, Randi, had discovered it. She found it and said, “This is so much better than Skype. Don’t you think?” I’m like, “Yes.” We were using it early on.
We had a process where we got this group of people, usually around 11 or 12 folks together, we would do this process, in the beginning, called What I Feel Like Saying. We call it WIFLS. It doesn’t matter what the meeting is, but we would begin with somebody going, “What I feel like saying is.” They would speak for a minute or so. When they were done, they’d say, “That’s what I feel like saying.” They would turn and go and, “Kian, what do you feel like saying?” You would go and do the same thing when you were done or complete, you’d ask somebody else.That's why we come together as teams to accomplish things that we can't accomplish individually. Click To Tweet
It’s not just at first, but for a while. For more than six months, at least, it was so flipping awkward. I was CEO at the time so people weren’t necessarily telling me that they were opposed to it, but I was hearing little chirps. “I can’t believe we’re wasting our time in this meeting. We have so many meetings already. Why can’t we get to the point?” It was awkward.
What happened? I’m curious. Where did this evolve?
We did it for years and years and we still do it at the other company I’m with. The benefit of us being real with each other and being present because we’re all coming to the table, coming to the meeting, whatever it might be, with the last meeting we were, dealing with, frustrated by, an email they got, the phone call from home that their son is got called into the principal’s office, or a family member needs to go in for surgery. It’s 1 million things that you found out.
You come to this meeting and we’re not a clean slate when we show up. This is why I’m thinking this is important to say because of what you said about how the purpose, strength, and resilience of the team depends on each member of that team. Being willing to help other people in that group raise their energy to outperform their problems and to be able to deal more effectively with life and also their business role or job.
That’s why we come together as teams to accomplish things that we can’t accomplish individually. I coach a lot of leadership teams across the world and one team that I’m coaching right now initially said, “We are wasting our time having this conversation around energy and what’s going on in our lives,” or WIFLS as you suggest.
I said, “This is awkward, but this is a practice that you’ll get better at over time and become secondary to you because when you come to a meeting, you’re not seeing people for workers as they are, but rather as people to work every single day as people first. If we can see that and put that in the context of then how we are performing individually and as a team, that will allow us to see our blind spots and see our team’s blind spots. As team leaders, hopefully, then try to be able to solve for them.”
That’s the thing. We can do a lot with greater awareness. Let’s say, there’s somebody that’s having a tough day. Empathy is important. There’s also support. What does support look like? If you don’t know somebody’s struggling or what they’re struggling with, it’s tough to support them. In any event, I love this conversation. You and I are playing in a very similar sandbox, which is also cool.
Kian, it’s been a pleasure. Find out more about the work that Kian and his team are doing. His new book with Keith Ferrazzi is spectacular. You got to get your hands on that as well. We’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got questions for us or Kian or myself, please feel free. This is important for a lot of folks. Share it with a friend or with a colleague.
Let us know your thoughts, comments, or review. It’s always lovely to get one of those five-star reviews, but we value your feedback. It’s like oxygen for us. Please feel free to do that. It’s AdamMarkel.com/Podcast. You can leave a comment right there. That’s always easy. We’ll see you soon and wish you all blessed and beautiful rest of your day.
I promised you were going to love that episode. I hope you did. I love talking to Kian Gohar. He’s so calm and settled. You can feel that he’s a grounded person and that’s compelling. We can talk about complex issues and complicated challenges that we’re facing both personally and professionally globally, and talk about them in a way where we can feel something new emerging. There’s some insight that we didn’t formally perceive that we were maybe even having a blind spot.
A way that happens is in is when a person can speak about those difficult challenges with an element of being grounded, with a sense that they’re not emotional about it, not emoting because we have to and that’s part of our nature. We are feeling beings. I can’t even imagine we’d be robots or an algorithm if we didn’t feel if there was an element of the feeling, nature emerging in our thinking about things as well as in our discussions of them.
What I like very much about my conversation with Kian is that he’s both passionate about the things that he’s speaking of, that we’re having a conversation about. There’s emotion there, but there’s also the sense of getting those things in proper perspective. The wind is being harnessed by the sail. There’s that sense of control in the midst of all uncertainty that is imaginable and even much of it that is unimaginable.
Kian is a futurist so I’m getting into that etheric space. It’s because the future is something that we have to think about, plan for, and learn from. How it is that we can see around the corner or through walls? Can we do that? What’s that like? How do we do that? How do we predict the “unpredictable”? That is a small sampling of the kinds of things that Kian and I discussed. We talked about resilience, team resilience, individual resilience, and how resilience is everybody’s business.
In order for a team to succeed, we have to have each other’s backs. When I, myself, am speaking to organizations, either as a keynote presenter or consulting work, we’re often talking about the things that are challenging individual team members, mental health challenges, work-life balance issues, and stress management challenges. These are things that are ever present in a world that is more and more diverse work world that is properly focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and things like that.
How is it that we develop more resilient teams? It has a lot to do with things that Kian shared with us about creating an environment of emotional safety. An environment where there’s psychological safety where people can feel they are seen and heard and can trust that they can be transparent. It’s in that trusting environment that people are able to be more of themselves and be supported right where they are because not everybody’s going to be at level ten energy every single day.
Sometimes you’re going to walk in virtually, figuratively-speaking, or physically these days back to work and be at a level three. If they’re at level three, it’s going to be the job of other people on their team, according to Kian, to raise them up, see where they’re at, meet them where they’re at, and help them at that moment. Even if that help is nothing more than listening or holding space for that person on that particular day.
According to Kian, our resilience fluctuates each day. I’m a resilience researcher, having spent so much of my own career focused on how is it that we can leverage our own adversity and uncertainty, and the uncertainty that’s all around us to be more resilient. It’s evident in my research that not every day is created equal. We’re not going to feel the same way every day mentally, emotionally, physically, or even spiritually. Some days we are going to be at a three. Some days we’re going to feel like we’re at an 8, 9, or 10 and it’s vitally important that we have a baseline that we understand where we are on any given day and at any moment in time.
Not only be able to recognize that maybe we need some support, but to know that we’ve got people around us that will provide that support and will have our backs. That is what a resilient team looks like. Resilient leadership is being the conductor of all that, the orchestrator of it, or the one that oversees and looks after it to make sure that people do feel safe in that environment and that environment is in fact designed to assist individuals in being at their best as frequently as is possible.
It’s similar to the way a coach or manager would help a sports team and the individuals on that team to be at their very best on the day that performance is expected, or even on the days when practice, what would ultimately provide for that higher level of performance later on. We have to practice resilience, living in uncertainty, being okay in awkward conversations, and even how we feel in those conversations so that we can get through them.
Ultimately, things that are awkward like asking people how they’re doing, and what they’re doing in their lives don’t have to feel awkward for long because we’ve practiced it. It’s that practice that leads to greater proficiency. Again, resilience is something that we have to perform. In order to perform it, we’ve got to have these moments to practice.
I thought it was also cool that in speaking with Kian, we talked about this concept of foresight and how it is that we can develop foresight through practice and performance as well. Foresight is something that we can develop. We can future cast in order to develop that greater ability to see the future or predict it, but ultimately plan for almost any imagined future. Those are some of the tiny little nuggets that we got. I so enjoyed our conversation and I know you have as well. Feel free to leave us a comment, and let us know which thought, but this episode with Kian Gohar was one of my favorites.
- Kian Gohar
- Competing in the New World of Work
- Change Proof
About Kian Gohar
Kian Gohar is a futurist, and inspires organizations to harness the power of possibility and innovation to build transformative futures. A former executive director of the XPRIZE Foundation and Singularity University, Kian has coached the leadership teams of dozens of Fortune 500 companies on innovation, moonshots, leadership and the future of work. His latest bestselling book, co-authored with Keith Ferrazzi, “Competing in the New World of Work” reveals the most effective hybrid team leadership strategies of the pandemic era. He is the founder of Geolab, an innovation research, coaching and leadership development firm.