Video and transcript from Taylor Cone’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Please join us for the Control the Room 2021, which will be held Feb. 2-4, 2020. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was Taylor Cone.

Taylor Cone is the Founder & CEO at LightshedHe spoke about how to maximize the creative output of teams in his presentation: “Designing Inclusive Collaborations to Leverage Team Diversity.” Taylor elaborated on how psychologically safe teams — those that feel that their contributions matter that they’re connected to a clear purpose have unique talents to offer, and that feel included — are significantly more likely to work effectively together than those motivated by all other incentives combined.

“If we don’t intentionally include, we will unintentionally exclude.”

Taylor then explained how to design inclusive collaboration using three strategies:

  1. Include: think about who you might be unintentionally excluding, and how to include them.
  2. Understand: get a sense of who is at the table and what everyone has to offer.
  3. Design: now that you have the right people, design how you want to think together.

Watch Taylor Cones’s talk “Designing Inclusive Collaborations” :

Read the Transcript

Taylor Cone:

Thank you very much. Hello everybody.

Speaker 2:


Taylor Cone:

So it’s an interesting thing going so late in the day. I assume everyone’s pretty tired but I hope that you’ll join me on this second to last journey and then Hailey on the last journey. But it actually was a gift. It’s been an unexpected gift to go last or second to last because I have this sticky note as well as many things that I didn’t write down about so many things that I’ve learned from the other speakers and so many things that you’re going to hear in this talk that have already been said before and so I think there’s something beautiful. I kind of feel like in this talk I’m going to be kind of bringing together a bunch of the little pieces that have already been said which is really cool.

So what we’re going to talk about today is designing inclusive collaborations to leverage team diversity. So again my name is Taylor Cone I call myself a collaboration designer. And a couple of things that are interesting to call out from earlier from when Solomon’s talk, he was talking about belonging and that’s a big part of maybe not explicitly I’m not going to use that word too much but there’s a big piece of what we’re going to talk about here. The other thing that Sonny said, I forget the context exactly but she was saying she’s not an expert she’s just passionate. And I would say that as we begin talking about this, I’m definitely not an expert in diversity equity inclusion. What I consider myself to be at least approaching expertise in is the creative process and the role that things like diversity and equity and inclusion can play in the creative process. So that’s really what, where I’m coming from today.

So when I say collaboration designer, what does that mean? So for a lot of my life and career I’ve been focusing on the question, how might we maximize the creative output of teams? From time that I spent teaching at the Stanford d. school to guiding innovation teams all over the world to starting my own company a little over a year ago that’s focused on just that. I focused a lot of my time and energy on answering this question and so when I shifted my focus more toward diverse teams and what it looks like to have more diverse teams being more of a thing that was sort of a new angle and part of the motivation for the work that I’m now doing is an observation that I’ve made which starts off with a good thing which is a lot of organizations are now saying, hey, we need to build diverse teams. We need to get build more diversity into our teams which is awesome.

Having said that my concern with what I’ve been seeing is a lot of times they build the diverse team and they check the box and say, great we’ve done it. Forgetting about the purpose of actually doing that and equipping those diverse teams with the tools that they need to leverage that diversity toward the actual creative outputs and the creative outcomes that such diversity can create enable to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about today.

I want to talk about guiding that I’ve done in a very different context from what we’re all talking about today which is whitewater raft guiding. And that’s me guiding a raft full of my friends down in the river. I’ve been a guide for about 10 years and it’s been a big, really huge part of my life. How many people in the room show of hands have been rafting before? Oh yes, so many people fantastic. Anybody who hasn’t gone let me know I’ll take you. We operate all over the West. And so for people who have gone when you went, what they did was they just put a paddle in your hand and said great get in the boat and go, right?. No, absolutely not. Any company worth going with starts with something else because you would not want to entrust the lives of your family to a guy that looks like this right?. That’s me. Pretty sure I pulled out that wig on day three not day one after I’d already built some trust with everybody but any company worth going with starts with an orientation what we call a safety talk.

And in that safety talk, we talk about what are some experiences that we can expect to have together. We align and establish around safety norms and we talk about what could go wrong and we talk about how together we’re going to handle those situations, how we’re going to take care of each other in those situations. So that’s the role of that safety talk. And then once we get in the boats, we actually do a paddle talk also which is more about the tactics and teamwork that we need to actually get through the rapids successfully. If we do that, then we can get to the other side of the rapid and enjoy the view. So as I’ve kind of continued my guiding career on the river and my guiding career of experiences and facilitation, I started noticing some parallels. And with that safety talk I was like why don’t we do safety talks or the equivalent for our teams before we get going before we actually start.

And the way that I’ve framed it is if we establish guidelines, norms, and systems for collaborating in rafts, why don’t we do it for collaborating at work? Too often we just sort of assemble the team and say here’s the problem go solve it right?. So we talk about the what but we don’t talk about the how or even the who is at the table and who’s in the room. Another way I’ve asked this is what would a safety talk look like for teams at work that’s why been wondering and turn it into how might we as we all love doing. How might we prepare teams to engage in true collaboration and get where they want to go?

 And so one thing before I continue the talk is about kind of we’ve used the words diversity and inclusion and designing inclusive collaborations. So when I say diversity it’s kind of, it can be a loaded term and we’re definitely not going to tackle it all in 20 minutes. But when I said I’m coming at it from the angle of creative output, right? And so a lot of what matters there … yes we’re definitely talking about diversity of ethnicity and background and age and gender and personality type and all of that. And all of those things lead us all to show up with different ways of thinking and perspective and experience and all of that. And that’s really what I’m what I’m getting at when I say that in order to do what we need to do and get where we need to go, we need to set the condition so that we contribute as we want to right?.

And so what are those conditions? We contribute most when we these five things they all showed up at once which is fantastic. We contribute most when we feel safe. So we feel safe after we do the safety talk we understand what might go wrong on the river and in the office when we feel psychologically safe. And for anybody who’s not familiar with psychological safety it’s an idea of that you’re … it’s okay for you to take risks without the fear of being punished if something doesn’t go the way you think it will. Secondly, we contribute most when we feel like our contribution matters. When our involvement is valued. Three, we contribute most from we are connected to a clear purpose. So we understand the why behind what we’re doing. Four, when we feel like we have a unique talent to offer. And that’s kind of tied to that second one but around sort of that uniqueness of I have something unique to offer to the team. And finally when we feel included. When we feel like we’re a part of the team. When we feel people want us there.

And today, oh, excellent. The animation works. Today we’re going to focus more on I don’t know if you can see the top one around fields about feeling psychological safety because to me that is the absolute root and core regardless of how diverse or homogeneous the team is, that’s the fundamental core. And then we’re going to talk about how that relates to feeling included. So I want to share a recent quote that blew my mind recently. You can think of which emoji it was. Psychologically safe teams are 10 times more likely to work effectively together than those motivated by all other incentives combined. And this is a study done by Great Place to Work.

And so when we think about the power that psychological safety plays, you can’t ignore it and that’s why we’re starting. I know we’re talking about how to design inclusive collaborations for diverse teams but the psychological safety is really the core. So when you think about homogeneous teams there are certain positive things about homogeneous teams in that it’s possible maybe even likely that they might feel more comfortable with each other because they’re more familiar and that’s fine but if we want to build diverse teams and if we want to leverage that diversity we have to build that psychological safety so that we have that comfort level in order to get where we want to go.

And for anybody familiar with Harvard Business Review who hangs out online there, this is a kind of a 2 by 2 around mapping cognitive diversity versus psychological safety. And if you look in that top right, they found that the most successful teams are high in cognitive diversity. So kind of what I was mentioning before and high in psychological safety so that’s when they feel generative. And if you look in the top right quadrant, you think about all these words. I would love to have my collaborations described by this curious, encouraging, nurturing, how great would that be? Oh, how was your day at work? It was really nurturing, right? That sounds great.

And to kind of to bridge the gap also or to kind of talk about the relationship between diversity and inclusion, inclusivity because there’s kind of a fine line sometimes in conversation. I want to share this quote from Sallyann Freudenberg inclusivity is not just about having a diverse team, it’s understanding how our environments and practices can actively support that diversity. So if I were to boil down these 20 minutes into a single quote that’s pretty much as close as we could get, right?. And actually if you look out this window there the Presbyterian church right here has a great blue canvas anybody see that out there? Can somebody read that to me that sign across the street?

Speaker 3:

Deliberately diverse and fully inclusive.

Taylor Cone:

Deliberately diverse and fully inclusive. So maybe that’s an even better in a nutshell version of what we’re talking about today. And then one of my favorite quotes too from Dr. Aaron Bruce, if we don’t intentionally include, we will unintentionally exclude. And so that in a very real sense fundamentally is the purpose behind why I try to design my collaborations really intentionally to include the voices and the personalities and the tendencies and who we need to include. And so the point of all this is when it comes to psychological safety and inclusion, you can’t have one without the other. I’m really glad these emojis showed up. And so let’s talk about how now that we’ve kind of laid the foundation at least conceptually for psychological safety, let’s talk about what actually designing those collaborations looks like.

So I think of it as having three steps. So first include so who needs to be at the table? Whose voice needs to be heard in the collaboration that you’re doing to solve the problem you’re trying to solve?. And when you’re thinking about who to include ask yourself the questions based on the quote that I just shared. Who might we be unintentionally excluding from this conversation? And how might we intentionally include them in this collaboration? And when you’re thinking about that, you want to strive for diversity and uniqueness in things like expertise in relevant life experience, in thinking and problem solving approaches all the demographic things I listed earlier for sure as well. These are all really important factors when you’re thinking about who to include in your collaborations.

 Second, understand. And this is the role that this is the step that a lot of times we leave out, right? And when we just put a team together and then go, let’s understand each other. Let’s get a sense of who’s actually at the table and what unique talents and gifts and experiences and perspectives they all have to offer right? And so understanding is about how we get to a place of connection and engagement with those around us. Finally design. Now that we’ve assembled the right people and we understand we’ve done our discovery and empathy building work, let’s design how we want to work together. If you have a lot of visual thinkers on the team, let’s make sure we’re drawing and not just talking as just one example.

And so we’re going to go through a quick activity right now focused on the understand step. Since there’s only so much that I could do about the include part and the design part, I’ll leave for you guys after this. So there should be post-its maybe sharpies or at least the paper mate flair everyone’s favorite smaller pen. So everybody grabbed just one stack of post-its and one pen as I explain what we’re going to do.

We play game called the spectrum game. And usually I have people actually get up and we actually form a spectrum across the whole room. We put a line of blue tape on the ground. We’re not going to do that today. We’re just going to go rapid fire through 12 different slides. And on one side of the spectrum is going to be one thing, on one the other side of spectrum going to be something else. And you’re going to write down on that post-it which one of those more accurately represents you. So for example, it start with an easy one that has nothing to do really with collaboration. Are you more of a coffee person or more of a tea person? So just write that on one post-it and then peel that one off and slap it down on the table. At the end of this you’ll make a pile of 12 post-its and I know these are … I call it the spectrum game but we’re only choosing extremes so bear with me on that.

Secondly, when it comes to stories and storytelling, do you prefer the book or do you prefer the movie, things like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings? Are you more of an early riser or more of a night owl? One slide per post-it then you’re going to end up with a personal stack of these. Are you more introverted or more extroverted? I know we’re going to move fast just in the interest of time. Are you more of an individualist or more of a collectivist? So individualist, you love lone Wolf in it working on your own, doing it your own way. Collectivist you could do everything on a team all the time you would. Do you prefer ambiguity or prefer certainty? So ambiguity you love the unknown. You love blue ocean. You love anything’s possible, the blank canvas. Certainty you’re like no, I want to know exactly what the conditions are. And so we can get this thing done. Are you more of a visual thinker or more of a verbal thinker? You like sketching and all that? Or do you like talking about things? Thrown a wild card in here.

There are three options but for the sake of this, for focusing what puts you in a focused state? Kinesthetic when you’re moving around going on a walk maybe building something dancing even? Are you more auditorily focused? So when you’re listening, when you’re talking or more visually focused, when you’re looking at sketches or graphs or when you’re even drawing something? When it comes to brainstorming, are you a generate together and review alone kind of person like the normal post-it brainstorm or are you a generate alone I want to brainstorm a bunch of ideas on my own and then review them together.

Are you more strategic or are you more of an executer? Do you want to have a big wide view of all the parts? Or do you want to take one of those parts and just run with it? Are you a more of a let’s go person or let’s plan kind of person? When it comes to taking that first step you just want to go and get wrong we’ll figure it out as we go or are you more of a let’s plan I need to know kind of the roadmap before we start. And lastly, are you more of a data-driven person? You want the facts, the numbers, logic. Are you more of an intuition driven person? Do you just kind of follow your gut?

Now that’s the last one we’re going to do today. There are a lot more that I do with a lot of teams but what we’ve begun doing is equipping you with an articulated defined set of ways to show up to collaboration knowing what you need out of that. And if you do something like this with your team or the group you’re facilitating you’re going to have a better understanding of what those people in that room need in terms of collaboration. In other words we begun equipping ourselves to have what I like to call a psychological safety talk with your team and everybody around there.

And so in the interest of time we’re just going to race through this last slide which is two questions I want to leave you with. How often do you design your collaborations? This is like a little quick reflection for yourself? I haven’t really done that. I’d just kind of get the team and go. And how might you bring more intention to the design of your collaboration so that everyone feels safe and included? What will this look like when you implement it? Because it can be different for everybody because if you don’t do this, if you don’t set these expectations and the alignment and the understanding and establish the safety norms, disaster can strike and you can flip the boat and everybody’s in the water. And that’s my hand right in the middle there on the top trying to hang on for dear life. But if you do establish this things, you get through the rapid and you get to enjoy the view and get to camp and have a great dinner. Thank you all.