A conversation with Natalie Born. VP of Innovation at Territory Global.

“But what we don’t realize is that it’s actually our job to help manage change. And it’s our job to give people a vision that helps them get to the other side of change. So, so often we just tell people, you need to change. We never tell them why. And we don’t give them a vision for the future. And we don’t ask them to come alongside of us and help build that future together. We oftentimes, change feels like it’s happening to me and change imposed is changed opposed. So we’re going to oppose anything that’s imposed on us.” –Natalie Born

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Natalie Born about her role as VP of Innovation at Territory Global.  She shares how an interest in negotiating influenced her career path.  Later, Natalie explores topics running from emotional journeys and change, to ground rules and burnout.  We then discuss the importance of developing a rest ethic.   Listen in to learn all about giving people a vision that helps them get to the other side of change. 

Show Highlights

[1:30] How Natalie Became A VP Of Innovation.

[7:40] Why Change Imposed Is Change Opposed.

[17:10] A Metric for Pacing Work.

[25:31] Adopting A Rest Ethic.  

[32:51] How To Leverage Peoples Capabilities

Natalie on Linkedin

Natalie on Twitter

Innovation Meets Leadership on Instagram

Innovation Meets Leadership on Facebook

About the Guest

Natalie Born is the Founder and Podcast Host of Innovation Meets Leadership and the Vice President of Innovation for Territory Global. Prior to Innovation Consulting, Natalie was the Senior Vice President of Business Development at a mar-tech firm. As an accomplished executive with two approved US patents under her belt and over 15 years of experience leading product development teams, she is consistently willing to share her expertise to ensure companies are designing their products and strategy with the customer at the center of the design.

Natalie is a keynote speaker, podcaster, and innovation facilitator. Natalie has worked with organizations such as CareerBuilder, First Data, IHG, and ADP, leading major initiatives in over 18 countries and building a background in acquisition, integration, and international product development.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly controlled room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the magical meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com. Today I’m with Natalie Born, founder and podcast, host of Innovation Meets Leadership and the vice president of Innovation for Territory Global. Welcome to the show, Natalie.

Natalie: Thanks for having me, Doug.

Douglas: It’s so great to have you, and as usual let’s get started with how you got your start in innovation and leadership. How did you get into this work?

Natalie: Yeah, so, it’s interesting. I grew up in college answering phones in a call center, but I realized I wanted to do more. And so I started working on this international team. We were actually outsourcing at the time and then a position came available for international product development. And I don’t ever recommend anybody doing this, but I walked down to that department and I said, “I have no clue if I’m a good fit, but here’s my background. Here’s what I’ve worked on.” And that was how I got my start in product development. I love product development. I love seeing ideas go from just a thought to a working product. And so that is how I got my start, by literally walking down and saying, “Would you take a bet on me? I know nothing about technology, IT or product development, but here we go.”

Douglas: Amazing. And so what did you learn in that process of starting to navigate what it means to work in those spaces?

Natalie: Yeah, it’s funny, so I don’t know why they did this, but the very first project I got put on and this was, at the time I was working for careerbuilder.com. So I got put on this project to go overseas and to help… We were acquiring other job boards overseas. And so literally I had to help them with the integration.

So you’re on your platform. We have six months to move you to our platform and we have to negotiate along the way. And what I loved about it was literally being able to dig into the code, dig into their technology and then have this like conversation about how do we get your stuff onto our platform and how do we negotiate things that are on your site that are not on ours. And I think what I learned on my about myself is I love negotiating. I love looking at a problem and then rolling up our sleeves and trying to figure out how do we solve this problem together? Because so often the knowledge resides in the room and it’s your job as a facilitator to pull it out of the people and help them be successful.

Douglas: I love all those points. And the thing that first jumped to mind when you were talking about that was that you were basically doing integration work and integration work is always really fascinating because you’re having to delineate between two often disparate systems. Even if there they were built for the same purpose, we could use totally different philosophies. Imagine trying to… A building that was built in Malaysia and trying to fuse that with a building that was built in Appalachia. It’s like, the architecture might be a little different.

Natalie: Right? Well, and it’s funny too, because it’s this person’s baby, right? So they built this thing from the ground up. They have blood, sweat and tears, labored over this thing for years, we come in and purchase it. And now we’re like, you’ve got six months to get on board with the way we’re doing it. That’s difficult and it’s very emotional. And so you’re not only taking them through this platform journey, but you’re also taking them through an emotional journey of how do we get from A to really Z because to your point, the systems are so, so different from each other.

Douglas: Yeah. I love that you ended there with emotional journey because I wrote down emotional as you were telling that story. And because they had these emotional ties to this system, they. It’s their baby and change is always emotional.

Natalie: Yeah, it is. It hurts. Change hurts. I don’t think we talk about that enough of how painful change is.

Douglas: Well, it certainly be, well, I’ll say this, I love this quote it’s if you think change is painful, you should try not changing.

Natalie: That’s real. It’s funny. I just, wrote this article on change. And one of the things I was talking about in there is how oftentimes, you look at the different change curves that are out there. And oftentimes we’re talking about technical changes, but nobody really talks about emotional change. And so when you’re going through that change curve, it’s really fun to look at how it just dives down. And the person goes from like skepticism, to shock, to anger, to depression. And we don’t realize that a lot of times in change, there’s this depression dip that people have. And oftentimes we judge people right there when they’re depressed and we think, well, they’re not going to take the journey with us. They’re not willing to change.

But what we don’t realize is that if we can help them through that emotional change on the upswing, there’s this beautiful thing that they start to do, where they start to collaborate and innovate. And then they start to see the changes, their own change, and they start to spread the word about that change. And so often we cut people off at that depression point and we think they’re never going to make it to the other side with us. But on the other side, they start to see that change as something that they should push, not something being pushed on them.

Douglas: There’s a lot to unpack there. And one little thing I want to pull on is this judgment that you mentioned, and that can be quite profound. And it shows up in so many places, not just them being in the cycle that you mentioned, but in any moment, if we see someone behaving a certain way, it’s really easy to attribute that to someone’s nature or character.

Natalie: Yeah.

Douglas: It’s like one of the things like we always hear people say, how do we deal with difficult people? That comes up all the time when we run facilitation training? And it’s like, well, who are these difficult people that you speak of? Right.

Natalie: Right.

Douglas: And so that judgment, we start to bias ourselves against people or towards people. And we got to be really careful about that.

Natalie: Yeah. It’s funny. There’s this book that I’ve read, that’s so brilliant. It’s called Leadership and Self Deception. And one of the things that talks about is how once we see somebody in a certain state of bind, oftentimes we’ll put them in a box and then we just look for everything to validate that. Right? So, okay. I saw Doug that one time he was having a rough day. So he’s just probably a rough personality. And now I’m going to look for everything to validate that. Well, I walked by him the other day and he didn’t say hi to me, or we were in this meeting and he didn’t look over in my direction when he was talking. So it’s this idea that sometimes when we take people in a snapshot of this change journey, we can so not only judge them, but we can put them in a box and we can kind of relegate them to unwilling to change.

But what we don’t realize is that it’s actually our job to help manage change. And it’s our job to give people a vision that helps them get to the other side of change. So, so often we just tell people, you need to change. We never tell them why. And we don’t give them a vision for the future. And we don’t ask them to come alongside of us and help build that future together. We oftentimes, change feels like it’s happening to me and change imposed is changed opposed. So we’re going to oppose anything that’s imposed on us.

Douglas: Hmm. I love that. We often talk about this idea of giving people authorship and giving people a voice. So I hate the word buy in because buy in assumes I’m selling something I’m imposed to use your language. I’m imposing it. So people are often just digging their heels. They’re like, “Eh, I don’t know about this.” And so I love that.

Natalie: Yeah. It’s, it’s so powerful. I think part of our journey, as we think about the workplace and the workplace has been for the last several years, and I would argue still that way today, kind of this top down command and control. So top down command and control, most people, what we’re seeing with great resignation and all this stuff and great rethink is that most people don’t want this top down pressure on them. They want you to hire them because they’re an expert at what they do. And then they want you to release them to do their job. And then, I had this beautiful conversation with someone the other day and they said, “Look, if what I’m doing is violating the values, then tell me.” If what I’m doing is violating our ways of working, then tell me. But if it’s not, don’t micromanage me. Show me where you want me to go point to true north. And then let me figure out how to get there.

Douglas: Absolutely. I was recently talking to some folks that are big into kind of remote distributed work. And there’s this concept of talent density, this idea of hiring people that are highly competent at their work. And so it’s much easier if you have high talent density to do these kinds of lean in, get out of their way, let them kind of live the values and kind of point them at the north star. I think it’s when folks, when we’re hiring kind of below capacity or barely at capacity when there needs to be more coaching. And we have to think about how we support people to get there. Because there might be a gap between, there’s like a capability gap between being able to go take that hill if we say, take that hill,

Natalie: I think you’re right about the capability gap. And I think part of that is us trying to understand how we lead. Some of us may think that we lead at a little bit of a higher level, but then when we get people in with that high level of capability, sometimes we actually don’t know how to lead those people because it’s more of a do what I say, not let me show you where true north is and you head off in that direction. And so that is, I think, where we have this leadership chasm. And so we talk about these people with high capability, but we don’t always talk about the chasm of the leaders who need to lead these people with high capability. Because a lot of times you can’t box them in, you can’t put them in a corner or they’ll leave.

Douglas: Yeah, 100%. It’s funny, to me, I was like once had an intern. This was like years ago back in my CTO days. So we share, we share a background in technology, but I had some interns come in and I had one quit like three days in because she was like complaining like the Wiki was a little out of date. There’s some incorrect information on the Wiki and like this and that. And there’s not enough structure. It was like a real big lesson for me because we gave her, there’s plenty of latitude there to change it, make it right, but it was like, some people do thrive and desire the structure and there really is no one size fits all. We really had to listen to the needs and adapt and adjust. And to your point, if there is someone who’s very highly capable and can go do it and we try to tell them exactly how to do it, they’re going to leave.

Natalie: Well. And I think you’re right, because I think that oftentimes I find myself leading very hands off, especially when I feel the person is capable and sometimes people don’t actually like that. They want you to roll up your sleeves, be more hands on, get in the weeds with me. And, so I think it’s part of, it is you’re leaning into this idea of, we need to not have a one size fits all way that we lead people. We need to come alongside people and ask hard questions. How do you want to be led? How have you been led before that you didn’t like? What did you like? And what can I do and how are we going to open dialogue when I’m not leading you in the way that you’re wanting to be led? Because oftentimes what happens is they’re frustrated and then they’re gone. And we never had that dialogue in between to say, “Hey, you’re not leading me in a way that’s helpful. Let me share with you what helps me so that I know that I’m doing a good job.”

And I think that’s just a conversation that’s missing from the workplace. It’s just, I’m ticked off and now I’m gone not, show me how to lead you and let’s have that open loop of feedback.

Douglas: I think that is so true. And I see it manifest quite often with managers who just aren’t doing one-on-ones or just creating space for those conversations or if they are doing one-on-ones, they’re maybe using them as just a way to check in on tasks and how are things going? And you definitely don’t want to, if someone leaves and it’s a surprise, then that’s a malfunction in your conversations.

Natalie: Yes. It’s so powerful to think about one-on-ones as developmental opportunities, as conversations, not as tasks. I mean you can have daily stand-ups for tasks, but when we’re thinking about how we work together, how do we make that better? And then where do you want to grow as a leader? And how can I help give you stretch assignments to get there? How can I help invest in your hands on leadership to get there? Those are completely different conversations and I think oftentimes we do run down the checklist of, well, where’s this project and what’s this person doing and why is this person upset? And we’re not really focusing on the person in front of us and helping grow them beyond where they are today. And that’s, I think, part of the reason why we’re finding ourself in a talent crisis as well is because we haven’t stretched people beyond their capacity before we needed it.

Douglas: That is fascinating. In fact, are you familiar with the concept of flow?

Natalie: I am. Yeah.

Douglas: So I had a speaker at one of our conferences once showed this, how she was using the flow chart. I called it a flow chart, but anyway, it’s a diagram of flow and one-on-ones, and she would have developers point out on the graph where they felt they were.

Natalie: Wow.

Douglas: Right. So is the task really, really challenging or not very challenging? And am I knowledgeable of it or am I not very knowledgeable? And so folks were being pushed really hard on stuff they already knew about then they were kind of not challenged enough. And so where were they on that curve? Were they at risk of being exhausted or are they at risk of becoming disengaged because it’s not hard enough. So it’s like this idea of the difficulty curve is really fascinating.

Natalie: Yeah. It’s really powerful. I think, it’s interesting. I’ve kind of been grappling with this whole idea in the workplace of the idea of engagement and how I feel like there’s kind of a two pronged approach to engagement. I think there’s the idea of the work you do and loving the work, but then there’s a heart engagement that I think people have. And you can tell when people are leaning in to the culture and to the meetings and to the conversation and you can tell when people are leaning out. And, for some reason, there’s this cognitive dissonance in the workplace where we’re not connecting the two. And so as long as people are delivering work on time, and as long as they’re putting forth the “effort”, we are not asking about their heart, we’re not asking, is your heart connected to this job?

And so I just did this massive burnout assessment with a team. And what was surprising was to find out how many people were headed towards burnout. But then if we double click on that, how many people didn’t know that they were headed towards burnout. And so there’s this idea that we come to work with our bodies, but we don’t bring our mind and our heart. And so oftentimes we can be working, we can be delivering tasks, but if we’re never asked to look up and really think about it, we don’t understand that like, Hey, I might be doing a great job in these areas, but mental wellbeing is not in a good place. Emotional wellbeing is not in a good place, like friendships and relationships are not in a good place. And so looking at yourself 360 and looking at your employees 360, I think is a really important part of this entire conversation we’re having right now on wellbeing on the workplace and just on kind of mental capacity and burnout.

Douglas: So I’m curious in this report that you’ve put together, are there conversations around mitigation strategies or things that they might do in response to the learnings or is it purely an assessment phase right now?

Natalie: Absolutely. So that is phase two is to put together some suggestions and it reminds me, I don’t know if you ever remembered Lucy Ball where she’s in the chocolate factory. And I mean, this is something we love is in the tech field to show people all the time when we’re just trying to tell people we’re overwhelmed, that idea that there’s that conveyor belt and she’s supposed to put the chocolate in the box or whatever. And the manager comes in, doesn’t really ask many questions, just kind of looks around and is like, “Okay, yeah, you’re doing a good job.” And then she’s like, “Speed it up.” And then the next thing, when she speeds it up, Lucy is in an all out panic. She’s throwing chocolate down her shirt, she’s putting it in her hat. She’s shoving it in her mouth. And it looks like on the outside looking in like, everything’s fine because “work is getting done”, but she’s in a full panic and there’s no way that she can sustain the pace.

And so part of what the conversation then becomes is how do we pace and sequence work in a way that’s effective. And if we don’t have a way to prioritize work today, let’s focus on prioritization as a way to start a conversation on not the big rocks, which are not usually the things that kill people. It’s all the pebbles that are added on top that actually break the camels back.

So I think I took two analogies and combine them, but that’s okay because I think the idea is that oftentimes, when we sit down and plan for the year, we plan all the big rocks and then all these departments come behind and add in the small rocks. And it’s the small rocks that are agitating and breaking people. It’s not the big rocks that we look out for and plan for. It’s the ones that just hit us continuously, like the wave, right? And you’re trying to get up and you keep getting smashed by that wave. And so part of the organization’s job is to pace and sequence work in a way where the teams can be productive and effective, but not be crushed under the weight of the work.

Douglas: That’s so good. And it also makes me think about the measurement is going to have a big impact in this, right? Because of, like the chocolate factory analogy, if all they’re measuring is the speed at which that thing’s set, they’re not even measuring how many got in the actual box maybe. I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe. Are they measuring her heart rate or are they measuring like her happiness at the end of day? I don’t know if there’s probably ways that you can think about extending the things that you pay attention to, companies talk about being data driven. And I think that we can get ourselves in trouble if our KPIs are set so that they push us in places that we don’t. What are the consequences or some of these measurements?

Natalie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, to your point, and I think what we’re seeing is the consequence long term is health issues across the board and we’re seeing that with employees, but then we’re also seeing people just throwing up their hands and saying, enough’s enough. I’m a knowledge worker. So I can go freelance. I can go start my own business. I can do honestly anything I want to do because I’ve gotten far enough in my career. And I know enough about what I’m doing, that this current situation doesn’t necessarily serve me well. And if you can’t help me pace and sequence the work in a way where I can feel like I have sanity, I will find sanity. And even if that’s not with you, I’ll go find it somewhere else. And so we’re seeing that in a big way. And I think to your point, I would love for you to share the study that you were talking about before we got started, from Deloitte, because I think that speaks right into what we’re talking about in terms of not only what we’re measuring, but what people are feeling.

Douglas: Yeah, it’s really interesting. It just came out a few days ago and this podcast will probably come out and you may be listening to it a year later, but it just came out here in Q2 2022. And it’s the C suite’s role in wellbeing. The thing that’s interesting. And I think this report definitely marks this shift is we’ve been seeing a lot of talk around mental health in the workplace, especially coming out of the pandemic. It just seems like people are more open to that conversation than they have been in the past. And I think it gives more credibility to the concept of burnout, right?Because, I think some people hear burnout and they think, oh, well, whatever, right? Like, is it that big of a deal? But when we start getting into the fact that there’s serious mental health consequences to this, I think it adds even more to the weight of what it all means.

Natalie: I think it does. I mean, I think what you’re leaning into is, again, I think there’s leading indicators and there’s lagging indicators. And a lot of times we’re looking at lagging indicators to understand that we need it to change. And so we’re not looking at leading indicators. And part of the way I think leaders can have leading indicators is they can actually start the dialogue. They can start it quickly. They start it effectively and they can start it soon because I think that the dialogue is a leading indicator of how people are doing. And the lagging indicator is people walking out the door, lagging indicator is burnout. The lagging indicator is people not showing up to work.

So I think that this is becoming such a bigger topic because 2020 was such a hard time on so many people that they were forced into their homes. They were forced in the silence and they were forced into stepping back to see what they were really thinking and feeling. And for the first time, they weren’t going at such a pace that they didn’t have time to wrap their mind around how they were really doing.

Douglas: We were chatting in the pre-show about just this notion of rest and how I can create so much more capacity when it comes to creative work, especially so many of us are knowledge workers and knowledge work has such a creative aspect to it, whether you consider yourself a creative or not. In fact, I think accounting people are probably some of the most creative people on the face of the planet as evidenced by Enron. But, the fact of the matter is we’re engaging in creative pursuits. And if we just run at capacity all the time, we don’t give our brains enough room to find that new thing that’s just lurking out there we haven’t made space for.

Natalie: Yeah. I really believe in this idea of working where you’re inspired, whether that’s in a coffee shop or whether that’s sitting by the lake or sitting in your backyard, just staring at the woods. Wherever you are, the idea of inspiration, I think is so important to workers. And I don’t want to say just creatives because to your point, there’s creativity in almost every job, every role that you can possibly think of. But, especially with creatives, I think they really need that space. And so when we’re driving people kind of to the brink, what you’re not doing is giving space for that downtime. That downtime is where you’re able to think through problems. That downtime is where you’re able to think through solutions. And I can’t tell you the number of times for the creatives that I lead, where they’ll come in and say, “Man, I was in the shower and I just had this idea or I was walking my dog and I just had this idea.”

And so there’s so much power in the downtime. And so it says funny, I’m doing this survey on my LinkedIn right now just asking people how many hours they work per week. And it’s actually terrifying me to see the people that work 45 to 60 hours or 60 plus hours. That was a big bulk of the people that answered the survey and the people that said I work 30 hours or less, I actually want to get on the phone with them and just ask what they’re doing to be so brilliant because it’s not about the number of hours we work, it’s about what we do with the hours we have. And I think that has to be a change, that has to be a shift in the workplace because we will actually get more thinking time on hard topics if we will slow down where we need to slow down so that we can speed up later.

Douglas: It’s really fascinating because just had to guest on the podcast recently Exteen and he was telling me that he grew up in Africa and in Africa, there is this perception that if you worked late, it was good. You were working hard, right? And he now lives in the Netherlands. And he said in the Netherlands, there’s much more of a feeling that if you’re working late, something’s wrong.

Natalie: Yes.

Douglas: It’s an indicator that either, he had like three different things, but it was really fascinating to me because they were treating it as a signal of something needed to be fixed. Like, oh, we need to train you on time management.

Natalie: Yes.

Douglas: We need to train you on the skills or maybe there’s too much work. So we need to hire more people. And so the thing is like I’m a firm believer, especially in small companies, bigger companies should really have no excuse because they’re big enough to like distribute the work. But smaller companies will definitely go through patches where it’s like, oh, we’re growing, we got busy. And that should be an indicator to do something about it not to go, this is the new, new.

Natalie: Yeah, that’s real. And I think that part of what we don’t realize is that we will burn people out faster and we will hire sooner when we just allow somebody to stay with what you call the new, new, where it’s like, okay, we’re, 20%, 30%, 40% busier, but we’re going to continue to allow you as the knowledge worker in that area to run at that pace. What we don’t realize is that people being addicted to their phones, people being addicted to email, we have a rule on our team, which is like, we call each other on late night texts, late night emails. It’s like, Hey, worst case you had to send that, schedule it. Like schedule it, right? So that I get it at a decent hour, but it triggers something in the organization when you see a leader working late, because then you expect that you have to do the same and then there’s this downstream impact.

Also, when you see leaders emailing on vacation or texting on vacation, it implies you don’t get to rest because I don’t ever rest. And so this idea of rest is actually how you refuel. Creativity is actually how you create innovation in organizations. And it’s a very area that I think sometimes gets taken away. And so part of when leaders say this a lot, why is my team not more innovative? My first question is obviously, do you stifle innovation? But some of the ways we stifle innovation is by putting too much on people’s plate, expecting them to carry too much and not giving them time for the downtime. The downtime is where you’re able to think, it’s where you’re able to dream. And that’s really where innovation comes from.

Douglas: So, so correct. Also, I think play is like really powerful as well. And I wanted to come back to a point you made around meetings and just the culture and how people are just hourly experiencing the company, that kind of the heart connection or the emotional connection to the work. And just curious if you’ve seen any things that people have done to make the meetings more engaging or more playful or people feeling like they exist in a place that’s more fun to be in.

Natalie: Yeah. It’s so hard because I feel like, especially just, I have a strong background in corporate. I was in corporate for a very long time. And a lot of what happens in meetings is a lot of posturing, right? It’s the, I need to get my idea across. This person’s going to try to get their idea in. I need to beat them to the punch. I need to figure out how to position myself in a way. And so there’s all this posturing and positioning. And so part of, I think what makes a meeting so much more effective, is having psychological safety, right? It’s that Google study that we’ve all read that talks about how psychological safety is critical. But part of the way I think we establish that is ground rules.

And so when we move an organization to lobbying for their own ideas, to learning how to effectively collaborate together, we know that we’re going to put all of our ideas in a bucket. And then the idea that I might get to work on is not going to be my own. And it’s, I mean, there’s so many games you can play to help with this, right? It’s the idea of let’s throw all of our ideas up there and then let’s pass our ideas around. And now I have to work with an idea I didn’t generate and I have to make it the best it can be. And then we’re going to pass that down the line and we’re going to keep passing that idea until the one I gave is no longer recognizable. And I feel like that type of play in work, we don’t create space and time for.

And so that type of play is very powerful because what it does is it says you may have come in with an agenda, but there’s no way you’re going to get to leave with that agenda. You have to leave with the mutual agenda of the room, not your own personal preference in what you’re trying to push. And so the more we can get people to get their ideas up somewhere, visually and out and then pass those ideas around for others to work on them, the more effective we can be. There’s, there’s something I like to do with teams where we’ll come in and generate ideas and then we’ll break off into groups and really work on those ideas and come back together, switch it and then go away again, come back. And so the refinement that it takes to work on someone else’s idea, it also requires humility. And I think that we could use a lot more of that in corporate spaces.

Douglas: That’s so good. And I couldn’t agree more, just the democratizing and really including everyone and also the cross pollination, like we can’t really get integration and we’re not having people work on their ability to consume someone else’s idea, add to it, and then, and to your point, have that humility to pursue something that’s not their baby.

Natalie: Right? Yeah. I mean, and that psychological safety is a big deal. It’s fun. I love the framework of open explore clothes. Right? If you love, game-storming, you’ll find it in there. It’s something that a lot of facilitators use, but it’s that idea that when I’m opening, we’re not killing ideas. Right. So when we’re generating ideas and putting them on the board, often sometimes think about ideas like a thought worm. Like until you just get it out, even if it’s a bad idea, sometimes you can’t move on to the next idea. So you just need to generate the idea, get it out there in the world and then you can move on and eventually good ideas emerge. Right. But when we’re exploring, we are saying, okay, well what ideas are like one another, what concepts are like one another. And then when we’re closing and this is I think where people are the worst and that’s actually making decision and taking action.

There’s nothing more frustrating, and I know you know this because you’ve written a book on meetings. There’s nothing more frustrating than leaving a meeting and there were no decisions made. So I literally came to this meeting, we talked a lot. Who knows who said what? Because no one captured it. And then we leave and no decision is made. And that’s why meetings, I believe, are so bad is because we don’t open explore and then close properly. And that closing gives us a finality when we leave, to know, thank you for not wasting my time. We just made a decision.

Douglas: Wow. Yeah. We could spend a long time unpacking all of that. I think, there’s two things, I’ll just start here and see where we go. One is, I have 10 meeting mantras in magical meetings and the one meeting mantra is no purpose, no meeting. A lot of people will say no agenda, no agenda kind of thing. But I think the purpose is more critical. And to your point, I loved how you use the different definition of agenda while talking about meetings, which is like, people are coming with this like motive.

Natalie: Yes.

Douglas: And often, when people make agendas, they have motives baked into them that are like, not necessarily, and I don’t think a motive is kind of a tactical manifestation of the purpose, right? It’s not really the overarching purpose. And if we really get clear on the overarching purpose, when we share it and we set that expectation and an intention, then people show up understanding what we plan on happening. And then they’re not discouraged. They don’t find it frustrating even if we didn’t make a decision, because maybe the purpose of the meeting wasn’t to make a decision, maybe it was to like explore options and to integrate our thinking. And then we’re going to then walk away from that, come back later for the decision. Or maybe I’m collecting information, I’m going to make the decision. But the problem is when we don’t communicate that ahead of time, that’s when people are disgruntled because they’re like, wait a second, nothing happened.

Natalie: Yeah. Beginning with the end in mind. So you’re right. It’s almost to say at the top today, I just want to explore ideas with you. I just need to know what I don’t know. I need as much information as possible to make the decision, but you’re right. Oftentimes people just do the thing and then it’s over and there’s no finality to what happens next. And that frustrates people because people need to know that somewhere, there’s a start and an end, even if they’re not a part of the end. And so even the idea of bringing different groups of people together, typically when I’m opening on an idea, you can’t have your no people in the room or your no people have to be very focused. You have to tell them, you’re not allowed to yell out that it’s a bad idea because we’re not to that part just yet.

And so sometimes, you might have different people in the room for each one of those things, right? There are some people that are phenomenal at generating ideas. There are other people that are phenomenal at exploring ideas and there’s other people that are so good at being decisive and helping us point towards what the true north is on all the decisions that are on the board.

And so even leveraging people based on their personality and based on their tendencies is a really important part of facilitating meetings so that you don’t get all the operators that are in the room that are like, that’s a dumb idea. That’ll never work. And you’re like, well, hold on, we’re not there yet, because oftentimes, it starts out as a dumb idea and you find that you’re onto something brilliant, but it’s that in between that messy metal that most people are very uncomfortable with. And so that’s part of the reason why I love innovation so much is the messy metal, is taking chaos and then eventually making sense of it and saying, “I know this didn’t make sense three, four or five weeks ago, but I think we’re onto something.”

Douglas: Yeah. I first learned about open explore clothes from Caner and Caner talks about the explorer being the grown zone. Right? Because no one loves it.

Natalie: Yeah.

Douglas: But to your point, whenever we’re talking in this innovation space or training facilitators, people that are interested in facilitation and drawn to it generally love opening. Right?

Natalie: Yes.

Douglas: And it’s really important for them to understand that there are going to be some people that don’t enjoy opening.

Natalie: Yes.

Douglas: Because they’re like, to your point, they’re operators, I mean to use the stereotypes, right? They’re operators, they’re the engineers that got taught their whole life how to keep the bridge up. And meanwhile, all these ideas that are floating around, they’re running a tally in their head about how much it all costs and it’s freaking them out. But it’s helpful for them to be there because they can hear the formative origins where all this came from and it can help them think about how it all fits together. And the trick of the facilitator, the leader is to help people understand that they may not be comfortable and to really understand what we’re doing and what this phase is about. And to sit with that and be okay with it.

Natalie: It’s a beautiful thing. I think part of what we forget, unless you facilitate for a living, if you’re just facilitating a meeting, part of what we forget is how important ground rules are to a meeting. So often we just jump into the meeting and then we’re frustrated. And those are probably the people you talked about earlier, like the bad people, we’re frustrated because people don’t do what we want or need them to do in a meeting. And so part of our job as a facilitator, whether you do it for a living or you’re just doing it for a meeting is to actually set the expectation at the top.

One of the things I’d love to talk about that frustrates me in meetings is I always say, “Hey today, we’re going to have one conversation at a time. That means that you don’t lean over and chat with Sally in the middle of us trying to come up with this idea or you don’t start three sidebar conversations while we’re trying to do this because what’s going to happen is five minutes later, you’re going to ask the question we already answered.” And so that’s where I think it’s really important to set ground rules, to help people understand that, Hey, if you have a comment, let’s raise it to the group. Don’t raise it to one person. That way everybody gets to benefit from whatever’s running through your mind. And so these ground rules to start meetings become so critical to help people understand how to navigate the meeting. And oftentimes we think that people come into a meeting knowing how to navigate a meeting and they don’t, because we haven’t trained them. We haven’t shown them.

Douglas: I love that. The ground rules, the modeling, just helping people even understand kind of the point of view is so important.

Natalie: Yeah.

Douglas: So we’re kind of coming to our end here. And so I want to make sure to leave us some time so that you can give our listeners a final thought.

Natalie: Yeah. I started this movement a couple years ago with this group of people called work forward. And it was the idea that we believed work could be better. Like we believe that the way we’re doing work is not how it should be done. And so it’s not a company, it’s a group of people that gather and talk about how work can be better. And the underlying principle is that when you create a culture, when you create a safe working space and environment for people, they’re able to show up and bring their best. So even as a leader, I think we can take work forward type principles into anything we do, which is how do we want to lead? How would we want to show up? And then 360, right? We need to have this feedback loop where we’re talking to our customers, where we’re talking to our employees and we’re helping them lean into what is the culture today? Is there cognitive dissonance in the culture? So is there what I think it is versus what is actually happening.

As a leader, we have to be super open to feedback and super open to change. That’s such an important part of the journey of leadership and of even running great meetings is being open to feedback, always asking what can I do better? And how can I help you along the journey?

Douglas: Awesome. It was such a pleasure chatting with you today, Natalie. Appreciate you coming on the show and hopefully we get to talk again sometime soon.

Natalie: Absolutely.

Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe, to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health and working better voltagecontrol.com.