Gail Montgomery joins the show this week to discuss best ways to build cohesive, high performing teams. We can all agree communication and skill are important, and Gail shares crucial insights to find the connections and make teamwork more about team than work. Episode Notes can be found at uncoverthehuman.wearesiamo.com
Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.
YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human
[00:00:00] AC: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.
[00:00:06] CA: Whether that's with our families, co-workers or even ourselves.
[00:00:09] AC: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.
[00:00:12] CA: This is Cristina Amigoni.
[00:00:13] AC: And this is Alex Cullimore. Let’s dive in.
[00:00:15] CA: Let’s dive in.
[00:00:18] Group: Authenticity means freedom.
Authenticity means going with your gut.
Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.
Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.
It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.
Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.
It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.
[00:00:55] AC: Hello and welcome back to Uncover the Human. We are joined today by the co-founder and Chief Fun Officer of Experience Yes, Gail Montgomery. Welcome, Gail.
[00:01:05] CA: Hi, Gail.
[00:01:06] GM: The crowd goes wild! Hello! Hello!
[00:01:10] CA: The begins.
[00:01:11] GM: I know.
[00:01:14] AC: So Gail comes to us from the company ExperienceYes, which is particularly focused on developing high performance teams and increasing emotional intelligence capacity within teams, which is both just a super interesting mission statement and one of the reasons we wanted to bring you on today. So maybe we can dive right into teams. What do you think of when you think of like high-performing teams and how do you approach that?
[00:01:36] GM: Great question. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here and I’m really excited about what you guys are doing. I just think it's totally cool. I’m super passionate about the human being and soft skills, which I believe are really valuable to not only a great work that you can do individually, great work you can do as a team. So I’m excited about that.
What makes a great team? I love to talk about it from the perspective of sports. I’ll get back to improv in a minute. That's kind of the foundation for what we do. To kind of go back to sports though, one of the things that business teams don't do is practice. And one of the things that sports teams do is practice. They have a coach and they try new things. They are constantly getting together and reworking old plays, trying new plays, fixing mistakes, looking at their film from previous games and usually watching their failures and laughing and/or being embarrassed by them and figuring out what they can do next time to fix that. And that is just their general cadence of how they get ready for “the big game”, right?
And business teams, maybe they'll enroll you in an effective communication class and then, “Hey, Gail, how was the class?” The expectation of course being that you're going to be great, right? One class and you've got it all. Or they'll send a leader to a newbie or a new manager to some leadership classes and suddenly they expect that person to have all the emotional intelligence to be able to manage different personalities, to be able to apply it in a real setting right away without really getting it into their body. So I think practice is a huge piece. It's being able to learn things and then put them into play in an environment culturally that allows you to make mistakes.
I would also say communication is huge, right? A shared language. Everyone kind of understands how and what they're supposed to be doing and how they fit in. And to me those two things, practicing and having excellent communication, understanding what you're doing, are really key to forming a great team.
[00:04:02] AC: I love the term shared language. That's the one that always strikes me as like that seems like the foundation of everything because we communicate so much over even just IM and phone calls. And especially nowadays at a distance, half the time, you can't see anybody's face. So much communication ends up coming down to having that shared language so that you can actually be able to communicate.
[00:04:25] GM: Absolutely. I kind of talked about improv earlier and how I was going to bring it back in. Our company was really formed out of this idea that my husband had about how these rules of improv that we had experienced in founding our own improv troop and taking classes from others could be absolutely applicable in an environment, in a business environment. And so then kind of to tag back on to I promise I’d bring it back, I think really the highest performing team is an improv team. And the reason I do is because they practice improve. And I know that you're probably going to laugh about that. It's kind of an oxymoron. It's supposed to be spontaneous and off the cuff, and it is. Usually the content isn't known. What is known are the rules, right? And everyone plays by those rules. They have each other's back. They trust their instincts. They listen to serve the other person and make them look better and they're always accepting kind of what's been given and adding on to it.
So yeah, I think once a team can kind of learn this shared language of saying yes and, “Look. When we listen, we listen with you in mind. We're here to serve you, to help you look better, to help you get something done, to support our teams at all costs rather than call someone out for an error or allow someone to bad mouth a team or a person. And also if we have something to say or we are feeling a certain way about something, we need to speak up about it.” And I think oftentimes we don't because we've got a domineering manager, or we've got a difficult personality on the team, or we don't necessarily even trust ourselves that maybe what we're about to say is right.
[00:06:21] CA: Yeah. And remind us of the four rules of improve. You mentioned a couple of them as you were talking about that.
[00:06:28] GM: Yeah. And I guarantee you, if you had another improv person on your podcast, they might have some different ones. We really settled in on four that resonated for us and felt completely like they could translate into the corporate world. The first is yes and. It's just a given. A lot of people have heard about it and they don't really understand how it works. They think it means you say yes to everything. Really, you're saying, “I hear you and –”. Or, “Yes, I understand that's what you need and here's what's possible.” Or you might even say, “Yes, I love that idea and let's do A, B and C to make sure we can get that done.” So it's really about the and piece and the yes piece, and there's lots of great data to support that. When people hear no or but, it takes them about 64% to 66% longer to get back to efficiency. So simply by changing the way that we talk about how we interact with one another and how we accept ideas, moving to yes and I hear you and, which is yes and. Changes, the way that people then can move about, go about their day and figure things out. That's the first one, yes and.
The next one that we like to talk about is listen with the intent to serve. And, FYI, all of these four rules I’m giving you, I don't have that perfect. I am constantly working on it. And it's great, because did you see how I just did the and thing there? It's in the back of my mind. And I know that it's there and it's a goal for me to keep working at it. If someone's talking to me, there's a reason. They may need something from me. They may just want to vent. They may have to share information with me. Regardless of the reasoning, I need to serve them by being present, by really listening. Not to answer them. Not to respond. Not to shove my idea down their throat. Not to change the subject.
This is a huge thing in sales. I think sales folks are always thinking, “Sell, sell, sell.” And so when they're speaking to clients they forget that if they just listen to their client they could probably fill the need rather than worrying about the sale. And so that's the second one is listen with the intent to serve.
And three would be support your teammates at all costs. And the at all costs sounds hilarious and it kind of is. In improve, it feels like life and death when you're out on a stage and you're like trying to figure out a scene or contribute to a scene or do a character or a crazy voice and you're just sitting there waiting and hoping that somebody's going to have your back. So that at all costs really translates to can we create a culture and an environment and a team where I know regardless of whether I’m with you in a meeting or working on a project that you have my back. And that is something we say all the time, right? Before we go on stage we just give each other high-fives and like got your back. Wouldn't that be the greatest feeling in a team to know that you didn't have to worry about someone talking about you or tearing down work you did or blaming you because they were afraid to step up and own it on their own?
So that's a really significant thing. And I’ve been in a meeting, you probably have too. I’ve even done it where I just kind of blurt out, “Well. Oh! That was IT. If they'd just done A, B and C, we'd be great,” and then I realized like, “That's not okay. It's got to be we, right? We, not me. We got that wrong. We'll get it better next time, right?”
And then the final one is trust your instincts. Now in improv we say first thought, best thought. And Alex I know you've done some improve. So you're probably familiar with that one. First thought, best thought is really about when you allow that executive judge, that part of your brain that kind of doesn't like risk and is super judgy, like just think old man. No offense to old men who are listening. Old man with glasses who's like judging everything you do. If you trust your instinct and say it, then chances are it's going to be more creative. It's going to be more authentic to you and how you're feeling. It won't have an opportunity to be too much filtered.
Now, ladies and gentlemen at home, please know that we always say to our children, “Think before you speak.” There's a difference between trusting your instincts and just opening your mouth and blurting stuff out. We need the business filter, right? We do need a little of that old man in us.
[00:11:45] CA: And a little bit of the good girls in us.
[00:11:48] GM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I feel like one of the guys from the Muppets. I’m old enough to remember when that was on TV. And like one of the old guys up in the theater like, “That’s a terrible idea. I don't really like it at all.” I just think that's it. So those are kind of the four what I would consider the foundational rules, and I don't love the word rule. I really like to think of that as if you know this, we can now have a dialogue. We can now have a shared language and be connected because we all subscribe to this behavior and this methodology if you will.”
[00:12:26] CA: What I really like about them and having worked with you and been around you for a while now, I really like that you don't forget them. Once you understand the power of them, kind of every time you say no even in family life, you're like, “Oh! If I catch myself in time, I change it to a yes. And if I don't, I’ll remember for next time.” And from a business perspective, and even from a personal perspective and from a business perspective, having that shared language, it makes so much difference in productivity and engagement, in innovation, in risking and putting yourself out there because you really end up not having to worry about these basic things. Like is somebody going to throw me under the bus? Or is somebody going to exclude me? Or am I not going to be backed up? If I make a mistake, am I going to be punished? Once you eliminate all of that, then you're like, “Oh! Now, I can just do. I can just focus on doing.”
[00:13:31] GM: Absolutely. 100%.
[00:13:33] AC: As you say, isn't that a better way to form a trusted instinct? Like if you can trust your instinct, like you know the team's going to support you., you've got a whole dialogue, and that's when like trust your instinct rule number four meet so well with the yes and. Because even if my instinct might not be like the perfect solution to go throw out there in the middle of a meeting, if the team is willing to accept this work with it, mold it, that brainstorming session is going to be so much more powerful. You're going to generate so many more ideas and you're going to be willing to say things that will queue off things in other people and then you will get a much more cohesive, much more friendly and much more bought into solution right from the get-go.
[00:14:11] GM: 100%. I absolutely agree. In fact, listen to the difference if you think about kind of a dialogue with a couple of people or folks in a meeting where someone says, “Hey, I think we should do A, B and C.” The next person says, “Well, we did A, B and C last year and the budget just doesn't really support that.” And the first person says, “Oh, okay.” Versus, “Hey, what do you think if we did A, B and C?” And the second person says, “Huh! We did it last year and I think if we took a look at the budget and how we're spending right now, maybe we can move things around. Maybe we can afford it. Or what do you think about putting a think tank together and seeing what the feasibility is?” Totally different, right?
The second one is so much more about, “Yay! I got your back. Like say what you want and the possibilities are there, right? The possibilities.” And I think as soon as we say, “Yeah, but,” or, “No, I don't think we can do that.” We've just shut the door on everything. And truly a person that's sitting in a meeting who has an idea about something has that idea looking through their own lenses. If there's ten other people sitting at that table, there's nine – Or ten other – It’s not my strong suit. There's at least 10 other opinions or thoughts about how that's possible, right?
I mean, one of my favorite stories is the company – Oh gosh! Gore-Tex. They uh they have this really cool technology to develop kind of the fibers that make up their coats, their waterproof coats, and their seasonal outerwear, right? And one of the guys a long time ago decided – He loved guitars and he decided that this technology was really cool. And he went off and designed a guitar string using this technology kind of as the foundation, which became the number one selling guitar string ever just because he had this thought that maybe Gore-Tex doesn't need to be limited to this one thing. Now granted it wasn't a Gore-Tex product, and it still gives you an idea of how we get stuck in thinking our business or our product is this one thing and this one way and then we have one kind of a client and we can't break out of that. And that's just BS as far as I’m concerned. Of course you can. Of course you can. You can do whatever you want.
[00:16:52] AC: I don't know the one thing really worked well for Kodak.
[00:16:55] CA: Nokia, blockbuster. There's a laundry list of them and I’m sure a whole new list after the pandemic is over that we're going to know.
[00:17:04] GM: 100%. We have a local restaurant here. Gosh! What was it? March 13th in Evergreen, we kind of shut things down. And it's kind of a fine dining restaurant. So you know that no one's coming and they're probably not doing a lot of take-outs because it's expensive, right? So they decided since they had supply chain set up to be able to get toilet paper, paper towels, different food, organic stuff. Hold on. Kerry. You might leave that in there. That's my West Highland Terrier.
[00:17:35] CA: Didn’t get the memo to be quiet in the house.
[00:17:38] GM: Yes. Okay. He's just letting me know there’s something outside. The idea though that they would open up as a grocery store and provide because people weren't able to find certain things at the store because everyone was freaking out and buying or everything. It’s cool.
[00:17:51] CA: Building houses of toilet paper, yes.
[00:17:52] GM: Yes, you could go online, you could pick all these things that you wanted and they would deliver this crate out to your car. You were still supporting them. How cool is that? That's one of, like you said, probably thousands of stories during the pandemic.
[00:18:08] AC: And what if that person who ran the restaurant had just said, “No, we're a restaurant.”
[00:18:12] CA: Find dining in-house restaurant. We don't do anything else.
[00:18:17] GM: Right. Yeah, I think that's the thing. I know a lot of people are tired of hearing the word pivot. Oh my gosh! I know I’m one of them. I’ve heard it so many times during the pandemic because it got overused like a lot of other great consult words. Consulty? I don't think that's the word. I’m making it a word. That's my new word.
[00:18:37] AC: It should be used more.
[00:18:39] GM: I think so.
[00:18:41] CA: There are a lot of consult things out there.
[00:18:43] GM: Yeah, absolutely. It's what we needed to do. We needed to pivot. Everyone did. Gosh! Every single person did, parents did that had children and had to deal with that. Children did. People who were living in senior facilities did. Don't get me started on the health care world. Every single person had to pivot. It became, and still is, one of the greatest challenges I think probably our generation will ever face. So yeah, pivot, people.
[00:19:17] AC: That's a great example of exactly why it's so important to have that flexibility. I mean, none of us could have stopped a global pandemic. This isn't some amount of like strategic thinking that would have gotten us away from this. You're faced with certain things where you're going to have to adjust and pivot having. A yes and mindset allows you to have different ideas around that and not just try and stick with the same way you've done it before and just hope that you last long enough that things can return back to where that seemed to succeed.
[00:19:43] GM: Yes. I’ll tell you what. I wish that we had been able to as a company go into organizations as the red on their budget sheet was starting to increase and they were starting to see money just seep away and talk to them about what creative ways they could keep their people on. As opposed to people always seem to be the first expendable thing in organizations. And I find that really fascinating and sad, because I think there are a lot of things that you can do before you go getting rid of people, and I hate that term getting rid of people.
[00:20:26] CA: You should. It’s a hateful action.
[00:20:33] GM: Yeah, it is, and that's what's happening though. It's the logical place for people to trim is their workforce, and that's their people. Like these are your teams. These is your gas, right? This is your gasoline, what keeps your machine humming. Yeah.
[00:20:54] AC: They've done studies on that one too that not only is it like emotionally hard to say things like getting rid of people or just letting people go and cutting the workforce and all of the jargon that goes along with that. Not only is that emotionally a more challenging thing to do. It's also like logically you might look at a budget sheet and be like, “Okay, our biggest line items are salaries,” but that's not really taking into account the logic of what's going to happen to the rest of the team?
Because the every time you cut some of the team, even if somebody thinks that, “Yeah, those might have not have been the best performers or something and I’m probably a little bit safer than that.” First thought in the back of your mind, if you're not that person who was already let go is, “All right. Well, the time is probably limited here. I don't know how long I’ve got. I don't know that this – It’s clearly not going to be safe for me for however long.” And they've done enough studies through enough recessions to show that the companies that hold off the longest on letting people go are the best at, A, recovering and staying around and doing better in the future because they already have the right focus.
[00:21:52] GM: Yep. Yep. I mean, if I had a team of folks, which I don't. Kind of the chief fun officer of my husband. The president. That's about it, and this West Highland Terrier who's nutty. If I had a team I think one of the first things I would do is go to my teams and say, “This is pretty scary right now, and you all have such incredible value to the company, to me. Let's think our way out of this. Let's think our way at least to the next week, to the next month. Let's just take the tiniest little steps we can, and no idea is a bad idea. What do you got, right?” And see what comes out of that.
Most people on teams have a trove of ideas about how to fix process and how to streamline this meeting and how to get more out of this thing, and they're never asked. No one ever asks them. And maybe they're just the kind of personality that also doesn't feel like they can run around saying, “I have an idea. Hey, pick me and let me tell you about it,” which I’m a little bit more like. So that would be my first thing. I don't know, my first order of business.
[00:23:15] CA: And there are companies that do that and have done that and have succeeded. I’m sure I’ve listened to it in an audiobook somewhere, but the container store succeeded that way in the 2008 crisis. They went to the employees and said, “Listen. Nobody's buying fancy extra boxes right now because they're losing their jobs and we don't want to let go of you. So how can we help? How can we come together and fix this?” And they didn't let go off a single person the whole time the crisis was going on for the three, four years, however long it lasted, and it's because everybody came with ideas from, “Hey, we're going to travel less. And when we travel, we're going to stay with friends instead of sending our expenses in. Or we're going to pair-up and make a meal instead of going to a restaurant.” And they had all sorts of ideas come from all sorts of sides of the company.
[00:24:19] GM: Yeah. I think it's easy for executive leadership to think that those “little things” aren't really going to make a difference. And certainly it depends on the size of your organization and they make a huge difference. And if the whole team has been lifted up as a means of the possible solution and extending the life of the company, what a great privilege and honor it is to be in a team like that where you're valued and respected and someone believes that you as a powerful team can get this done. I think that's so cool.
[00:24:57] CA: It's supporting your teammates at all costs and action.
[00:24:59] GM: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.
[00:25:03] AC: It's also been proven that it's very motivating to people to have autonomy. And exactly what you're saying, your first order of business is turning to people and saying, “What's your ideas on this?” You have promoted trust and you've promoted autonomy and people wants to be part of the solution because they're creating the solution along the way and now they have a vested interest in being like, “Well, I know that if I can make this work, I will be saved from a way off, or just I will be rewarded, I’ll be valued,” rewarded through feeling valued. It's incredibly important. And you can see how that would then turn out dividends in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with even surviving the recession if people are able to come up with creative solutions since they already know what their immediate solution or problems that they happen to run into day-to-day are. Like now they can start solving those. You've got a totally different type of efficiency coming out. You've got all kinds of new creative things of which there's dozens of stories of brand-new products being spun out. Like all of Gmail was one employee's side project for a little bit. All these things can create massive value if you just extend that trust and don't put the salary as the big line item that you're going to save on, because that's not what you're paying for anyway. You're not just paying $100,000 or something out the door to X-person. You're paying for that person's time, effort and thoughts.
[00:26:23] GM: Oh, absolutely. And there's a ton of data too to show that money isn't the greatest incentive all the time. And I think companies get caught up in that thinking that it's about that. I love hearing stories about CEOs and the whole executive level, folks taking a pay cut. I love that. I them also saying to the team, “If that has to happen, let's go through all the other options first and then we'll look at that.” Of course unfortunately some businesses are attached to a board of directors and investors and they're very used to getting their money just like it always has been unfortunately.
[00:27:09] CA: Indeed.
[00:27:10] AC: I like that tie-in to sports though too if you think about like imagine trying to just like what knock off like the top-tier of salaries on a sports team. It's going to save – We saved a boatload. We got rid of Lebron James. We saved a boatload. Like. Okay. Well, are you going to win or put butts in seats in the stadium? What's the value beyond that?
[00:27:37] GM: That is a disparity that I find very interesting. I’d love to work with a professional sports team at some point and talk about how you address that disparity, because Bruce had some experience with a couple of professional teams out in California basketball and hockey on the national level, NBA and National Hockey Association or whatever league, and I’m super. And he had that experience where like someone on the team is making seven mil and the next guy is making 320. And how do you address that? I think to your point about kind of reminding me about that sports analogy, the other thing I like to think about in terms of the importance of creating the space that folks can learn the shared language and then giving them the opportunity to use it, is that if you think about Michael Jordan or Lebron James, they can go to any team anywhere in the world and they know their role. They know how to speak the language with other people, and granted if they're in a foreign country. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the language of basketball, right? And they can drop in and out of any team at any time and be really successful. It might take a little ramp up for them to kind of show their stuff and get the trust and respect from everyone around them.
So when you think about business teams, if they have this knowledge, this little briefcase full of tips and tricks and tools that they can pop in and out of teams all the time and not have to wait so long for everyone to feel like they're connected or trust each other or believe what they're saying or know someone has their back, right? How cool is that? And there are teams formed all the time in companies. Most of the time it's, “Alex, are you breathing? Okay. Great. You're going to lead this project. And, Cristina, I know you have 12 things. I’m going to go for 13, a baker's dozen. You're on this team too.” And then it's like off to the races, right? And the expectation is you're just going to get along even if you are from totally different functional groups. And wouldn't it be great if you could because you had this superpower, right?
[00:30:10] CA: Well, it's not just that you're going to get along. Is you're going to get along. You're going to do everything that needs to be done. You're never going to fail or make a mistake, and you're going to win the championship tomorrow because you never had any time to actually get to know each other or work or do stuff together.
[00:30:28] AC: Ahead of schedule and under budget.
[00:30:30] CA: Yes please. Yes please. Yes. Actually you're going to pay us and you're going to us to work here and to work on this project and you're going to get it done in half the time with half the people. I love that.
[00:30:42] AC: You’re going to need to win basketball game before the fourth quarter. Can we get that? Can we do that?
[00:30:49] CA: We don't need a whole season here for a championship. We'll just go straight to the championship. Deliver. Now.
[00:30:56] GM: I can tell you with all certainty, if you gave me a lesson in basketball, one lesson, not unlike what I said at the beginning of the podcast about how we should not expect one thing is going to fix everyone. And then you sent me out to play with Lebron James. Well, I don't think it's a stretch to say that would be funny. That would be improve. That would be so worthy for sure because I know I would double dribble all over the place. And that's just drooling. That's not even playing. You know what I’m saying? It's kind of cute. That's all I’m saying.
[00:31:41] AC: [inaudible 00:31:42] golf shot. So I think I can get the PGA Open, I’m good.
[00:31:46] GM: Right. A hole in one. It's in my future. I know it. I actually swing a club like a baseball bat. So there's that. Just saying. Keep that in mind. Don't invite me.
[00:32:00] AC: One other thing I love in the sports metaphor is the idea that everybody knows the goal. I mean not only does everybody know the language, the rules and everybody, but there're smaller goals and there's bigger goals. There's wanting to practice so you can play better in the game. There’s wanting to play well in the game so you can win at that game. Just wanting to win enough games so you win the majority of a good place in the playoffs. And then there's wanting to win the playoffs, right? So there's like there's super goals and all these are achieved through smaller goals that come along the way and the team knows what to do. And think of how focusing that is when you have a company that has a strong culture, a strong mission, a strong goal that everybody agrees with and is 100% behind. Way easier to move that team.
[00:32:42] GM: Oh, absolutely. And in fact, I hear from a lot of different teams that one of the greatest challenges is they may have been given their marching orders at the beginning of the project and a few things happen. One, that vision becomes unclear because somehow the end result is not the result that is wanted by the leadership team anymore, or it becomes muddy because during the initial stages of digging into the project they started seeing other things and people started moving off in different directions to handle some of the other things they were discovering. Or it was never communicated to begin with clearly and it's not being managed well and no one's really stepping up to ask the questions like, “Hey, does anyone know what we're really after? What is the deliverable here? What are we supposed to be handing off when this is all said and done?
And now the first one I think I was talking about is the one where you get started and you're working on something. And, Cristina, I think you and I were involved in a project and it was kind of like this. And the goal changes and nobody tells you. And so you're still doing all of this work towards this initial need that you were told exists and then somewhere down the line you're getting punished and people are yelling at you because you're doing what was originally supposed to happen, only no one communicated to you that they moved the goal post, right?
So yeah, a hundred percent, I think knowing what you're supposed to be working on, knowing where to go to get things or who you can trust to talk to and ask “stupid questions” of. That's huge. Being able to not feel like certain people are off limits or you can't clarify, ask clarifying questions or you just get inferior. Yeah, I need you to do this and go and buy. Rather than, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Who's my resource?” And, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! What percentage of my work day do you want me to work on this? And am I responsible for just this or can I collaborate with this person and do this too? Where's the place I’m supposed to get the most recent data? The best data? Who's testing? Whatever.” Yeah, absolutely.
[00:35:21] CA: Yeah, I can imagine sending – Yes, very consulting.
[00:35:26] GM: Yeah, consulty. You’re welcome.
[00:35:29] CA: I can't imagine sending sports team on the field with that sense of clarity and see what happens.
[00:35:37] GM: Right?
[00:35:38] CA: Just as like you mentioned at the beginning is a team has to work together, has to get to know each other, has to have a common language, has to be invested in actually becoming a team. You can't just put people on a spreadsheet at the door of the stadium and say, “Show up tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Game starts at 8:15.” And they expect it to actually work. It doesn't work.
[00:36:05] GM: Nope. It sure doesn't. Nope. Yeah, I think -
[00:36:08] AC: That’s why that’s a thing, right? Practicing improv becomes a thing because you can practice that cooperation.
[00:36:14] GM: That's exactly right. I think it's this idea that what we do in practices is practice the rules of the game, right? Every game has different rules. Four of which I’ve shared with you are in every game, right? And that's critical. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. So to be quite blunt, there is just no way in how someone can go to a class and then be a great leader. You have to get it in your body. It's muscle memory and it's practice until it's habit. You just can't send someone out on the field. I cannot replace Von Miller with the Denver Broncos. It's not happening. I know I’m supposed to sack the quarterback. I’m probably going to struggle with that as I don't really know what the rules of the game are, and I haven't practiced it as much as he has, right? You've got to have it in your body. And it has nothing to do with me needing to know the outcome of the goal. And we just talked about that. It really needs to be about me trusting that I’ve been trained. I know what I’m doing and my team has my back and I can ask questions and be trusted and respected and someone's got my back and I feel valued and I want to deliver, really. And then, yeah, we know what the goal is and we're aiming for that.
[00:37:45] CA: So many of those things are missing most of the times, the trust that I won't get thrown under the bus or punished, the feeling valued is mostly missing. I say, what's the percentage? I think now about 80% of the workforce as it's engaged and one of the number one causes is because they don't feel valued. They don't know the rules. They don't know the goal. Even if they did know the goal, they still don't know the goal. I’ve been in in projects where we spent a whole two, three days figuring out how to start the project and at the end of every single meeting somebody asks, “What is it that we're delivering?” And nobody can answer the question. And yet the project goes on for weeks and nobody has answered the question.
[00:38:30] AC: I think the funny part too is that when you know the goal, you are all moving towards that goal, but if you don't have a culture where you have yes and, where you have like, “We're going to allow to support teammates at all costs.” If you don't have those things, people are going to start drifting from that goal because they don't want to be wrong and they don't want to be seen to be wrong. And you're being punished for mistakes along the way and everybody wants to perform their best. But even back to the professional sports metaphors, if you're supposed to sack the quarterback and you happen to get hit before you get to the quarterback in a way you didn't expect, like the goal's still the same, and that's okay. Like it just wasn't how you expected it to go. Like that kind of forgiveness goes a long way to stopping people stopping themselves from reaching a goal.
[00:39:14] GM: Absolutely. I mean, I have to say this feels like a great segue into the whole failure piece. It just feels natural at this point. And a few things about that. One is there are so many companies out there that say, “Oh, yeah. No. We want you to fail. We believe in failure. We celebrate it and we want you to take risks and we want you to try things out.” And guess what? No, they don't. No, they do not. And they say they do and they don't allow for it in the budget and R&D doesn't have the money for that, whatever it is. They really don't want you to take those risks because it's a financial burden that they haven't accounted for. And that's so irritating to me.
And then to think about when you look back on your life and you think about “some of the first failures” that you had as a human, right? I think about toddlers and I think about the fact that they're constantly like figuring out their balance. They're getting up, they're holding on to something when they start to cruise along furniture and all those kinds of things and they fall. What do parents do? What do family members do? They clap and they laugh and they encourage them to get up. My God! If we had a meeting to discuss every time little Jimmy fell to figure out what went wrong and then not trust Jimmy again to try to walk, I can't even imagine what Jimmy's life would be like, right?
There is no success without failure. We've heard that quote. We know that's true. We know there're multiple creative innovators out there that have iterations and iterations and iterations of a product before they get it right. Well, thank God they failed, because now we know what not to do in that sense. So celebrating failure isn't just about trying to toot someone's horn because they messed up. It's about tooting their horn because they discovered information, which will help us succeed, right? There's a difference. And everyone should have a failure wall in their office or whether it's at home remotely or in their headquarters that have post-its all over it and we celebrate that, “Hey, Aalex did this, and that's so awesome, because now Gail's not gonna do that, right?” Like that's what we mean when we mean celebrate it. It's not like, “Woohoo! Go spend another 10 grand and mess something up,” right?
If we don't celebrate it, if we don't celebrate failure, if we don't encourage risk taking and yes and the crap out of that, there is no innovation or creativity. No one moves. It's like a chess game where everyone feels like they can't move because their queen is going to be captured, right? Well, I guess it's the king. See? Chess isn't my thing. Anyway. I even watched The Queen's Gambit. I should know these things.
[00:42:18] CA: You should know. You should be able to teach chess. Not only win games. Are they games? Is it chess games that you play or matches?
[00:42:29] GM: What’s the movie with that quote, “Never had one lesson.” I can’t remember what it is. Or maybe it’s the Saturday Night live it's like John Lovitz or something like that, “Never had one lesson.” So, yeah.
[00:42:40] CA: Yeah, I love all of that. And it's not just about the financials. It's not about having the budget to every single failure, “He's another 10 grand to fail again.” It's the psychological safety. So when you ask a question and you get excluded because you ask questions, and yes, that has happened to me. Or if you ask a question then you get yelled at. If you make a mistake and you get yelled at. If you make a mistake and you get fired, that's psychological safety that's out the window not just for you but for everybody witnessing it inside and outside the organization. It's the ripple effect.
[00:43:20] AC: That's one thing I find particularly interesting. Like we're social learning creatures. And so Gail's point, like if I mess up, Gail now knows not to do that, right? Because if we can celebrate and acknowledge that, then it becomes part of the shared knowledge. Rather than to Cristina's point, if you get fired for it, now the shared knowledge is if you make a mistake, you're out the door. So now nobody feels safe. Nobody's going to take any risks. Like that ability to socially learn can go both directions. So why would you not want that to go positively?
[00:43:51] GM: Absolutely. And further to that point, I also think it's important for people to think about you know if something fails, it doesn't mean it's done. Like it doesn't go up in smoke and it's gone forever. Something's sure, right? Don't put your finger in a light socket. If that hurts, probably going to hurt again. Because I think what's important though is folks in business start getting it in their head that, “Well, we tried that last year. So it's not going to work this year.” And the truth is you just may not have had the right resources. It may not have been the right time in the market. You may not have had the right team together. You could have more money to throw at it. Who knows? Who knows?
And so no one could ever think about it as dead and buried and dig graves for all these ideas that are out there, because someone's smart enough to come along and scoop it up and make it pretty. You know what I mean? So, yeah.
[00:44:51] AC: Well, that one small company that nobody at this point has heard of that’s called Zoom that a year ago was in some dire straits and now is the most popular and sometimes tiring meeting platform that we have. So there's just a different time a place, and it's just the right place for it now. And that's just one example of that.
And I think it's also interesting thinking financially of failures because you can talk about like, “Well, we spent money on this and then that didn't go well. So that would be a waste of money.” First of all, there's the idea that the idea could come back in a different form later or it just will have its time later. And secondly, do you have enough money to not change? Do you have enough money to just stand against the current of whatever is going to happen in the world and stay around?
[00:45:38] GM: I’m going to say no. I think actually that's a really big problem with a lot of organizations, especially kind of the big what I would consider behemoths, Stalwart organizations that are hanging around, is that they just sit back and rely on the same old same old instead of thinking like, “What is our blue ocean strategy?” Or I love this, they, as a large organization, still spin off a little startup organization of their own under their large umbrella, which really isn't a startup because it's the same people and the same funding and the same ideas. So it really isn't the same unless you're coming at it from a place of, “Hey, we really are going to smash the box.” There is no box. Let's talk about what's possible and what are people not doing that we could be doing. Or how do people see us?
Have you heard about that book, by the way? I think it's called – Oh my goodness! Something like Kill the Business or Kill the Company, something like that. I’m getting it wrong, but the idea really being that every organization should be trying to kill themselves all the time. So instead of waiting for our competitor to do it, where's our Achilles heel? What's our competition doing and what are we missing? What's missing? I just think we get so caught up in the day-day-day-day-day stuff that unless we have a dedicated team to kind of think that way or we enlist our teams as a whole to think that way and then give them time, money and resources to think that way, we won't ever see that. We won't. So, yeah.
[00:47:25] CA: Yeah. And to answer your question, Alex, what's the cost of not changing? Like, well, we can ask again Nokia, Blockbuster, Kodak. Sears.
[00:47:36] AC: Well, we should if they were still around.
[00:47:39] GM: Yeah. Well, and Blockbuster said no. Netflix came to them and they offered it all and they said no. That was the time they should have said, “This is interesting, and tell me more about how we're going to work this financial partnership out,” and they didn't.
[00:47:54] CA: Nokia had people from the inside come with smartphones with no keyboards and they said, “No. People like keyboards. We're not going to do it.”
[00:48:02] GM: Oh, that's crazy.
[00:48:05] CA: And Blackberry as well.
[00:48:08] GM: Gosh! Yikes. Yeah.
[00:48:13] AC: I love the idea of like celebrating failures, and one thing I would love to just cover with you since you've got such a great improv background is like how does that come about in the improv world? How do you see that translating in your work with ExperienceYes?
[00:48:26] GM: In improve, and if you've not seen improv or been to an improv show, you need to go online and find whose line is it anyway just to watch what happens. It's laughter. In the improv world, it's laughter. And you know when a failure has happened as an audience member and as someone who is performing and performing with someone who is failing. You absolutely know when it's happening. And full disclosure, it feels ugly and awful when you're on stage and you're the one failing. It's not that you know I’m up there going, “Woohoo! I failed. Isn't this great?” It sucks. Your gut is like, “Oh! Gosh! No, that was dumb. Why'd I do that?” Or, “Why didn't they come out and help me? Why didn't they support me? Why did they say no?” And yet it's laughter. And then when you hear that laughter it's kind of this idea of, “Yep, I went for it. I put it out on the line. I did it and it's done and nobody else has to do that.” And that's really kind of how at least in my experience how it feels in improv it's just genuine laughter. People love watching other people make mistakes or do something that's completely unexpected. And I think in the corporate world, to me, kind of how this translates, it's really about when you have – And I’ll be honest. When you have made a mistake, if you personally get to say, “Yep, that was me,” before anyone else can. Suddenly it's elevated to this level of acceptance and other people feel like they can laugh with you. And when my kids were growing up, and I wish I had someone tell me this when I was younger. I had people who were bullies in my life. And when my kids were growing up I would always say, “The way to disarm them, to take the power away,” and this is absolutely applicable in corporate world, “is to call it out yourself and be the first to admit it. Say, “You know what? I did this, and this happened, and here's what I learned. I think here's what we've probably all learned from it. And guess what? Not going to do that again.” And I think it allows others to kind of rally around you instead of put their hand over their mouth and whisper to their friend and point at you. You own it. So if you own it, it must be okay. And I think that that's a huge piece also. As a small little kind of side note, there is nothing wrong with being on a team and seeing a team member struggle and having them maybe make a mistake or have an issue and you step up and own it with them.
Now, I want to be really careful to say some people, when I talk about that, think, “I mean, you take responsibility for it or accountability for it?” That's not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking more about the idea of you kind of jumping in with that ability to have that social awareness to see when you're needed to lift someone. To you know remind them that they weren't alone in it. To remind them that maybe you've done something like that before, whatever it is. So it I think it behooves – This is a big word. Behooves all of us to kind of do that with each other on a team because we’re not perfect and we do make mistakes. Oh! Let me tell you about the time I sent a reply all and included my CEO on my response, right? So you just own it. You just own it. And if you feel like you can't own it and you're a personality that struggles with that, hopefully you've got a really great team that can that can step up and have your back.
[00:52:24] CA: You own the lack of needing to be perfect, which none of us are. So why pretend to be? Why expect anybody else to be?
[00:52:33] GM: Yup. Yup.
[00:52:35] AC: To throw another sports metaphor in there, I just think it'd be funny to have like one of your teammates dribbling a ball up the court almost getting it there. Having it stolen and then you spend all your time shaming that person. While their team dunks in the background. Like, no. You go and pick it up. - “Oh, yeah. Well, that happened. Let’s go back.”
[00:52:52] GM: That is 100% true. I mean the toddler metaphor it's that. The whole concept is in – I mean, I read it a long time ago. I don't even remember what the percentage is. The percentage of plays, planned plays that happen on a basketball court or on a football field or on the ice is so minimal. They are improving all the time. Someone doesn't show up and isn't there to get the ball, there's a fumble. They don't sit there and have a conversation about what they're going to do meanwhile the team's taking the ball down the field. There's no time for that. They need to get their head in the game. Thank you, High School Musical, and they need to just do it. They need to improv and figure out what's next, “Okay, that happened. What's next?” That's the other piece too, Cristina and Alex, is this idea that you don't need to dwell on it. It's important I think to look back at projects. Some people call them postmortems or just do an analysis on a project. What worked? What didn't? And those are really important and don't stay there for too long, right? Figure out what it is and move forward. There's no reason that you need to wallow in that yuck. Learn your lesson and next.
[00:54:09] CA: Yeah. One of my favorite things about working with you, Gail, actually, and with all of our team back when we worked together was the fact that we could all either make a mistake, fail, or have an emergency, or forget to show up for a meeting. And we always knew that the rest of the team had their backs. I mean, we've been in meetings where it's like somebody else is running the meeting and that person doesn't show up for whatever reason. It's like, “It's okay. I got this. We can do it.” We did it recently when zoom wasn't working and calls were getting dropped and we're like, “Yep. No. Meeting continues just as it was. Not a problem.”
[00:54:48] GM: Yeah. I think there's nothing worse for you being on the client side when you're sitting there saying, “Oh, well, sorry. Alex couldn't be here. So I will have to reschedule,” right? And sometimes you need to, right? And how great is it when a client can see that flexibility and the pivot happens, right? The pivot.
[00:55:14] CA: It comes back to the pivot. One of the last things – Well, last. One of the many things we talked about as we were talking about having you on the podcast was your wonderful tagline of turning soft skills into hard results. Tell us more about that, because I really don't think they're soft skills at all.
[00:55:39] GM: Yeah. I mean, I use that term because it's widely used. I don't know that it's widely accepted. It's widely used. And it's irritating to me that we think about this widely used term soft skills as something that's not as important as the product that you put out or what really hits your bottom line. I think it's difficult for a lot of people to quantify why good communication is necessary, right? Or why having a really bad seed on your team tanks your efficiency or effectiveness. And if we can start to move towards this idea that the more that we nurture and develop and invest in our people and our teams, the greater the reward we will see coming from them and because of them. And that's everything from listening, speaking, reading body language, everything that goes along with emotional intelligence, right? Awareness of my myself and my ability to regulate what I say. My ability to see what's happening in a room before I just start talking and my ability to influence and have good relationships within the organization. That to me is like all of the ingredients for a great cake. And when you get all those great ingredients in the bowl, then you can you know start mixing and baking and giving the cupcakes out or the cakes out, right? And I wish we would flip the script a bit on how we see those types of skills fitting into our company. The same weight should be placed on helping people learn how to listen to serve as is placed on how much money I spend on my technology. Because who's running your technology? Your people. And they're not able to speak to each other and listen to serve each other, how are they going to use this technology? Like it doesn't make sense to me.
[00:58:11] CA: Same here.
[00:58:13] AC: The longer we go into like – There's so many like things about being evidence-based. So many things are trying to be, “Well, this is evidence-based this and evidence-based that.” And I think that it's easy to see and feel these things once you start to try and play with them. And I’m really interested. The more the more I witness in the world people exchange ideas on how to like measure employee engagement and things like that, it feels much more like these aren't soft skills because they're not measurable. We just don't have universal measurements for them yet. It doesn't mean they're not valuable. You can see they're valuable when you practice them. You can see the returns when you use them, but we just haven't figured out ways to measure them yet. That does not make them non-valuable or soft or like they're still incredibly important and pillars of everything that we do.
[00:59:02] GM: Yes. And think about, well, back in the days when we used to travel, the books that people are reading, the professional books that people are reading or business books people are reading are not about hardware. I mean unless they're a hardware person, right? They're about how to win friends and influence people? How to communicate better? How to deal with conflict? What does it mean to trust? Listen, whatever. All these books that are out there are all about these skills, right? And that's what people are reading. So don't tell me they're not important. Don't tell me people just know or they don't. I don't care how great a listener you are. You need to continue to refine it and you need to be – Given that time and the money and the resources to do that or you're not – In my mind, you're not really appreciating and valuing your people and helping them grow into folks that are going to be even more valuable to you and continue growing, right?
[01:00:05] AC: You're leaving so much inherent value on the table of just, A, people's happiness and satisfaction as well as what they can bring to you, to the team, and what the team can bring to the company, to the world, to whatever. You're leaving so much on the table if you don't access that.
[01:00:20] GM: Yep.
[01:00:20] CA: And there's no company without the people. There're no products without the people. There's no services without the people. I think earlier you said they're the gas, and I think Simon Sinek actually says the people are the car. You can have gas, but if you don't have the car you're not going anywhere.
[01:00:38] GM: Yeah. I mean, and Simon's awesome. I wouldn't argue with him. I think he's pretty smart when it comes to those kinds of things, and that's a great metaphor in terms of thinking about it. I really feel like we've done ourselves a disservice in the corporate world right now by not tapping into the people in our organization emotionally. And I think that the companies that are doing that are getting it right and you feel it when you're in it too, right?
[01:01:18] CA: And you feel it when you buy from them. Starbucks. My kids – I think we've recently talked about how my kids have seen a huge difference between the drive-through at Starbucks and let's say they drive-through a McDonald's, and they've asked me why people are so nice at Starbucks and not so much on the other end? And I’ve told them because they're treated nicely, because they're valued, because there's investment in them as humans.
[01:01:43] GM: Yep.
[01:01:43] AC: Thank you so much for joining us on this one, Gail. This is a great conversation about how to build teams. I think I particularly love the fact that with potentially the exception of Cristina, knowing a lot about soccer and golf, we used way more sports metaphors than I think I’ve used in the last year and a half. Right.
[01:02:02] CA: I don’t anything about golf.
[01:02:02] GM: It’s been so fun.
[01:02:05] AC: Okay.
[01:02:08] GM: Well, it's been really fun, and it's been great to have a huddle and talk all this out. I’m super passionate about people and about the language of improv and how impactful it can be for teens. And so appreciate just being able to talk about it with you guys and I’m really, really excited to share. So thank you.
[01:02:33] AC: Oh, it's a great conversation. And on that note we would love to be able to let people reach you. So where can people find you?
[01:02:40] GM: Oh, sure. They can find me on LinkeIn, Gail Montgomery, and you'll see ExperienceYes attached with that. And also on my website, experienceyes.com, there's a place where you can send an email, and I respond to all of them individually. So that's another great way to reach me.
[01:03:02] AC: That's awesome.
[01:03:03] CA: Thank you, Gail. Love talking about this topic and having you.
[01:03:07] AC: Thank you so much.
[01:03:08] GM: Thanks, guys. Thanks. I’ll talk to you guys soon.
[01:03:12] CA: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast.
[01:03:16] AC: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood.
[01:03:22] CA: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.
[01:03:29] AC: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at email@example.com, or at our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E-A-R-E-S-I-A-M-O.
[01:03:49] CA: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.
Chief "FUN" Officer and Co-Founder
As Chief "FUN" Officer and Co-Founder of ExperienceYes, Gail teaches folks about the importance of having an Improv Mindset. Widely accepted in many industries, learning the rules, and methodologies of improv helps companies get to solutions faster, develop high-performing teams, and increase emotional intelligence.
Industry agnostic, Gail works with forward-thinking organizations that are seeking to break OUT of the boring training and development of the past and jump IN to fun and experiential sessions designed for leaders and teams to be effective and successful in ambiguity.
Her unique approach to company challenges has increased team performance, communication, and creative problem-solving.
Gail has a BFA in Music Theatre, which is SUPER useful in the corporate world, and has experience in Human Resources, Change Management, and Training and Development.
She is Co-author of the book "The Improv Mindset", available as an audiobook and digital or print in English and Spanish on Amazon.
You can connect with her on LinkedIn
or through her website
Gail's book, The Improv Mindset can be found on Amazon @