Everyone Plays a Part in “The” Story with Cristina and Alex

Cristina and Alex speak about why at Siamo they "banned" the word “just” and the importance about doing things in harmony, things that are connected. 

It’s imperative to work together as a team to deliver something that is cohesive. Using phrases like “yeah well that’s just this department” or “our department just focuses on such and such” creates silos and disconnection. 

We can have members that are brilliant  at what they do as individuals , but if they don’t work together as a team and see the big picture as a whole, the organization  is not going to thrive.  

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human

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Alex Cullimore: Welcome to Uncover the Human, where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.

Cristina Amigoni : Whether that’s with our families, co-workers, or even ourselves.

Alex Cullimore: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni: This is Cristina Amigoni.

Alex Cullimore: And this is Alex Cullimore.

HOSTS: Let's dive in.

Authenticity means freedom.

Authenticity means going with your gut.

Authenticity is bringing a 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.

Alex Cullimore: Welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. Today, Christina and I are alone in our regular void. Welcome to – going to be just us again.

Cristina Amigoni: I look way taller than you are in this, because I'm standing on –

Alex Cullimore: Yes.

Cristina Amigoni: I don’t even know how many inches the platform is under me.

Alex Cullimore: I am sitting at a desk. It only matters for the people watching on YouTube.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. Yeah, we're back. Just us.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. I feel like at this point, we've been on so many video meetings over the last few months, that your background and my background are just fused in my mind. They're extensions of the same room, even though they're miles and miles apart. Now we live in this virtual world.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It’s definitely much harder to have in-person meetings. All of a sudden, it's like, where do I look? What am I doing?

Alex Cullimore: I just look in one place. That's all I have to do.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. Like, now I have to turn my head?

Alex Cullimore: It’s just so much easier.

Cristina Amigoni: Oh, there's a person there. Oh, there’s another person there?

Alex Cullimore: Yeah, we're all going to find out in a couple of years that we have repetitive back issues that we know on our bend are next, like different directions. That brings us to our topic today we wanted to discuss. We want to talk about why we as a company ended up banning the word ‘just’ and what is important about doing things in harmony and doing things that are connected.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. This was inspired by Seth Goodwin's blog post from Sunday, called The Parts Between. I'm going to read it, and then we'll definitely credit it and put the link in our show notes. The post says, “Listen to one musician’s track in isolation on any record. You might be amazed at how trivial the sound. Paul McCartney, one of the great bass players in one of the great groups of all time, it sounds like it's cool music recital. Because we don't listen to the tracks in isolation, but because the isolation isn't the point. Human beings care about harmonies, about originality, about the tension that comes from the new. We care about the dynamics between and among people who are working together. That's why we listen to the whole song, not one musician’s isolation track.”

Alex Cullimore: That's a wonderful analogy. I think immediately, hopefully, people will see that even without spelling it out, it ties into the world of work very, very well. We focus so much on enhancing every silo and making sure each vertical age person is doing their work well. Every time we've seen a problem in a project, we've seen a problem with clients, we've experienced problems, it's the dynamics. It's the spaces between. It's the relationships that end up tripping people up, that they're not going to pick up the phone and talk to somebody else, or they're just going to go back into their zone and only work on what they were working on. That is what ends up drowning so many projects, because the coordination and the fact that all of these efforts are happening at the same time, and all these tracks are playing over each other, that's what makes a song that is a masterpiece, that everybody listens to.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. A key piece when I was thinking about that is the fact that in a harmony, in a song, in a symphony, knowing what the other tracks are doing and what they sound like and how I fit into that is just as important, if not more important than me playing well. Having these silos in organizations, which are everywhere, and they have impossibly thick walls between them, it doesn't make any organization, or any team actually successful. They cannot be successful. They don't actually understand what everybody else is doing and how it fits all together at the right time.

Alex Cullimore: That's a perfect example. I remember experiencing that. You can see it on something like an improv team. The teams have to work together to be able to deliver something that is cohesive. You're constantly supporting the scene, if not supporting each other. You can have a scene where characters are fighting with each other, whatever, but that's part of the experience. The same is actually true for scripted plays. You can have a script and everybody's going to have to follow exactly the words that they've put down. That's part of the union contract when you're in a play. You do have to use the scripts that you've thought. You'd think that would create some box around this, but it still goes back to having to everybody is playing a part of the story. You're playing a part to get the whole experience across. It's not about you being the best actor. It's about you responding the best in the moment to make sure that you're serving what has to happen for the story. There's something much bigger and much more important, and everybody has to contribute, and they have to contribute well for it to be – to take off, for it to deliver all at once.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. There's so much less focus put, especially in organizations on understanding all the pieces and understanding how they connect to each other. The breakdowns rarely happen within the silos. Sometimes they do, but rarely do. Usually, breakdowns are due to not understanding the connection, not even thinking about the connection, not having any knowledge, whatsoever, about how it connects. We saw it in HR technology, where yes, you've got the payroll, you've got the benefits, and you've got the HR and you've got the finance piece, and you've got the reports. The only way that anybody gets a paycheck is if all those pieces connect it to their together work. It's not just about payroll. It's about the benefits being configured correctly, which is tied to the HR data being correct, which is tied to onboarding, which is tied to recruiting. Again, it only happens if everything works together. People really understand where the connections are, because that's when you can investigate and understand where the breakdowns were.

Alex Cullimore: That's exactly why we took just out of our vocabulary, and we've now trained ourselves to basically, just raises the hair on the back of your neck, or send me here. Somebody's like, “Yeah. Well, that's just this department. No, no. Well, hold on. Hold on one second.” There are very, very few things that could ever be largely isolated to one department. Even when the change happens in a department, well, now you've got to change departments, and it inevitably interacts with other things. What are the connection points? What else is contacting it there? This happens for software products. You're going to have all of the departments working together. Sales has to be talking about what the product actually can do. Marketing has to make sure it's the right people that are pulling in, and then the customer success team has to pull them onboard correctly, so they can actually use the platform, and the product team has to build it. All of these have to work as an orchestrated piece. That's why it's incredibly important to do it. It makes me think that we really incentivize the wrong things. We go into individual performance reviews. It's not that we shouldn't know how we're doing, but we actually don't evaluate teamwork on that front. We don't evaluate the whole – it would be interesting to see companies start to implement a company performance review. How are we working together? You can have a team of all all-stars. If they're not communicating, the balls drop. You might as well be at a school recital, or whatever Seth was saying at that high school performance.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's so true. It's like, it doesn't really matter that you have the best developers and the best UI and the best BAs. If they don't work together and they don't understand how the ecosystem works and where the connection pieces are – All right, you’ve got the best. You want a trophy, or a cookie for that? It’s not going to get you to the end of the line.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. It's like, every sport has an all-star game, where they bring people from all kinds of teams to play just like east versus west, whatever. It seems like that should be the most thrilling game of fear. First of all, they don't really want to try really hard and injure themselves for the rest of the season. Secondly, they don't train together. They don't work together. They've learned how to work under the team that they're on, with the coach that they're with, with the organization that they're a part of. They know those people. Getting that bond takes some time. You can't just be the best defenseman in the world, put on with the best offense in the world and have it be a perfect team.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, plenty of sports analogies and stories about that. It's really about the building of the team. It's about the in between, the parts between. How do you all connect to all that? Even if we think of a pyramid, of a leadership structure, the more we create these structures that are siloed, the more confusion we create, because now it's no longer peer talking to counterpart. It's like, “Oh, well. No. Now the bosses have to get involved. The bosses may not know all the details, and then their bosses have to get involved. It was those bosses that don't know the details,” because again, there's such a huge focus on the specialization is the value. I’m like, what if it isn't? What if every level and especially higher levels in the organization. It's more about being able to look across, being able to hear something, think of something and immediately go to, how does this impact everybody else? How does this fit in the harmony?

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. We don't really incentivize understanding that. We don't ask people to think about that. We trip over it. Then usually, department start just pointing fingers at each other. Like, “Well, they didn't pick it up.” Do you tell them? Did you call them? Did they know they were supposed to pick it up? Is that actually true they're supposed to pick it up? Is there nothing else that could have been done? One of my least favorite descriptions for people, because it's fairly dehumanizing is we're on the search for a T- shaped person, somebody who has breadth and depth. If wide breadth, then they have some specialization. If you think about an organization of that, if you're down at the bottom of a T, you got to come back all the way up, and then go reconnect that to whoever else is down at the bottom of their T. Whereas, we're not thinking about the connections.I mean, a company, it could just be one person, probably would be one person. We don't tend to expand beyond what we need to. We need that. We need other people. Since we do, we probably could do a much better job of incentivizing and understanding those connected pieces and making sure we're rewarding that behavior that needs to be rewarded. Making sure that leaders are keeping track of like, hey, was this dropped, because there's a gap between two teams? Does this feel like a silo issue? Lots of organizations will talk about silos and how they don't want them, and then immediately retreat back into, “This is my wall. This is where my responsibility ends.”

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's us versus them. I'm like, “No, there is no them.” The song only works if all of you work together, and all of you know each other's place. It's not The Beatles versus The Rolling Stones. It's the Beatles. It's your song. You want to make it work, or no?

Alex Cullimore: He goes and buys an album, they're like, “Well, the bass is really good in this, but the rest of the tracks are terrible, but I did appreciate this.” No, you buy the songs.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. I'm sure there are people that do that and albums that do that where, oh, yeah. But the whole thing falls apart, because you don't isolate the bass. You're never going to listen to a song 10,000 times because the rest of the song is completely off, but the bass, bass is – it’s like, okay, then just learn how to play the bass. Play the singular track, and that's it.

Alex Cullimore: This song is terrible, but I do listen to it for the bass.

Cristina Amigoni: Over and over and over. Yeah. My adventure to guess is that album was probably not very successful.

Alex Cullimore: What would you say, as far as like, ways people can look up? We were talking to Aaron Velky a couple of weeks back, and it's a great podcast. We definitely recommend checking that one out. He's talking about how he wanted his – he was coaching a soccer team, and he needed them to look up more and see the whole field. As what we're asking here, we’re tied on an organizational level, for people to look up and see the game that has been played, the full game, not just your place in it and the two people that are closest to you. What are ways you might just offhand think of, as far as incentivizing that vision?

Cristina Amigoni: A couple of things. One is, there definitely needs to be a place for the team to come together and get to know each other. There is a reason why sports players are together all the time. Incredible number of hours a day. They're not playing games. They're not playing in matches all the time. They don't just come together for the weekend match, or the Wednesday night match, or Monday night match, whenever they're playing. They actually play together all the time. They go to boot camps. They travel together. There's some of that is that when you have team activities, think about them horizontally, not vertically. Clearly, that vertical team needs it too, but it's not just that. That's not enough. Then I would say, the other piece is to put just as much effort in the individual expertise, as in understanding the whole picture. Who's understanding the whole picture? Who's looking at the whole picture? Is anybody looking at the whole picture? Is that supposed to be the CEO, over thousands of people of company? He probably does have the whole picture, but it's not going to help you deliver this technology solution next week. Who's looking at the whole picture? How can we get to the point where everybody's always thinking that? Think, nothing is ever just and nothing is ever in isolation. It's not just about developing this piece of code. That piece of code actually functions as part of a harmony. Do you know why it functions that way? Do you know what the impact is? If you don't, that's the education piece. Could you tell an eight-year-old how all the pieces come together from beginning to end, of idea to delivered solution? If you can't, that's the problem.

Alex Cullimore: That's an excellent litmus test. What does your onboarding look like? Can people understand how you function as a company in a half to full day session? Can they understand at least at high level what pieces connect? Because if you have nobody who has done the work to round all of those out, figure out what that is and boil that into, here's what somebody who's coming in completely new would need to know, then you probably don't have a succinct enough message to get people to think of the full picture. Might be worth investing a little more time to know that – somebody knows that. Yeah, there's obviously varying levels of detail. You can have that 30,000-foot view and you can be very in the trenches on one specific project. It's not saying there's not room for those things. When you start working on larger projects, or just thinking about company objectives, you do have to understand the moving pieces.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. I think, what you answered earlier, too, is when you look at individual performance reviews, what about team performance? What if we stopped looking at individual performance reviews? Or, that was just a tiny little piece of a bigger team, performance review. Yeah, you're great, you're a genius at coding. Awesome. But helping us. You're getting a five, or whatever your numbering process is in your performance review, and getting promoted, doesn't really help the rest of the organization, or the company, or the team, or yourself, when we're not really tracking if you understand the ecosystem and how you fit in it.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. I had a tech leader early on in my career telling me that that was what he judged people's level of maturity on as far as being better developers, or better technologists was how much are you seeing the larger system? How much are you starting to see what connects to everything else? How much are you thinking about that, and then start to think about team health and starting to think about how, as you – is necessary to build up some skills earlier in your career, and you might be in a much more individual track, and people are giving you tasks, and you're just working on those tasks to understand what's happening. The more you do, the more that becomes habitual, and the easier it is to start pulling your head up and start to see the larger picture. Then that is what becomes more valuable as you move on is that global view. What can you see that other people are either ignoring, or will end up tripping you later?

Cristina Amigoni: Well, and like Aaron mentioned, when you're on the soccer field, think about that. It's like, okay, I got the ball. Do I know where everybody else is and what everybody else would do if I pass it to them? If you don't, then you having the ball, all right, I’ll just sit down and draw on it. I don't know. You're not going to be able to help it, yourself, or anybody else. It's that distinction. It's not enough. The more we make it enough, the more we make it the measure of success is being a great engineer, being a great at this. Awesome. What are you going to do with that code? Wallpaper?

Alex Cullimore: It looks so nice. That's a great point. The metaphor they use all the time in business is, “Oh, they just threw it over the wall.” Which is to say, they dumped it in somebody else's lap and then walked away, which happens all the time. I think that wall metaphor is pretty accurate. You just throw it over. Like, “Yeah, I threw the ball over there.” Well, did you check if anybody received it? Do they know what to do with that? Is this anything?” No. Half the time, the answer is, “Well, I know. I didn't check. Just gave it to them.” Okay. Well, this may be a place the balls drops. I think that gives us an opportunity. Maybe it's time to have team evaluations. Evaluate yourself and your individual plan, and then evaluate how we're interacting with other teams. Get everybody to do that. How do you feel the team itself is working? Do you feel like their ball is dropped in communication? Give the team a score, and make everybody accountable for that being – I mean, make that part of your performance review. If the team is drags down, you can have a great score, but your average will be pulled down by the fact that the team wasn't functioning well, because it's much more representative of how the company is doing. Because once the company can have teams that are functioning well, they're going to be able to deliver on products, have better customer service, have more intake. Now you've got a successful company, at which point you can then turn that around back into rewards and raises and make that now your success is tied to the success of the company. Make the incentives match what you need incentivized.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, a 100%. Even when you've thought, when you think about the OKRs and the KPIs and all the three-letter acronyms of measuring, again, look at them from a team perspective. It's like, OKRs from an individual perspective, again, maybe 10% of what's needed. Maybe. Having whatever OKR stand for, outcomes and key indicators.

Alex Cullimore: Objectives and key results, or something.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, objectives and key results. Objectives and key results, you can get to results individually. Again, you could have the most beautiful code ever created. Unless you're using it for wallpaper in your house, and you don't connect it to the other pieces, and you don't understand how it connects, it's not going to do anything.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. I once heard that at an engineering school that was the gala. People want to go out and build the best car engine that has ever existed. You can build that, but the second you put that on the car, it then has to connect to the brakes and the transmission. Your incredibly efficient engine may be absolutely decimating the performance of some other pieces of the car that is equally crucial.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's all a harmony. What's the harmony? The harmony comes down to what's in between. The parts between. The geniuses.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. That goes back to, how well do your team? Then isn't a game of the title? I mean, like, oh, I just hand off X code. Once it's certified to be done, I hand it over to the, I don't know, project manager, or something, and they go run to the ball. Well, okay, that might have been true with the previous project manager. Now, you have a new one. Do they know that? Do they know how to plug that in? Do they know that's part of their responsibilities? Should that be part of their responsibilities? All of these are important questions to know and ask if you want to effectively work as a team. Often, I feel like, end up being dropped. It's hard to keep your head up, especially if you're asked, or rated only on the things that you're doing. You can deliver beautiful, individual tracks, and the second you put them over each other, oh, God.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. It's like one of those groups of people playing different instruments that are completely unsynced. It’s like, it hurts my ears, it hurts my brain. Go back into your corners. I guess, no, we're not going to have a song to settle then.

Alex Cullimore: I think, that's a part of parks and rec or something you're talking about. It's a radio station, and they're giving an interview or something and they start playing. We did a study, and we found out that our listeners love jazz, so they ended up playing two jazz songs over each other, and it's just this horrible discord. Just off a little cacophony. That's exactly it. You can have as many functioning pieces as you want. When they all need to be played at once, that's going to become a challenge. I think that's when people start to turn away, because it is difficult to coordinate all those pieces and it requires a lot of touching and circling back and making sure that you're keeping on top of like, okay, this person needs to know this is going to change. If you don't have anybody who's even trying to look at that, it's very easy to drop the ball between all the different areas it's going to have to touch.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah, understanding each other, the empathy is why is there a wall? If you're throwing stuff over a wall, the first question should be, why is there a wall? We can’t play soccer in the same team if there's a wall between us. Why is there a wall?

Alex Cullimore: Great question. What would you say as far as ways to take walls down? I love that team building one. I think, that's a great one that you do spend some time when you're doing teams in person. Think horizontal. Think about those social connections that will make that wall next to invisible.

Cristina Amigoni: I would say that taking the walls down is – it's a lot of empathy. There's a lot of core mindset as in thinking about, we're one team. There is no wall. In one team, there is no wall. Being that person that challenges, if there is a wall, why is there a wall? What can we do to take it down? Taking the responsibility, it's not just at the leadership level. The leadership has a big influence on them, but it's not just at the leadership level. Anybody can question a wall that exists and take it down. Then at the leadership level, that's when the safety really comes in. From a leader’s perspective, if something gets brought to you, and there's a wall, then challenge it. Instead of just accepting it, or taking it to the leader at your level and say, “Oh, we need this.” Then the whole T thing happens and all you're doing is being surrounded by walls and platforms that nobody jumps down from, because nobody wants to be in between the walls. Challenge it. Just as simple as, what if you picked up the phone and talk to so and so to find out what's going on and enable that? Sometimes there is fear. There is fear that they're going to ignore you. There's fear that there's going to cause conflict. There's fear that they're not allowed to. Enable that. Make it allowed. Expect it to be allowed. Do it over and over and over. I mean, it's the Geico commercials. It really is. It's not about telling the person once. You can just go talk to Alex. You don't have to come through me. It's about you saying that 45 times, until it doesn't happen again. If it's still happening, if they're still coming to you, you still need to say it, and you need to protect them. If there is a fallout with Alex's leader, then you need to say, “I will support whatever fallout may come,” and mean it.

Alex Cullimore: Yeah. Which means following through.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes.

Alex Cullimore: There is that fallout and you said you'd support it. Support it. Don't immediately shy away. That requires, true, some courage and whatever, whatever you need to get to, to get to that space. If you said it, you're now accountable to that. I think that accountability piece is incredibly important at leadership levels and below. If you are asking people to go talk to other departments, and they're getting met with the screaming match on the other side, then it's time to go defuse that, and that goes back to the idea of keeping a team score. That's a notch against the team. If I can't reach out without having an explosion in my face, that's pretty bad. I have a feeling if you let other teams evaluate how easy it is to talk to other teams, you'd find out the sore spots pretty quick.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. Sometimes, and actually, maybe not sometimes, but at the beginning, especially if the walls are really thick, then it does need to have some facilitation and some coordination. It's not as easy as they'd go talk to him, if there's a wall that's so thick that the fear stops and the conflict can arise so easily. It's like, okay, well, I can be the one that coordinates the two of you speaking. You know what? I can be the one that coordinates that two of you speaking 10 times over. After that, you know each other. You have my blessing. If you don't have the other leader’s blessing, I'll deal with that, but you two keep talking.

Alex Cullimore: That's a great one. It makes me think that this is an opportunity to use a bit of a coaching approach and that leads to some curiosity. Figure out why there's so much resistance they get. Absolutely common that in a lot of organizations. There’s just long-term bad blood. Just there's rumors, or it's just gotten out of hand, or people just have gotten so entrenched in not talking to each other. There's going to be some stuff to come over and that's okay. That's human nature. We'll find these things and entrench ourselves a little bit. It doesn't mean it has to stay that way, though. We have a chance to lead and be like, “Oh, why is it a problem if this person asks that? Why would it be a problem for this person to take that responsibility, even if it has traditionally been somewhere else? Why is probably the wrong to use, but what would happen if we did transition this? Would be a little more open-ended and easier for people to approach. There's a lot of power in that. A lot of being like, “Well, let's figure out what the real core is.” Because it's easy to have bad feelings. It's a lot harder to figure out what the constructive steps are to take them out, but hugely beneficial. You get all those pieces coming together, you can move.

Cristina Amigoni: You can definitely move. The car can actually run otherwise. Yeah, most beautiful engine on the world. Great. Put it in your China cabinet. Sell tickets for people to come and look at it.

Alex Cullimore: With a transmission that doesn't work. Fantastic.

Cristina Amigoni: Transmissions that can’t do keep up with the power of the engine.

Alex Cullimore: Well, the doors don't open, but the car is beautiful.

Cristina Amigoni: Doors. Who needs doors? We’re just here to create the most powerful engine. You don’t need doors.

Alex Cullimore: Also, a side note, if this beautiful engine has any collision, it explodes, but that's fine. That's maybe not what we're asking for.

Cristina Amigoni: Yeah. The doors are not my responsibility. It's on the other side of the wall. I’m like, “Right.” Let's talk to somebody who built a car with walls between the parts.

Alex Cullimore: That's, I think, the part that leaders really can own is exemplifying and showing the patience that that might take. The fact that it may take a little bit longer to touch base with a couple other places and make sure that things actually are in line. Yeah, it'll feel like it's slowing down, which is why running people to death on a random deadline you gave them is probably a bad idea. What if it can't be bet the same way? What if you need coordination with other departments? That's the uncomfortable friction of business in general. You need things delivered, and you want them delivered fast, and you want them delivered right. Those often come at loggerheads with each other. So, which one is more important long-term? If you are going to make a short-term move, it's also time to make a plan to fix the workaround you just threw in there.

Cristina Amigoni:  Exactly. That's our wisdom of the day. Take the walls down.

Alex Cullimore: Bringing down silos.

Cristina Amigoni: Bringing down silos. Our silo on Zoom. Two silos.

Alex Cullimore: Two connected silos. Well, thank you, everybody for listening. Come back next time.

Cristina Amigoni: Yes. Thank you for listening.

Cristina Amigoni: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo Podcast.

Alex Cullimore: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Laura, and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood.

Cristina Amigoni: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.

Alex Cullimore: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas, or questions. You can reach us at podcast@wearesiamo.com, or on our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. WeAreSiamo is spelled W-E-A-R-E-S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina Amigoni: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.