Welcome to Uncommon Leadership today.
I’m Michael Hunter, with Uncommon Teams.
Today I’m talking with Louise Perold.
Louise has been leading teams for several decades, first in South Africa, and now in Portugal.
She’s been focused on quality throughout, including co-organizing a testing conference in South Africa for a number of years, and she’s currently serving on the board of the Association for Software Testing.
She readily says that she’s made plenty of mistakes along the way. The Problem Solving Leadership workshop helped her understand herself better, and that better understanding has been key in her journey as a leader.
My personal experience learning from Louise at many a testing conference has me greatly looking forward to our conversation today.
Louise Perold 1:01
Thank you. Thanks so much.
As you reflect over your journey to seeing people’s people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, what has had the biggest impact so far?
A lot of things, probably in chain reaction with each other or building on top of each other.
Going back to Problem Solving Leadership, that was certainly something that was transformative for me, not only in how I see myself, but also in learning about how to observe a system and the difference between our observations and our judgments about those observations. And how to separate those two things a little bit more.
Specifically, Johanna and Esther’s book Behind Closed Doors really helped me to learn the power of a one-on-one. Especially if you think about it with a format in mind, and think about it with a goal of not only looking at how is the person doing with the last piece of work or if the plans for the future work, but also just building a relationship with that person. Starting to understand some of their life, and what may or may not be affecting work, and also their hopes and dreams for the future, where they really see their career going. And how you can perhaps spot opportunities or see how, within an organization, you could help facilitate some of those things.
That’s maybe the first book I read that really showed people bringing our whole selves into work and how to facilitate that from both sides.
I have always thought that one of the big mistakes I have made is that I used to have a daily meeting with the team.
I felt, initially, that would be sufficient for us to all get to know each other.
It was definitely a first.
There was a focus about building a relationship as a team and understanding what people were perhaps challenged with, then where they could ask for help and share knowledge, and we could grow as a team.
I hadn’t thought enough about the individual. A space for me and the individual to also connect that was outside of the team. Where people might share completely different things.
You get to know a different side of somebody on a one-on-one basis than you do within a team.
Just realizing, “Oh wait. I probably need to do this as well.”
Starting that journey was really important for me.
Are you generally more comfortable bringing up aspects of your personal self in a group meeting, or are you more on the side of those who are not so comfortable doing that?
It depends on the group, and it depends on where we are as a team.
I think it takes time for me to share personal aspects about myself in a group for sure.
But, often with the teams that I have led, I certainly get to that place.
Are there particular tools that you have found to help foster that sense of willingness to share who we are in a group setting?
A friend of mine, Danie Roux, has a wonderful workshop that he does with teams.
It also depends on the stage at which the team is at.
Having something where you come together as a team and really talk a little bit about, “What do we value?”
Getting towards your team agreement, or how do you want to work as a team is an opportunity to start to talk a little bit more about yourselves as humans.
Something that he did with us was to share a timeline of our career events.
In that timeline, talking about your career, you inevitably end up touching on some other parts.
It’s an opportunity to ask questions and for people to get to know each other better.
That’s one example. There’s lots of those kinds of things that you can do as a team to get to know each other better.
Remote has made some of these things a little bit more challenging.
When you’re in a room sitting there, there’s a different feeling of connection.
It can be more challenging, needing to make that more explicit.
I’ve been finding that for some people, being remote actually makes that easier.
They have more energetic distance between themselves and everyone else.
Having the people that you’re telling what your favorite food is, or what you did for leisure last night, or whatever the icebreaker is, right next to you, for some people makes it a lot harder to be even that sort of socially acceptable level of intimacy.
Where if you’re on the other side of the screen, even with the same people that you were sitting next to you before a pandemic. It gives people enough energetic distance that they’re able to open up a little more.
Also, for some people, it’s being in a space that’s more comfortable for them, that they have more customized and maybe they’re able to do at work, or certainly some random conference room, in the building, gives them more of a sense of who they are and groundedness to be able to do that level of sharing.
I’ve relied a lot on body language in facilitating a session, or to observe what was going on.
That can also be a double-edged sword. Because what you’re observing might not necessarily be what you think it is.
In remote facilitation, it’s definitely been an adjustment for me to try to find other ways to understand what maybe is happening for a person in a particular facilitated discussion, or to talk in one this workshop-type situations.
What are some of those other ways that you’ve been exploring?
I can’t say I’ve been particularly good at it actually.
Say that you succeeded at, what have you tried, and what have you found that works with those?
I’ve tried to be vulnerable in myself. Present a vulnerable self in the hope that that will also help people to be a bit more comfortable.
I use some humor where I can, usually in a self-deprecating way.
I don’t think I’ve got that figured out for sure.
When people are in a meeting with the camera off, it’s just really hard to know what’s happening for someone.
Yeah, it is. That’s a tough balance.
As facilitators, we want to have as much information as we can have on what each person is experiencing.
For other people on the team, they want to see, to have as much interaction as they can with each other person, to really feel that there’s someone there on the other side of that screen.
And yet, for some of us, we just aren’t comfortable showing our background, even if it’s blurred out, or just being on screen for whatever reason.
Finding that balance where we can help everyone get enough of what we need without having to stretch too far out of our comfort zone is a really great way to start that conversation of, “Here’s where I’m comfortable. Here’s where you’re comfortable. There’s a space in the middle where, if we don’t meet, how far out of where we are each comfortable do we want to go to work together better.”
This is a really tangible example for a lot of people now that we didn’t have before.
Then, getting into more things like “Well, I really need time to think” versus “I need to talk in order to think” is maybe not as obvious as “Camera on or off?” Even if that seems a really obvious, “I just talk and talk and talk, and you never talk.”
I like this idea.
Even talking about it is a good way to surface the needs of people.
It can work out to be a really nice way to start being vulnerable with each other.
If we’re able to say, “I just don’t really want my camera on,” without even having to say anything more.
We’re also able to say, others of us, “I really want to see your face so I know that you’re there. It’s not just 18 black rectangles on the screen that I’m looking at,” can be enough to then open things up a little bit more, and a little bit more, a little bit more.
If this is something that you’re struggling with now, is there a struggle in your past, as you’ve been on this journey, that really transformed the way you’re approaching this work?
In my youth, I really tried to control a lot of things.
Thinking that, not necessarily overtly that I knew best, but that I had a good way of seeing what was going on. And that in order to create a system where everybody could do their best work, I needed to control a lot of things.
Hopefully, I have somewhat let go of that.
But it’s a journey, right?
So we try to let things emerge.
There’s certain things that I think are really important. And I use those things to hopefully then allow for the natural emerging of other things to take place.
As examples: having one-on-ones, and having thinks with the team on a regular basis on the way that we as a team collaborate and do work.
There’s elements of that that I’ve tried to put in place. And then we can experiment around those things.
Certainly, I hope that I’m a lot less pedantic about certain things.
In other words, if before you were putting out a metaphorical obstacle course, and making everyone run through it in a particular way at a particular cadence yelling particular things, now you’re putting out structures that you find often are helpful, and then letting the team sort of wend their own way through that and discover over time which things are helpful, which aren’t, and which need to be adjusted, or tossed out, or any other things brought in.
Also, I’ve become a lot less attached to my ideas of what I think somebody would be good at or should be doing. If something sparks an interest and that is the direction, then we’ll try to go there as much as possible. But not try to control that.
How do you handle cases where something needs to get done and no one has an interest? And the obverse to that, where someone has an interest that doesn’t fit with the team needs right then?
Where it’s something that just needs to get done, there’s ways to find joy in a lot of things that we maybe don’t actually think are joyful in the beginning.
One of them for me is just collaborating on it. Pairing or ensembling on something.
Especially if it’s challenging in any way. Might be challenging in a boring way or challenging.
I’ve found just not being alone when doing some bad stuff is really helpful.
The interest in something that’s maybe not what we need right now…I’m trying to think the last time that really happened.
So much of what we’re interested in, especially in the quality space, if it’s not exactly that thing, there’s probably an opportunity for a slight deviation. Try to align it to the work that we’re all doing. So often there’s an opportunity to do that.
A real passion or interest from someone in a particular area is a gift. We should try to figure out how to make it work in the context that we have.
Which kind of fits back into the first part of your answer: that whatever we’re interested in, there’s always a way to apply that to whatever needs doing.
And the more we understand who we are, what we’re interested in, the more we can find ways to apply that to what needs to happen, and the happier we all are. Because if we could all the time be doing things that light us up that would be amazing.
We may not be fully lit up. But, there’s always a spark that can be built up into a pretty good sized flame, usually.
Even if, at first glance, it seems to be just a total douser.
I agree with you wholeheartedly.
So, these are how some of your struggles over time have helped move your journey along. Have there been any particular successes that also have helped propel you on your journey?
The feeling of the team that is bonded and doing good work together definitely is something that I crave and want.
That’s probably a strange thing to say for feeling.
I don’t know how to describe it. As I know when I have it.
When you say successes, it’s difficult because I’ve been on great teams where I felt like we were doing great work and perhaps the business changed. Or, at one stage of it, they completely changed strategy and outsourced all the work that we were doing to another party.
So sometimes, while you may feel like you have this great group, performing, successful team, the context can shift and you may feel like, “Well, were we that successful if people didn’t really notice or think it was valuable enough? Or is it just completely, a left-field business decision that no one really even knew?”
So that’s definitely also something I struggle with still.
I keep trying to think of words and then they’re all like, how to help people, how does one present this in a way or show it’s demonstrated in a way that it is recognized?
That’s a difficult thing for me.
I don’t know what your experience has been like.
Of showing the value of this people-first approach?
Yes, I have some struggles as well from both sides. Both, explaining why a team is working really well, doing this in a way that makes sense to people who this is not something they really considered or really understand.
And also from the other direction of, “Why would I even start doing this? It’s always squishy people stuff. That’s not what business is. Business is supposed to be logical. Objective. Focused on the key indicators. Data-driven. This is all squishy. I don’t know how to walk in this squishy stuff.”
I try to bring it around to:
What do you want to do?
What are you trying to get done?
What is your goal for your company for this team for the organization?
What are the struggles you’re having in making that happen?
What have you been trying that apparently isn’t working, and what have you been trying that is working but maybe isn’t having as much of an impact as you want.
Then, sort of extrapolate from there.
Oftentimes, what people are doing is, they’re bringing in parts of the squishy people stuff but not realizing that’s what they’re doing.
If I can show the thread of how what they’re doing lines up with this approach.
Especially, going back to examples in their past where they were super excited, and how much difference that made in their motivation and ability to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish.
Then, extrapolating to if their whole team was working that way.
That’s often a way to start.
I like that idea.
They’re trying to tie it back to the goals of the organization and how, as you say, reflecting on what people are trying, what is working, what isn’t working.
But, I’ve also seen that there can be a tendency to think, “Okay, well, it should be a simple solution to this problem. The simple solution is, do this instead of doing that.”
Versus what’s important to me is understanding the system and how it interacts and what behaviors come out of that system.
What seems to be simple, often isn’t.
We’re just not seeing, or intentionally ignoring, all the complicated bits.
And, what seems complicated oftentimes is actually simple. If we look at it in the right way.
It’s like when we’re learning how to drive a car.
Cars are really complex.
But, in order to drive one, all we really have to know is: Steering goes right and left. Brake and gas pedal, how to work those. And then, how to get in and out of gear.
All the details of how the engine actually works and of all the magic that happens between pressing the gas pedal and actually going faster, those are details that don’t matter for driving.
If you’re a race car driver, some of those details matter more, other details matter even less.
The same is true in business.
All this squishy people stuff can seem really complex.
But, we don’t need to know all of it upfront.
And, as we become more capable with one aspect of it, then it becomes automatic. The way that all of the parts of driving a car become automatic.
Then we can focus on learning another piece, and another piece, another piece.
I like that analogy. Thanks
Louise, this is being a lovely conversation today. What else should I ask you?
You could ask me about wine. But, then we won’t stop talking.
So, yes. Then I don’t think I have anything else you can you should ask me.
What would you like to leave our audience with today?
If you aren’t doing any one-on-ones with your team, if you are like me in my youth and thought that just having the team focuses enough, I would encourage you to experiment and try it. In Behind Closed Doors is a great format for that.
I’ll include a link to that book in the show notes.
Cool. I forgot to put that list of links.
What’s the best way for people to connect with you?
I’ll have those links in the show notes as well.
Any last, last words?
Thank you, Michael. Great to talk to you again.
You’re welcome. Thanks for being here.
And audience: Thank you so much for joining us today.
If you’d like to have more conversations like these, uncommonteams.com has everything that I’ve posted so far.
Thank you so much!
Have a great day.
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Thanks so much!
- Behind Closed Doors, by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby.
- Nonviolent Communication (NVC): Studying NVC is a lifelong journey I think – these are some free references to know a bit more.
- Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think had a big impact on me especially because it is something I truly relate to. This site also has some more info and neat summaries.
- Problem Solving Leadership workshop