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On most projects, things will inevitably go wrong at some point or another. So who’s to blame, or rather, what’s to blame? This week Chris and Gina talk about accountability and how we learn and grow from our mistakes. They discuss how to discern where things went wrong without assigning blame. From addressing problems early on, to accepting apologies, they share tips on moving away from punishment and blame and towards accountability so you can build a stronger and higher functioning team. 


Couples Therapy


Gina Trapani: You know, if I had a list of all the things that I did wrong in my time at Postlight, this podcast would not be happening.

Chris LoSacco: (Laughs)

Gina: (Laughs) Truly.

Chris: Yeah, we would have very long lists.


Gina: Hi everybody, welcome to the Postlight podcast. I’m Gina Trapani, I am the CEO of Postlight, and as always I’m joined by my partner and the president of Postlight, Chris LoSacco. Hey Chris.

Chris: Hey, Gina. Good morning.

Gina: Good morning! How’re you doing today?

Chris: I’m doing great. I am excited to talk to you today about this topic.

Gina: We had a whole pregame for this episode before the episode…

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: And then we said “Let’s just turn this into an episode.”

Chris: Let’s record this! (Laughs)

Gina: Let’s just record this, yeah. Yeah.

Chris: We talk to each other so much that it’s hard to know, you know, when are we…

Gina: Yeah, when do we draw the line between…

Chris: When are we having a meeting versus doing a podcast episode?

Gina: Yeah! I mean… we were talking this morning about something that we’ve been working on at Postlight actually for a long time. And that is accountability.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: Like, when things go wrong at work or at a team or on a project, which they do…

Chris: I don’t, I don’t mean to interrupt here…

Gina: No! No, please.

Chris: Can we just take a second to sit there? Like… things go wrong.

Gina: Things go wrong.

Chris: And sometimes it just feels like people don’t expect that there’s gonna be curveballs that are thrown your way. I guess it’s a normal reaction. But it should not be a surprise that not everything is gonna go smoothly 100% of the time.

Gina: This is such an important… that’s right.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: The expectation should be that things are gonna go wrong. It should be a surprise when nothing goes wrong, right?

Chris: Right!

Gina: Because you’re dealing with human beings, and complicated projects, and relationships and business and capitalism and world events. All the things. There’s always gonna be something that goes wrong. So… it’s funny, ‘cause when you say things are gonna go wrong, there’s this immediate feeling of, like, “Oh, there was a failure and I’m a bad person…”

Chris: Right.

Gina: And it’s not that.

Chris: It’s not that. Right.

Gina: Things just go wrong. We expect that they’re going to go wrong.

Chris: Right.

Gina: What’s important, though, is how you react to the thing that went wrong and how you make it right. And how you avoid that particular thing going wrong in the future.

Chris: Mm-hmm. Yes.

Gina: And the only way that you can figure those two things out is say, “Why did this thing go wrong?” Like, who missed the mark?

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: What part of our process… you know, what part of our process missed the mark? What part of our approach missed the mark? What part of our team or members of the team… it’s funny, because I said to you this morning, I said there’s a difference between accountability and the blame game, right?

Chris: Exactly.

Gina: It’s not about pointing fingers and saying “Well, this person needed to do this, and that person…” You know? Because we’re in a work context, and these are difficult and tenuous times. And this isn’t about stringing someone up in the virtual town square…

Chris: Not at all!

Gina: …or putting a scarlet letter on someone’s chest, or saying “You failed and you’re bad at your job, you get an F.” It’s not about that. It’s about, how do we grow? How do we learn and grow? As an organization, as a team, as people. Right?

Chris: Yes. My son’s kindergarten teacher used to say, “I love mistakes because mistakes are an opportunity to learn something and get better.”

Gina: Yes. 

Chris: And it’s so true. And this is the idea behind, you know, growth mindset and all of these kinds of things, right?

Gina: Yes.

Chris: The idea that, yes, things are inevitably going to go bad. But you’re exactly right. It can’t be a finger-pointing game. And it also can’t be… you know, if someone does make a mistake and there’s an adverse impact on the team, we can’t feel like “Oh, we’re gonna villainize that person in order to…” I don’t know! Feel better about ourselves or whatever that is. We have to take it as a moment of banding together, and saying “Let’s have an honest look at this, at what went awry, and how we could prevent it as a team, as a group, and then move forward.”

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Especially in a professional context. Even just in your regular life. You’re gonna have to work with people and interact with people and, you know, be productive, even when you’re working with someone who… you know, there was a problem with. And the more you make it the personal attack, kind of, finger-pointing stuff, the harder it’s going to be to get on the other side of it. 

Gina: Mm-hm. Yes. Or the more you make it like, “I’m just helpless! This didn’t happen the way it should have happened, and this process isn’t set up well, and that client didn’t deliver on the thing, and you know what? I mean, what was I supposed to do?”

Chris: Right. This helpless feeling.

Gina: There’s like a little bit of helpless, like “The world happened to me and that led to my failure.” Or, my missing the mark. I’m not going to call it failure. It’s funny because, like, I mean, as leaders, a big part of our job is creating a culture and a dynamic and a space and relationships between team members, and relationships with our clients, where we can say “The way we approached this missed the mark.”

Chris: Right.

Gina: “Here’s why. Here’s how. Here’s what we’re doing to fix it, and thank you for giving me the chance to say, like, this is how we’re going to avoid this in the future.”

Chris: Yes.

Gina: That is a very vulnerable moment. It’s very vulnerable to say, like, “I messed up. If I could do this over again I would do it differently. I learned something from this.” And it’s very rare to hear an individual, in particular, say this. And we should talk about individual versus team dynamics, right? 

Chris: Absolutely.

Gina: ‘Cause there’s a diffusion of responsibility, I think, sometimes, that happens with a team. So no one is really accountable, but everybody’s accountable. You know? (Laughs)

Chris: Right.

Gina: There’s like that… If I’m in a performance review situation. I think people, well people worry about, of course, “I’m gonna look bad in front of my boss. I’m not gonna get that promotion that I wanted. I’m gonna get a ding on my review.”

Chris: Right.

Gina: “I’m gonna look bad,” right?

Chris: “I’m gonna look bad.”

Gina: “I’m gonna look bad.” And, you know, to me as a manager, if I have someone come in to their performance review and say, “In my self-assessment, I think that I have done just an absolute amazing job and everything has gone so right…”

Chris: “Let me read you the laundry list of my accomplishments…”

Gina: “Let me read…” And here’s the thing: I love the laundry list of accomplishments, ‘cause truly I want to celebrate accomplishments. But when it’s not coupled… (Laughs) with, “And, I… you know, there were a couple of real big learning moments for me along the way.” Like…

Chris: Exactly.

Gina: “Here’s where I’m weak and here are the muscles that I’m trying to build, and here’s how I’m trying to build them.” That to me is not a ding. That is, that to me signals self-awareness, maturity, growth mindset, a sense that I understand the path that I’m on and that I want to be on. Like, that is, to me, an A-plus. (Laughs) Absolutely. You know?

Chris: Yeah. Awareness is the right word.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: And you’re right that it is an extremely vulnerable place to be in, when you know that you have contributed, or you’ve done something that’s like “Well, that wasn’t great.” And you’ve contributed to things going off the rails. But even though… it’s maybe a little counterintuitive, because it feels like if you own up to it, then you’re going to alienate your teammates, you’re gonna push away your client, you’re gonna look bad, right, like you said. There’s all these nega… but actually what happens is, it could be an incredibly positive moment.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: It can be the team coming together, or the person realizing “Here’s how I improve on this in the future.” But the first step is, you have to acknowledge it and embrace it.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: And that is so hard for people to do. But I have the same reaction, like, when someone comes into their review and they say “Here are the things that I think are really going well, here’s the things that I… you know, that didn’t go well, and that I really still need to work on,” and even better, “Here’s how I’m working on them,” that is, like…

Gina: Ah. Gold.

Chris: Amazing. Yeah.

Gina: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Chris: But it’s this idea… I remember when, this was a while ago, but I remember, I think it was Etsy was really talking about the idea of, like, a blameless postmortem.

Gina: Mm.

Chris: So when something went wrong, the team would come together and they would talk very direct… like, openly and directly and bluntly about the things that led to whatever the problem was, right? The site went down, here are the steps that happened for the site to go down. But it was never about “Here’s what this person didn’t do,” or “We’re gonna make sure we all point the finger at, you know, Joe from DevOps or Susie from IT.”

Gina: Right.

Chris: It was, it’s not that. It is about getting to the objective truth so that you can improve on that objective truth without having to assign blame and hold someone responsible.

Gina: Right.

Chris: There’s a difference between accountability and punishment.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: And you want to hold people accountable without unnecessarily, you know…

Gina: Singling out, punishing, you know. Right. Making it personal.

Chris: Making it personal. That’s right.

Gina: Right. This is the thing that we did, this is the thing we could do differently. There is though, and particularly in the kinds of teams that we staff… so we staff cross-functional teams. You’ve got product manager, designer, engineer, all working together on a thing, and everyone shares responsibility for all the things. For testing… you know, engineers make sure the design is possible, designers make sure that the thing that is being built by the engineers actually meets their… everybody is kind of responsible for the whole experience.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: This is something that we’ve really hammered home with our teams, from the get-go. There are no silos, we don’t throw things over walls, we’re all responsible for the outcome. One of the things that’s hard, though, is that if something does go wrong – if we miss a deadline, if the thing isn’t at the level of quality that it should have been, if we mismanage expectations, the client expected to see one thing and we delivered another. There can be a sense of, like, you know, each person on the team points to the other people on the team and says “Well, this didn’t happen, design didn’t do this, product didn’t do this, engineering… And so then it affected my work.” And so there’s a diffusion of responsibility, a little bit.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: Whereas, because this is the thing: It’s usually not one person. It’s almost never one person on a team that… it’s usually a combination of things that miss the mark that lead to a big problem.

Chris: That’s right.

Gina: So responsibility and accountability actually is shared, but I always worry that individuals aren’t taking away, like, “I’m gonna look out for these things in the future and raise the flag a little sooner. Like, now that this happened to me I know something about something that could go wrong on a team that I didn’t know before, and now I’m gonna take this forward and learn from it, right?” There is kind of an individual growth moment when a team goes wrong. So I love the idea of a blameless postmortem, but I also think it’s really powerful for someone to say “You know what? My approach to this, I should have done better, I could have done better.” I feel like I want to make a list of all the things that I’ve done wrong. Like, I have…

Chris: (Laughs) Listen, all of us…

Gina: I have not listened carefully in meetings, I have…

Chris: That’s the thing! Right! All of our lists would be long.

Gina: I have shown up unprepared, I have been distracted, tired, hungry, I have not treated someone with as much empath… I mean, like, all the things. I’ve made all the mistakes! (Laughs)

Chris: Yes. Same. Same for me.

Gina: Yeah. Yeah.

Chris: Hopefully, when a team has a discussion like this, it does boil down to each individual taking something away for themselves.

Gina: Right.

Chris: Even if the thing they’re taking away is, like, “I need to be more supportive of this other person who’s really working on this area of growth.”

Gina: Yes. Right.

Chris: Like, okay, then that’s what you’re taking away. But a moment of growth for the team is a moment of growth for each individual on that team.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: And you have to be able to acknowledge that and internalize that, rather than saying “I can get off scott free because, you know, it’s really Johnny over there who was…”

Gina: His review…

Chris: There’s this, right. There’s this abdication of responsibility that’s not actually helpful, right? Yes, you want to get to the truth of the matter, but you also need to realize that human beings are complicated and when you’re working together, you’ve gotta…

Gina: Everybody plays a part.

Chris: Everybody plays a part.

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: That’s exactly right. That’s… it’s so funny. Like, we’ve talked on the podcast before about how we’re not dogmatic about an agile process, we don’t do strict scrum most of the time, we’re not… but I do think the idea of running a regular retrospective, this is where – I think part of where that comes from is that it should be a regular part of the team’s process that they talk about what can be better, right? What can… what issues do we have, and how can we resolve them so that we can put them behind us? Put them behind everyone, every individual? And I think the best teams figure out the right way to do that and the right cadence to do that…

Gina: Yes.

Chris: …so that they’re not ignoring these issues on a regular basis, but they’re also not waiting for them to escalate to a point where they have to say, it becomes an arguing match.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: About all the other people who are not doing things right.

Gina: Right. I wanna say just a bit about escalation, ‘cause often when problems… when, say, a client flare-up makes it to you and me, lots of things have gone…

Chris: That’s true.

Gina: …lots of little things have built up over time and it turned into a… I’m not a big sports fan, but the metaphor that I think of is like, you know, in baseball when it’s that fly ball, right? And you’ve got that outfielder that’s like “I got it, I got it, I got it!” And they’re like, running, running, running, running, and the other outfielders are right there and they give them space, and then it’s like “I don’t got it!”

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: (Laughing) And the ball drops, and it’s like… it’s a mess or whatever.

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: I think a big part of accountability and responsibility is, you know… we have a saying at Postlight, bad news shared early…

Chris: …is just news.

Gina: Is just news. It’s like, saying sooner rather than later, “I don’t got this. Like, I actually don’t got this.”

Chris: Right.

Gina: “I can see, like, I’m looking ahead in the future, and I really wanna say that I got this ‘cause everybody in this room wants to hear me say that I got this, but I’m pretty sure I don’t got this. So, like, is there another plan?” Ideally you don’t get to the place where there’s been a huge-flare-up and you’re doing the postmortem and the site has gone down and it’s, you know, everything sort of came together and mounted up for a big failure. But that’s something I think about a lot, is let’s raise our hand earlier, when it’s much less of a big deal.

Chris: Exactly. It’s a lot easier to address something when you’re like, “I just have an inkling about this, and I would rather get it resolved right now than when it becomes a five-alarm fire.”

Gina: That’s right. And we see this, you know, like… engineering is typically at the farther end of the build, like closer up to the deadline, right? So, like, if things happen upstream, often engineers kind of bear… you know, if things are late in the beginning of the process, often engineers bear the burden of that, right? And it’s like, “We missed a deadline because we overdesigned, or we mismanaged scope up front, but I didn’t see that coming and it turns out that the engineering work’s going to take a lot longer.” And there has to be like… the whole way, everyone’s gotta be like “I understand the scope, I see the design, I believe this is feasible, my estimates are realistic and not too optimistic, right?”

Chris: Yep.

Gina: But this is a constant work in progress.

Chris: It’s a work in progress. I also think, just addressing these things… even if it does build up a little bit and become a little bigger than ideally it should have been, you have to address them. You have to address them head-on and realize that you’re going to be better for it after the fact. And there’s a way to do this where it’s not… like, sometimes, because it’s uncomfortable, you can get into this place where “Well, I don’t know exactly how to bring this up so maybe I’ll talk to that person’s manager, or maybe I’ll talk to HR, or maybe I’ll talk to resource management and figure out how to get this…”

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: But ideally it’s, you go directly to the person, you say in as neutral a way as possible “Here’s an issue that I’m having and I want to work through it.” And if you can set the expectation up front, “The reason that I’m bringing this up is because X.” Right? Define the goal.

Gina: Right. Right.

Chris: “I want to clear the air and put this behind us, I want to resolve this issue so that we can work more smoothly, I want to identify a different way of working together because the way that we’re communicating right now is not working.”

Gina: Not working. Mhm.

Chris: Right. Set that up, and then have the discussion in a very frank way, and not in a finger-pointing way. In a goal-oriented, here’s what we want on the other side of this way. Because it’s not… it’s just like in personal relationships.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Oftentimes, it’s far better to think about where you want to be than to try to litigate who was right.

Gina: Yes!

Chris: Because who was right, in a lot of instances, doesn’t matter! What you want is the more productive, here’s where we’re gonna be once we’ve put this behind us. And then, once it’s behind you, it’s gotta be behind you.

Gina: This is key.

Chris: You can’t come back, right?

Gina: You can’t come back and say, “Oh, but you know, that time, remember that time?”

Chris: “Remember when your estimate was way off?” Like, that’s…

Gina: Right? It’s like “Whoa, whoa, we discussed it.” I want to go back to the point at which you’re leading up to this discussion. When things are stressful, things can get hot. Right?

Chris: Sure.

Gina: And folks are stressed, and things are going wrong, and they’re feeling defensive, and they’re feeling like “Was this my fault, and do I look bad, and was it their fault, and is the client going to fire us, and am I going to get fired?” People tend to, you know… and this is totally natural. Sometimes it shows up in ways that, you say things maybe in a harsher way, or you say things that you regret, or that you would have handled… sometimes people don’t show up as their best selves in a stressful situation.

Chris: Yeah!

Gina: That’s completely normal. 

Chris: Completely normal.

Gina: So sometimes these discussions are like, “Hey, you said this thing, and I didn’t feel good about that.”

Chris: Bothered me. Yeah.

Gina: “That’s not… it bothered me. That’s not how I want to work with my colleagues.” And then there’s a moment where you say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I came off that way.” Right?

Chris: Yes.

Gina: We have a part of our mission and values, it’s one of our values. We accept apologies. Like, I think… creating a culture where you say “I’m sorry I did that the way that I did that, that was not what I meant to do,” and for then the person to say “I accept your apology”… you can apologize and you accept the apology. Part of accepting an apology is now, that is resolved.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: That is behind us. You acknowledged, I accepted, and now we are moving forward. Right? It isn’t like, I can’t believe that guy said that thing to me six months ago, I’m gonna add this to my list of…

Chris: Grievances.

Gina: …reasons why, grievances. Right, like I’m gonna hold a grudge, and this is on my list of things, reasons why you’re not good. And when stuff comes up later, like when there’s been an apology and a discussion and a reset and move forward, and then things come up again, that’s always a red flag for me.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” (Laughs) 

Chris: Yes.

Gina: Because, you know, truly people change and grow. I believe that.

Chris: Me too.

Gina: You have to give people a second chance. Maybe not a third chance, but a second chance, at least. (Laughs) 

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: Right? So that putting… like, this is now in the past and we’re moving forward, I think, is really key. I always get worried when I hear about ancient history getting dug up after the reset conversation. That’s not…

Chris: That’s not good.

Gina: That’s not accountability.

Chris: Right. A high-functioning team doesn’t mean nothing goes wrong for that team. A high-functioning team is able to…

Gina: Recover. It’s how you recover.

Chris: Exactly. See the issues, deal with the issues and then move on and recover.

Gina: And then move on.

Chris: And then be better for it, frankly, a lot of the time.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: And that’s what we should be striving for, that’s the culture we’re trying to build here, and I think it’s something we all should be working towards, is resiliency when it comes to issues coming up interpersonally or externally, figuring out how to identify them, deal with them and move on. I think about the Amazon thing, “Disagree and commit.”

Gina: Mm.

Chris: Maybe one of the ways to move on is, you don’t actually get to a common… maybe you don’t have to actually win somebody else over, or they win you over. Sometimes the right answer is, we’re not going to agree on this and that’s okay, because we have trust, you know? As team members.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: And we’re going to decide on a solution and we’re going to disagree about it, but we’re going to commit to it.

Gina: We’re going to all row in that direction. Even though, like, this isn’t necessarily how I want to do it. I trust you and I’m with the team, I’m part of the team, so I’m gonna row. I’m gonna be rowing in that direction with you.

Chris: Exactly. And everybody agrees, if that direction turns out to be the wrong direction, there’s no finger pointing, there’s no I told you sos…

Gina: There’s no I told you sos…

Chris: No.

Gina: (Laughs) Right. Oh, the I told you so. No!

Chris: Right. You have to put that behind you, and say “Okay. This was the choice we made, it didn’t work, we’re gonna redirect and go in different directions.”

Gina: We’re gonna try something else. Yeah. That’s… (Laughs) That’s huge. Disagree and commit is a… you know, sometimes we have to say to our leader, sometimes there have been big decisions, and we’ve had leaders be like “I have doubts.” Okay, tell me about the doubts, let’s talk it through, here’s why. And it’s like, okay. Need you to disagree and commit here. Can you do that?

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: Right? And that “commit” piece means you give up the right to “I told you so”. (Laughs)

Chris: You give up the right to I told you sos.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: This happens between you and me. Luckily, we agree on 98% of the decisions that we’re making. But sometimes we disagree, and we have to just say “Okay.” Like, we’re gonna… you know, I think that’s one of the reasons why we work very well as a partnership, is because we’ve acknowledged that if one of us makes a call, even if the other one doesn’t… isn’t 100% on board, we’re gonna go in that direction, and if it works, Yahtzee, it worked. And if it doesn’t work, okay. We’re gonna figure out together how to pivot.

Gina: It’s funny. I mean, you’ve never said… if we’ve made a decision and it was the wrong decision, or I made a call and it was the wrong call, and we disagreed and we went my way, you’ve never said “I told you so.” But there have been times when I’ve been like “Wow!” Like I’ll rewind in my head, “We had this conversation, Chris disagreed for these reasons, he was right. That’s really interesting. I under-indexed on these things that he said, and he saw it and I didn’t.”

Chris: Right.

Gina: So that’s a growth moment for me, so it’s not like… but that growth moment doesn’t come from you being like “I told you so, I wanted to go the other way.”

Chris: Exactly. This is the…

Gina: That has to come from inside of me. Like, “He was right. We discussed this, and he was right.”

Chris: Right.

Gina: “And that’s interesting. What was it that he caught that I missed? Alright, next time I’m gonna make sure that I weigh these variables a little bit differently than I did.”

Chris: That’s exactly it. Because I feel like the reverse is true. There have been times when you are ahead of me. And I can picture coming to you and being like “Oh, I see now, you were three steps ahead and I just wasn’t there, and so we were… there was friction about it.” But then we ultimately get to the place, and I’m like “Oh, I was just… I needed to take a few more hops, and I hadn’t taken those hops.” But you’re absolutely right, that if my reaction was, you know…

Gina: “Told you so. Thought about it.” 

Chris: Right. Or “You should have pushed me,” or whatever it was…

Gina: “I can’t believe we wasted all this time and effort…”

Chris: Exactly.

Gina: “If you’d just listened to me…” Yeah.

Chris: Then I miss out. Then the opportunity that I have to say “Oh, this is something that I can watch out for, because…”

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: This business, there’s a lot of the same patterns, you know?

Gina: Yep.

Chris: And if you don’t learn and recognize when you’re, when that’s going to come up again, it’s a huge opportunity that you’ve squandered. 

Gina: Absolutely. The, “You’re ahead of me on this” or “I’m behind you on this,” that’s something we say to one another a lot, because you and I sometimes just spend more cycles on different things, right? And sometimes we have to catch one another up, and it’s like “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that!”

Chris: Right.

Gina: I think that’s important.

Chris: I think this is, I think it’s extremely important. I think it’s especially true for leaders, when you think about people who are running a group or even running a team, it’s often… you have to be fast-forwarding a little bit, and thinking about the future. And that can be tricky, right? And it can be tricky, then, to make sure you’ve got… say in a project team context, it can be tricky to make sure that you’ve got the whole team then oriented around, you know, your line of thinking that may be a month out, or three months out, or six months out.

Gina: There’s one other dark pattern that I’ve observed… (Laughs)

Chris: Hm.

Gina: …that I think is worth talking about. 

Chris: Okay.

Gina: Which is, when something goes wrong and there’s air that needs to be cleared, it’s important for that to happen as soon as possible, and then resolve it earlier, you know, the better. But as soon as possible. These are often hard conversations that people avoid. If you’re an avoider – I’m an avoider. I’m a people-pleaser and a bit of a conflict avoider.

Chris: Mhm. Me too.

Gina: It’s hard to force yourself to have these conversations. It’s so important, though, to have them soon, when all the things that have happened are fresh.

Chris: Yep.

Gina: Because here’s the dark pattern that I’ve observed. The thing happens. Folks kinda gloss it over, maybe there’s a couple individual conversations, the heat of the moment diffuses, it’s sort of in the past… and then months later, it pops up in another context and now you’re relitigating the details of a thing that happened months ago. Everyone’s memory of it is different. 

Chris: A little hazy.

Gina: Because bad stress, like, burns memories into your brain in a particular way. It’s kind of hazy. And then this litigation thing, it’s like… we’ve said that we don’t want to relitigate this thing that happened back here, you know? That is a very dark pattern.

Chris: You’re so right.

Gina: And then you’re arguing, “Well, this happened with that happened,” people looking up old emails, and “I got receipts, and this is actually what happened,” and now you’re just like…

Chris: Ugh!

Gina: It’s so funny, I’ve actually been watching this, there’s a Showtime series called Couples Therapy where it’s a therapist here in New York City, they’re real couples, they agree to have their sessions filmed. And one of her great… and she’s so good, this therapist.

Chris: Oh, that’s fascinating.

Gina: But you’ll see couples descend into this, like, tit for tat, “Well, no, on Saturday you said this, and no, you said you’d wake up early so we could go to brunch, but that hasn’t happened in like six months.” It’s like, “What do you mean? We did that last week…”

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: And they start litigating these, like, details of things that happened. And this therapist, Orna, who’s… I love. My therapist love.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: She’ll say, “Let’s pause. This is not productive. I can tell you, I’ve been doing this for a very long time, I’ve been helping couples for a very long time, and I can tell you that litigating the details of what happened or didn’t happen actually is not productive and not a good use of our time. Let’s talk about how you’re feeling about where things are, and where those feelings are coming from.”

Chris: Oh. I love this. Yah!

Gina: Oh! Love this, love this person. Anyway. (Laughs) We’ll link it in the show notes. But that relitigation of the details of what happened and what they meant months later, oh, it’s such a waste of time.

Chris: It’s a waste!

Gina: And whenever I see a team going down that road, I just, I see… you know, the typical CEO thing. I just see money and time getting wasted.

Chris: Right. Burned up.

Gina: Like, this is… (Laughs) Burned up. Right, right, right, right.

Chris: Because what is the best-case scenario? Like, you list all the things and then the other person is like “Well, I guess you’re right. The evidence has been presented, and…”

Gina: The evidence has been presented and the jury has their verdict. (Laughs) Right.

Chris: And now we can move forward productively. It… that has never happened once in human history.

Gina: Literally never. (Laughs) 

Chris: It just doesn’t work like that. Even though… you know, I’m guilty of this too. I have absolutely done this, where I’m like “But what about buh-buh-buh-buh.” And I do the bolded list.

Gina: “That time, and…” Yes. (Laughs)

Chris: But I love that therapist moment, where it’s like “Hold on, let’s not even go down this path.” Right? 

Gina: Right. “Let’s not break out the calendars and see the last time you took her out for brunch.” That’s not what the issue is right now.

Chris: That’s not what the issue is. Right. 

Gina: Accountability is tough! 

Chris: Accountability is tough. 

Gina: Creating this culture is very hard, right? It has to be a safe space, it has to be an expectation, like, if you screw up you’re going to apologize, then you’re going to accept it and we’re going to move forward. We tell each other, we give each other direct feedback early. We move and grow together, this isn’t who gets the trophy versus who gets the scarlet letter. That’s not this game that we’re playing. We’re all here to learn and grow and help our clients and work together productively.

Chris: Right.

Gina: That’s a tough environment to create, especially, I have to say, in a remote context it’s harder. Right?

Chris: It’s absolutely harder. You can’t build relationships… especially, for teams that have gotten the chance to spend some in-person time together and built those relationships it’s a lot easier, but it’s very hard to build those relationships from scratch when you’re looking at boxes on screens. It’s just, it’s one of those things that has been a struggle, frankly, as we’ve all adapted to living in Zoom.

Gina: I mean, you and I have, we a really healthy dynamic in this sense. Not because we’re more evolved human beings. We’ve worked together for a long time.

Chris: It’s true.

Gina: Like, we’ve built trust and credibility over time, and I know that when some… you know, when you’re off for a day I can tell that you’re off. That’s not where you’re usually at, and I’m like “Oh, something must be going on.” Like, and that is a thing that builds over time, right? So you have a new team member, a new client, you know, we have the movie model where different groups of teams come together…

Chris: Come together, yep.

Gina: Folks haven’t worked together before, and you have to establish that trust and that psychological safety to be like “I didn’t realize this was the expectation, I didn’t do this, I’m going to do it going forward, my bad, let’s move on.” That’s a big deal.

Chris: Right. Right. Hopefully what people are taking away from this, right? This is not anti-accountability. We want… teams and team members do need to be held accountable for their roles, and we do want to get to the truth of things…

Gina: Right.

Chris: So that we can identify our mistakes and learn from them and make sure that they get better in the future. Like, those are all very positive things. But don’t play the blame game. 

Gina: Right, that’s it.

Chris: And if you see your team finger-pointing, you gotta stop it and redirect it into something that’s gonna be more productive.

Gina: That’s right. Absolutely. I feel so much better now that we talked about this.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: Thanks for doing this episode with me. (Laughs)

Chris: It’s just, it’s… it’s great. Maybe there’s someone listening to this who feels like they’re dealing with finger-pointing. 

Gina: “I see this dynamic on my team, we spend our time trying to figure out who’s bad at their job versus how to solve this problem.” Oh gosh, we love this stuff.

Chris: We do.

Gina: We want to hear that story. We want to hear from you.

Chris: And we want to help you make it better. We will get in the room with you and say, “Let’s not do it this way anymore. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

Gina: Right. That’s right.

Chris: We can get to a better… not only a better process, but a better working dynamic, so that things feel better day to day and a lot more software gets shipped.

Gina: If you’d love to talk to us about this, please send us a note. Chris and I read every note that comes through, we love hearing folks that are dealing with these kinds of problems, of team culture and working well together and building software in a modern way. We love this stuff. Get in touch, And thanks for listening. Thanks, Chris. I feel so much better now, like I’m a whole new Zen mindset for the rest of the day. So just thank you. Thank you for this.

Chris: (Laughs) You’re welcome, and thank you.

Gina: Time to get back to work. (Laughs)

Chris: Alright, bye.