Jim Benson on The Collaboration Equation, His New Book


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My guest for Episode #463 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Jim Benson, the CEO of Modus Cooperandi, and co-founder of Modus Institute.

He was previously a guest on Episodes 155 and 401. He was also a guest on Lean Whiskey #25 with me and Jamie Flinchbaugh (and #31), and was guest #4 on My Favorite Mistake.

A pioneer in applying Lean and Kanban to knowledge

work, Jim is the creator of Personal Kanban and is co-author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life, winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award. His other books include Why Plans Fail, Why Limit WIP, and Beyond Agile.

His latest book is The Collaboration Equation: Strong Professionals, Strong Teams, Strong Delivery.

Today, we discuss topics and questions including:

  • How do you define collaboration? 
  • As an angry punk rocker? Parallels to startup software companies??
  • The balance between “every building/patient is unique “vs. having knowledge/structure/process??
  • Standard work for encountering complexity
  • When a major problem gets solved and nobody ends up in tears – From lawsuits, yelling, and strife — to collaborative problem solving? How?
  • Culture as it exists… culture as we are creating…??
  • Team deciding the culture vs. the CEO or leader having a vision of what the culture should be?
  • What the CEO says vs. what is the reality?
  • Value Stream Mapping as a “ruse”… a way to uncover team breakdown problems
  • Flapping our mouths vs. information about what's really happening??
  • Get comfortable with change happening every day
  • Be hard on the process, not the people? But the system is made of people…
  • The FEELING of being respected
  • Fear as a cause of problems — “Every real collaboration has psychological safety”
  • What have you learned about PS, how to gauge it, and how to create it?
  • “You can't go buy a box of psychological safety”
  • An NBA superteam… how would YOU lead them?
  • Getting over your damn self
  • The power of team members who are more likely to talk about others than themselves
  • “Do you feel heard…” — or are you actually heard?
  • What readers would get the most out of this book?

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Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (1s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. Visit our website www.leanblog.org. Now, here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (13s):
Well, hi everybody. Welcome to the podcast. This is Mark Graban. It is episode 463 for November 16th, 2022. We're joined today by Jim Benson. We are talking about his most recent book, The Collaboration Equation, Strong Professionals, Strong Teams, Strong Delivery. And when I say talking about the book, I mean, it's, it was the, the reason to have the conversation. I mean, we, we, it's conversation inspired by the book. How's that? As, as Jim and I often do, we have really freewheeling conversation. Jim has a lot of really insightful things to say, and I think you'll enjoy the discussion about leadership and culture and teamwork and collaboration and what it takes to really build that in an organization of any type.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (55s):
So if you would like a link to the book and more information about Jim and his work, you can go to leanblog.org/4 63 or take a look in the show notes if you're listening in a podcast app. Well, hi everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. We are joined by a returning guest today, our pal, Jim Benson, who was previously a guest on episodes 155 and 401. He was a guest for episode number four of My Favorite Mistake and episode 25 of the Lean Whiskey Podcast with me and Jamie. So, Jim, even with all, even with all of that, welcome back. We're gonna talk again. Thank you.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1m 35s):
Was that really only on one Lean Whiskey? I think so. It could be my mistake. Speaking of mistakes, could we do it twice? I'd have to go. People can Google that. I guess they can Google that. Jim and I, we, we, we talk a lot and we ran the risk of, as I said to him before we start, started recording, if I don't hit start record, we're gonna not end up with an episode. So yeah, here we are. We will have another opposode. An episode. What is that? An opposite episode would be like in we, we talk about the opposite of what we believe it could be, or it could be kind of what, like what any of those counterpoint shows are on CNN that could be an opposite, where they're to each other.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (2m 22s):
What do they tell, say, you know, you don't understand your side of the debate if you can't articulate your opponent's side. So we'll do an episode someday about like, you know, why you shouldn't Limit WIP. And I cannot today. But Jim is, I hopefully we'll stop goofing around and I will stop getting words mixed up here. Jim is, and I'm not gonna just say you can Google him as we were talking about, but Jim is a pioneer in applying Lean and Kanban to knowledge work. He is the creator of Personal Kanban is a co-author of a book with that title, Personal Kanban: Mapping Work Navigating Life, which is a winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (3m 4s):
Jim's other books include Why Plans Fail, Why Limit WIP, and Beyond Agile. He's the CEO of Modus Cooperandi and the, the co-founder of Modus Institute. I got through most of that. Okay. Including Modus Cooperandi, you, you did that. That puts you in an august company. But we're gonna talk today, I think, well, this is the intent. We're gonna talk about all kinds of things, but Jim's newest book, I'm gonna hold it up for those who are watching on YouTube, it is titled The Collaboration Equation. Strong Professionals. Strong Teams, Strong Delivery. So you've been, you've been hit in the gym, bench pressing the Post-it notes.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (3m 53s):
How much does a giant Yeah, we can figure that out sometime, a giant stack of Post-It notes, how much that would weigh. But we are asking, you know, so we're gonna, let me, let me quick goof around and, and get into, you know, the, the serious, serious topics of, of the book here. But we're, we're gonna have fun as we talk about this, the collaboration equation. So, I mean, let's, let's unpack some of the, the phrases and the title here. I mean, how, how do you define, how have you come to understand collaboration? It's a word we all know, but what, what does it really mean, right? Collaboration is a word like culture that we kick around a lot and that no one actually says, How do we do that?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (4m 34s):
Like, systematically, how, how do we do that? And the way I approach it in the book is I go all the way back to high school when I was an angry punk rocker, and I start looking at like, what did collaboration mean then? And then how did, how did I see that as as as I went forward through, through all these careers that I've had? And what I realized was where teams worked really well, they had a culture that underwrote continuous improvement, that underwrote respect for a people that underwrote all of those things that we talk about in lean, but don't actually provide a structure for.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (5m 15s):
But these groups actually had created a structure. So this book is about that. Like how do we, how do we have a flexible learning environment that is predictable that lets us know how to act and when to act? So I I I have to ask about the angry punk rocker days. I mean, what is the culture of a successful punk rock band similar to a software company in terms of some of the things you're describing? Is there a culture of continuous improvement, for example? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because you, you know, let's just say that you're like, we were, you're a bunch of kids in the middle of Nebraska and all of a sudden you decide, okay, we are now ama or, or, or the boat people or any of the bands that we called ourselves.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (6m 1s):
We're now this band, What do we do? Well, we have to create a product. So that means that you have to learn the production of the product, play, play instruments, write songs, be able to record them, be able to make tapes or albums. Then you need to learn distribution. Because we were in Grand Island, Nebraska, it's not like we had, you know, we couldn't go to CBGB's. We, we like had to invent a global distribution system for that. And in order to do that, we had to like say, Okay, so how do we talk to somebody with no internet? Cause there wasn't an internet in 1980, you know, just wasn't, how do we talk to somebody in Paris and, and get them tapes and stuff?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (6m 44s):
How do we trade those? And so we, we found all of these networks and we, we learned like crazy. And if you go now and you read any of the books out there by any of the aging punks, none of them say me, me, me, me, me. They all say, this is how we did these things. And the way that most punks toured is they would go to towns and sleep on the floors of other punks. It wasn't like you went and stayed at the Ritz or the, you know, you, you, you literally were sleeping on other people's floors, for better or for worse.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (7m 24s):
Bob, Bob Mod has great stories about what it was like doing doing all that stuff. So then, and, and maybe this happens in the evolution of, let's say a software start-up company. When the environment changes, how much does that change the culture? So if you're the, the punk band that hits a big, and you now are staying at the Ritz, are, are you still punk? Can a startup software company that gets big still be like a startup, or you just now are you being posers? Yep. And there, and there's a lot of, a lot of worry that happens about that, that actually in the Gary Oldman's character in, you know, he played Sid Vicious and they're playing in, in, in euro old home state of Texas.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (8m 16s):
He's, you know, just broken up with Nancy, apparently over the phone, and he's freaking out. And so he's like, Well, I'm gonna be a rockstar. And so he goes off and tries to do all these rockstar things. It it definitely, you know, as you go forward, just like in a startup and a startup, you start off with a couple of people in a, in a basement trying to get an idea across. Then all of a sudden someone walks up and says, Oh, that's good enough for a couple million dollars. And then you're like, Oh, got a couple million dollars. Now I'm gonna go buy a Tesla and I'm gonna, you know, buy another Tesla different, one different color for a different day of the week. When you're charging the one you drive the other that Yeah, that's, that's right.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (8m 56s):
That's, it's a two bin kanban system for electric propulsion charge, I guess. But, but it's, it's, the funny thing about it was like, and most of this book is about the startups that I was working with while writing the book, which was in construction. And those startups were funded to the tune of billions of dollars, and they were building hospitals and skyscrapers and stuff in New York. But every new construction project is a startup. You have a new product that's usually never been built before. Like almost every new building is unique in some way, unless you're just going out and buying kit houses, building kit houses or something.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (9m 42s):
So you have all of these unique elements. You have a unique owner, you have unique designers, you have a whole bunch of new, It's, it is amazing how at Turner Construction, every job site that you go to is fundamentally different culturally, it has an underlying culture of Turner, which is like, of this relentless professionalism and a desire to solve problems. But above that, like the, every every job site feels different. Well, it is, I mean, there, there, there's this balance or conundrum in healthcare. I mean, I've heard people say if they want a pooh pooh process, they'll say, well, every patient is unique. Like, all right, sure.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (10m 22s):
But we're, we're all the same species. Like, I mean, there's, how do you find this balance between, I mean, this building's unique, but it's not the first time you've built a building. Certainly, hopefully you are leveraging past learning of how to do it safely in a way that we hope healthcare would be learning from as well. How, how do you find that balance then? And, and that's the tough thing because people are either, they're either gonna go in one of two directions, either the everything's standard work, shut up and leave me alone. I've done this before. Or they're gonna go in the, Oh, everything's a unique delicate flower. And it's like, No, what life is, is it, is us making plans. And those plans have either known or unknown complexities in them, and then we hit them and they blow up our standard work.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (11m 9s):
So I do initially is set up standard work that says, this is what we do. If we encounter complexity, we don't bury it, we don't run away from it, we don't hide it, We don't try and blame other people for it, but we, you know, car the complexity and, and you go off and you say, Okay, we're, when we find a problem, you know, you must whip it. You know, So WIP or W H I P whip, either, either in both. That's why the song goes on so long with, with the question mark. So, so the frustrating thing is that most large projects or projects at all, sink because they hit complexity and people refuse to deal with it.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (11m 53s):
It, and or they just say, you know, Oh, I just do whatever. And then they don't have enough standard work to give themselves the head space to be able to deal with true complexity when it arises. So it sounds like the answer is always somewhere in the middle, not at one extreme or the other. How, how do you help a team or a company, how does it become part of their culture to understand where that right middle point is or is there's just always tension pulling you in both directions? There is, and that tension can either be a threat or it can be, you know, a propulsion system. So it can either be the tension of the news or the tension of the rubber band that's gonna, you know, run your propeller.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (12m 37s):
And so in order to make it more the latter than the former, we set up systems initially where we say, Okay, well first we're gonna do a right environment exercise, so we're gonna establish a right environment in which professionals can behave like professionals at all times. Professionals learn, professionals interpret, they analyze, they see when things are gonna go or could go in a weird direction, and then they adjust strangely enough, they plan to study and adjust. Right. Weirdly enough, that's, that's like the professional loop. Yeah. Yeah. And, and so if you plan to, and study and adjust and things are going pretty well for a while, that's just fine.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (13m 23s):
But then when you see something that's weird, people should be able to discuss it. If it's just discussing with our faces, flapping our mouths up and down, that tends to be unsuccessful 100% of the time. Right. If we're able to set up an obeya, a single place where the information about what is happening on the project as a whole resides, that information is usually visible. So it's not sitting there in a bunch of reports on a table, but it's like up on the walls and that stuff is, is updated in real time, then people get comfortable with the fact that change happens every day.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (14m 9s):
The boards are changing every day. The conversations we're having around the boards are changing every day. And we see the problems of the people who come to work, who are working currently on, let's say the job site. They're out there putting in the structural steel, and later on I'm gonna be putting in the woodworking. Well, the problems that they're running into today are the problems I'm going to repeat in the future unless we watch them and deal with them now. And if they're overloaded at the moment, I can come in earlier and help them out because I can see their problem. I know that it's there and I can, if anything, I can just be another voice in the room to help find a deeper solution or whatever.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (14m 52s):
Yeah. Or at least being just an outside perspective or somebody who is less invested in, let's say, for example, who's right, winners or losers within a discussion, we should be trying to avoid that. But it seems inevitable that if there's a debate or a conflict, everyone wants to win it. Do you, do you help navigate through that? So not only do you help navigate through it, but it's actually a primary kpi if you know that you have achieved a right environment when you see a major problem arise and it gets solved and people go back to work and no one bursts into tears, has a big yelling match or whatever.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (15m 41s):
So the Coney Island Hospital now, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospital project in, in New York, just a quick story about this. At the very beginning of the project, they found that when they were putting in the footings for the building, that there was a part of the, there's a part of the property that was wetter than they thought it was gonna be. The water table was higher, the ground was more saturated than the original analysis showed that it would be, usually what would happen, I at that point is just lawsuits, yelling and, and lots of strife.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (16m 26s):
Right. But what they did on the project was they brought in the structural engineer, the designers and everybody else, and they redesigned those footings. They literally just solved the problem. So, so what, what led to that going from strife to collaborative problem solving, if you will? Well, so we were blessed at the beginning of the project with, So one of these projects generally starts off with a couple of engineers being assigned to it, and then it goes through the estimation process and the beginning of the procurement process. And then when you move out to the trailer or slightly before you move out to the construction trailer, that's when all of the other engineers join.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (17m 12s):
So we had a couple of benefits here. One was the, there was a long period of time between when the project started and when it went out to the trailer, and a lot of people joined while it was still in, we'll just say a safe and professional environment without a lot of distractions. And we were able to go through some very detailed right environment exercises with these folks to get them to say, This is what we need as professionals in order to get our jobs done. We need this information, we need stuff not to be hidden from us. We need things to be findable. We need to know what the schedule is, we need to talk often with the trades. We need blah, blah, blah, blah. And they came up with all of these things.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (17m 54s):
And the leadership of that two guys named Chris and Paul, they were just very willing to give up, or I should say, to share the authority, which is usually hoarded on such projects out of fear. So that from the very beginning, there was a, we are all professionals, we are all here to build a quality building. Not I'm controlling this project, or you're controlling, you know, you are the superintendent of this and so therefore you're controlling it. There was a lot of crosstalk and we revisited it every week.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (18m 37s):
We talked literally every week. We talked about is the culture what we want? Is it what we needed? Another cool thing about this project is one of the things they decided that they needed was a dog. A dog. Oh, they got a dog. So the dog was always running around going, I am the physical existence of your culture. Yeah. You don't, don't screw this up. So I, it was, it was an agreement amongst professionals to behave professionally, which is as simple and as difficult as it sounds.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (19m 19s):
So how much of that culture in your experience, comes from the team deciding this versus the leader of the project or the CEO of the organization intending to create a certain culture? I'm not saying that culture can be dictated in a top down way, but I think it can be, it can be led, it can be created actively instead of just letting culture evolve. Yeah. Where, where, where do you see the role of a CEO saying, Here's my vision for what, what the right environment is? Right. And, and history is littered with musical super groups that couldn't make a single hit.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (20m 5s):
So it's not talent and it's not, and, and God knows there was enough record company people who said, you know, you kids go off and make a hit record. And they didn't do that either. So, So what is it that, that, you know, especially in Turner's case, that led to the ability of Peter Davoren and the CEO being able to say, I want the organization to be lean. I want the organization to be safe. I want the organization to have a right environment. I'm sure that every construction company CEO says the same thing. So why was it happening here? And it was happening here because of a combination of the people and the existing, the existing culture.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (20m 47s):
So number one, the people at Turner really respect Peter Davoren in a way, frankly I've just never seen before. Because it's either like, you know, it was either like an apple where everybody's like, Ooh, Steve Jobs, he walks on water. You know, or, or you know, it's like HP where people are like, I think that, you know, our CEO should be, you know, left on a desert island somewhere and not spoken ever again. Yeah. So at Turner, they had a really healthy respect for Peter, and they're like, Peter wants to see these things. How do we do them? Because they're not natural acts for construction.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (21m 30s):
Respect is not something that happens on your average construction site very often, But you can foster that and nurture that in, in different ways of like modeling respect and rewarding respect, or not rewarding disrespect. It's, you can, right? But it, if you, this, and this is really true for healthcare too. You're in an environment where you go to work every day and you want to build the best building possible, or you want to save lives. And then for that humane desire, you are met with petty bickering, horrific schedules.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (22m 12s):
You know, in healthcare, people are gonna be throwing up on you. In, in, in construction. You're gonna be out on a, on a 40 story building when it's 110 degrees out and you're literally standing in an oven. The workplace itself conspires to make us treat each other poorly. And so the, So let Well, you're thinking, or I was gonna jump in with a question. So if the workplace is, is conspiring, how did, how did that get to be?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (22m 56s):
And, and how do, how do we change it? Okay. So the first thing is that upfront in a calm environment, before people have had chance to build a whole lot of baggage, which is not, obviously not always possible, Right? They might already have it. Yeah. You know, get, get 'em while they're young and say, Okay, before you have a chance to build up all this animosity, let's figure out what we, again, what we need to not fight with each other. When you go into a group that already exists, then there's therapy involved.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (23m 38s):
So you go into the team. And so what we'll do first is we will, you know, do a quick, the way we do value stream mapping is we do it where we're not, where, you know, the, the flow of work is obviously extremely important, but it's kind of a ruse. We use it to surface where the relationships have gone sour, where people aren't collaborating well, where things are breaking down socially. And then we use that flow of work to say, Look, you know, we agree that we wanna create product and we have these big red stickies here that say that things are horrible here, here and here. Now what do we need to fix these things?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (24m 20s):
And usually what we will find, like literally, usually it's not hyperbole, is that usually what we find is those things are just them saying, Oh, well let's not do that anymore. And so when you can do that, the, the, the rapidity of change is so much faster than what we've said in the past. Like, it takes three years to achieve change or arbitrary amount of time. I've seen teams at each other's throats completely do a 180 in less than a week when they just realize, Oh wait, we're all, we're all angry and we're all angry for the same reasons.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (25m 1s):
Now they can be undermined, they can have that change taken away from them. And that, but that's a separate problem. I mean, that's, that's interesting. It makes me think of situations where, I mean, I've seen similar things occur. I've never had the awareness or insight to think, well, okay, this mapping is a ruse. But anytime you start doing anything across departmental, functional silos, and like one example would be the emergency department and the laboratory where they're all angry for different reasons, and they're all pointing fingers at each other around, like, one, one common complaint would be, you know, the lab gets mad at the, the ER nurses who are drawing blood because they don't put the label on the tube properly.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (25m 51s):
And then the barcode scans don't get read and it causes problems and delays. And then the ER's mad about how slow the lab is. And then if the lab triess to give feedback, the ER says, Oh, those lab people, you know, they're, they're uptight, they're anal retentive. They want it all to be perfectly straight. But then when, when, when you start bringing them into their physical spaces and map the words, just even go and observe the work as it flows through, I've seen people start discovering like, Oh, like that was just a silly misunderstanding. Like, I've seen the equipment now, and you're right, that reader of the barcode, like it could be designed to be more robust, but it's not.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (26m 31s):
So, oh, it actually is important for the label to be on reasonably straight. Like I've seen some of that break down, I guess when it's in the spirit of learning and let, let's be either angry or motivated. We're, we're, we're, we're angry cause we're not meeting the objectives that we all share, which is the best patient care. It, it is interesting because, you know, lean, we've been taught, you know, always look at the system, not the people, you know, kind of a classic perhaps overly, overly flown up the flag pole saying.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (27m 11s):
And the thing is, is that the system is made of people. And if we don't look at why people are upset, then we won't find the problems. So emotion plays a huge part of this. And what would, and I'm sure you've seen this, like when you bring the nurses and the lab techs together and they're so used to being angry about things and they, they've, they've almost self-identified with their anger. Like, you know, as part of your onboarding as a new night shift nurse, the first thing you have to learn is to be really, really angry at the lab text. It shows how much you care like, and how good you are that you care. Yeah.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (27m 51s):
And then when they get together and you say, Hey, look what happens when I actually try and scan this before it goes into the centrifuge, They're like, Oh crap, that's my fault. And then, and then there's this, it's a very emotional moment for a lot of people where they're like, number one, they've held onto this anger so hard. And so that's, that's, you know, it's, it's very, very tangential. And then when they hit that other thing and they release that anger, you know, they will burst into tears. They'll start laughing, they'll run around the room, they have any number of reactions, but it's highly cathartic and beautiful to watch.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (28m 37s):
Well, and I think that's where like, you know, being an outsider can help steer people through that because you don't share that history or anger or animosity and kind of say, Hey, well let's, let's go look at how it works. Yeah, yeah, that's right. Let's just practically go look at how it works and then see if we can fix it. Yeah. Cause you don't wanna be angry anymore. Hopefully not, you know. Yeah. Well we, when we can actually fix the underlying problems, we don't, we don't have to be self rightly angry anymore. Yep. We can be happy about what we've done to improve. Yep, yep.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (29m 17s):
It's, it's Mark Twain all over the place. It's just travel making you, making you smarter, but, and you say, you know, you make a good point. The system is made of people. I mean, what, what I would think of in terms of what's top through lean it, it's not, don't look at the people, but but don't be hard on the people. Like be hard on the process, not hard on the people. Yep. Yep. But I think if Dr. Deming was in the room, forgive me, try to speak on his behalf, but what I've read, what I've taken away from Dr. Deming and stories about him is a recognition that some people matter more in the system design in terms of, well, who, who is responsible in your stories of how Deming would be exceedingly kind to the frontline employees?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (30m 1s):
He would start questioning middle managers and he would be really hard on the executives because to some extent the executives do matter more in terms of system design. So I think there's this question of like, well, we, there's, there's, there's, there's, when I say don't be hard on the people, maybe you need to think situationally, who is more responsible for this? The current system. We challenge them more, not that they're bad people. Right. So, so in that way, like the work, the work that we, the, the work at Turner was largely it.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (30m 41s):
The CEO Peter, like pushed the on button for the, and basically the on button was, I would like this to happen and I am not going to interfere. And then after that, because it's a very large company, there were lots of other leadership, you know, upper management positions that could and did either push the throttle forward or pull the break back on the ability of individual professionals in the New York business unit at Turner to engage their professionalism, you know, to to engage their agency, to engage, to underwrite their psychological safety.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (31m 25s):
And the interesting thing that happened while I was there was that it, like all other verticals, construction, like all other verticals started to transition from a lot of people who were at the company 35 or 40 years to people who would come in work there for a while, then go off and try something else. And they're like, Why, why is this happening now? Why isn't this happened before? It's like, well, it's a global trend, but in order to keep people here, you're gonna have to make them feel valued. And the only way to make someone feel valued is to actually value them.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (32m 6s):
Right. Right. That, that, you're right. I mean that's, that's a feeling, it's a perception. I mean, like you were talking earlier about a leader who was very highly respected. The late Paul O'Neill was that way at Alcoa. Like when I've had opportunity to talk about some of what Paul Neil did and talked about, inevitably this happened many times someone in the audience is a former Alcoa employee and they'll come up and say thank Yeah. That was completely my recollection. Like, haven't anyone come up with a story yet that said like, Well that wasn't true where I worked. Yeah, yeah. That wasn't my part of Alcoa. So that's encouraging.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (32m 46s):
But you know, and I think back to one thing Paul O'Neill always talked about is the things that everybody says, Like everyone says, like in healthcare, patient safety is our top priority. And Paul would ask, Well, how do you demonstrate that if everyone says employees are our most important resource? Like he would point to show me your employee injury data. Yep. That's what tells us if those words and the state of belief really turn into action, you know? Yep. And, and so like in, again, for just not to keep coming back to this, but like in, in for Turner, I would look at like, how quickly are your change orders processed?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (33m 27s):
How many change orders did you have over the course of the project? Did the, did the, how many change orders did you have that were replaced later by other change orders? So the, the crux of the relationships in in Nalco plant come down to were people able to safely get through the day? That's definitely true on a construction site. And so the recordable injury rate is a very major, very major thing. But the, but there are perhaps side effects.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (34m 10s):
Like, you know, how, you know, what was the amount of paperwork that you had? Was, was, did you spend thousands of hours in a room arguing about it? Or minutes? Did you, did you avoid the overhead of conflict? And you know, we, we can talk about tech all we want, but one doesn't have to look any farther than Elon Musk to know that you can be an incredibly horrible manager and that you can make mistakes that are by no means novel.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (34m 52s):
And that this is, this is a human thing. It's not an industry or a vertical thing. And if anything out of, after like this weird career I've had of working with so many different types of clients, that's been my major takeaway is that every workplace I've been in has been unique and every workplace I've ever been in is individuals working in teams creating value. And then you can just work from that kernel out for what other unique or special instances happen after that. Yeah. Well I think one of those other sort of universal things is when people are working in a fear driven environment, all sorts of bad things happen for the individuals and for the company.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (35m 43s):
You mentioned earlier, you know, fear is a cause of problems and, and, and one alternative to fear is something you write about in the book and you say, you know, every real collaboration has psychological safety. And if being respected is a feeling, I think, you know, having some degree of psychological safety is also a feeling that we each individually have. I mean, what, what I'd like to dig a little bit into it, like what you've learned about psychological safety. Like how do you know how much is there, how do you work to help build it? Well, so again, you look, I would look at, when I was an urban planner in Portland, Oregon, and we were trying to develop walkable, livable neighborhoods in Portland, I was at a press conference and I was sitting next to the chief of police and somebody asked me, said, What is your number one metric for if a neighborhood is truly safe and walkable?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (36m 42s):
And I said, jaywalking, if there's tons of jaywalking, then you know, that people feel safe crossing the street. And obviously the police chief, she says, Mr. Benson is not advocating jaywalking. Well, if that was our only measure, we would go start running seminars of encouraging jaywalking so that we could look. So that's just it. Or we would tell people, you know, jaywalk. And so that's the, that's the the part where I see both agency and psychological safety running into the same crap that we see every time another buzzword comes up in business. So now there's classes on how to be psychologically safe, and that just makes my head want to melt.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (37m 26s):
I like, it's like I'm opening the a of the covenant at that point. And so why, why, why is that? As, as somebody who has sat through a class on psychological safety and my face didn't melt off, my space didn't melt. I'm not looking to argue this, but I'm curious why, why, why does that make you so I'm sure that there's, there's plenty of stuff in classes on psychological safety that's perfectly useful, but, but psychological safety isn't, isn't isn't an individually obtainable thing. You know, you can't, you can't go out and buy a box of psychological safety in order to have, you can't have psychological safety without having agency. Right. You can't have agency without having not just the ability, like I, you can go make decisions person, you know, I can point my finger and say that, but you need the information, the right information at the right time to make a decision.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (38m 21s):
You need to see other people who are your peers regularly making decisions and not getting beaten up for them when, when you see other people being able to act professionally. And that professionalism is just part of making the product. You have now officially achieved both agency and psychological safety. And when that happens, and you and I have both seen this, even, even if it's just for short periods of time, but when that happens, when people have, when people can act with confidence, which is the phrase that we use in the book, when, when people can act with confidence, they do.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (39m 2s):
And when you even throttle that back a little bit, like let's say there's a hundred units of confidence and people are running between 90 and a hundred, they're just fine. But the moment you click that back to 89, they'll self drop back to 60. So you will, you know, if the guards are punching the, the inmates, you will not just say, Okay, what did that person do? I won't do that thing. It's, I'm not doing anything. Right. Yeah. People will shut down and stop speaking up and, and one bad reaction to a suggestion.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (39m 44s):
Yeah. I mean it could be, it, it could make someone shut down completely or at least for some period of time. And I mean, I, I agree with you completely. I mean, I love that phrase, you can't buy a box of psychological safety. I, I was trying to coach somebody recently and they, they talked about how they and leaders need to provide psychological safety. I'm like, I'm like, you can provide lunch, but you can't guarantee that everybody will feel satiated and happy with the meal. Cause I mean, like there psychological safety, is that feeling that's an outcome of what leaders do and don't do? Like when you, when you speak up, the challenge, the status quo, is that rewarded or is that punished in some awful overt, I've fired you from Twitter, Sorry, to go back to this sort of, go back to this again or the more subtle, you know, punishment of, of feeling dismissed or marginalized or kind of pushed to the side of a team.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (40m 42s):
It really comes down to how people feel based on mostly what leaders are doing. Yep. Well, and the kind of, the insidious thing here is that it, it is an ecosystem and upper management squelches these things by hoarding leadership as an action. And that if people are acting with confidence, if they have agency, then they're making decisions and they're doing those things that leaders used to do.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (41m 23s):
Because everyone can engage in leadership. You don't have to belong to the leader club or, you know, have 16 different nine irons in your garage. You know, you, you, anyone can be a leader at any time depending on what the situation requires and the information that certain people might have or the inspiration that certain people might have. The the scary thing is that we've had, we've had a whole human history of treating each other like crap.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (42m 4s):
And we believe that that will always be the case. So when my wife was at Children's Hospital in Seattle and she went to an all hands meeting when they got a new CEO who is no longer there and hasn't been there for a long time, but the new CEO came in and said, you know, we're gonna do this and we're gonna do that, we're gonna do this. And one of the, I think the OT PTs or somebody raised her hand and said, Can I please have a living wage? And the thing, and the CEO said, you know, working at Children's Hospital is a calling.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (42m 49s):
Oh gosh. And the that doesn't pay rent, just got up and pay the rent. You just got up and left. And then her, her time there was done. And it was because it, it, that was an obvious dismissal of both human need and total disregard for the mission of the organization. And so if you're go, if you're in an organization that cares for people, you better care for the people in the organization. And that was strangely enough, that was strangely enough, an unexpectedly central goal of Turner Construction.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (43m 32s):
So, I mean, we expected from like a children's hospital, but I really didn't expect it from, from Turner. And it was a challenge cuz like I said, it wasn't an historic commodity that they traded in, but, but it was, it was really interesting and even beautiful at times watching how they struggled with that and tried to make it, tried to make it real in that environment. Yeah. So again, Jim's latest book is the collaboration equation. Strong Professionals, Strong Teams, Strong Delivery. I wanna, I wanna play a little what if with you here because you know, you mentioned the situations where a collection of really strong professionals doesn't become a strong team, they don't accomplish what they're trying to do.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (44m 18s):
So let's, it's just, you know, talk MBA for a minute. They're, you know, like the Portland Trailblazer? No, no, I'm sorry, gosh. The Golden State Warriors. There was a, I mean that team won a title I think even after they added Kevin Durant to make it a more super, super, the Miami Heat with their famous big three, including LeBron James won a couple titles, but they had predicted famously in their opening, you know, events that they were gonna win. Like not four but five, but six. But like they thought they were gonna win every single year. The New Jersey Nets, the Brooklyn Nets, I'm dating myself, the Brooklyn Nets have failed with varying versions of super team including Kevin Durant.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (45m 5s):
No. So Steve Nash got fired recently. If Jim Benson were installed as the coach of an NBA super team that's got a couple future hall of Famers four, the five starters are Allstar, some of whom may be on the tail end of their career. Like what sort of Ted no, it probably wouldn't be Ted Lasso. But let's say you were thrown in some challenge at this. Could the ideas from the collaboration equation help those strong professionals act together as a strong team, even if you don't know all the ins and outs of the NBA game? Right, right. So the, the answer is of course, right.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (45m 46s):
Next question. No, the, the, the interesting thing there is, is density of narcissism. That's a good, So, so in most teams that I've worked with, there has usually been a a, a narcissism cluster. And that narcissism cluster is usually in the, is is in the upper management of this. But here the narcissism cluster would actually be in the production end of this. Usually what happens in the production end of this is there are people who have just given up and they are so jaded that that, that trying to break through. Or there are people who have figured out the, I guess the worst ones are the people who have figured out how to do just enough not to get shot.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (46m 35s):
So they, they, they never fly above or below the radar. They're just like right there going boo boo boo and, and, and no one, they're never criticized and they're never, never braised. Those are the hardest ones. Cuz those ones have found like the perfect procedural elements of safety and they will fight any change you bring to them because their flight path will change and they're like, that's risk city for me, for the people who are super jaded, usually if you can just, you know, express to them that they're hurting and that there's a good reason for it, it's usually it, you're usually able to bring them back up to activity because the only reason they're jaded is cuz they were super interested to begin with and had been learned helplessness into, into the gutter.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (47m 25s):
So in a situation like you're describing where you have a bunch of superstars, I will go back to a time when there was basketball in Seattle and we had a super team and that super team routinely unperformed, and then one year they got really angry and they all left and then we won. And that happened repeatedly. It happened on the Seahawks, it happened with the Sonics, it happened with the Mariners that when we had super teams and they started to fail, when we got rid of the people who were not team members, everything became better.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (48m 13s):
So I would probably be unpopular if I went to a market like that and I would ask the team what the team needed and the more that certain people said I need, as opposed to we need, I would say things like, I'm glad you need that Kevin, but what do you think the team needs? Does the team need to control the ball more? Does the team need to not feel guilty if they didn't pass it to you? Does the team not feel like you or the team? And, and so one of the beauties that you and I find in being the outside voice for these types of things is that we can say things like that.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (49m 3s):
But if I go ahead and I'm suddenly the GM of that team now I've got a board of directors that will beat the living crap out of me if I get rid of the person that sells them all the jerseys. Yeah, Yeah. Well, so that comes back to the question of what is the primary objective here? There are some sports franchises in different cities that are criticized for being, you know, a family business. They're not owned by somebody with, you know, you know, someone who's not a billionaire. And I think of the Cincinnati Reds at one point the Arizona Cardinals of like, your primary objective isn't winning, it's to make money.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (49m 45s):
You know, it's not that throwing, we've seen how many franchises throw tons of money at the problem that doesn't guarantee winning. Right. But I mean, it's fascinating. Then we see, then we see small ball, right? So, so when, when you talk about like Moneyball and the new analytics, I mean like for a baseball team, instead of looking at, you know, some of these, these newfangled statistics, do you what… There was no reason for the Mariners to have done so well this year, but what happened was they had, like literally when you talk to the Mariners now they're, they just like each other.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (50m 26s):
And so if you talk to any Mariner, like I was watching this over the course of this year that any mariner when they were interviewed always talked about someone else on the team. So if you were like the hero for the, for the game and the the, they come up at the end of the game and they say, you know, hey, you caught that ball or you hit it outta the park or grand slam or whatever, they will always talk about other people on the team. And, and when in the playoffs there was this part where we had a lead, we lost the lead. So the starting pitcher had lost the ability to say that that was a win for him.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (51m 10s):
And we got the lead back and the other pitcher then pitched a really great game the rest of the game. And the pitcher who lost the lead didn't go clump off to the, to the locker room and get pissed. They were like super excited by everything that was happening. And that's, that's what allows people to act with confidence. It's not saying, you know, should I, should I, you know, should I pass it to Shaq? And so when we do, when we, when we work with a, with a team and the system that's in the, in the book, we get the team to sit down and we say, you know, how is it that you work?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (51m 59s):
Who is it that you want to be? How do you, how do you relate to each other and your customers, What information do you need and when, how does that information travel? Take all that stuff together and say, okay, how do we implement this? And again, most of that happens during the week. Like people say, let's just stop doing this or let's decide to work with this. But the beauty of it comes where you were talking earlier about the silos, like ones that even feel very different like lab and er and you get the people in the ER without the lab, people even being there to recognize that they need them.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (52m 39s):
That that the silo, that the silo is a management contrivance and the work, the patient, the blood, the plasma requires these other people and you and you. So the flow of work isn't your team, your team is just part of the company which processes that work. And you need to get over your own damn self and and, and embrace the fact that in order to provide the best value possible, you need to, you need to work with other people and hopefully middle management hasn't been incentivized to not allow you to do that.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (53m 22s):
Yeah. Which they often are. Yeah. But I mean, you talking about getting over your damn self, I think it still, it comes back to narcissists and, and if, if Ted Lasso, if Ted Lasso type coach were the key to a team succeeding, maybe it's really the therapist Sharon who worked with him. Like do, do you bring in a Sharon, even if you're not hiring her to be coach, is there some sort of psychological assessment, some sort of narcissism index? Or can you just tell like, I'm going deep on Ted Lasso without even asking if you've watched it, have you? I I have not, but I've, but I, it's like a contact high.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (54m 5s):
You know, there was a, I see so many clips and talk to so many people about it. I feel like I watched it. But I think it's fun to look for analogies here. Cuz in season one they had a player, Jamie Tartt, who was by far the most talented player on the team, but he was a jerk and everybody hated him. And you know, they, they got rid of him. And there's this this question of like, are we better, You know, are they better off without 'em now without 'em they actually lost. And if I'm remembering right, they got relegated. But, you know, I think of the San Antonio Spurs is an example of, I think, you know, coach Greg Popovich trying to create a team environment. Those teams at one championships had three Hall of Famers and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, okay, four, David Robinson was there and Gnobilli, but like I've heard criticism of Tony Parker, but they, they seemed like a decidedly unselfish bunch that didn't win every year.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (55m 4s):
But, but one as much as a team that would arguably have more talent and a and who knows, who knows the side effects of that. So, you know, has anybody done a, you know, four year longitudinal study saying, you know, here we have like Bruce Aarons who's like a jerk coach, How many divorces happen on his team versus how many divorces happen on the San Antonio Spurs or the Seattle Mariners or wherever is, was that more humane environment, even if it didn't lead to a perfect win all the time, which it statistically can't because there's a lot of teams, but if they performed better, part of that performance was also sending them home happier to have a job be be part of that group, know that if they come to work and something's bothering them, that other people will be there to prop 'em up and vice versa.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (56m 7s):
That, that the humane aspects of work go beyond the production or the productivity, but to the sustainability of the team and the organization as a whole. You know, less doctor visits, less heart attacks, less people being punched in the throat, you know, that type of thing. Yeah. Wow. So are we being treated as human beings or resources? It seems like the more successful companies people are gonna feel like they're treated like human beings. Yeah, well, and so, and treated is a, is a is a word, you know, So it's like, do you, do you feel included?

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (56m 53s):
It's like, well, or you feel heard. That's my my least favorite business saying is people wanna feel heard. No, people don't wanna feel heard. People wanna be heard. Right. I one i i i a a correlator to that, my phrase I hate is, I, I want people to feel like they had input. I'm like, no, you give them input. It's not a game about creating a feeling. Yeah. It's, yeah, you, you can be hooked on a feeling, but you have to be high on believing. That's the second line of the song is important. That, that, that clarity isn't something that management creates.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (57m 32s):
It's something that everybody has to, has to literally lay a foundation for and build together. And that's why you have the obeya, you know, you don't have the obeya there just because, you know, people need to see statistics. It's because that is that all of that information is a sign of professional respect. That you're constantly making this kind of low touch request for not just input, but, but participation and the, your bringing your value to my problem. And it's, it sounds like such crap sometimes cuz there's just like, all those words are in there, but it's just so practical.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (58m 20s):
You get a bunch of people, you ask them what you need, you make a room that gives them what they need and then they go and do stuff. It's, it, it's, we have all these flowery ways of putting it, but literally that's all we're doing. We're saying, what do you need? Okay, here it is. Go. You can make that seem, I mean, it's not, not even just seem, I mean that, that simplifies things greatly. Yeah, that's insightful. Yeah. And it's, it's, that doesn't make it easy. Right. You know, you know, if you think about, if you think about like, if you have a team of 10 people that's like a thousand arranged marriages, a thousand arranged group marriages.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (59m 5s):
And so all of a sudden you've got these people you never thought you'd be involved with, that you need to communicate with, you need to make sure they're okay, you need to make sure that work gets done. You need to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's really interesting for me because when we do any these, the first thing that people ask for is better onboarding, which is a beautiful way of people saying, I actually still don't know what to do. Yeah, Yeah. That happens a lot. Well, Jim, gosh, there's so much more we could talk about. I wanna, I wanna sign you up to do a second episode at some point for one, you know, as I get further into the book and there's a couple of phrases I'm gonna leave on the cutting room floor today here, Humble hubris.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (59m 56s):
Yep. And then something else that jumped out at me. Benson's Law of Limited Thinking. I feel like we could probably do a whole episode just based off of those, those couple of things right there. Indeed. In fact, I've already started working on the Humble Hubris book, unpack that concept. So let's have a conversation. I, I proposed doing so I hope with some humble hubris on my part that you might agree that that's a good idea and it seems like yes indeed. The book, again by Jim Benson, the Collaboration Equation. Strong Professionals, Strong Teams, Strong Delivery, you know, in, in, in, in a well.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 0m 38s):
So on, tell us about the cover of the book. We've got the Sunflower that's like right, is going from the current, current state of most businesses, which is necrotic into something that is growing and flourishing. So we read, so we read the picture in that direction Yes. From left to right, Yes. Becoming a, becoming a thriving, blooming beautiful sunflower. Yes, Yes. Okay. That's, I'd like the imagery there and the pedal that actually floats under the back of the book. Yes. I mean, judge, we're gonna judge the book by both sides of the cover. Jim, good deal. Yeah. The, the layout for this book, man, the guy that I got to do the layout, he's an artist.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 1m 22s):
This is just it. I'm so grateful for how beautiful this particular book looks. It's, it, it almost makes me cry. No. In fact, it did when I first, I first got the first pdf I was literally just like, I can't believe this is happening. And I'm, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm glad you did it. I, I can believe that you did it and it looks like you found great people to partner with here in, in a nutshell. Here's the final question. I mean, who, who do you recommend the book for target audiences? I know it's not just about construction, it's not just free tech companies, but, but who do you think would get the most outta the book? Yeah, so, so on purpose, there's, there's stories from finance and world government and all sorts of different groups that we've worked with because like I said, collaboration is, is for everyone.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 2m 11s):
There's also conversations in there from, like in the leadership section I talk about these two young women who were level ones like the, in the intro of the intro of people at Turner Construction, who, who started a project with massive change and it was just all them, just their leadership. So if you are a person that works with other people, an individual that works in teams to create value, and you are either of a management level or a middle management level or an individual contributor, but your goal is to get your team to work better with the other teams in your business and with each other, then the book is for you.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 2m 58s):
The, it's, it tells a lot of stories and it uses real world examples to show that this stuff isn't theoretical. This is, and it is all practical. I went out of my way to take almost all of the things that were not practical and just me complaining outta the book. And as Mark knows, I can, I can rant with the best of them. So that is who, that is, who the book is for and and currently the people who have written back about purchasing it, they literally are all up and down the the chain of command.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 3m 39s):
Yeah. Well, good. Thank you, Jim, for collaborating on the podcast and everything that we've collaborated on before. I hope people go check it out. The collaboration, I actually, actually, cause I'm a really lousy self seller, I just realized what I should have said. So if you have started or are part of, or have been subjected to a lean or agile transformation that has failed, it has failed because you didn't do the stuff in this book. This book is the precursor to doing any transformation or any continuous improvement project at all. You need to build the culture of continuous improvement and not just assume that the tools are gonna give them to you.

Mark Graban / Jim Benson (1h 4m 21s):
That's a great close. I'm gonna just, I'm gonna leave it right there. So Jim Benson joining us again, looking forward to you joining us again. Thanks a lot, Jim. Right. Thanks Mark. Well thanks again to Jim. Thanks to you for listening to learn more about Jim, his company, his new book, and more. Look for links in the show notes or go to leanblog.org/463.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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