Strategies for Creating a Culture of Trust | Toby Rao

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In this conversation, Toby Rao, an agile leader and community builder, discusses building high-performance teams, NLP techniques, emotional intelligence, and psychological safety.

As the founder and principal of TORA Solutions, Toby specializes in Strategic Agile Transformation, Change Management, Program Management, and Organizational Development. With over 20 years of experience across various industries including IT, e-commerce, banking, and government, Toby is dedicated to helping organizations achieve their strategic goals through modern agile methodologies, driving business agility, and delivering tangible value. He has worked with renowned organizations such as Deloitte, JP Morgan Chase, CGI, and ICF, as well as several US Federal agencies, offering his expertise in coaching, consulting, training, and mentoring. Toby is committed to giving back to the Agile community, co-founding and leading two Agile meetups in Virginia with over 1300 members. He is also a sought-after speaker at agile conferences and industry events worldwide.


  • High-performing teams are built through trust, empowerment, effective communication, and clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Challenges in team dynamics include resistance to change, unclear roles, politics, lack of feedback, and unrealistic expectations.
  • NLP techniques, such as the NLP communication model, sensory equity, reframing, and anchoring, can improve communication and problem-solving.
  • Emotional intelligence helps individuals understand their emotions and behaviors, leading to better team dynamics. Emotional intelligence involves understanding and effectively using your emotions in relationships and communication.
  • Developing emotional intelligence can be done through self-awareness and seeking feedback from others.
  • Creating a safe environment for psychological safety is crucial for team success.
  • Remote work can impact psychological safety, but building personal connections and incorporating team-building activities can help maintain a sense of camaraderie.

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(00:00) Intro

(05:36) Building High-Performance Teams

(08:25) Challenges Teams Face When Transitioning to Agile

(13:37) NLP Techniques for Communication and Problem-Solving

(24:05) The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Team Dynamics

(26:24) Developing Emotional Intelligence

(34:43) Psychological Safety and Developing a Safe Environment for Teams

(44:45) Effect on Psychological Safety of Remote Teams

Transcript (Edited by Vit Lyoshin for better readability)

Vit Lyoshin (00:00.942)

Hello everybody, welcome back to the Vit Lyoshin Podcast. We have a guest today, Toby Rao. He’s an agile leader and community builder in the Washington DC area and also a conference speaker. Welcome, Toby.


Toby (00:17.47)

Thank you, Vit. Honored to be here. Thank you for having me here on the show.


Vit Lyoshin (00:24.27)

Thanks for your time. Let me just tell the audience a few words about you and who you are. So you specialize in strategic agile transformation for organizations and change management and program management. And you’re also the founder of Tora Solutions, which is a consultant agency that helps organizations transition to agile and help them deliver business value for their customers and things like that. And you also worked across many different industries like e-commerce, banking, healthcare, hospitality, and government as well. You also co-funded a couple of meetups in Virginia, DC area. And, you’re a speaker, you go around conferences and events and speak to people.

So, thank you for being here. I invited you today to talk about a few topics that are very interesting, I think, especially these days, which are building high-performaning teams and also NLP techniques, emotional intelligence, and psychological safety. Those are very important for the work we do every day. And I think they all contribute a lot to building high performing teams. So welcome again and before we jump into the topics if you want to add a few words if I missed anything or if you want to highlight something about how you end up where you end up that would be great.


Toby (02:06.078)

Sure. Thank you, Vit. I think you covered most of it. Most of the work that I’ve done has been in the federal government area, but I have also worked in other verticals.

So how it turned out, I used to be a technical project manager years ago. And then I saw one morning that there was a group of people standing in one corner. And then I noticed them next day and the next day and the next day, every day. And I was wondering, why do they have a meeting early in the morning? And it was a very quick meeting and I was a normal project manager. This was 2006, 2007. So I was very curious and we didn’t have laptops those days. We had workstations. So I couldn’t even go and like hide there. So I asked the person who was in charge. So I said, Hey, what are you all doing here? And he said, oh, we are practicing something called Scrum. So I became very curious. And I said, do you mind if I lurk around on one side and just listen to you? And he said, sure, be my guest. You can come. And I said, don’t introduce me, nothing. I’ll just be there. So then I noticed how they were talking about their plan for the day if there are any potential things that will get in the way. And, afterward, I came to know that the person was a scrum master and was helping to remove some of the obstacles. So I thought this was very interesting. And then I invited him to coffee and I tried to learn more from him. And so that’s everything else is history after that. After that, I took a CSM course and then, I found a job. It was difficult in those days to find a job. So I did find one and I joined and I became a scrum master.

And then the journey continued. I spent many years as a scrum master and I’ve played the role of product owner. And then you believe in like I, right? Instead of a T instead of an I. So I tried to expand my knowledge. So most of my career I’ve been an agile coach, but I’ve also worked as a release train engineer. So yeah, that’s a little background story there.


Vit Lyoshin (04:24.462)

Okay, got it, thanks for sharing. 

Let’s jump in into the topics and the first question I have is, from your experience, what are some of the essential key factors or elements of the high-performaning team?


Toby (04:41.47)

So the interesting thing is that everybody wants a high-performing team, but they want a ready-made high-performing team. But ready-made high-performing teams don’t exist. You, as a leader, as a lead, have to invest in people and then build a high-performing team. So your question is, what are some of the key factors or common things that you find in high-performing teams?

So I would say, you know, just top of my head is going to be trust, right? If there is a high-performing team, you will see that there is a very high trust between them, which means that they work together, they collaboratively solve problems, and they trust the knowledge and intentions of other people.

The other high factor, I would say, is empowerment, right? If they’re empowered to make decisions, if they’re empowered to resolve issues instead of having to go back up to management every time there is a problem, that helps.

And then, you know, the common thing that you see is communication. They have effective communication, communication to solve problems and to give feedback to people.

The other thing I would say is also like clear roles and responsibilities. When the roles and responsibilities are not clear, like accountability is not clear, sometimes it feels like, okay, who’s going to do this? And it’s not clear. And then work doesn’t get done. Right.

And I would also like to add emotional intelligence. And emotional, and you talked about that in the beginning. So I think it’s very important to be self-aware of how you are perceived. And then, using that to build better relationships with people.

So I would say those are the top things that I see in high-performing teams.


Vit Lyoshin (06:37.102)

That’s very interesting. I was just sitting here and listening and it comes back to me all the time that most of these things are soft skills that people have to acquire, have to build on themselves. We’re talking about technical teams, development teams, and we’re not talking about, oh, you should know this programming language or you should know this technology, right? It’s all human things between people, how we communicate and interact.


Toby (06:59.198)



Vit Lyoshin (07:05.966)

That’s very interesting how it always comes back to soft skills and how people communicate. That’s very funny. Okay. 

So, we know some of the things they should work on to be high-performing team. What are some challenges that there is a trend or pattern that you see in the teams?


Toby (07:31.23)

Challenges that I see with teams, especially newly formed teams, right? You’ve heard of Tuckmans law, right, of how teams get formed. So, you know, when people come together to work for the first time, a lot of people bring their own ideas, they bring their own egos, they bring their own reservations, and typically people are not very trusting of each other.

So, normally when a new group comes together, and there is a difference between a group and a team, by the way, which maybe I’ll talk about if we have time. But when a new set of people come together, they have to go through what is called normalization. So they go through forming, norming, storming, and then they get to performing. So which basically means that initially, they are just individuals. And then they try to start working together as a group. So that, you know, they’re doing that. And then a lot of times there might be some small clashes or conflicts of interest or a conflict of getting recognition sometimes. And sometimes they might feel that, hey, I know better than you, especially with technical people or, oh, that technology is old. I have so many years of experience. But then over a period of time, you’ll see that that kind of fades away and they become a team where they are focused on solving problems together.

So the difference between a group and a team is the group is made up of individuals who are very strong in their areas and a team is where they have a common goal, they have a common purpose and they fall back on the team. Everyone supports each person and each person supports the team to grow, right? So that’s the difference.

So I would say, you know, that happens and then a lot of times people have resistance to change. Like they are, okay, this is how I’ve always done it and this is how I’m going to do it because this is all I know. I see that a lot of times that happens. And I said earlier, unclear roles, right? When people don’t know what their role is or when people are kind of stepping on other people’s toes knowingly or unknowingly.

And sometimes it’s also politics, right? When people play politics for individual or personal gain, you know, that can be a problem.

And I would also say the communication, right? A lot of people I’ve seen withhold information. They feel that if they share information, their power is gone. But it’s the converse that is true, which is if you share information and other people also develop the same expertise, it actually frees you to do other things, right?

And then also I see that lack of feedback, right? If it is a culture where people don’t ask for feedback or don’t accept feedback openly, I’ve seen some groups in which when feedback is given to them, they feel that they are being attacked or they are being judged instead of taking it as, hey, they’re looking at it from another perspective. Let me see, maybe let me open my thinking, right? My mindset. So if you have a siloed mindset, you’re like, okay, I’m only gonna be like this. But when people give you feedback and you act on the feedback and you see that it’s for the benefit of the team, it’s for the benefit of the program and at the end of the day for the people who are gonna be using the products that you’re building. If that is your goal, then you take your individual out of it. So that’s another thing that I’ve seen is where the lack of feedback or lack of communication.

And then also unrealistic expectations. If the vision of the program is not understood, if the goal of the program is not understood, or if they don’t even know what the OKRs are, and the work that they do, what is it contributing to? Sometimes they feel that the work that they’re doing is meaningless, and that can have problems as well.

So, it’s also the leaders who can set expectations and goals and help to guide the team that’s gonna help as well. Yeah, so those are a few things.


Vit Lyoshin (12:05.774)

Yeah, those are great. I agree with everything that you just said. Again, comes down to all these soft skills that people need to gain and communication is being at the top of the list and roles and responsibilities as well. People just need to know what’s going on, what the goals are and how to work together with this.

So speaking of communication, let’s talk about NLP techniques a little bit and how these techniques can be employed or how they can help teams, maybe between manager and teams or maybe between team members. If you can speak a little bit about what NLP techniques are and how to employ them.


Toby (12:48.222)

Absolutely. So NLP stands for neurolinguistic programming. A lot of people confuse them with the technical term NLP. It’s not. It is neurolinguistic programming. So this basically means that we as human beings are actually wired up in a certain way and our emotions, the way we process information within our heads is actually done through neurological frameworks. And the linguistic part of it is that human brains, they translate normal language that we talk and it translates that into, it goes into your brain. So it kind of decodes it and then it processes it. And the programming part is where, you know, as there has been a lot of studies done, you know, since the sixties that, actually, the way your brain processes the information can be programmed, can be learned.

So, you know, old way of thinking is that you are who you are and you cannot be changed. NLP questions that and challenges that and says, no, you can learn new things. Of course, as you grow older, it can become a little more difficult to learn brand new things. Your brain is not as porous.

So, Neuro Linguistic Program is that. So, basically, it’s a collection of ideas and tools and techniques that have been studied over a long period of time that helps you to become a better communicator and also helps you to create a better image of yourself. And it’s actually linked very well with emotional intelligence as well.

So, you asked about some techniques. So, I mean, this is a very vast area and I think it’s still evolving. There’s a lot of work that has been done and it’s still evolving. For me, the things that stand out if I think about it is, especially in our context of leadership or agile, I think is the NLP communication model.

For example, there is something called VAK. So, V stands for visual, A stands for auditory and K  stands for kinesthetic. I’m just giving an example. So if you think about how people process information, how they take information that is being served to them, how they did as a person take that information, and how that brain processes it. So NLP says that there are three basic ways in which information gets processed in your mind.

So there are some people who are very visual people, right? If you keep talking and talking and talking, they may not grasp much. So, but if they see a slide or if they see something that can be visualized, maybe a graphic, they understand better. Some people understand better when they draw pictures. And I’m sure you’ve come across people like that.

And then there are some people who, if you just show them a picture, it’s not enough for them. They need to hear some sound. For example, you bought a new piece of furniture from IKEA, and it has a lot of pictures in it, but they may not understand by just looking at pictures, right? So they want to get a sound. So for them, you know, if there is a YouTube video in which somebody is assembling it and shows this piece goes here, this piece goes there, and you tighten this, they understand better.

And then there are some people who are kinesthetic, which means that they internalize that information and process it within them, and then they can understand things better. So they are people with more feelings.

So if you notice that most of the great presentations which are done, and you talked about conferences, It actually appeals to all of those three, right? So there are slides which has some basic information and pictures and the person is talking and is giving statistics and giving facts. And then there is the kinesthetic part. So this is where a good speaker will do some storytelling so that appeals to the people who are listening because if people just listen to words, they may just evaporate. But if they listen to a story, they can internalize it better.

So communication model is one. Then there is one thing called sensory equity. So basically, that model helps to understand very subtle cues in behavior and language, and then helps you to understand better.

And then there is this thing called reframing, which I find to be very powerful. So reframing is all about changing the meaning or the perspective of a situation that’s happening in which you are moving away from, for example, feeling like a victim to somebody who can actually solve the problem, right? So it’s a problem-solving. So instead of thinking about, oh, there is going to be a lot of traffic today and I don’t know how I’m going to get to the office. Oh my God, Washington DC traffic is really bad. So that is where you’re living in the problem zone. Reframing is where you take the problem, you face it, but then you come up with solutions to resolve those problems, right? So that’s called reframing.

And there are some really advanced things such as metaprogramming where you identify certain habitual patterns in your behavior, and then one by one, you kind of try to solve them. That makes you a better communicator and a better decision-maker. I mean, these are some examples.

There are also things like anchoring that you might have seen where a person, for example, has stage fear, right, or is afraid to go and talk to a large number of people. And anchoring is a technique where, you know, you would talk to that person and say, okay, can you think of a person who is an amazing speaker, who speaks with a lot of confidence and kind of mesmerizes the audience? Do you know somebody like that? And most people would know somebody like that. It doesn’t have to be somebody you know personally, and they’ll come up with someone. And then basically, I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but the NLP coach will help the person anchor themselves in that person and kind of evoke them into them. And that gives them the confidence. And once you go to the stage, how about you take and kind of mirror the strong capabilities of the person that you feel is an amazing speaker? And this person now kind of invokes that person in them and suddenly feels that power  they were lacking or the confidence that they were lacking. So a lot of amazing things can happen with NLP.


Vit Lyoshin (20:30.766)

So it’s not all for public speaking. It also could be for facilitating meetings, right? It also could be when people sit in the refinement session and they get stuck or anything, they can just say, Hey, let’s try this technique, and let’s try to focus on this and that. And for Scrum Masters or Agile coaches, that would be really a skill to pick up and learn about, and try to employ it with their teams and just see how it’s done. So if people want to learn more about this, do you have a recommendation of resources or just like Google and YouTube?


Toby (21:12.894)

Yes, I do actually. So I did a course from India with one of the top NLP experts in the world. His name is Vikram Dhar. So he has different training offerings that he does.  In addition to that, I would say the two books that I learned from. One of them is called Coaching with NLP for Dummies and it’s available on Amazon. And there is another book by the name of NLP, the New Technology of Achievement. Those are two. And then there are some podcasts, there are online communities and forums. I think there are some, I’ve not participated in it, but I think there are some practice groups as well. And then there are certain training available as well, which are inexpensive if you just want to learn a little bit about it. But, I do want to say that NLP is very important, but it’s also important that it is done correctly because you can mess up somebody’s thought process or the way they do it. So it has to be done properly. So if you are very serious about and want to learn about NLP, please connect with me and I will help you and I will connect you with the right resources. But definitely start with one of these two books and that can help.


Vit Lyoshin (22:49.998)

Yeah, that’s great. Thank you for sharing this. This is very interesting. 

Let’s move on to the next question, which is about emotional intelligence and how can it help in general in team dynamics.


Toby (23:09.086)

Absolutely, that’s a great question. So emotional intelligence and sometimes also called emotional quotient or EQ. So there is something called IQ, which basically is your intelligence, the way you process information, the way you communicate, the way you look at statistics and numbers and you’re able to make decisions. So that’s your intelligent quotient. And then your emotional quotient or EQ, is the way that you behave, the way you work with other people, the way you communicate with other people. It has a lot of things in common with what you mentioned at least twice, which is soft skills. It has a lot to do with that, but it’s more to do with you having a self-awareness of, hey, who am I as a person? How do I react to certain things? What are some traits that I have? What are some of my strengths? What are some of my weaknesses? Especially when I’m behaving or working with, not behaving when I’m working with a group of people, how am I perceived? So if a person has a good understanding of how effective they are, and how they communicate, and they do self-analysis of themselves or they take feedback from other people and then they start improving themselves, they will see that their relationships improve, their communication improves, the group’s ability to achieve results improves. And so basically, yes, emotional intelligence is about that, is being intelligent about your own emotions and how do you use that in an effective manner? Just knowing about yourself is not enough, but taking action to improve your communication and your ability to create an impact with other people can be improved.


Vit Lyoshin (25:13.71)

So are there any techniques how to develop this? Again, just going back to whether it’s just reading books or taking a course or are there some other things that people can do to start getting to know about this?


Toby (25:31.358)

So emotional intelligence, I mean, there’s a lot of good literature on that. And even if you go to Google, you can find a lot of good information. Most of it comes from a single source. It is a person by the name, forget his last name, Goldman. I think it’s Goldman. Yeah. So, he is the person who’s who’s actually brought this whole concept to reality. So there are a lot of books and simple things that you can start with.

But a simple, very simple way, I would say start with self-awareness, right? So think about how are you perceived by others. Are you effective in your communication? Do people understand the way you speak and the way you present ideas? And also if you know somebody who you can trust, especially in a workplace, you know, having a partnership with that person and asking them for true reflection and feedback can help and then improve those things.

So for example, if I am a person who has a short fuse, right? if I’m a person who gets upset over everything. And I don’t realize that till somebody either tells me or I start seeing that people don’t want to network with me or when I go to the cafeteria to eat lunch, nobody wants to sit with me. Then I might notice that I might feel that is there something wrong with me or like why are people behaving a certain way. Right. And then from the self-questioning comes self-awareness and you can dig deeper to try to understand what might be happening or people can give you feedback.

So let’s say it is a short temper, right? Or like if I’m a person who gets upset over small things, then I could take help. I could get coaching help from someone or I could read books about it or I could go to see and talk to other people who are very effective and say, hey, it looks like I have challenges with this particular area. What can I do to help? So there’s a lot of good material to help you with that. So with self-awareness, once you understand that you get upset, then the next thing you’ll do is to try to understand the trigger. Like, what is your trigger? What makes you upset?

So let’s say what makes you upset, I’m just giving an example, is when people come up with excuses for not finishing their work, for example. Then you have to train yourself to be patient and ask the right questions instead of snapping into becoming upset. You ask them like, ask them questions that are going to help that person better. So let’s say there is a person, this is the third daily standup in which this person still did not finished the subtask and says, oh, I’m dependent on John, and John has not finished the work. So if your trigger is that, then you train yourself to ask the right questions or take a deep breath, sometimes even meditation and other things. But in this particular scenario, instead of being upset with that person, you’re going to say, OK, no problem. So what did you talk to John about? Do you know when he’s going to be done with the work? Are there other things that you can work on? Because, you know, this is an important deliverable that is coming up, etc.

So having open communication is better than just getting upset because getting upset doesn’t solve anything, right? So emotional intelligence is extremely important and you can learn through self-awareness first.


Vit Lyoshin (29:35.758)

Yeah, I’m just wondering here that if the person realizes it, then that’s fine. They can work on it and find help or whatever. What if the person doesn’t realize it? What if others see that this person behaves in a certain way in certain situations and it never changes? How do you give feedback to these people? It has to be somehow carefully done because you don’t really want to upset the person or anything like that.


Toby (30:08.51)

I know. So that becomes extremely difficult, Vit, especially in a corporate setting where we are trying to have psychological safety for people. And a lot of people who are not given feedback in the right way, there is a tendency for them to rebel and revolt instead of understanding. So it’s a mindset thing.

So I think it would depend on your organization and your team. But oftentimes what I have done is instead of singling out one person in a situation like this, so if I’m coaching or mentoring them, you know, in a group session, I might bring up a topic that or through storytelling talk about, hey, I knew this particular team where such and such thing happened. And there was one particular person who was very upset, used to get upset over everything, et cetera. And so you subtly say that but then if it is a real problem where this, because of one person, the whole team or the group is impacted and there’s having a lot of problems, having a safe conversation with them, like a coaching conversation with them, a one -on -one conversation over a period of time. Once you develop trust with that person, you make them comfortable enough to be able to share such information with them can help. There is no perfect answer, unfortunately, because, you know, every organization and every team is different and every individual is different. So just because it works in one organization with a group doesn’t mean it’s going to work somewhere else. But it is important to kind of make them aware. Or even do a course like a lunch and learn on emotional intelligence and see if they pick it up from there because then they might be a little more open to listening to you if that makes sense.


Vit Lyoshin (32:15.47)

Yeah, that’s exactly what I was just thinking here, like having those lunch and lunch once in a while and just bringing up this topic and saying, hey, let’s talk about this area today. And it’s kind of like unintentionally bringing it up. And I know in my organization right now, well, it was a couple of months ago, but they opened a few sessions for psychological safety training and anybody could go and sign up and take a course and just see what it is about, and how to be better in the organization and things like that.

So those types of things I think are great and they’re really not like singling out people like you said or not making, not giving person straight feedback to their face and saying like you’re doing something wrong. So it’s like, you know, you need to be a little bit more nicer than that.


Toby (33:07.998)

Yeah, absolutely. Now, unless it’s a real problem like I’ve seen situations where there is one person who’s like really disrupting the work of everybody, then that’s an HR thing, you know? But if it is like you are trying to develop someone, then you have to act as a partner and you have to act as a coach to help and develop that person.


Vit Lyoshin (33:33.326)

Yeah, so how organizations in general or maybe just the team’s coach or Scrum Master can start developing the safe environment for their or for their teams in general for psychological safety, for awareness about emotional intelligence and things like that.


Toby (33:55.422)

That’s another great question. So psychological safety or feeling that feeling of trust. Again, it’s something that comes over time. As I mentioned earlier when it’s a brand new team, there could be a little bit of friction. There could be a little air between people where people are not very comfortable with each other. So psychological safety comes over a period of time.

And I feel that when, so it’s interesting. So when there is psychological safety, it’s kind of hard to notice that there is psychological safety. But when there isn’t, that’s where you notice it. It’s like air, right? So like I live in the Washington DC area. We take air for granted. A couple of years ago, I had to go and work in New Mexico in a very high-altitude area. And then I found it difficult. I would just walk a little bit and I would be out of breath. And I was also wearing a mask. And one thing that struck to me is that I always took air for granted. And I think psychological safety is something like that where when you’re working in a team where you see that people are very agreeable with each other and they are not afraid to bring up difficult topics to talk about and solve it. When feedback is given to them, they take it in the right perspective. And they are not afraid to bring up challenges. So that’s an ideal place to be because the teams are going to be creating a lot more value and impact. Their effectiveness and their efficiency is going to be better. And that’s because of that psychological safety. They feel comfortable in that.

And you might have noticed, like, for example, in our agile practices or scrum practices, in our retrospectives, we typically just ask or invite just the team members there. We say, hey, no managers, no senior people. And the reason for that is psychological safety. And it’s not like they are talking bad about their managers,  they’re talking bad about their leaders. But they discuss things and problems with the people they work with day in and day out. So who are the people who understand the problem the most is going to be the people who are facing the problems.

So let’s say, for example, there is a problem with licenses for certain tools that they’re using. So if that is something that is brought up in the retrospective, then the scrum master or the product owner can bring up the topic and say, Hey, what can we do to solve this problem? Right. So you’re bringing, not only are you bringing up a problem together, you’re trying to solve the problem. And so if there is psychological safety, people will bring up that problem and say, Hey, here’s the problem we’re having. And other people will give ideas without thinking that they’re being judged. So in teams where psychological safety is missing, people don’t speak up and engage because they feel, I don’t know if my idea is good enough and I don’t know if somebody is going to laugh at my idea or the technical lead, I know he’s going to laugh at my idea. But when there is psychological safety, they’re like, okay, let me throw my idea. The worst thing they’re going to do is not take it and that’s fine. So as a leader, as a scrum master, as a coach, you should encourage as many ideas as possible.

So a couple of things that you can do is, if you feel that your particular team doesn’t have a lot of psychological safety to begin with, you can use anonymous tools. There are so many anonymous tools that you can use to get input from people. And after the inputs have come in, so there can be an incognito mode that you can use in Miro, in Mural. A lot of these tools have that. So use that first so people will come up with the problems they feel. Because it’s anonymous, they feel they can say what they feel. So that’s the first step. So when you do that over a period of time, maybe you don’t need to go into that mode anymore, right? The incognito mode, because people now are more comfortable. Because people know that they’re bringing up problems to solve the problem, not to kind of throw somebody under the bus, you know?


Vit Lyoshin (38:47.054)

And you also mentioned a couple of techniques, which was my next question, which is great. That’s how basically you start.

I just wanted to also mention that I was in the situation a couple of times when I was asked to work with a new team. And by the way, I see this mistake sometimes in people and that’s why I’m bringing that up. So my approach is usually for the first month or two I do not make so many changes to the team. I just observe and learn from them and take it easy and just carefully ask questions like why you do this this way or what is this? Can you explain to me why you doing something or whatever? And just to get to know them. And it also may let me adjust to this team for a little bit and gain trust with them and they gain trust with me. And then after a month or two, usually I do it for a few sprints basically.

And then I will start bringing up some things and say like, hey guys, let’s try this, let’s try that. What do you think about this? What’s your idea in this area? And they start to open up over time. But so many times I see people, new managers, they come in and on day one, they want to make all these new changes. And they say like, oh, this is all wrong. We need to go this direction. I’m like, come on, you can’t do this. This is exactly how not to do it.

And I just wonder like where these people coming from, how they got this idea. Is it because they’re managers? Is it because they’ve just never worked with people? Like where is this coming from?


Toby (40:24.702)

So, yeah, I think where it’s coming from is that if they’ve been in part of organizations where the culture is crack the whip and people just do what they’re being told. But I think, you know, such environments don’t really succeed in a long period of time where people are just told what to do, right? We have come to more modern ways of working where, you know, everybody has strong intrinsic values. They have self-respect and everybody has ideas. It’s not the ideas just come from bosses. Right. So, if you’ve heard of something called meritocracy. Right. So I remember way back when my father was working back home in an industry, the promotions were always based on seniority. So if you were a senior, then you got promoted.

I don’t see that anymore, right? That has faded away. If you bring the best idea, if you can solve the problem, if you can deliver better, especially in the US, if you can deliver better, then you are the person who will get more responsibilities. And when you get more responsibilities and accountabilities, and you are able to deliver, you will grow faster, right?

So I think the answer to your question, where do these people come from? I think a lot of them, the people have been individual contributors, honestly. I don’t think they are wrong and I don’t want to judge them, but a lot of them have been individual contributors. They don’t know how to contribute and deliver results through others. Like if you tell me to code all day, I can sit here and code all day, right? But then if I have to guide six other people and help them to produce better solutions I have to speak their language. I have to respect them. I have to develop certain skills which I didn’t have before. I think that’s what the problem is people bring only a part of their skills and their organization has not helped them to grow to the next level. And I think that’s where you and I come in. We should not judge them, but help them widen their horizon and teach them how to do these things better.


Vit Lyoshin (42:52.494)

Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, a lot of individual contributors can do that, or people who have done it for a long time and they kind of expect that everybody around them already knows this. And it’s almost common knowledge, but it’s not. It’s very industry-specific. So, I think all this, what we’ve talked about, training and working on your own soft skills and reading books, and getting to know what is emotional intelligence, what psychological safety is. So you can start practicing it with your teams, and it will help everybody, essentially. 

So now, we almost probably came out of this remote thing after the pandemic, but it’s still there. Many companies work remotely and they are, in fact, distributed all over the planet these days. How is it affecting psychological safety on remote teams?


Toby (43:59.038)

That’s an interesting question, but I think it also touches on reality. I mean, we did come out of the kind of phase where everybody was locked in. Many organizations have either become hybrid or they’re going three to four days a week. But also there are a lot of people who are working remotely.

And I feel that those three years have taught us a lot, right? A lot of organizations that thought that everybody had to be together in a room or in the same building to produce results are not true anymore. People were able to produce equally or more results just by being remote. So let’s kind of compare them side by side, right?

Human beings are social animals. The way we are raised, the way we are, we are social. We like to be with people. We like to be in groups and interact. So what COVID did was kind of throw us in little jails of our own homes, you know? And so if I’m in an office, right? So let’s say, of course, I’m working the whole day from let’s say nine to five. I might have a meeting and in between the meeting, I might go to the cafeteria to get coffee. I might meet a couple of coworkers, and meet a couple of other people from another department. I might just say hello, get my coffee and water, and then go to the next meeting. Most of the meetings will start late because we’re still waiting for people to come. We talk about the weather, we talk about sports, we talk about dogs, we talk about a bunch of things before getting to the meat of the business. And then when we go back to our desk, you know, somebody has a question, they feel comfortable enough to come and ask you the question. Or if you need something, you can go to your boss and ask those questions. So there was a lot of social interaction that was happening. And then when you’re having lunch, you’re going to meet with people or, you know, on Fridays, you would go out for lunches or happy hours with coworkers.

When everybody was working from home that was gone. And unfortunately, now with hybrid also. We are back-to-back meetings, right? I mean, there’s not even five minutes to go to the bathroom sometimes. And you are very focused on each meeting at a time, especially for me, that’s how it is. And then even for people who are individual contributors, they feel that it’s a lot more meetings, right? And what’s happening in this meeting is that you are focused on that topic and it can create some burnout, right? People can get burned out because of that. And most of the time we are just focused on that. So I would say a couple of things that I’ve seen that work is like, and honestly, last two or three years, I’ve worked with some people who I’ve only worked with remotely. I’ve never seen them in my life, you know? But then, you know, having that little chit-chat in the beginning or sometimes just having a more personal one-on-one conversation say, hey, John, I would like to know you better. In one of the meetings, you said that you have a motorcycle. Well, I have a motorcycle too. What kind of bike do you have? And he said, oh, I have a Harley. Oh, I have a Suzuki. And then you talk a little bit about it, right? Now you have a more human connection with John, right? Because you know that he likes motorcycles, you like motorcycles. And then maybe somebody talks about horses and somebody else knows about horses and they talk about horses.

So I think making that personal connection actually takes a little more effort. And I know during COVID there were a lot more Zoom happy hours. I think those are gone away. But even then doing some team building activities. And if you’re using Scrum, if you have, for example, the INP Sprint, like if you have an innovation sprint, putting some sort of a hackathon or doing something creative can help.

I was once part of one team where every Friday, the daily stand-up, they would have a team. So, one time they had a Hawaiian team and everybody had to wear Hawaiian shirts for the stand-up. Another time they had everybody wear fancy sunglasses and they all wore sunglasses. Something fun, right? It doesn’t have to be expensive or spend money.

But sometimes those create kind of the mood and the vibes that are needed as well. Yeah. So those are some ideas you can use.


Vit Lyoshin (48:53.134)

Yeah, that’s great. This also helps people to have like a little icebreaker, right? Even though they worked with each other for a long time, I sometimes find that I worked with this person for like five years and I have no idea where they live, whether they married or not. They have children or not, they have pets or not, or whatever. And then when it casually comes up in the conversation, I’m like, oh, I didn’t know.


Toby (49:01.214)



Vit Lyoshin (49:21.774)

You know, it’s kind of surprising sometimes. Yeah. All right.

Well, I think we covered a lot of good topics here. Thank you very much. That was great. And yeah, I’ll try to find references to things you mentioned and put them into the description and I’ll add your contact information for people who would like to connect and get more, pick up your brain for something or whatever. So they will be able to do that.


Toby (49:49.694)



Vit Lyoshin (49:51.79)

Thank you very much for connecting and I hope we’ll talk in the future again. You have a wealth of knowledge. Thank you very much.


Toby (49:59.678)

Thank you, Vit, it was a lot of fun. Thank you.


Vit Lyoshin (50:02.766)

Okay, thank you. Bye.

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About Vit Lyoshin

Hey there! I'm Vit Lyoshin, and I've been working with technology and cool software stuff for a long time. Now, I'm hosting a podcast where I talk to really smart people who know a lot about making software and managing products.

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