Building teams and culture

Adam Grant recently talked with Ed Catmull and Pete Docter on his podcast called ReThinking

These are my notes, mostly from 31:37 onwards.

Pete asked—how do we build diverse teams organically that stretch and grow into the organization’s mission?

Adam said team composition aims to create a diverse team like the Avengers, but that’s not a healthy culture because “who you have on the team is less important than how the team is run. [As team leaders,] we need to create a dynamic that encourages the group to become more than the sum of its parts.” We need to examine what each person contributes to elevate the group because their job description doesn’t capture who they are as individuals or the talents they bring. 

They transitioned to talking about telling stories to create values and culture in an organization. The stories we tell at work—the things we praise or criticize—create the culture.

We don’t spend enough time telling our culture stories. Values are communicated and created through the stories people tell. They aren’t communicated by a poster or a webpage. Be careful not to use people as fodder for stories but instead tell stories that focus on principles where somebody upheld—or violated—a value and the result.

It’s one thing when you have hospitality written on the wall for people to read passively; it’s another to shout out somebody at your next team meeting because they went above and beyond to accommodate a coworker. Or when we talk about how successful the project was, without acknowledging that people burned out and quit after it launched—we’re encouraging a culture of burnout because the underlying story is that the project’s success matters more than staff health.

Ed Catmull reiterated that a team’s culture isn’t fixed; it’s constantly changing, and a successful group is fundamentally unstable. We’re continually adapting and evolving. A successful team isn’t always in harmony.