When your team or boss doesn’t work in the same location you do, communicating and building a strong relationship are much harder! Kim and Russ share stories of their challenges and successes and give advice for staying connected with remote teams.
At a Glance
In this episode, Kim and Russ talk about what to do when you’re working with remote teams. It’s harder to build strong relationships and a culture of feedback, but there are tips and techniques that can help.
Russ tells a story about leading the DoubleClick team after the company was acquired by Google. He was based in Mountain View, and the team he was leading was in New York, which made it more challenging for Russ to get feedback and stay connected.
Kim shares a story about a direct report who thanked her for everything she had done to make sure they stayed connected despite the fact that Kim was in Mountain View and her direct was in Japan. She talks about her techniques for making that possible.
I feel more connected with you than any other leader I’ve ever worked with.
This week’s episode has a listener question about working across countries with different cultures. Kim and Russ offer their advice, based on the idea that Radical Candor is universally human but culturally and interpersonally relative.
Feedback gets measured at the listener’s ear, not the speaker’s mouth.
And the episode ends, as always, with the Candor Checklist.
The Candor Checklist
Our practical tips for strengthening relationships with remote teams.
Tip 1: Have frequent, quick check ins.
Tip 2: If you can’t exchange feedback in person, video conference is second best.
Tip 3: If you have to choose between giving feedback in person and giving it immediately, choose immediately.
Make sure to listen to the full episode for the details on these tips.
Read up on some of the topics we covered in today’s episode:
- In Person Feedback is Best
- Video Tip: Radically Candid Criticism is In Person
- The Genetic Similarities between Humans and Chimps :)
Candor T-shirt Winner
This week’s Candor t-shirt winner is EM73011 — thanks for listening and reviewing our show on iTunes!
This is our last week for the t-shirt giveaway for now, but make sure to tune in next week for an exciting new giveaway!
We’ll be back with another episode of Radical Candor next week.
Tell us what you think, and share your stories with us!
We would love to hear from you!
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- Connect on Twitter: @candor, @ral1, and @kimballscott
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Full Episode Transcript
Russ Laraway: Hello and welcome to Radical Candor, a podcast from Panoply and Gretchen Rubin’s Onward Project about how not to hate the boss you have or be the boss you hate. I’m Russ Laraway, co-founder of Candor Inc. and Career Long Operational Manager across the Marines, Google and Twitter.
Kim Scott: And I’m Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor Inc., former executive at Google and Apple and CEO coach at Twitter, Dropbox and a bunch of other great companies. I’m also the author of Radical Candor.
This week, we’re going to talk about a topic that so many of you listeners have written and asked us about—what to do if you’re working with remote teams.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, this is really common now these days, for people to be working in all kinds of different locations, whether that’s different offices in the US (from New York to San Fran) or even different countries. People are working from home a lot more these days. And if you’re a boss with a remote team or if you have a boss who works in a different place, it can feel a lot harder to build a strong relationship and develop a culture of feedback.
Kim Scott: Long distance relationships are hard no matter where they happen. So today, we’re going to talk about working with remote things. And along the way, we’re going to share three things—some mistakes we’ve made, but also some successes (sometimes, we do get it right), we’ll answer a listener question about distributed teams, and we’ll finish with some specific tips for building stronger relationships with remote teams, and this week’s Candor Checklist.
Russ Laraway: Alright! Let’s get into it. So, as we’ve said before, it is so important to build strong relationships with the people you work with.
Kim Scott: Absolutely!
Russ Laraway: Yeah, it’s critical. In our view, it’s critical. And working with a remote team or a boss is difficult because you can’t as frequent contact.
Kim Scott: Yeah, and we talk a lot about how important it is to talk in person. But if you’re remote, that’s obviously not possible.
Russ Laraway: Yeah! Communication can just be a lot harder especially if there’s cultural or language issues…
Kim Scott: Time zone issues…
Russ Laraway: Time zone issues, all of that stuff…
And so we’re going to talk about all of these things. But to start, let’s look at some challenges that the two of us have faced when working with remote teams.
Kim Scott: Challenges and successes.
Russ Laraway: I have a big one that I sort of I’d say messed up.
Kim Scott: Cool! Let’s hear about it.
Russ Laraway: So, to set a little context, shortly after Google had acquired Double Click back in, I don’t know, 2007, 2008 or something like that, I took over one of the operating teams for Double Click.
Kim Scott: I remember that.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, I’d been at Google, we acquired a company, I was pretty interested in helping make that acquisition a success. It was $3.2 billion that Google paid.
Kim Scott: That’s a lot of money!
Russ Laraway: Yeah, it’s so much money. And at that point, it was the largest acquisition not only by the price that they paid, but also by the number of people they needed to bring in. And so there were two pretty distinct cultures that we had to figure out how to make work together.
Kim Scott: Strong cultures, both of them.
Russ Laraway: Yeah! Google had a very technical, engineering culture and Double Click with a very strong sales culture. And this was just a really interesting problem for me.
So, we’re probably a few months in. I’m in California, the headquarters in Mountain View. And one of my direct reports that I had inherited from the acquisition was in New York running a fairly large team. I had regular one-on-one’s with him and was getting sort of a regular thumbs up. “Things are good to go, boss!” This pretty senior guy, I sort of trusted that everything was good. I maybe didn’t do a good enough job, sort of checking up with a little more regularity. And
Kim Scott: Little challenge directly.
Russ Laraway: I just wasn’t doing enough challenge directly. And so fast forward a few more weeks, my boss is in a meeting in New York City with some of these folks. And my boss, because I told my boss, “Everything is great, boss…”
Kim Scott: It’s all good.
Russ Laraway: …my boss said something like that in the meeting. And one of the product managers renowned for his candor…
Kim Scott: Radical candor…
Russ Laraway: …sometimes maybe even bleeding toward obnoxious aggression, but mostly, radical candor…
Kim Scott: Mostly radical candor.
Russ Laraway: …said something to the effect of “Are you high? Things are blowing up in that group!” And so, the boss came to me and said, “Hey, there’s a big disconnect between what you’re telling me is happening and what the product manager says is happening.”
Kim Scott: Yeah, that’s not the situation you want to be in.
Russ Laraway: Nobody does! I don’t want to be in that. The boss didn’t want to be in that situation. We’re all sort of in a situation we don’t want to be in.
Kim Scott: It’s uncomfortable.
Russ Laraway: And so I actually sort of remember—I’m not much of a panicker at work. I have this sense that…
Kim Scott: We’re calm.
Russ Laraway: …we’re not doing life-and-death stuff.
Kim Scott: Nobody is going to get killed today at Google.
Russ Laraway: Yeah! But this was a really high visibility situation which, by the way, makes my lack of challenge directly all the more inexcusable, but I panicked a little bit at that moment because I was learning that I was so disconnected from what was actually happening.
Kim Scott: Right! You didn’t know what was going on in your own team.
Russ Laraway: Yeah… which is a huge problem. So, I had to go dig in. We’ll spare everyone the details. It turned out things were blowing up. They were not nearly as good as I’ve been led to believe. And I had to really deploy a lot of energy and effort to kind of get things squared away there.
And a big part of it was just I allowed myself to remain too disconnected from my very senior but remote employee. And I was completely out of touch with what was actually happening on the ground.
Kim Scott: Wow! That’s harsh.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, it was pretty harsh.
Kim Scott: So, how did you fix it?
Russ Laraway: I needed to go on a plane and go visit. I just had to go.
Kim Scott: Sometimes, you really can understand what’s happening if you got your feet on the ground.
Russ Laraway: So, that’s more like a root canal. Because I hadn’t been doing the right brushing and flossing, I needed to go have a root canal.
And at the end, what became really clear to me was that this direct report wasn’t exactly the right fit given our new paradigm . My boss had said as we talked through the situation, “I have never seen a case in which the truth was less forthcoming.”
Kim Scott: Right!
Russ Laraway: And so, the solution unfortunately was actually to start by replacing leadership—and I did that! Leadership was really the big problem. And I learned that by going out there.
Kim Scott: …by going out there.
Russ Laraway: Yeah.
Kim Scott: That’s a good story. I also have a story. I used to work with teams that were distributed all over the world. And when I left Google in 2010, the leader of the team in Japan came to me and said how connected he felt to me and how much he had appreciated everything I had done to make sure that his team felt connected. I was kind of surprised by this actually because for the previous couple of years actually, I hadn’t been able to travel that much. And so I asked him what he thought had helped. And here’s what he told me that I did that he liked.
One thing that I did—Koji is his name—that Koji liked is that I would work on Asia Pacific time for one week out of every quarter. So, I would come into the office late in the afternoon and stay until like the middle of the night.
When you’re dealing with remote teams and they’re on a different time zone, one of the problems is that there’s literally not a good time for you to talk. And it’s either going to be inconvenient for you or it’s going to be inconvenient for the other people.
And so, just sort of sucking that up inconvenience and coming in for a week a quarter was really important to the team. It was also important to me. If I did that, it meant I didn’t have to travel quite as much which was really important to me. And another thing that he said really helped—and this is something I had learned from a boss that I have had when I worked in Russia—was I tried to talk to him sort of two or three times a week instead of just once a week one-on-one. And I really worked on being disciplined about doing that over video—not just picking up the phone and calling, but doing it over a video call.
Russ Laraway: That’s smart.
Kim Scott: But the reason why I think those short conversations were important—frequent short conversations—is that you begin to develop an intuition for what’s going on with the person, with their moods, are they agitated today, and then you can ask why and you understand whether it’s something that’s happening at home that has nothing to do with you or because they’re frustrated by something you’re doing or they’re frustrated by something that’s happening at work that you can impact. So, I think that’s really important. Just those two things were a big help with that team in Japan.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, by the way, just a couple of things to add here. I’m going to brag about you a little bit on this because I’m kind of familiar with this situation.
First, just to point out, Koji, that’s really high praise from Koji. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think he might’ve said he felt more connected with you than any other leader he had worked with.
Kim Scott: He did, yes. I felt very honored to hear that.
Russ Laraway: The other thing is I just really want to flag—I want to make sure people catch how innovative the time zone shift solution is. I personally don’t love to travel for work. It’s an inevitability and we have to do it sometimes. I’ll personally aggressively seek to limit that. And so I just want to make sure folks caught that that time zone shift solved two different problems. It made you more readily available for more impromptu contact with people that are operating naturally in a different time zone. And it spared you from traveling.
Kim Scott: Yes!
Russ Laraway: It’s not the only answer. There needs to be…
Kim Scott: You do have to go there.
Russ Laraway: You got to go! But I just want to really flag for folks just how innovative that solution you came up with was for you and for the team in Japan .
Kim Scott: Yeah! I still got to sleep in my own bed, but not exactly the hours I wanted to sleep.
Russ Laraway: Wrong time. Wrong time of day.
Kim Scott: But it’s way easier than getting on a plane and going.
Russ Laraway: Yeah. It seems like everybody won.
Kim Scott: I think another thing that is often really helpful is bringing people to you. Often, for them—especially in my case, I was working with mostly a pretty young team. For them, travel was a perk. For me, it was a punishment. And so I try to make sure that I would allow them to come as often as they wanted to.
Russ Laraway: That’s great. And also, when you are headquarters, I think it’s fun for remote teams, it’s important for them to get to headquarters. It’s a place where you can really feel the company by being there.
Kim Scott: Yes!
Russ Laraway: So that’s a nice perk to give to the teams. Okay! So, these are just a couple of our many stories about working with remote teams. We both have actually a lot of experience with this. It is really challenging.
And of course, we would love to hear your stories too. So if you have stories , successes , failures, et cetera—either one is fine by us—write to us at podcast@RadicalCandor.com.
Coming up, our listener question. But first, a word from our sponsor.
Kim Scott: All this month, we’re asking you to tell a friend about a podcast that you think they’ll love. Right now, think of a friend. Right now, right this second, think of a friend, call their face up to your mind, what podcast would they really love?
Russ Laraway: You know, I got my mom on podcast because we were starting one.
Kim Scott: You did? Wow!
Russ Laraway: And I did it by sending her a series of screenshots for how to sign up and subscribe to our podcast.
Kim Scott: That’s good. Do that, do that.
Russ Laraway: So, you can do that too. There’s no excuse. So, go tell them in real life or on social media. Your whole family is probably on Facebook since there are two billion people there. And if they don’t know about podcasts, show them now. Tell us what you recommend with the #trypod—like “try podcast,” it’s pretty clever I think.
Kim Scott: Very clever! T-R-Y-P-O-D.
Russ Laraway: Yeah!
Kim Scott: Thanks for spreading the word.
♪ [music] ♪
Russ Laraway: So, as we’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve gotten quite a few listener questions about remote virtual teams. And an aspect that has come up a couple of times has been cultural differences. So, here’s one listener’s question:
“My entire team is virtual and spread across different time zones and countries with different cultures. I’m wondering how to practice radical candor when they are not face-to-face interactions and when there are different cultures. Does radical candor work in different cultures? Does it need to be adjusted?”
Kim Scott: Absolutely! Radical candor does work in different cultures, but it also does need to be adjusted. So, the answer is yes. Radical candor is a universal “caring personally and challenging directly” or something that need to happen in any human relationship no matter what country or culture on earth that relationship is happening in. But it’s also culturally relative. Just as we’ve talked about how it’s interpersonally relative, that radical candor gets measured at the listener’s ear, not at your mouth, that also translates to culture.
I have a story about this. I worked with teams in Tel Aviv and in Tokyo as I’ve already mentioned. And radical candor felt very different in Tel Aviv than it did in Tokyo.
Russ Laraway: How so?
Kim Scott: Well, in Tokyo, for example, in order to translate the idea for the team, I didn’t call it “radical candor,” I called it “polite persistence.” There was a time when the Adsense team in Japan was very frustrated with the Adsense for mobile applications product team in Mountain View.
Russ Laraway: And by the way, at that time, Japan, pretty far ahead of the rest of the mobile stuff.
Kim Scott: Way… yeah, way ahead in mobile.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, they knew a lot more…
Kim Scott: …than we did…
Russ Laraway: …about mobile in general and where it was heading than we did. So yeah, that makes sense maybe that they were frustrated.
Kim Scott: Yeah, that’s a good context.
And so they kept complaining to me. And then they wanted me to go fight with product. But a lot was getting lost in translation. I didn’t actually know that much about mobile at the time. And so I was encouraging the team to challenge directly the product team in Mountain View. But the product team in Mountain View, they were kind of like gods at Google. It was scary to challenge them. And so to help bolster the team’s courage, I said, “You’ve got to challenge these people with polite persistence.” Polite was the way that that team thought about moving up on the caring personally axis. But persistence was how I explained to them what I meant by “challenge directly.” Don’t back down just because those product people disagree with you because you might know more than they do and they want to know what you know. Ultimately, they want to be successful, and you want them to be successful. So you’re on the same side of this.
And once they embraced this notion of polite persistence, there was no getting out of their way. They were relentless. And I think a lot of Google’s success in Adsense for mobile applications is thanks to that polite persistence or the radical candor of that team in Japan.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, that is a great story. I’d say that the basic idea is that your culture (even if it’s sort of a country culture or possibly even a work culture), what care personally looks like might be a little different from culture to culture, what “challenge directly” looks like might be a little different for culture to culture, but those two ideas are still universe, it’s just the way they’re applied.
Kim Scott: Right! You’ve got to offer them in a way that other people can hear them.
I mean, I was raised in the South. And there’s a different Kim—it’s still Kim, still radical candor, but there’s a different flavor of it when I go home to Memphis than when I go back to New York.
Russ Laraway: And one of the insights I’ve had over the years—again, also having managed a bunch of non-US teams or international teams—is that for me, the much bigger puzzle to solve is what’s happening in an individual’s head. I just feel like only a tiny percentage of that is a function of their specific culture.
Kim Scott: We’re far more similar than we are different.
Russ Laraway: Far more similar. I mean, I’d go so far as to say like 90/10.
Kim Scott: Genetically, it’s way more. It’s like 99.5/…
Russ Laraway: In fact, we’re that close to chimpanzees. We’re 99.5 close to chimpanzee. So we’re even more genetically similar with the other humans around the planet.
Kim Scott: Individual trumps culture almost every time.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, I think that’s right.
Kim Scott: So, thanks so much to all the listeners who wrote in about this topic and made it clear that we needed to do this episode. Let us know what challenges you’d like us to address in future episodes by contacting us on Twitter @Candor or by calling us at 2626-CANDOR.
And now, the Candor Checklist.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, my favorite part of our show, practical tips that you can put in action right away to strengthen your relationships with remote teams.
Kim Scott: So, tip #1, have frequent, quick check-ins—every day, if possible, just for a couple of minutes. This creates an opportunity for far more impromptu feedback. Impromptu feedback is sort of awkward if you have to call the person and you don’t usually do it. But if you’re in the habit of talking to them every day, it creates an opportunity.
I mentioned in episode seven that when I lived in Moscow and my boss was in New York, he got in the habit of calling me as soon as he woke up every morning which is about 3 p.m. my time and how helpful that was for us in terms of building a real relationship together.
Russ Laraway: So, just like a quick check-in every morning.
Kim Scott: Yeah, every morning his time, every afternoon my time. And he did it right when he first woke up because if he waited until he got in the office, it was five o’clock my time. So it was very considerate of him to do it at that time.
Russ Laraway: That’s a great point. If you’re the boss, schedule these. If you’re an employee, ask for these.
Okay, tip #2, if you can exchange feedback in person, video conference is second best. Body language, human connection, being able to show that you care personally, you’re just going to have a little better shot at that by setting up some kind of video conference.
And this stuff is pervasive now. Google Hangouts and Skype are two very simple examples.
Kim Scott: Apple Facetime, don’t forget Apple.
Russ Laraway: It’s everywhere.
Kim Scott: It’s easy.
Russ Laraway: This stuff is really stable now.
And look, sometimes, you can’t even do video for one reason or another. Really try is the encouragement here. But if you just can’t do video, pick up the phone.
Really, what you got to avoid—and I’d say having messed this up about 7000 times, probably 7000 times last week actually. You’ve got to avoid email (which is my personal curse) and text.
Kim Scott: You can use email and text, but don’t rely on them to build your relationship.
Russ Laraway: Especially if you can set up a video conference…
Kim Scott: …or pick up the phone.
Russ Laraway: …or pick up the phone. They’re so superior to email and text that I really would try to encourage people to focus on those two options.
Kim Scott: Video is really powerful. When I was pregnant with my twins, my doctor told me—I said, “Can I travel?” and she said, “Well, sure, you can travel if you’re not worried about the hearts and lungs of your children.” And so I didn’t travel.
And I didn’t travel for the pregnancy and then for about five months after they were born. Using video really got me sort of 75% maybe of the value of actually taking the trip.
So, travel if you can. But if you can’t, use video.
Moving along to tip #3, if you have to choose between giving feedback in person and giving it immediately, choose immediately unless it’s something totally serious.
Russ Laraway: Mostly, yeah, mostly.
Kim Scott: Yeah, mostly. Remember, the purpose of praise is to help people know what to do more of. The purpose of criticism is to help people know what to do better. And if you wait, then you just delay the benefit of the feedback. So give it right away.
However, if the situation is really dire, if you’re going to fire somebody, get on a plane and go. Go do it in person.
Russ Laraway: Yeah, for sure. Alright! So, to recap our Candor Checklist this week:
Tip #1, have frequent check-ins (daily if possible).
Tip #2, if you can’t do it in person, video conference is second best.
And tip #3, if you have to choose between giving feedback in person or immediately, more often than not, immediately because it helps people fix it faster.
Kim Scott: Absolutely! So, we know that a lot of you out there are working with teams that aren’t in the same office as you are or even in the same city. And we hope that these tips are going to help you build stronger relationships with the people, those remote teams who you work with.
Don’t forget, you can revisit these tips in our show notes for the episode at RadicalCandor.com/podcast. Tweet us at @Candor with your follow-up questions, and we’ll post responses on our blog.
Now, let’s announce this week’s Candor t-shirt winner. This week’s winner is EM73011.
Russ Laraway: EM writes:
“I’m a young person rather new to the workforce and I enjoy this podcast. It provides different perspectives that I find helpful in navigating the workplace.
Kim Scott: EM73011, sorry we don’t know your name. I bet it’s Emily. Please email us at podcast@RadicalCandor.com to claim your Candor t-shirt.
Russ Laraway: Listeners, this is our last t-shirt winner for now. But stay tuned, we’ll have more giveaways coming soon.
And that’s it for Radical Candor. Our producer is Kristen Meinzer. Thanks also to Laura Mayer and Andy Bowers at Panoply and to Elisse Lockhart at Candor. Our theme song is written and performed by Cliff Goldmacher.
Please let us know what you think of the show. You’ll find us on Twitter, @Candor. Our website is www.RadicalCandor.com. And the Radical Candor book is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Passage and at your local bookseller. And guess what? It’s release date is Pi day—March 14th, one week from today.
If you liked the show, please be sure to tell a friend. If you don’t have any friends, please make some friends and then tell them about this show.
Also, make sure to subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app, so that you automatically get each new episode. That is huge!
Don’t forget to leave us a rating or comment wherever you subscribe. It helps other people discover our show. Radical Candor is a part of the Onward Project which also includes Side Hustle School and Happier with Gretchen Rubin.
In a recent episode of Side Hustle School, we hear the story of a man who sells live crickets to reptile owners without ever handling any inventory.
Kim Scott: Wow!
Russ Laraway: It’s amazing! And the way you find out how this guy does it is by listening to Side Hustle School.
Kim Scott: It’s a great podcast.
Russ Laraway: Agreed!
Kim Scott: I’m Kim Scott.
Russ Laraway: And I’m Russ Laraway.
Kim Scott: We’ll talk to you next time.
Russ Laraway: Thanks for listening.