Manage Smarter 127 — Ben Gallagher: How to Lead Remote Teams During COVID-19

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Ben Gallagher is the co-​founder of B+A, a creative management consultancy whose clients include Converse, Google and Beats by Dre. Before he founded B+A, Ben was a journalist at MTV and later, Sir David Frost’s producer at Al-​Jazeera. He then found himself leading Nike’s efforts to make running appealing to young people. With COVID-​19, he's here to give his tips on how to work and manage smarter through this time.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Ben discuss:

  • How to lead remote teams
  • Building a positive culture with remote, global teams in the pandemic
  • How recognizing small wins to provide enjoyment, hope and satisfaction
  • Boosting your empathy levels
  • Recommendations on better leadership amid the COVID-​19 “rollercoaster”

"Leaders feel uncomfortable being vulnerable because business culture largely still promotes knowing the answer as opposed to being able to work with people to find it."

Ben Gallagher

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How to Lead Remote Teams

Manager Smarter 127 Length: 00:19:38

This episode of Manage Smarter is presented by SalesFuel coach our adaptive sales coaching featuring five minute quick coaching, personalized to each sales rep. Learn more about SalesFuel coach at salesfuel​.com. 

Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast with host C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: Well, Lee, let's say you work for a big brand, big corporation, well known products, global type of situation. You're trying to manage smarter through Coronavirus with that. Our guest today is an, an expert in this. He's going to give us some great tips.

C. Lee Smith: You know, and the other thing too, is like so much is unknown about what the future holds because the models have been wrong. The politicians have been wrong. The economists have been wrong so far and probably will be. And the only thing that's really certain is that, we think we know what's going to happen and then it's going to change and nobody really knows. So, being agile and having imagination and bringing that to the game, some creativity to the game, is absolutely going to be necessary for you to thrive in next few months. 

Audrey Strong: That's right. So, welcome Manage Smarter everyone. We have Ben Gallagher with us today. I'm Audrey Strong. I'm the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel. 

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C Lee Smith, the president and CEO of SalesFuel. 

Audrey Strong: All right so Ben Gallagher, what an impressive guy, co-​founder of B+A. It's a creative management consultancy clients, including Converse, Google and Beats by Dre. Before he founded B+A, Ben was a journalist at MTV and later was Sir David Frost producer at Al Jazeera. What an amazing background. Then found himself leading Nike's efforts to make running appealing to young people. That could be a challenge for those of us that have flat feet, but we'll discuss that later, right Ben?

C. Lee Smith: And you [inaudible 00:01:53] too.

Audrey Strong: With COVID 19, he's here to give his tips on how to work and manage smarter through this time. Ben, thanks for coming to the microphones. Welcome, sir. 

Ben Gallagher: Thank you very much. Love to meet you both.

Audrey Strong: So, one of the things that you wanted to talk about was to talk about building a positive culture at a time when everyone is working from home, you're kind of used to being global and in general, so how do you boost up the troops?

Ben Gallagher: Good question. Good question. I think there are lots of different ways that you can boost up the troops, so to speak. And I think it's really about being able to respond to the moment that you are in. So, up until obviously recent times, some of the greatest challenges with the global business was how you unite [inaudible 00:02:37] spending much time together. People who might have to work together for years but actually never meet in person. And so for us, we were very often thinking about moments in a given week that we were bringing people together to learn, to share, to [inaudible 00:02:50] on projects. We're now in a moment where we are trying to respond to a very fast changing environment and situation, and actually what we've been trying to spend a lot of time doing is trying to understand the people behind our colleagues, the humans that we are. We find ourselves all in our bedrooms or in our lofts or in our kitchens with our kids and our dogs and the [inaudible 00:03:23] and all the rest of it running around our homes, and we suddenly starting to see different part of each other's lives. And so I think for us, what we've been trying to do is focusing on who are we really as people and what is it about us as a collective that can unite us? Where do we have similarities that we didn't think existed? What differences do we have that we think that we can make the most of, what can we learn from each other? So, for us at B+A, it's very much to do with who really are we as people? And what does that look like as a collective group.

C. Lee Smith: An adversity will do that for you though. I mean, it really reveals character and it really shows who you really are because it's really revealing isn't it?

Ben Gallagher: Yeah, it is really revealing. And I think too often we found with clients of ours that often team members, colleagues leave a large portion of their personality or their home life at the front door of the office. And creating ways for people to feel safe and comfortable and vulnerable enough to be truly honest and open about who they are and what shapes them, can [inaudible 00:04:40] dividends and that's got to come throughout an organization from the very top to the very bottom. And we have saying at B+A that a fish rots from its head and what we mean by that is that that intention to be open, and actually to be curious of each other has to come from the very top of the organization. And people in teams have to see that happening amongst not only their peers, but also their leaders. And the great thing is when you start to discover more about who somebody really is, you're always amazed, you're always inspired. You are always surprised and you often find there is so much more to your colleagues than you first thought.

C. Lee Smith: You know, if you do it right, situation like this can be very galvanizing to your team. So, what tips could you offer then to managers and to leaders then to make a situation like this be galvanizing to your team?

Ben Gallagher: I think that's a great question. For me there's a couple of things that you can do. The first one is accept the present reality. This is situation we’re in, there's no sugar coating here. It's hard, it's super hard. And we can’t pretend that it’s not. And so I think the first thing is, as a leader, a message to your team is we are going accept where we're and we’re going to [inaudible 00:06:05]. We're not going to pretend that we're in a different kind of situation. So, that would be the first one. And linked to that I think is accept that we don't have a lot of answers. We don't, as you said, at the beginning of this podcast, your introduction to me, we don’t know what next week looks like very often. And I think that the honesty and vulnerability as a leader to say, I don’t have all the answers right now but this is what I’m doing or this is what we’re collectively trying to figure things out, is really, really important because you don't want to do is consistently let people down with false hopes. The third thing is I think to celebrate the small wins sometimes they can be overlooked and day to day business. But focus in on small things that are giving people hope, giving people enjoyment, giving people satisfaction and at the same time be empathetic and willing to listen and support those who might not be finding it as easy as others. Who might be having their down day while others are having their up day because it’s a rollercoaster for everybody. And so for me, I think a way of saying all about is really to be willing, to let go of past behaviors and past habits and models, and in many ways expertise, and to be in the moment and to be intuitive, to be responsive, to be dynamic and not try to hold onto things for too long, if things need to be let go of, let go of them. We're living in this very interesting time where we're all looking for certainty. And the truth is that certainty is really, really hard to find at the moment. And so what we have to do is be able to listen and respond to the micros nuances on how people are behaving in that moment and then move to the next moment, move to the next day, move to the next week. Personally, I don’t believe in offering false hope either. I think it's about being grown up and vulnerable enough to say we don’t have any answer right now, so we’re going to live here in the moment and we’re going to forge paths, many paths and see which one takes us in the right direction.

Audrey Strong: One of the other things that you wanted to offer advice on is, this is cycling and rippling through it, different countries at different times. So, in doing global business, if you have some international business or contacts, how do you engage with post Coronavirus countries like China when you're still locked down and they're loosening up and then the rhythm of this virus? 

Ben Gallagher: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, we do a lot of consumer research work in the Far East and in China in particular and we have our [inaudible 00:08:51] studios there and our partners who work with us in Shanghai. And I think that what we've been trying to do is listen very carefully to the journey that they're going on as emerge out of seemingly is the big hit. Now whether it returns again with such force. We don't yet know. I think we have to listen carefully to what's working and what's not out there, but also be cognizant that every country and every culture is different and the ways that people behave, what makes people feel comfortable or safe, also different. So, we’ve been looking for clues from our China partners as to what they're finding works. So, for example, people are in Shanghai have been returning to work, but they don't feel necessarily comfortable attending a research workshop with people they don’t know. So, they're willing to go to an environment where they feel they can trust people, but perhaps if they were asked to go to something where they didn't know people there that would make them feel uncomfortable at this stage. So again, I think it's just this principle of listening with nuance and looking for the nuances and not expecting a country that might be further ahead, so to speak, to give us all the answers.  We have to be able to then I think take elements of that and merge it with our own cultures and what we know of our own cultures and how they function. So, the challenge with that is that in a global system, a global business, what you're trying to look for is replication and scale. And I think it poses a bigger, more interesting question of what is the replication scale? What is it going to look like in the future? And is it possible in the same way? 

C. Lee Smith: I want to get your take on the value of creativity during a time like this, so that the unconventional thinker, whether they think out of the box or whatever, the person sometimes who doesn't follow the rules, they don't fit in or something like that. We all have a little bit of that, but some more than others, like how valuable is that at a time like this, and how do you put that to work for you?

Ben Gallagher: Personally I think it's critical. I think it's probably the most important thing that we could deploy right now is our ability to think creatively and New Second Robinson British educators’ definition of creativity, “Original ideas that have value.” So, what we are excited about and interested in is thinking about ways that we can generate original ideas that are going to have an impact and have a value for ourselves or for our clients. And for me, that's about drawing from the broadest possible range of sources and stimulus that we can. How can we step out of the worlds that we've been in and might think that we're experts in and learn from totally different worlds. And what's been interesting, I think about this period of time so far, is that we've suddenly realized that there are people performing what may have been perceived as unimportant jobs or not aspirational jobs, who are in fact key workers, critical workers, garbage collectors, the postal service, these essential [crosstalk 00:12:13]

C. Lee Smith: …boys at the grocery store.

Ben Gallagher: Right. Exactly. And so by reframing how we see the world and employing some of our softer skills, I think we might be able to look at things with a new light and a new a fresh pair of eyes. And this is the time for imagination. What we've seen, I think personally is that the global economic system that we have been operating within has been undermined extremely quickly, extremely quickly. And it's shown just how fragile it is. And so if there is a moment to start to question fundamentals of how we've been living and operating, now's the moment to do it. And I think that requires bravery. It requires gut and it requires us to go to places that we might not normally go to, to look for answers and to look for stimulus. And then to try stuff, try stuff out again, it's a great moment to be able to attribute a failure to the fact that we're in this crazy time so people should feel confident being able to try stuff and not feel like all eyes are on them for the success. We often talk at B+A about the only thing you find in a pigeon hole is pigeon crap. This idea that if you are in a vertical sector and you only ever exist within your sector, your frame of reference and field of vision is only as broad as that sector whatever that may be. And so this is the moment to try and step out of there, fill our minds with new stimulus. 

C. Lee Smith: So, is that what you find in rabbit hole then?

Ben Gallagher: You could say, you could say, right. 

Audrey Strong: But you know I complain all the time. I'm coping to this with Lee. I say to him, “I don't have enough time for thinking time. I need my thinking time.” And so now I've got a little bit more of that, and I'm going to use it with joy and purpose because I have it now and I want to bring in new ideas. This is the time to do it.

Ben Gallagher: This is the time to do it. This is the time to be able to connect with people that you might not have been able to connect with in the past. There's never been an easier time to get a few people on a zoom call or whatever your chosen communications platform is. There are actually very low barriers to entry or accessing new points of view, new stimulus and new ideas. And I think it's such an interesting moment because we're grappling with multiple different paces. I think we've got a long arc of what does this really all mean? And that feels quite slow, but then we've got the furious pace of everyday survival, especially if you're running a business or operating in a team alongside a kind of a rolling pace of day to day life as well, and things that are going on around us, in our homes and our families amongst our friends and loved ones. And so I think we're grappling with these different speeds. 

C. Lee Smith: And I think Ben is your boss is never going to be more receptive to new ideas than they are right now. Especially if they're admitting that they don't have all the answers that is your clue right there, is like, okay, they're going to be receptive to whatever you can bring them.

Ben Gallagher: Yeah, that's right. And if your boss turns around and says they do have the answers, I'd be careful to believe it because nobody seems to have the answer right now. And actually, I think the most important thing is to go that's okay. That's okay. Therefore, there's a great opportunity to think about where they might come from. 

C. Lee Smith: Hell. We don't even know the questions right now. 

Ben Gallagher: Right. Exactly. Exactly. And maybe that's part the answer. We need to start to ask better questions of ourselves, of the way we live, of how we do business, and of the world that we live in. And so if anything comes out of this, the idea that we might be asking more fruitful questions in the future would be great.

Audrey Strong: We got about three minutes left. Question, so when this does we do reopen. I kind of feel like this environment that we're working in, that's got some benefits that we just talked about. Everybody's going to feel like they're being shot out of a cannon. So, how are you preparing your teams for go time? 

Ben Gallaher: That's a really good question. I think we are thinking about the time that we can spend between now and then to keep people's levels of learning up as high as possible and use this as a great learning opportunity. For example, we're just designing  probably a two week internal learning program for everybody in the team to learn new tools and skills either we are developing at the moment or that they haven't had the chance to themselves up on prior to this moment. And then we're also talking to everybody about how they feel about coming out of this and what that might mean to them. So, do they feel comfortable traveling if it's possible? Would they be willing to go to different places it's possible, et cetera, et cetera. So, I think there's a kind of each person on a case by case basis. And we're lucky enough with size where we can do that alongside what are their overall objectives for the year, what are our clients going to need? And then what skills can we teach people in this period of time to prepare them for kind of going back out there. And frankly, more than helping them to feel safe and comfortable that we've got theirs backs, we've their interest. And we continue to only do the very best work would be our greatest integrity.

Audrey Strong: Fantastic. Well, Ben, it's been a pleasure having you on the show bandaequals​.com is the website if you want to engage with Ben. And Ben Gallagher on LinkedIn as well, live from England, it's been great having you. And you have no idea when you're going to get back to [crosstalk 00:18:29]

Ben Gallagher: No…

Audrey Strong: You literally are stuck, right?

Ben Gallagher: I can’t answer that question. I'm stuck. I'm stuck right now as everybody. So yeah, we'll see. I'll be back soon. 

C. Lee Smith: Hopefully we'll…

Ben Gallagher: The Internet's a wonderful thing. 

Audrey Strong: It is. 

C. Lee Smith: We'll get to see the Portland Timbers play the Columbus Crew again, sometime real soon. 

Ben Gallagher: And I'm looking forward to it and I'm hopeful of the result already. 

Audrey Strong: I love it. 

Ben Gallagher: Oh, on that note [inaudible 00:19:03]

Audrey Strong: Great talking to you Ben, thank you.

Ben Gallagher: Thanks very much. Lovely to meet you. Cheers. Bye.

Thanks for listening to our episode on how to lead remote teams. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, overcast, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information salesfuel​.com.

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