Cooking in the Kitchen to Create Culture

Welcome to episode one of Managing the Way! Today we talk to Denise VanEck, owner of Thought Design, about helping teams achieve mental shifts that create lasting change in culture. Denise goes through a wide range of ideas, but all focus on the idea of being safe at the workplace and being able to think outside of the box without being hurt by that. Check out more podcasts at: https://managingtheway.transistor.fm

Content is summarized from the interview:

-Last 35 or plus years of Denise's career has always involved learning, training, workshop, design, coaching. But at the end of the day, it's always been about learning.


- Was Chief Learning Officer for a big financial services company.


-Six years ago, around the time I was turning 50, she decided that she wanted to create a space for people to learn and to learn how to learn


-She works with large teams within organizations. They may start with an executive team and then add layers and layers of people down through the organization, until they are able to achieve some shifts and culture and practices throughout the whole organization. They also work with smaller startup companies and even sometimes some solopreneurs that are part of  public programs. Anyone can show up and and learn in community kind of experiences.


-It turns out that when a team finds themselves in the kitchen and creating a dish together, working together, whatever they're doing, there isn't really anything that they do back at work as a team that they can't replicate in the kitchen. They solve problems, they make decisions, they collaborate, they help, they support, they challenge, they give feedback. All the things that we do as part of our work can be replicated in an hour and a half, creating a dish together.


-What Denise is noticing is that for many teams, things that used to work aren't working so well anymore. The world is getting more complex. Work is getting more complex, and teams are struggling. And it isn't necessarily that they're struggling because they're not competent, they're not smart, they're not good at what they do, or they don't like each other. Often, they're struggling because they don't have the tools to keep up with the complexity or the changes that they're facing and how work is getting done.


-The majority of what people do is actually habit, including our thoughts. And if we think the same way we did yesterday, we're going to act the same way we did yesterday. At Thought Design, they create these really unique experiences to help people kind of zoom back out and go, "Oh." And then the design part is they get to redesign new ways of thinking, new ways of acting, new ways of working. And even understanding their work.


-One of the things that our brains are paying the most attention to is certainty. And our brains are working every second of every day to assess how much certainty we have about our experience and how much we need. And so for all of us when we don't have the amount of certainty that we need, our brain takes us into a threat state, and it starts executing all this stuff to help take care of ourself and defend ourself. So what we are experiencing is this urgency. "I need a plan, I need more certainty." And when that happens, maybe some of the bad behaviors start to come out, right? So this is where the brain science can kind of be useful because when we know that, we can actually asses a situation and we can actually dampen some of that response by basically saying, "This is a moment in which this is what I'm certain about and this is what I'm not certain about." And ironically, naming the thing you're not certain about gives you some certainty.


-Psychological safety is knowing that I can bring my voice, I can disagree, I can offer my ideas, I can really be myself. I can take risks, I can fail all of those things in there. I am not going to be hurt; that I can do that, that this is a place where that can be done. We do that for each other. So trust and psychological safety aren't exactly the same thing, but they're all meshed up together. You can't have psychological safety without trust and vice versa.

Teams also need to get away and have time to think together and reflect together. Be able to spend just an hour to be curious about each other. -Denise Van Eck, Owner of Thought Design

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