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Addressing Burnout in Your Engineering Org

with Erica Lockheimer, Sabry Tozin & Lori Allen

January 4, 2022
Addressing Burnout in Your Engineering Org
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About Erica Lockheimer VPE, LinkedIn Talent Solutions, LinkedIn Learning & Glint @ LinkedIn

Erica Lockheimer is VP of Engineering, Talent Solutions, Learning, and Glint @ LinkedIn. During her more than 10 years at the company, she built the Growth Engineering team into a high-performing 120-person team, focused on increasing membership, and deepening member engagement. In January 2018, she was promoted to Head of Engineering for the LinkedIn Learning team, formerly known as Lynda.com.

She is also responsible for LinkedIn’s Women In Tech (WIT) initiative, which is focused on empowering women in technical roles at the company. Prior to LinkedIn, she worked at Good Technology as Director of Server Engineering to securely manage and synchronize e-mail and calendar data between Exchange and mobile devices. Erica loves the challenge of starting with something nascent and carving out the right strategy, hiring the best people, and plotting a course to drive results. In 2014 and 2015, Erica was recognized as one of the top 22 women engineers in the world by Business Insider.

"Offer first your vulnerability and share how you're feeling or what you're going through. Guess what? That opens up a door for them to feel comfortable to share the same!"

<cite>- Erica Lockheimer    </cite>

About Lori Allen VP, HRBP-Engineering @ LinkedIn

Lori is a Speaker and Coach and serves as VP of Human Resources, Engineering for LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s Mission is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce which aligns to Lori’s personal goal of helping others reach their full potential. 

She has spent the last 20+ years as an HR Leader responsible for designing talent strategies and partnering with Executives to drive business results. Lori is passionate about Diversity Inclusion and belonging and was named in the 2018 list of women worth watching in the Profiles in Diversity Journal.

Originally from Wichita, Kansas, she graduated from the University of Kansas with a BA and later received a master’s degree from Webster University.   Lori has resided in the Bay area for the past 20+ years and has had the privilege of working

"The more we went into the pandemic, the more we saw people were having to juggle a million different things... If you pretend like you don't see it, you're missing all the opportunities to lean in and provide support."

<cite>- Lori Allen    </cite>

About Sabry Tozin VP of Engineering @ LinkedIn

Sabry Tozin is the Vice President of Enterprise Productivity Engineering at LinkedIn. In this capacity, Sabry leads the organization that powers the productivity of LinkedIn employees through innovative, scalable, and secure information technology solutions. Before joining LinkedIn, Sabry held engineering leadership roles at Netflix and IGN Entertainment. He’s a seasoned technology leader with over 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley.

"It's such a liberating thing to know that the people around you are actively working to make you successful in everything that they do, when you're not in the room..."

<cite>- Sabry Tozin    </cite>

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  • Burnout in Q1-2021 & what caused LinkedIn to take a company-wide week off (3:31)
  • Are patterns of burnout repeating with the new covid variant? (7:59)
  • What are the causes, conditions, & indicators of burnout in engineering orgs? (12:19)
  • How to detect & identify the early signs of burnout in your engineering team (19:14)
  • Favorite non-invasive "how are you doing" questions to get better signal from your engineering team (23:47)
  • How to build resilience against burnout by leveraging Lencioni’s “First Team Concept” (31:01)
  • Conversation framework for internal mobility (36:44)
  • Erica, Lori & Sabry’s personal practices to prevent burnout (40:29)
  • What do you admire most about working with each other? (42:31)
  • Takeaways (44:59)


Patrick: Let's jump in. Lori, Sabry, Erica, thank you three so much for joining us. Officially welcome to the show despite navigating some early technical difficulties. It's so great to have you here.

Sabry Tozin: Our pleasure!

Lori Allen: Thank you.

Erica Lockheimer: Always a good time.

Patrick: Fantastic. Well, we're here to talk about burnout and there's quite a big story to tell between the three of you. And so I thought we would just jump right in to a specific moment that I think tells a really compelling story about this.

And so I want to bring us all back to quarter 1 2021. I know that LinkedIn did a big survey to sort of understand the sentiment shift going on with, with the company, with the managers of the company. And in that survey for my understanding about 78% of managers indicated that they felt burnt out.

And so I think it was really special about this is this probably also named and brought to awareness, it's probably what a lot of people were feeling in that moment of time, Including, but not limited to a company-wide week off which at the time from the outside really felt like a bold and courageous move to, to take into account employee wellness and wellbeing.

Burnout in Q1-2021 & what caused LinkedIn to take a company-wide week off

Patrick: I was wondering just to begin, can you bring us back to that quarter 1 2021, bring us into the room together. What were you all noticing with your teams and what was really going through your minds as leaders of the organization with what was going on? Bring us to that moment.

Sabry Tozin: Sure I'll start us off.

Sabry Tozin: I'll actually take you back a little bit further than that. I'll take you back to when we started really working from home, which was probably like a year before that in the spring of the previous year. And we thought we'd be away for three weeks and we'd be back at work!

And things changed dramatically. In those first few months, as we were looking at signals on productivity and trying to see if people at LinkedIn were being productive, we noticed actually a jump in productivity. We noticed more code check-ins. But just in general, people were working more and there were working longer hours and they were being very productive.

But this was also the first time we started asking ourselves. "So people are productive. Are they well?"

And when you talk about Q1 2021, so almost a year later, we really started seeing the impact of what felt like people being tired of being at home all the time, not having connections with colleagues and being in the office and feeling that burnout that you described And it was a bit of a lagging indicator, but by the time we got to Q1 2021, it was pretty obvious that people were tired in all the signals they were giving us.

Lori Allen: Yeah, and I think the other thing that we would add when we kind of started to do those surveys we were doing them all along. So we've always done quarterly check-ins to understand how our employees are feeling.

But for this set of data, what we also learned was that when we started to look at how much time are people taking off, people weren't taking the time off. They weren't getting rest. They weren't doing the, the typical things that you would do outside of a pandemic. Take a vacation, go spend time with your family, do something to recharge. We weren't seeing any of that.

So one of the steps we took was to say, we will incorporate an opportunity for people to do this company-wide. So we put in an additional week of rest. So we always have shutdowns. We have one in July. We have one in the holiday time in December, to kind of get that break between the end of the calendar year and starting a new one.

But this was specific. This was to say, "Hey, we're not seeing people rest. And we want to encourage our employees to take a break and to really focus on self-care."

So that additional week of rest was brought in, in April, and the whole company stopped globally. And it made it possible for people to say, it's okay for me to put myself first right now and take a break.

Erica Lockheimer: And I would just add on a personal note and also what I heard from so many of the employees, is when you decide to do something like that and you think, "Hey, this is a great idea, but how it actually feels at the end of it."

Everyone didn't realize how much they needed this. I personally needed it and it was hard to stop and take a break because everything was shut down. And usually when you take a break, you're like, I'm going to miss meeting some friends. I'm going to go on a vacation. I'm going to do all this planning. And you take a break, and you're just at, at home. So it was a very different type of break. But it was something that everyone needed and everyone came back just re-energized

And it brought us all a little bit closer. I think also because we realized how much we needed and we shared what we did on the break. Whether we learned how to cook or do other types of activities. It just was a new exploration. I think of ourselves and LinkedIn gave us that time to do it. So very rewarding in many ways that we didn't even realize it would be.

Jerry: And I can imagine this is very different from someone taking a leave for a few weeks because while that's happening, you also have the whole company running. You have a lot of emails, things are going on. So you have like anxiety and it's hard to have really peace of, peace of mind. But this is so different, a global company shut down or rest for four weeks, that just guarantee there's no... really have a peace of mind.

Lori Allen: Well, just going to say, I think that's one of the beauties of the process is you really get to take a break. So when you ask the entire company to kind of lean back and rest you don't come back to a mountain of emails or a mountain of work that never really went away because everyone's taking that same pause.

So you're right. It's a plus to have the whole company do it simultaneously, versus like you said, an individual choice to take some time for a break.

Are the patterns of burnout repeating with the new covid variant?

Patrick: So there's a lot to unpack here from, this story. But I think before we dive into how to build awareness around burnout, and how to address it...

I was more curious because we're recording this early December and right now there's a lot of things going on around the Omicron variants of COVID-19 is sort of being detected for the first time or we're seeing spikes of it. And in some ways, it feels like some of the same patterns of uncertainty and some of the emotional toll that that causes for people are starting to come back again.

And I'm more so just wanting to learn from you all, like, are you sensing similar patterns to some of the same burnout challenges going into Q1? Are there things sort of different now? Is there anything that you see around, like the patterns of what's going on with employees and how they're emotionally processing some of these things that you find interesting?

Erica Lockheimer: I definitely see some of the patterns coming back a little bit, but it's hard to say, right? Every situation is so different even with this new variant. But we've learned so much in this past year and a half, of doing things differently of how we gather is a huge thing.

I remember when we started coming back and all of us had to be on video a hundred percent of the time chat a hundred percent of the time, and you start questioning all the meetings that you have. Do these really make sense?

And the bar starts to rise really quickly because of the fatigue of a different way of gathering. And so I think some of those practices, we've learned and we'll keep doing those things moving forward.

But again, even right now, we're in hybrid mode. What does that mean? For some people? It means the same thing that it's been for the last year and a half. They don't feel comfortable going back to work. Their vaccine status may be different where they feel comfortable or not.

And then now we have a new variant. I mean, it's just constant, constant change, and constant iteration and we're learning as we go. So I think the more that we can be open to listening to what our employees need. Also being vulnerable, how we're feeling, and bringing those two things together is how we're going to have to act differently.

So yes, see a little bit of the same. Hope we keep some of the best practices. But I think we're going to still do some things differently.

Lori Allen: Yeah, I would add one thing too. I think if I'm just sharing my own personal story, my husband and I were talking about this the other day.

It's interesting because the reality of the rollercoaster is real. So when I start to think about how excited I was to kind of feel like you're starting to come out. And you see a light at the end of the tunnel, and you're like, "Wooh! I have some chances to kind of go back to the way things were pre-pandemic!"

Where you start, "I'm going to go get my nails done, or I'm going to go spend time with friends" Or do whatever those things are, to start to get those things back to the activities you used to do.

And then you hear in the news that there's a new variant and the reality of like, "Whoa, okay..." How does that pull you back?

So I highlight that because I think that's what employees are going through as well. And leaders it's like, are we coming out? Are we going in? Where are we at? When is it actually going to stop? But the skills that we've learned between the last 19 months that we can apply are super important.

So we think about leadership. One of the things I tell leaders in our company, you know how to be a great leader in person. You've proven you can be a great leader virtually, or the last 19 months you've added a whole new set of skills. So now you just have to figure out how to apply what you need, when you need it. Because you have a whole toolkit worth of skills now that you can apply to wherever we find ourselves.

But the acknowledgment of okay, we're where we were. Okay. So I'll go back to some of my old ways of processing how I work with the team. I'm coming out, we're going to start to have lunch in person, or we're going to go in the opposite a little bit. I know how to do that in person.

So really giving ourselves some grace around we've added so many new skills over the last 18 months. We just now have to be super agile. But also be honest with ourselves about how are we feeling and how does that energy potentially translate to our teams. And then how do we open up the dialogue because, on any given day, employees are filling in any place on that spectrum. And being able to kind of work in that mode is what I think leaders will need now.

And in the future flexibility and approach, there's so much change happening in the world right now. We've got, gotta be able to pivot quickly. And that's a skillset and I think that's something we've picked up over the last 19 months.

What are the causes, conditions & indicators of burnout in engineering orgs?

Patrick: Lori, you were mentioning the rollercoaster. And so that makes me think of... it seems like there are certain conditions that create burnout. And I think there's been a couple of questions that have come up from some of the engineering leaders in our community.

This one, in particular, comes from Aditya, and his question was for an engineering org, like, what are the causes? What are the conditions and what are the early signs that indicate your team or your engineering organization are predisposed or at risk of burnout?

And so I was hoping we could talk a little bit about, about some of those. And so Sabry Erica, Lori, We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sabry Tozin : Sure I'll start. You know, I think there are a few things. One is because we're at home and because we're not around our colleagues on a regular basis, it's very easy to feel a disconnection from the work.

And so when you feel disconnected from the workplace, what happens is you tend to stay in your own head. And the longer you stay in your own head, sometimes you get into a very negative cycle, a very cynical cycle.

In these conditions, if a leader is not aware of that happening and you think about the deadlines we have, and you think about in general, how engineering teams work. It starts to become this pretty poor cycle for people to be. Like, you know, they're in their own heads, they don't feel a connection to the work. Their heads are down. There's not a good delineation between home and work. I mean, this is something I experienced myself... that is really hard to manage, and oftentimes you're not aware of it.

So if teams are not really focused on that personal factor and focused on the actual wellness of their teams, but tend to only look at productivity and how much output the team's putting, then it, it, it can be a very dangerous thing. And I, and incidentally, I'm deliberately using that word.

What we believe is that you have to start with awareness. Making people aware of burnout, making people aware of the things that they're experiencing, but also giving them an avenue to be able to talk about it. To not just make those gatherings be about the actual work itself. You know, planning, and when's the next sprint and so on and so forth. But to actually start with a very basic question of like, "How are you doing?"

And I think this can be, it can be forgotten sometimes. And it's certainly something that we saw and when we went into a world of remote was a lot harder to do.

So that's just one quick thing I can think of

Erica Lockheimer: yeah, it's interesting to reflect, especially during the peak of COVID when everything was happening. One of the first things that we started doing and we're still doing today is we started a Women In Tech listening session for some of the challenges that people were facing. They just needed a forum to talk about the challenges.

And there's been no doubt that the pandemic has been especially hard on women. A lot of the childcare and caring in general, the family has been negatively impacting women. We needed to create that forum. And it was interesting to just listen to some of the challenges that they were all going through.

And listening is one of the most important things because it creates empathy and knowing that you're not alone. And just having that validation, feels really really good.

But that's only one step of it because then there's also action. You want people to feel comfortable to say how they feel, but that is not always the case. And I remember several times, even today, I mean, you have some countries that are shut down where you can't even travel and they can't even see their loved ones, even in the current state.

And when you see a rockstar engineer where they were just doing phenomenal! And then all of a sudden something seems off? Guess what? The odds are, something is off. And they maybe didn't feel comfortable talking to anyone about it. They might be all in their head like Sabry described and they're struggling. And so it's our job as peers, as leaders, to go and lean in and see if they need some help.

So I think there are many different tools, that we all need to be practicing when we feel that things are just not right. And that is a new journey that we're on now. And we got to continue forward and I see it happening quite a bit. So the more that we can lean on each other and also just share our own struggles. I think we'll all be better for it.

Lori Allen: I think the piece I'd add there too Patrick... We, we often refer to a term when we think about diversity inclusion, is the term of an "iceberg" and how leaders and employees even... we all presented a, what we call, what was "above the water." So the part of the iceberg you could see is what we knew about our teams and what we, what we shared about ourselves even.

But the more we went into the pandemic, the more we saw, you know, what was really below the surface. People were having to juggle a million different things.

And what it really brought up for me personally, and for some of the leaders that I coach... is you now have way more information than you have before, But what are you going to do with it? Are you going to pretend like you don't know? Are you going to pretend like you don't see?

People are being asked to carry a lot of stuff. People are doing homeschool right now. You know, they're teaching their kids. There's no daycare. They're doing their job. They're stopping to be the chief cook and bottle washer. You know, you gotta do the laundry, you gotta do all these things because life is really happening.

But we can't pretend like we don't see it. If you pretend like you don't see it, you're missing all the opportunities to lean in and provide support So it's creating that dialogue and being transparent.

One of the things that I think the three of us were able to do in some of the meetings that we were in with what we call our first team. Where we're there for each other first too. Is just be honest. "Today was like this, I have this happening. I got school. I got to figure out how to get video set up for my kid over here, I have these deadlines..."

And really talking about it so that it's actually okay for others to say, "Hey, me too, this is what my day looks like." So that we can figure out how do we balance that and create the space for people to have what they need in order to continue to do great work.

Patrick: I want to come back to the first team concept, Lori. Cause I know that that has been such an important source of support for, for you three.

Before we go to there, I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the mechanisms that people can use or the ways that people can detect burnout in their organizations. So quick bookmark.

But so far we've mentioned a couple of things Sabry, you mentioned like the disconnection from work and Erica, you mentioned sort of the disconnection from each other and being able to build empathy and understand what people are going through.

I think one of the things I'm curious about is like, how do you identify or detect, like, what are the mechanisms you can do to detect some of those things like those disconnections from people?

At the beginning, we mentioned the sentiment survey that LinkedIn used. I think of a few other ones I know are it sounds like with Erica, the listening tour is a, is a great way to, to get sort of inputs of what's going on.

How to detect & identify the early signs of burnout in your engineering team

Patrick: Are there other detection mechanisms that you might offer as a practice for people to detect early signals of burnout?

Erica Lockheimer: I mean, there are basic one-on-ones right. Because I think sometimes we focus on work in Sabry was alluding this to before, but we actually should repurpose them more about what is the wellbeing of that individual. Because even though you may have listening sessions or forums, how uncomfortable, if you have something very personal that you want to share... to share in a public forum, that's really, really difficult.

But if you're in a one-on-one, and you offer like first your vulnerability and sharing how you're feeling or what you're going through. Guess what? That opens up a door for them to feel comfortable sharing the same.

And I've had so many personal one-on-ones, especially during this time that we've laughed, we've cried. We've gone through so many different emotions. And if anything, that brought us so much closer.

We all try and be perfect and button-up and I've leaned on Sabry and Lori, so many, so many times. Tearing literally. And you know, you think, "Oh, they're VPs, they got it all figured out."

You know, we're all broken sometimes in some ways. So it's okay to share that.

And so I think it's just important. Those one-on-ones are key. That's where you're going to get the authenticity between two individuals

Sabry Tozin : So the iceberg that, that Lori talked about is... that analogy is a hundred percent correct. And when you ask about detection mechanisms, it's, it's incredibly difficult, right now. It's really hard to tell, because how are you going to do that? How are you going to measure signals? How are you going to capture sentiment short of constantly asking people how they're doing? Which can also be overwhelming for them.

And so, you know, Erica says like a basic one-on-one will. So this is key. Like going back to just some fundamental stuff. That as human beings, we are social creatures and, we need social connection.

One of the best mechanisms that I've seen is this idea of a skip level. So are you meeting with individuals on your team that doesn't necessarily report directly to you?

Secondly, are you meeting with colleagues in your company that aren't necessarily a part of your team? Either through a connection, through an ERG, or maybe just people that you knew?

And so really it comes down to time management, you know, like the age-old time management. What's on your calendar? And Erica alluded to this earlier... what's on your calendar that's important?

And really over-indexing on creating connections with people because the detection mechanism sometimes is really just that one-on-one, is really that conversation. And beyond it, it's really hard to get signals, especially across bigger teams.

Lori Allen: Yeah, one other thing I would add Patrick , I was just thinking about this, a tip that I would apply that I use for my team. Is I actually started to ask my team... because I can tell that their energy was different. Their, you know, the way they entered the room was different. And it wasn't just an individual. It was like the whole team was starting to feel burnt out. They were just like, this is a lot...

So one of the things we actually did was just, we took one of our staff meetings and just said, "Hey, let's look at everything that we have on our plate. Let's prioritize together. What has to get done? What can we decide as a team to hit a pause? What can we decide as a team that we're going to put to next quarter?"

Whatever those things are so that it could really focus on who has capacity? Who has bandwidth? Who doesn't? Because again, those individual triggers up where it's driving burnout could be different for each person.

So it actually turned into a really open, honest discussion about did we put too much on the plate? Because again, as Sabry said, you look up you're in your office till 6, 7, 8 o'clock at night because you're not setting adequate boundaries. And we just started to incorporate those conversations with the prioritization exercise.

Once we had it out on the table, we could also say... others could volunteer to help each other. "I'll take this from you. I'll do that. How could we redesign this project to be a one-to-many approach versus all of us having to do it?"

And it really helped us to kind of parse through new ways to deliver, instead of just saying everybody had to own the same things.

But it started from that energy in the room just being like, "Whoa..." There's not... that the balloon was deflated as I call it. It's just walking in where everybody's heavy and just figuring out ways to put a little bit more air in the room, pump it back up a little bit. But being open to new ways to solve it.

Favorite non-invasive "how are you doing" questions to get better signal from your engineering team

Patrick: I really appreciate the question there, Lori.

My next question is, is there a magic question that you ask folks in the one-on-ones or the skip levels that can help reveal more signal around how they're doing beyond just asking how are you? Or like, I guess recognizing the energy in the room?

Do you have, like, I guess your favorite sort of "casually noninvasive investigative questions that you ask folks to get to understand how they are doing?

Sabry Tozin: I love that casually non-invasive.

The, you know, my thought is really about... so Erica alluded to this in terms of like active listening. And not being in a position where you're asking a question and sort of waiting to respond, but really listening.

And oddly enough, a lot of what you can hear is not said. A lot of what is said is sort of in between the lines. So rather than always asking somebody, "How are you doing?"

What I'll actually start, my one-on-ones with now is by saying, "Hey, how are things at home? Like, what's the latest?"

And it's weird. It gets people talking about what's happening at home. As, as opposed to sort of necessarily telling what they're feeling because they may not want to. And in the process, of telling you what's happening at home, this comes out.

It's a, it's like, well, you know, you know, we've had issues with pickups and drop-offs. Like, you know, between my partner and I, we're having a hard time figuring out who should do the pickups, who should be the drop-offs. And if you think about school pickups, they're sort of in the witching hour of most people's meetings.

And so you ask a question like that, and it starts to sort of unravel other things. And those things are not always easily captured when you ask somebody how they're doing. But it's really about what's in between the lines. This has been very powerful for me.

The other thing that I've done is I have had one-on-ones you know, we schedule 30 minutes. I start out by asking how things are going at home. We're 15 or 20 minutes in. And I say, "Do you have anything for me?"

And they say "No."

And I said, "Okay, cool. We can end this."

And they're like, "Well, aren't we going to talk about the work?"

I'm like, "No, not today. Don't want to talk about the work today."

And that becomes one of those things where it's not just about that one-on-one but it becomes about the next conversation. And, you look at it as an arc. You don't look at it as these isolated 30 minutes with everybody. But you think about creating connection over time.

So it's not just questions. It's also treating these meetings as an ongoing thing, not like a point in time. And listening for the things that are sort of in between the lines.

Erica Lockheimer: Just like the question that Sabry has, which is asking, you know, how, "How home is going?" Because obviously, he's asked me that plenty of times and he gets like a whole bunch of text messages, so I can tell you it works number one.

And then uh... but number two, I think what also happens is then you start to learn something about that person. What's going on in their life. Then the next time that you meet them, how... for instance, in my case, my kids were going to different schools that I was switching schools. That's what there's a process to apply. There's a process. There's a process on the first day... and it becomes a reoccurring conversation where now you feel that individual gets you. You kind of know what's going on even the next week before you even go into that one-on-one.

Hey, how was the first day of... and wow! You know, you really listen to me. You have empathy. You know what's going on. And the more that we have those types of conversations, the more I'm going to tell you what's going on.

But if we don't have that trust and we don't have that relationship, and I don't feel like you don't get me, guess what it ain't going to happen. And you're not going to know anything about me and I'm going to be tightened up and it's not going to work.

So the more that we can build upon and make it a reoccurring conversation and an evolution, I think is key.

Lori, your turn!

Lori Allen: There are three questions I've been asking lately, Patrick. So I'll share those three with you.

The first one is "What brings you joy?" It doesn't have to be about work, but I try to include work in there. And like, just give me a list of the things that, what brings you joy right now?

And then my second questions are kind of tied to that. "What in your day is energy additive and what is energy-depleting?"

And then they can kind of pick and choose like this part of my project, whether it's something that's a bit more mundane or maintenance type work vs. big, you know, ideation around what's happening for the future. I can kind of get a sense of what those signals are for them or triggers that Things that are pulling that energy down, things that would add back.

And then I asked the last one, "If you could add one thing that would either add more joy or add more balance to your skills, what would that one thing be?"

So it becomes a bit more self-discovery for them a little bit? To kind of figure out, what do they want to tell me?

But if I go straight into it and I do the same things that Sabry and Erica do, when I have an authentic relationship of close with someone, I can go like, how's home, how's family, how's what's happening?

But when I work with someone who may be someone I know, but I don't work with them as closely, I don't have that deep of relationship. I try to use those words. Because I am very interested in knowing the answers to those questions and it helps them open up a little bit more about some very specific, you know, areas that they can kind of tie back to.

But I think all of those kinds of getting your own set of things that you can authentically ask from a place of caring and intention. Because if you don't, actually, if you ask it just because we said "Here's the three things we ask..."

It's not going to work. You act to actually really care and want to know. And then it'll open up the flood.


Sabry Tozin: Can we stick on that point for just a second? I think this is really important. These are not like "the management one-on-one let me go follow these checkboxes and ask these questions" type of things. They have to truly resonate with you.

And in fact, I think they have to resonate with them and then you have to put them in your own voice and in your own truth. And when they do truly resonate with you and they feel authentic to you. But most importantly, when you care about how other people are doing in such a way that these questions can then come out, then it lands.

This is so important, what Lori is saying is so important. If you look at these as sort of "methods you can use" without making them resonate with you as a person, I don't think they will land. They have to be in your own truth. They have to be in your own voice.

Patrick: I'm going to try to synthesize something real quick. And then I want to dive into the first team concept that Lori, you brought up. We were talking about one of the things that creates risk for burnout was being disconnected. Disconnected from the, from the company, disconnected from people.

And we talked about then uncovering the iceberg and understanding what people are going through.

And from there, the big question or that you introduced is what do you do with the info now that you've gotten that?

I'd love to start to talk about more of some of the practices. You've received this info. Now, what do you do?

And it seems like one of the things that you all have mentioned a few different ways is a lot of the resilience comes from creating connection, creating community within the, organization itself.

And that brings us, I think, to the first team concept that you brought up, Lori. Because I can tell from the three of you, like you three sound like you've leaned on each other so much over, I imagine probably longer than a year and a half.

How to build resilience against burnout by leveraging Lencioni’s “First Team Concept”

Patrick: And so I'm wondering if you could share a little bit about some of the practices. Or for your experience about community support, connection, introduce us more to this first team concept and how that's worked within the three of you. Because I think like this seems like such a powerful source of support for people to build a sense of resilience against burnout.

Lori Allen: Yeah. Do you want to go first Sabry? I know you had a recent example?

Sabry Tozin: Yeah, I do. So there, there are a few things. I think the two that come to mind for me are energy and clarity. So let me start with clarity.

Right now we talked earlier about like, Hey, there's this new variant and you, you hear terms like the light at the end of the tunnel. One of the things that happens is in your mind, you're trying to figure out what the end of the pandemic looks like. So rather than thinking about the journey, all you have in your mind is the destination, that you are trying to figure out what does the destination looks like? And by definition, when you start to do something like this, you miss things that are happening along the way, but you create a lot of anxiety.

So as a leader, you can reduce that burden by giving people clarity in their work, by giving people clarity and where things are going. Like giving them a sense of like, you may not have an idea of how life will end up. You may not have an idea of how this pandemic will end up. And there's all this anxiety around you in your real-world and your real. But, you know, for your work, let me tell you where we're going. Let me give you a sense of clarity.

Once you have the signals of how people are doing, you can start to use this, to really help you define the mission of your team and where you're going. And even instances where there's ambiguity, help provide that clarity.

The other is energy.

And again, this is a concept that pre-pandemic, I probably would have told you feels a bit "fluffy" to me. But this idea of being able to energize your team. Share with them some optimism, share with them some of the energy that you're feeling, share with them some of your vulnerability. And, but get them to a point where they feel ready to go.

Not because you're like cheerleading and rah, rah. But because you're giving them the room and giving them the space to be able to express themselves in a way that's really authentic to them. Allowing them to bring their full selves to work so to speak.

And I think this is another concept. If you can give clarity, if you can provide energy once you've received these signals, you understand where to do it, how to do it. It becomes a very, very powerful thing.

Lori Allen: When I think about it related to "first team" too. I think those places where we personally needed ourselves. We are... one of the concepts we use is that our set of peers is really our first team. So the people that we sit around the table with are, are what we call our first team.

Some people would think of it as their direct reports or their direct team is their first team. But that place where you can actually say "I need help. You know, I'm having a rough day or, you know, this issue I'm struggling with how to kind of think about that?"

We actually depend on each other to actually kind of think through how are we going to approach certain topics with our own teams? Like, Sabry said, how do we create clarity? How do we do this?

But the places where we might be stuck. We actually go to each other and work, we're having a week, bad feedback, or we heard something that didn't land with us so well. We can actually go say, "Hey, you know what? I want to run this by you. What do you think about this?"

And we tend to do that all the time, which is really helpful in how we help lead the organization. Because if we don't have those safe places where we feel psychologically safe to share what's really going on. How are we really thinking about it?

And again, like Erica said, we're just leaders. Like everybody else, we don't have all the answers. We're trying to figure things out as well. So we really connect on that and we support each other. We're not going to let any one of us fall. We're not going to let any of us fail. We're going to be there for each other and have each other's back. That's the concept for "first team" that actually shows up for us.

No matter what time it is. It might be like, "Hey I sense I saw something on your face... hey, I'm going to call you. I'm going to check in you didn't sound like you were kind of, you know, had as much energy today. What's happening? What's going on?"

So the same questions that we're saying, "ask your team."

We're saying, ask those and make sure your peer base is good too so that we can all do this work.

Erica Lockheimer: And not only personally, but also what's happening with the teams that we're managing. And that is something we lean on each other to understand what's going on.

For example, we know the great reshuffle is real. We have in our LinkedIn data that it's up 54% on job transitions. And on Gen Z alone, that's 80%. So, if we're seeing this in the world, we're definitely seeing it within our companies. And we need to worry about how we're having our talent be retained and lower attrition as much as possible. So the more that we all could collaborate and talk about this is what's happening on my team, what's going on in your team.

We actually need to focus a lot on giving opportunities to our employees. And that's where internal mobility is key. And we see such an uptick in internal mobility. And the more that we can embrace that and help each other to find those opportunities for those employees. That is the type of culture that you want to build. And you want to understand what's going on in different parts of the organization. And that helps when you are outside your team, not just within your team. So if you don't have the line of sight into that, you're not going to be able to act differently or do things differently.

So that's something we are definitely seeing and we're encouraging because everybody's re-evaluating their lives at this time. And that means their jobs that... and their careers. And what's going on personally and professionally. So the more that we can embrace that, embrace that change. I think that's where we need to be.

Framework for internal mobility

Patrick: Do you have a framework for how to enter into that conversation to help somebody figure out a new internal opportunity? Or a way to help them figure out, "Let's put you in a position where you're doing something that gives you more energy?"

Because I feel like that's a huge, huge opportunity for folks. Is to, I guess, put people in the position that's going to make them feel like they're successful.

Sabry Tozin: I think, you know, you'll find that in talking to people, sometimes there are people who know exactly what they want to do. They've had a plan. They've sort of mapped this out and they know exactly how they want to end up. And then there are people who have no clue sometimes what they want to do.

And I often say to them, if you don't know what you want to do, try to learn who you are. It's trying to learn. Like, what are the things that excite you? This was Lori's question about what adds energy to you? What depletes you of energy?

And I asked them, what are the types of things that you work on that not only do you feel energized by them, but you feel truly proud of?

I look in, in the corporate setting, we often confuse visibility and impact. We look at things that are very visible and because others attribute value to them, we chase those things.

But things that are impactful are primarily because they have intrinsic value to you. In other words, when you're talking to somebody that you truly love, somebody that you truly respect. And they ask you, what are you working on?

Do you jump up with excitement? Let me tell you I'm working on this thing. Are you proud of that thing?

And so for me, one of the things that I've learned is to really get people to think about work, that they could be proud of. To really think about work that excites them. Once you start to get them to lean into that and to get more in touch with them, it becomes a lot easier for them to figure out what's the thing they should do next. But they don't always think this way. Right.

Usually, what they think about is like a promotion or where am I not going to fail? They sort of try to hedge against failure. As opposed to really looking for things that bring intrinsic value to them.

And so, you know, you obviously can't just be prescriptive about it. But you start to give them a path to think about the things that they can be proud of. And most of us do tend to understand what that is. And when you can work on things that you're proud of, is it becomes a lot easier to figure out what the next play can be.

Lori Allen: There are two things I always asked too Patrick. And one is "What do you want to learn?"

Because if you always have an appetite for learning it's never-ending. So what's the thing you want to learn that you don't know today?

And then the second question I always ask, "What experiences do you want to have? Like, what do you want to experience?"

Because if you can connect what people want to learn and what experiences they want to have, then you can actually start to craft some of the things that are available, to map to that.

So I remember thinking early on, you know, when I was thinking about career pivots myself, like, do I want to be in a different room to work on different problems? Or watch leaders do certain things or understand how, you know, the decisions are made?

That's something that is potentially something you could carve out. I could bring you into a meeting. I can do this. I can expose you in a different way.

So those are two questions that I think help people kind of get a little bit more concrete when they're vague: what do you want to learn? What do you want to experience?

Patrick: That's fantastic. I have about 17 additional questions. That I would desperately love to ask. I'm going to settle for a quick rapid-fire one. And then a closing question, I think would be a really, really powerful way to wrap up our conversation on burnout.

But, but really quickly, just wondering if you could, in one sentence, share a personal habit, a tool, or a practice that you apply to help you reset and be resilient against burnout, increase your well-being?

Erica, Lori & Sabry’s personal practices to prevent burnout

Patrick: Could you share that one sentence or that one practice that, that you use to for your own personal well-being?

Erica Lockheimer: I run. Every morning with my dogs, literally run away from everyone to have my own time. So self-discipline, self-love.

Sabry Tozin: I walk. I noticed that when... and I deliberately really what I found, what I found is that... if I'm not going outside multiple times during the day, it was changing my mood big time.

I take two to three breaks a day. By taking a short walk outside as I'm not running... but I take a short walk outside two to three times a day, anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.

Lori Allen: So Patrick, one of the things I've recently implemented is choosing to turn my video off. This is something I think everyone can try.

For me, the place where I find my burnout comes is when I have to be on all day. And I'm in a video setting all day. And I feel like, you know, we probably all do... you got to sit up straight, you got to keep your eye on the camera. You gotta kind of be looking a certain kind of way.

And sometimes I just don't have it. You know, I don't have... I have all, I need to be intellectually there. I don't have all, I need energy-wise to be physically in that space of straight up and whatever. I just kind of need to relax a little bit. Because it can be eight to 10 hours, sometimes of video calls.

So for me, I've given not just myself permission. But my team permission to turn it off. You know you are there, present, doesn't mean just on video.

So that's one of the things that I've been doing a lot of is just choosing to prioritize, how much is it going to take of my energy? Because again, I'm balancing these skills of additive and depletion. That's when that gets me back, if I can sit on a 30-minute meeting and not be on video, it gives me something else back. So that's, that's one of the things that I've been doing.

Patrick: Thank you, Lori. Great, great practices to employ.

The last question, just to wrap this up is we were talking about burnout. And one of the big things that became apparent is that community and leaning on the people that you work with to create support.

What do you admire most about working with each other?

Patrick: You three have so much admiration, respect for each other. It is so apparent in the conversation.

We'd love just to learn, you know, what do you value or admire most about working with each other?

Erica Lockheimer: Authentic advice. I think the reason why the relationship is so good is because I feel comfortable. I can literally come to Lori or Sabry for absolutely anything. And I will know I'll get an authentic opinion, and advice and it will resonate with me.

So it's that connection. It's, it's a bond and it takes time.

Lori Allen: Yeah, I would say the ability to just be direct. You know, sometimes you feel like you have to figure out ways to say something that put a wrapper on and say, you know, say it in a, just... you know, how you're feeling and trying to figure out how to package it. But not necessary.

Just, "Hey, Sabry this is how I'm feeling. Hey, this, you know, this comment triggered me in a certain way. Can we talk about this?"

Is there, you know, and some of this is on chat or a text or, you know, in-person to pick up the call. But it's just that ability to be me. You know, I get to be my authentic self fully 24/7 with these two and the rest of the members of our team as well. It's not to put anything, no, airs on. There's no covering. There's no mask that I have to wear to be in the group.

So that for me, that is like that's really powerful. I just don't have, there's nothing I got to do. Just get to be me and how I'm feeling that we can all handle it. We can talk through it and get anything done.

Sabry Tozin: So, as you can tell authenticity is a big thing for us.

I would say the other thing is like, I am a hundred percent persuaded... I'm 200% persuaded... that when I'm not in the room, these two are conspiring for my success. They are absolutely doing everything in their power for me to win. And it's, it's incredible when you know that.

It's such a liberating thing to know that the people around you are actively working to make you successful in everything that they do when you're not in the room. I know I have that. I know that my first team provides that. That is a liberating thing.

Patrick: An incredible way to end. Thank you, Erica, Lori, for sharing your stories sharing your experiences and, and sharing the lessons to help support our community through what is continuing to be a challenging time for everybody. And so we really value your time and insights here. Thank you so much.

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