Digital Transformation

Guillaume de Smedt

Mastering Remote Work: Startup Grind Interview with Guillaume de Smedt

By | Digital Transformation, Future of Work, HR, Recent Posts, Remote Working, Talent, Team Culture | No Comments

While many businesses have opened up to the world of remote working, the burning question is: are they doing so effectively? We have noticed a growing desire for expert advice from business leaders who’ve been mastering remote work. We spoke to Guillaume de Smedt, VP of Community for Silicon Valley-based Startup Grind, for his insights on successfully managing a remote workforce. 

Startup Grind is the world’s largest community of startups, founders, innovators, and creators. They bring like-minded and diverse individuals together to connect, learn, teach, help, build, and belong. They do this daily through local events, flagship conferences, startup programs, online events, partnerships, and online media and content ‒ collectively reaching over 2.5 million individuals worldwide.

Guillaume oversees the global community for Startup Grind across more than 600 cities around the world, ensuring those cities are hosting events and doing what they do best. Currently managing a team of 6 full-time staff and 600 volunteers based in global corners from Beijing to the USA. Guillaume has years of experience in leading, and working with, virtual teams around the world. 

Q: You’ve been working remotely for quite some time, what’s your secret?

A: It isn’t really a secret but I would say it’s that I am constantly learning. At Startup Grind, we also use technology to automate a lot of our processes, and we use processes to ensure the work gets done on time. But really I think success will come from these three things: 

  1. Hire the right people: I usually hire people from within the global Startup Grind community; but if you don’t have access to a talent pool like I do, I would say it’s important to look for certain attributes in the people you hire for remote work: Are they willing to learn? Are they willing to work together in a team, and across different time-zones? Are they self-motivated or self-disciplined and can manage time effectively? Do they have a positive disposition? Are they able to handle working remotely and the solitude that can come with that? Because remote working is not for everyone. 
  2. Onboard them correctly: Give new starters clear tasks, clear training on systems, and have a repository (like Google Sites or Suite) where people can find information quickly. When new people come on board or join our team, we assign them a digital buddy ‒ someone in the same time zone ‒ to help get the new person set up. 
  3. Use a project management system that works for your specific team:  Take advice from all sources, but then distil the information and use what is suitable for your own team – don’t feel pressured into doing what others do, but do what is best for your circumstances. Whatever you choose to use, it’s preferable that the entire company is using the same system (from a budget, transparency and simplicity standpoint). 

Q: Do you have an agreement in place ‒ for your team or company ‒ around working together remotely?

A: Yes, we have a company document that is sent as part of our onboarding process which has things like when you’re expected to work or to be online for international team calls, how to get set up for remote work in your home office, how to access data and set up a Google Site, and so on. It could be more detailed but the document actually took us years to put together through our experience and trial and error. That’s one cool thing about DYDX’s remote work ebook is that it has templates and formulas which are a really great start for a team or company just starting out.

Q: What’s your top tip for remote team managers?

A: It’s not about the time behind the keyboard, but rather the output of the job. If a team member wants to watch a movie on Netflix or go for a surf half-way through the day, we don’t discourage them. It doesn’t matter how a team member manages their time, as long as the work is delivered on time and we’re happy with the quality. The second bit of important advice would be: delegate your tasks properly and make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks. 

Q: How do you make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks?

A: Many teams use productivity tools like, or, and there are so many suitable tools out there. But as amazing as these tools are, you have to spend time updating the data on them. Unless the whole team is consistently doing this, the tool just won’t work for you. That’s why we predominantly only update our tools (and tasks) in meetings. 

Every Monday we have a team call and we spend the first 15 minutes going through the points the team has raised. Each team member puts on the project list what they want to talk about before the weekly stand-up. We then look at the tasks for that week and delegate and update them right there and then on our project management tool (we use Airtable (due to api’s), however is another good one to look at). Then we look at last week’s tasks: if anything from last week is incomplete, we move it to this week’s task list. 

This way we can see last week and what was achieved, as well as this week’s upcoming tasks. 

And not only do I know what my team is working on, but everyone else in the company knows, too. 

Q: How do you effectively manage your time?

A: I also use WorkFlowy, it’s my favourite tool for keeping my personal to-dos up to date. Regarding emails, I will only mark it as read if I can action it.. This also shapes how other people in my team send me emails ‒ they put the action point right upfront.

Q: Is there anything that your team regularly does together online to make you all feel part of the same team?

A. I think human interaction is so important ‒ especially in remote teams. Because our team is so spread out all over the world with different time-zones, we don’t do a lot together socially in person, but we do make sure we regularly check in with each other in either stand-ups or one-on-one calls so everyone feels connected. We do little exercises like “about me” sessions so that people can learn about their team members in a personal capacity. We meet in person at our annual team retreat and at our major annual conferences.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received about leading and managing a remote workforce? 

A: As a leader of a remote team, try to understand the subtext, nuances or undertones of what people on your team are saying. Each individual handles stress differently. What is the root of it? A team member could be asking for a raise but what they’re really trying to tell you is they’re unhappy about a completely different issue. Being on the pulse of your team is so important ‒ if you’re not, your team members may not come to you with small stuff and this can cause issues down the line. The team lead must work really hard to extract this read from their teammates and make time to truly understand what’s going on inside their team. 


As a digital transformation practice dY/dX, helps businesses adapt and grow in rapidly changing environments. Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we have worked with remote, distributed teams across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. We fervently believe that we can make the future of work, better than today. 

We have created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify remote team effectiveness. Also available are our free guides to building team culture, The Culture Canvas and Me.We.Us – Remote Team Management, where we provide overviews on how to promote better behaviours within teams as well as toolkits to support doing so.

team effectiveness and Psychological Safety

Team Effectiveness and Psychological Safety

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As we rapidly move towards remote and distributed teams, too much information is based on tricks and hacks, with very little focusing on the fundamentals of what makes teams great – whether remote or in the office.

You aren’t as great as you think

The first hurdle in building better teams is getting over your own self-view. Most managers believe they are great at leading teams and very few invest the time and energy required to master it because it feels awkward or inauthentic.

Management Science has moved on

If you studied management science or organisational psychology in the last five years you will see a significant shift in the team theories as compared to the previous decade and century. New research and insights have changed how we understand teams and performance. These new insights have changed how we understand teams and teamwork, enabling businesses to become far more effective than ever before.

Summary of the New Studies

First published in 2010, Anita Williams Wooley and her team created a battery of tasks that together tested four different kinds of thinking in teams: generating new ideas; choosing a solution based on sound judgement; negotiating to reach compromise; and finally, general ability at task execution (such as coordinating movements and activities). The participants were also asked to perform some verbal or abstract reasoning tasks that might be included in a traditional IQ test – but they answered as a group, rather than individually. The findings that some teams perform better across all tests (with no correlation to the highest IQ in the team but actually more regarding gender and ethnic diversity) than others has been corroborated in many tests and contexts since then. 

In a different study called the Aristotle Project, Google observed 180 of their teams (across all their disciplines) in pursuit of a recipe for high-performing teams. One common theme came up among their highest performing teams: good Psychological Safety. 

What is Psychological Safety?

Simply put, it’s when each member of your team feels confident within the team to share ideas with no fear of judgement.

When employees have lowered confidence in their ability, they tend to contribute less and feel distanced from the team. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School believes we live in a knowledge economy—where it is ideas that have true value in the marketplace. The more ideas contributed, the richer the pool of resources. One way to measure Psychological Safety is through the equality of distribution or input from each member during a team’s conversation.

Team IQ is higher than individual IQ

Teams that function with good psychological safety inevitably do better as they collaborate more.

When everyone is getting an equal opportunity to share, there is a larger pool of information to draw from—and a greater opportunity to learn something new. This not only fosters information but also allows the rest of the team to learn from each other and fosters support for one another. Collaborative efforts have also been known to bring out the best from team members as unseen ideas and connections are made known.

(Kinda) humble leadership

Malcolm Gladwell praised Steve Jobs’ innovations based on how he built upon others’ ideas (he may have been sarcastic). In this same way, within a team meeting, one idea brings about a conversation; giving way to potential new ideas, methods or results. This also allows the team to feel more essential to the decision-making process as they have now contributed to something larger and will start to take more initiative in sharing ideas.

The greater room created for risk-taking encourages innovation and increased communication, allowing for greater teamwork and dependability. 

Team Etiquette

While team performance can be boosted through psychological safety, it is important to also promote social sensitivity, Perceiving how others feel can better inform how to act around them. A team member may make a comment that they think is lighthearted to another but it is not received well based on their mood or cultural background. This can further distract and alienate team members, decreasing their effectiveness. These challenges increase dramatically in remote teams where there are fewer visual and perceptual cues to use.

In their research, Google found that a common vocabulary of expected behaviour, a group forum on dynamics (and leaders actively reinforcing and improving on these), could better enhance these efforts.

Aristotle said, “The whole is the sum of its parts”. A team is more effective when everyone is involved and they feel secure within a team. Being able to contribute to discussions without fear of judgement, understanding their tasks and their overall contribution, as well as other teammates being aware of their fellow team members, all contribute well to an effective team.

Our ebook “ – Remote Team Management” provides a practical guide to enabling teams to develop psychological safety. We have also developed a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify team effectiveness. If you want to supercharge your teams, or find out more about our Culture and Future Of Work practice, get in touch at

Should IT or HR lead digital transformation initiatives

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Over the last decade, digital transformation projects have had less than a 30% success rate, with 2018 showing the lowest success to date, 16% – according to McKinsey’s latest research. With technology improving and a growing body of experience, why are results going backwards?


When it comes to digital transformation, change is often harder than normal change programs.  Executives are unsure how to start as their organisations get stuck between choosing what to change first. Do they choose projects that will deliver the biggest potential return, lowest risk of failure or meet the largest competitive threat?  


Because digital transformation is associated with technology, it’s often led by the technology teams. This means that the objectives are skewed towards big impact (i.e. ROI) tech platform implementations and updates. However,  the research shows that the results from these projects are poor and most fail. This means that businesses are getting worse at transformation as the technology gets better. 


Even more interesting is that 7% of those whose projects that were previously successful feel that the improvement from their transformation projects was not sustained as time went on. The initiatives struggle to get support in the organization, especially as people fear the loss of their jobs. The “corporate death yes” when everyone agrees in meetings but nobody adopts or changes any behaviours, is a common outcome.


 A potential strategy is to approach digital transformation from an HR perspective first. Rather than a Big Bang platform change, you plan your transformation around the adoption rate of your people. You should look for the small wins, the confidence building automations that give people back a little more time each day. This could be a small bot that simplifies getting a report that you need every day or improving the expense claim process so it doesn’t take up so much time. Once one automation has helped your team save time and reduce frustration, they start seeking the next one, making the transformation conversation much easier. Why? They provide the feeling of change, crossing the boundary of fear that keeps people in their present state. These automations free up peoples’ time and start them on a journey of “what else am I doing that does not require so much effort, but actually doesn’t threaten my job”.


Internal Digital transformation is more about culture and changing how people work together to solve problems versus what the IT system does. Without the culture change, the benefits either don’t occur or don’t stick. 

Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify remote team effectiveness. Also available are our free guides to building team culture, The Culture Canvas and – Remote Team Management, where we provide overviews on how to promote better behaviours within teams as well as toolkits to support doing so. If you want to supercharge your remote team, reach out to us at