Topic: Leadership


Taking Teams to the Next Level With Guest Stefano Mastrogiacomo

season 3, episode 13

Welcome to The Work Place, where we talk about the cultures we work in, and how to make them better for everyone. I’m Andrew Scarcella.

This episode, we’re talking with Stefano Mastrogiacomo about how to take your teams to the next level. From creating cross-functional diversity and psychological safety to surfing the thin line separating collaboration and conflict, Stefano is our fearless guide to the sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding world of working together.

Join us after the interview for Tangible Takeaways, where we’ll talk about the ideas and actions we can take with us and implement our own workplace cultures.

Stefano Mastrogiacomo is a project management professor, consultant, and author who has been leading digital projects and advising project teams in international organizations for more than 20 years. He has a Masters and a PhD in Organisation and Business Information Systems from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and has spent his professional life trying to understand human coordination and help teams at the highest levels work together better. His latest contribution to the cause is a book he co-authored with fellow business theorist Alex Osterwalder entitled High-Impact Tools for Teams: 5 Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust, and Get Results Fast.

Stefano was interviewed by me, and he’s the perfect person to round out season 3. Because work is at a tipping point right now and it’s hard to tell which way it’s leaning. Will hybrid strategies take over or will there be a slow march back to the status quo? Either way, teams will be at the center of it, and they’re going to need all the help they can get.

Tangible Takeaways:

Now it’s time for tangible takeaways, where we take big ideas on a nature walk in the local game refuge, passing a pair of magnesium bodied Zeiss Victory SF binoculars back and forth and spotting songbirds at 500 yards: black cap, blue-grey back, cinnamon colored belly—a red-breasted nuthatch, preening his feathers and singing his little birdy heart out, just for us. No, he’s singing to another nuthatch on that nearby birch. Good for you, putting yourself out there.

1. The first is to embrace the concept of a team contract. Not just writing down the unspoken rules already in place. No. A true team contract is co-defined and consists of two questions: What are the rules and behaviors that we want to abide by as a team? And as individuals, do we have preferences for working in a certain way? In as little as 5 minutes, you’ll have an explicit, shared agreement of how you want to work together and why. There’s no better foundation for teamwork.

2. The second is that when there’s conflict within your team, don’t argue, ask better questions. Too often, people are more concerned about the background to a conflict than what the way forward is. So instead of playing detective, try being the crisis negotiator, probing for solutions and offering suggestions. It can be hard to stay constructive in a conflict, but all the best teams do it, and so can you.

3. The third is a question. What’s the ideal size for a team? 6? 10? 20? 2? 200? The word team is used to describe all manner, shape, and size of groups working together with little or no regard for consistency. Who’s the authority on this? Well, Katherine Klein of the Wharton School at UPENN fits the bill, and her research suggests that the ideal size for a working team is five people. More than that and individual performance drops. Less than that skills gaps appear and team dynamics suffer. But I’m willing to bet that most of us are part of a team that’s well over 5 people. My own is practically a baker’s dozen. Should we chop all teams into tinier teams? Maybe. But the real takeaway here isn’t to judge a team by its size, but by the dynamics and culture that drive them.

As always, this episode was written and produced by yours truly—with original music, sound design, and additional writing by Daniel Foster Smith.

If you liked this episode, or even if you didn’t, please rate, review, and, of course, subscribe to The Work Place on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have a burning question about workplace culture, or a story about why YOUR workplace culture is the best (or worst) send it to

The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more.

If you want your organization to become a place where people can’t wait to come to work in the morning, go to

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