In episode 12 of StartUp, titled “Burnout”, the new podcast by Alex Blumberg, overwhelmed and exhausted staff members worry about the company’s future and their own physical health. The series is a brilliantly told inside story of Blumberg’s early stage company, Gimlet Media. I was particularly struck by the Burnout episode because it offers a glimpse into the source of any company’s evolution: its tensions.
Blumberg and the Gimlet team are exceptional storytellers. And, because every good story sets up a tension, the team happened into a powerful process for evolving their own business and workplace culture. The show produces a compelling series of stories from many of the important conversations between the founders, staff, and investors. It focuses on critical issues and decision points as the company grows. By turning the mics on themselves and looking for the tensions at the core of their own startup story, they have not only created great content for their audience, but they also found a way to be collectively smart about their own development as a company.
Tensions can be framed as problems or opportunities, but in either case, they are created by the dynamic of a particular current state and a desired future state. Without tension, nothing would change. Companies succeed or die because of their ability to evolve through the inevitable tensions that always exist. At the heart of building a successful company is the ability to call out and deal with the salient tensions.
It took a crisis for the team at Gimlet to notice the power of turning the mics on themselves. At the end of the episode they say they will institute a weekly process to address tensions. Time will tell if they hold to this practice.
The podcast is moving into a second season in which the Gimlet team will turn their mics toward another business. I have no doubt the process will be extremely valuable for this next company and I look forward to listening to their story. But, after following the first season of Startup, I am pulling for the Gimlet team. I hope they won’t relax their process for noticing and addressing their own tensions as they continue to produce great content and grow the very best company they can imagine.
The Gimlet team turned their particular knack for storytelling into a powerful process to address critical tensions facing their company. What workplace practices do you have in place to notice and attend to tensions to evolve your own team, department or company?
–Greg Ranstrom helps leaders make their culture work.