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Taking Care of Your Team’s Mental Health

An interview with Lauren Costella, VP Customer Success at on managing your team's mental health
Ben Winn
December 16, 2020

Catalyst: What advice would you give leaders who want to create a more connected team in this remote environment?

Lauren: The best way to be connected (regardless of remote or physical) is to create an environment of vulnerability-based trust. This term comes from Patrick Lencioni and his book The 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. Vulnerability-based trust means that teammates have the space to ask for help, to admit when they are wrong, to genuinely celebrate other teammates when they are doing well. 

Creating a Rhythm of Connection

One way to help with building vulnerability based trust is to create a rhythm of connection, and within those rhythms of connection, create room to share personal information on both sides. For example, my rhythm with my team (both the CS team and what I built at the Executive Level) is: 

  • Daily team standup
  • Weekly team meeting
  • Weekly 1:1s 

Our daily team standup begins with 10 minutes of meditation and then each person shares:

  • 1 thing for which he/she is grateful (this doesn't need to be work related) 
  • 1 piece of good news from the day before (work related)
  • 1 thing he/she will accomplish for the day

We also have a weekly team meeting (1.5 hours), where we spend the majority of time problem solving. As part of this meeting agenda, we share: 

  • 1 piece of personal good news
  • 1 piece of good work news (no more than 1 minute of sharing) 
  • Feedback: both customer and employee

In my 1:1s, part of our agenda is: 

  • 1 personal highlight
  • 1 personal lowlight
  • 1 professional highlight
  • 1 professional lowlight

You'll notice that each of these engagements is designed for a purpose related to work but also to create a space and environment where we can be vulnerable and share parts of ourselves. 

We bring our whole selves to work, and building trust comes with getting to know your team and your team knowing you. Within that context, we can build empathy, understanding, and connection. 

I will also point out that our meeting rhythm is sacred. That means:

  • We only cancel if the office is closed
  • We start and end on time
  • All people are needed

I do not miss these meetings (nothing is ever scheduled over it...nothing), and if on the rare occasion I do have a conflict, my team carries on, and I share what I would have shared via Slack or in Notion. 

Trust comes from consistency and respect, which is built by respecting the time and energy of others. Nothing is worse than starting and ending meetings late or not showing up or inconsistently holding them because "something else is more important." That is rubbish. Nothing is more important than your people and your team, and that's worth dedicated time and energy.

Catalyst: What is your best advice for leaders who wish to proactively address mental health and wellness with their teams and companies?

Lauren: I suggest bringing up mental health awareness as an "issue" with your fellow executive team during your next executive meeting. I also recommend putting together some ideas to potentially address the issue, even if the gestures are small. It will take time to break apart and discuss such a big issue, so try to understand where you see the biggest issues in your company. 

Is it just general stress? Are teammates not taking vacation? Are there other issues?

Starting With Small, Targeted Steps

Once the team understands the source of the issue, start taking small steps to solve the challenges. At GoodTime, we started by acknowledging the added stress everyone had been feeling in our company All Hands. We then offered a "Refresh Day,” where team members could recharge. We also offered the Calm App to every employee to promote relaxation and de-stressing. These are small gestures, but they go a long way to taking our company in the right direction. 

We are also investing in hiring a Head of Human Resources to help us develop and grow more formally in the area of mental health and wellness. Finally, each executive spends time with their own teams to encourage them to take time off, and we work hard to understand what may be “blocking” them from taking the time. Some common blockers may include: feeling like they are the only ones trained to do that particular task/job; customer meetings that can’t be “re-booked”

Catalyst: How can leaders make sure their team members feel safe and comfortable coming to them with their mental health concerns?

Lauren: Your job as a leader is to create an environment for vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability comes from getting personal and opening up on both sides, and it's not built overnight. 

My team today, and my teams in the past, have been able to talk to me about how they are doing on personal and professional levels, and have been able to open up their struggles (whether mental health related or other) because I spend a significant amount of time cultivating a safe place for this dialogue to occur. 

And we practice this top down too. The executive level spends time getting to know each other, building trust, and making sure we have similar relationships with our boss - our CEO, Ahyun Moon. I don't know many VPs, who can confidently and openly talk with their own CEO about these sorts of topics.

Building the type of trust for someone to open up around mental health concerns won't happen just because you say "it's a safe place." You need to show them it's safe, and showing comes with building a trust-based environment through sharing personal and professional information during regular rhythm syncs. 

You can do this by:

  • Treating that time as sacred time and making sure it's rarely, if ever missed
  • Walking the walk and being vulnerable with your own team
  • Listening without judgment (and without immediately trying to offer solutions)

If you embrace these ideas and practices, then over time...months (not days), you will experience your team opening up.

Catalyst: Every company says they care about mental health and wellness, however it is not often prioritized. How can leaders make these issues a priority at the executive level?

Lauren: I have implemented an L10 (Level 10) meeting structure at the Executive Level here at GoodTime. This was a relatively new concept for every team member, but thankfully the executive team, when I joined over a year ago, was open and accepting to trying this new methodology. 

Establishing an Effective Prioritization Model

The L10 meeting structure is a system where any teammate can add an issue to the "issues list." The issues on this list can be as minor as needing a new office coffee maker to as complex as addressing mental health & awareness. The purpose of the list is to serve as a place to collect issues that are top of mind for executives and the company. 

During our weekly L10 meeting, we prioritize (we have a 1-4 prioritization method) and then spend 1.5 hours breaking down and solving the issues. Sometimes it takes a little time to break down the issue into something solvable or specific, so you can take steps to solve it. 

For example, when you're concerned about mental health & awareness, what is it specifically that you're concerned about? And how do you know it's an issue? Do you have anecdotal stories or examples or data to support? Are there multiple issues wrapped up in the broader issue? 

In all likelihood, it's probably a combination of the above. Your job as executives is to break apart these complex and tough issues, so that you can start strategically putting resources in place to then go and solve for them. 

Taking Effective Action

Oftentimes issues like mental health and awareness are so broad, it can be hard to strategically use time to take action. My suggestion is to do your homework, be specific and break down the issue, and if possible, bring forth a proposed solution. If someone pushes back, ask what they would do differently or how else the problem could be addressed. Most people judge a solution but don't offer a different one instead. Finally, settle on next steps or a way ahead. Make sure that when you decide what action you'll take, you assign an owner and a due date. Even if that action isn't going to start until the next quarter, make sure there is ONE owner, a due date to check in, and you hold each other accountable.

Better relationships. Less churn.

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