raceAhead: June 16, 2016

June 16, 2016, 1:14 PM UTC

In a tough news week, a touching CBS News segment has resurfaced that guarantees a big jolt of good feeling about humanity.

It’s a clip that chronicled photographer Richard Rinaldi roaming the streets of New York City, looking for people to photograph for a project called Touching Strangers. His request sounded simple: pose for a photo with a stranger but appear as though you’re a friend, a couple or a family member.

In ways both charming and practical, this is exactly what it’s like when an awkward new team comes together, complete with an anxious leader with a big job to do. And these days, teams form rapidly, are often virtual, with perfect strangers expected to perform near miracles while looking happy. “Cisco is making a big move to invest in the power of teams,” says SVP and Chief People Officer Francine Katsoudas. “All of our big breakthroughs happen in teams.” Helping them work better is a big priority.

About five months ago, Cisco completed a big internal study comparing their highest performing teams with a control group. There’s a real diversity play here, she says. “When we highlighted the teams that worked together the most efficiently, we found three key elements were in place.”

The first, is assessment. Why, specifically, is this person there? “Everyone has unique skills that makes them valuable to the team,” she says. Understanding and articulating those strengths at the outset helps a new team look past any surface differences to focus on how to work best together.

Next she says, a leader must create an environment where teammates are expected to have each other’s backs. “That’s a critical component,” she says. And finally, how are they going to be successful? “We called this the shared values piece,” she says, “but it’s really about how the group will have a win.”

Katsoudas plans to turn the findings into trainings to help managers be better prepared to help diverse teams succeed from the start, adding to an array of tools available to the 73,040 Cisco employees. “Unconscious bias training has been incredibly useful,” she says, as are specialized trainings that employees from underrepresented groups attend with their managers. “Teams work better when people can connect with each other.”

On Point

Wowed by Apple’s music exec.
Marketing exec Bozoma Saint John captivated Apple's typically lackluster Worldwide Developer Conference this week. “It was amazing,” declares Davey Alba. It isn't because she's black, at least not exactly. Her command of the room, her cultural swagger and her leadership of Apple Music’s marketing division - and the talent it wrangles - make her a force of nature on and off stage. 

Shirley Chisholm bio-pic is on track.
In a move that is sure to please the critics, Tony Award winning actor Anika Noni Rose is slated to produce and star in a feature film about the first woman to actually be a major party candidate for President, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
Shadow and Act

Poor kids are too stressed to learn.

The Washington Post asked two experts, Sheila Ohlsson Walker and Melissa Steel King, to debate how schools can best serve kids who are living under such stressful conditions that their physical and emotional health is at risk. The stories are heart-breaking, but the solutions seem attainable.
Washington Post

First black woman to achieve three stars.
Major General Stayce Harris, who was recently nominated by President Obama, will become the first black woman to achieve the rank of Lieutenant General in the Air Force if confirmed by the Senate.
Aviation Pros

Native Americans without clean water.
Nearly 30% of Native American and Alaska Natives live in poverty, twice the nation’s overall poverty rate. Tom Risen explores the often shocking lack of access to clean water and sanitation facing many residents of tribes and rural villages and the health crises that result.
US News and World Report

The Woke Leader

Was Chris Darden a race traitor?
Even a trip to Oprah’s couch couldn’t save him. Chris Darden, the black prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, was branded a race traitor, an Uncle Tom, and worse. Brando Simeo Starkey, who has written a book about Uncle Tom, uses Darden's tale to explore the deeply painful history of race loyalty, name calling and the pressure to represent.
The Undefeated

Medical students learn to help diverse populations.
A unique summer program is helping medical students understand the unmet medical needs of underserved communities like Hmong, Latino and Sikh, by volunteering to shadow doctors who serve these populations.
Fresno Bee

How marriage is changing the way race is classified.
As the presidential race continues to heat up in rhetoric, it’s worth revisiting Jeff Guo’s well reported piece on race, immigration and identification. It turns out that immigrants and first generation Americans, specifically children of mixed-race couples, are increasingly less likely to identify themselves as Asian or Hispanic. What if what we think we know about all of this - race, attitudes and population-- is wrong?
Washington Post


No matter what measures are taken, doctors will sometimes falter, and it isn’t reasonable to ask that we achieve perfection. What is reasonable is to ask that we never cease to aim for it.
—Atul Gawande

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