THINKING FORWARD – Ideas for your work from MIT Sloan School of Management


Ideas for your work from
MIT Sloan School of Management | Office of Communications

December 20-26, 2020

1. “You have to remember just how resilient we are. We have weathered many worse situations in our country’s history and come through them, and we will again — in some way, shape, or form.”

That observation, offered by MIT Sloan senior lecturer Matthew Rothman in an economic forum in June, feels prescient as we take leave of a year destined for infamy and look forward to rebooting business, the economy, and our personal and work lives in 2021.

Some other quotes that resonated this year:

“If you want people to make the right decisions with data, you have to get in their head in a way they understand.” — Miro Kazakoff, Lecturer, MIT Sloan

“Sometimes working harder doesn’t lead to better results; you have to work smarter to be effective.” — Shaheen Parks, Analytics Services Director, Veeva

“Time in an attention economy is the only scarce commodity.” — Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

“A great way to vet a company is to see how they treat their lowest-paying customer.” — Christina Qi, CEO, Databento

Read all 18 quotes.

2. Conversations about race and racism can be uncomfortable, but they’re necessary for an equitable and inclusive workplace.

MIT Sloan lecturer Malia Lazu, a social justice and inclusivity expert, recommends leaders make three social agreements to foster productive conversations:

  • Listen to be changed. “Open yourself up and let people know, ‘I’m willing to change,’” Lazu said. Begin that process by educating yourself about the Black community and understanding the history of oppression and the history of the racial justice movement.
  • Call in, don’t call out. Labeling indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination as racist often isn’t productive. Instead, try to find out what the other person is trying to communicate or do. “The idea of calling in is that you have empathy and respect for someone who may not understand they are currently supporting bias,” Lazu said. “Find a way of highlighting [that] behavior without adding guilt and shame.”

Question your first assumptions. “I’m going to assume the best in you. I’m not going to assume my first thought,” Lazu said. If you hear what sounds like racist or sexist language, say, “Well, what do you mean by that?” she suggested. “You treat people differently, and then they have no choice but to treat you differently.”

3. The composition, duration, and staffing of modern teams can trigger or exacerbate feelings of social disconnection in the workplace, research shows.

Two studies involving nearly 500 global executives showed that even prior to the major shift to working from home and social distancing, people were struggling with feelings of social isolation at work, a problem the pandemic has only further fueled.

Writing in the Winter 2021 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, researchers Constance N. Hadley and Mark Mortensen identify four problematic characteristics of modern teams: fluid composition, modularized roles, and, in Agile teams in particular, part-time commitments and short durations.

“Creating positive intrateam dynamics takes time and effort — resources that are in short supply when teams rapidly form and disband, and members dip in and out,” the authors write. The result can be shallow, narrow, and ephemeral relationships rather than true human connections.

To recognize and address structural drivers of isolation, managers should:

  • Start measuring the problem.
  • Identify and nurture core teams.

Engage team leaders in combating loneliness.

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