Be a Better Team by Friday: Justin Follin and David Butlein Greenspan

As your company’s growth accelerates, the heat turns up and teams break down. It gets harder to work together when things get tough. My next guests revealed surprisingly simple skills required to get your team to the top fast.

Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and I’m joined by authors David Greenspan and Justin Follin. We’re here to talk about their new book called, Be a Better Team by Friday: A Playbook for High-Performance Business Leaders. So let’s look through it.

Hello friends and welcome back to Author Hour. I’m here with my two friends, Justin and David, who have just launched an amazing book actually. It’s all about getting your people, your team better by our favorite day of the week, by Friday. I call it Floral Friday but these guys are going to make your team that much more efficient and in so many incredible ways. Justin and David, thank you for joining me today on the show.

Justin Follin: Thanks for having us, Hussein.

David Butlein Greenspan: Yeah, thank you.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: This is really exciting for me because, as I said earlier, I get to have the opportunity of reading so many different types of books, and yours just kind of stuck out to me today. I was reading a little bit last night just trying to craft the questions. I think what I came up with, you guys will enjoy. I really love this idea of choosing your mindset and practice and I want to get into that here in a moment.

But first, I want to introduce to our audience. Justin, we’ll start with you. If you could give us a little bit of your personal background, perhaps where you grew up, maybe someone or an event that inspired you to be on the path that you’re on today.

Justin Follin: Yeah, definitely. Well, my name’s Justin Follin. I’m the CEO of BLUECASE and author of this book. I was born and raised in Falls Church, Virginia. I moved to Texas probably almost 20 years ago. I live in Austin. I think a relevant story, it’s one that I tell in the book about how I got into this.

I was a graduate from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and I was not totally sure what I was doing with my life at this point. It was right after I graduated, I was working in the banquet hall at the alumni center at the university and I had the chance to be a server for the UNC basketball team the night before their very first game.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh wow.

Justin Follin: And if you’re familiar with the University of North Carolina, the basketball is—

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Religion.

Justin Follin: Pretty much, yeah. It’s religion. There’s two things that are important in North Carolina, religion and basketball.

David Butlein Greenspan: And basketball, right, right, and you mush the two, yeah.

Justin Follin: Uh-huh. So I had the chance to do this and now, this is the year that the coach, Roy Williams, had just come over from the University of Kansas to coach the team. So the year that I was at Carolina, it was the losing-est team in the history of the school and they brought in Roy Williams to take that team over. He took the same five guys that were on that team and in a matter of two years, they were national champions.

And that night, when I was serving them on that very first night before their very first game under Coach Roy, I was standing in the back of the room and I was getting, kind of, secondhand get coached, hearing him talk and inspire the team. He was talking to them as if it was like he was talking to every single one of them personally. I was standing at the back of the room and I was getting fired up. You know, I was ready to win the championship.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that.

Justin Follin: That really stuck with me and I thought about that. Over the course of my career, I’ve really been interested in knowing what is that, that somebody has to be able to coach such high performance? I saw it, I experienced it, I felt it, and then the results were there. So I pretty much got into the field of high-performance psychology and became a coach and I’m doing what we do now and wrote this book after many years of learning.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s fantastic. What a cool story. I love hearing stuff like that, man. You never know when in life those moments hit you and they just, like you said, they fire you up. They get you intrigued about the human experience in such a unique way. That’s amazing. What about you, David?

David Butlein Greenspan: Let’s see. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I also live in Austin, Texas right now. As a kid, something that really inspired me from the age of five was actually Superman. Back then, we had Underoos, which were like pajamas that looked like Superman. I had a cape. I actually practiced flying, I broke my leg once doing it but I was really interested from a young age in Superman. I also, growing up, was very nerdy. I had really thick glasses, braces, I didn’t know how to dress.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So you were Clark Kent? You just weren’t Superman yet.

David Butlein Greenspan: What’s that? Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: You were Clark Kent.

David Butlein Greenspan: That’s right. That’s right, yeah, actually that’s perfect. I hadn’t thought about that. I was interested from a young age in extraordinary performers and that inspired me to go on and get my doctorate in the field of high-performance psychology, which looks at why do certain teams and individuals perform at exceptional levels even in suboptimal circumstances and how do we apply those behaviors, mindsets, and practices.

So that’s part of what we have really shared because people are often asking, “Well, what are some of the basics? How do we do that?” That’s part of the reason why we wrote this book, so now people can just read the book.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful. I know it’s taken you guys some time to bring these things together. Years and years of wisdom and knowledge and experiences, it takes time to put together a book that highlights all those components and I think you all did a good job, but what brought you two together? How did you all start working together? When did you all meet?

Justin Follin: Well, David and I have been friends for many, many years prior to working together and over the years, we kind of talked about what might be possible if we did do some work together. There was a very specific time in our friendship when we were at Ojo Caliente in New Mexico, which is a really beautiful hot springs resort place where you just kind of soak in hot springs and hang out, talk to people who are in the pools.

We were just sitting there and we were talking and there’s something about, for us, about being in that spot. It’s a real power spot for us and we just kind of get into the vibe. We were just talking and just asking the question, “Okay if anything were possible, what would we do together? How would we bring this sort of experience that we have when we’re together, which is that we want to make people better, we want to make the world a better place. And for some reason, when we’re together, we’re even more excited and we’re amped up so there’s something we have here. What might it look like if we did something together?”

And at the time, David had recently founded BLUECASE and I was working in another job and I just thought we were having a conversation of just kind of dreaming. And then one thing led to another, and one year later, maybe a little less than one year later, we were business partners and we were taking BLUECASE from where it was to really create a big firm. We’re now working with clients that I think we never would have been able to work on together if we hadn’t taken those first steps in those early years.

Results of Choosing Your Mindset

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. What a cool story. Well, I’m glad you two have come together to work on something this powerful but I really want to talk about how you sort of define this idea of successfully implementing the “choose your mindset” practice. That was really cool, how you guys went into that chapter.

Can you share a little bit about what that’s like for you all to sort of go around and basically implement, and what kind of results start to come back from this idea of choosing your mindset?

Justin Follin: That’s a great question. We’re mentioning the term high-performance psychology and a lot of what leadership begins with is your psychology of how you’re thinking about the situation that you’re in. There’s a lot of talk out there about mindsets, about the different mindsets that you can have.

Carol Dweck, who wrote the book called Mindset, she talked about growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. So when you’re in a growth mindset, you’re thinking, “I’m in a difficult situation but how can I learn from this, how can I grow from this? What do I need to learn to be able to overcome the challenge?” Whereas a fixed mindset, you’re stuck.

So those are some basic mindsets that are very important when you’re a leader and when you’re in any environment where there are challenges. I think something that is often a surprise or just in a shift in a way of thinking is just this idea that literally in every moment that you’re in, you do have a choice about how to think about what’s going on and it’s the choice itself that’s so powerful.

It’s the knowledge of choice because as a leader, when you’re running an organization, the amount of breakdowns that you’re going to be dealing with just get bigger and bigger and bigger as your company gets bigger and bigger and bigger. A lot of times, naturally, you can get stuck complaining about it.

You can get stuck thinking, “If I wasn’t surrounded by C players, I’d do a lot better around here, things would be a lot better.” Yet there’s this way of going into these stories about, “Hey, there’s nothing I can do about this, it’s not my fault and I’m stuck.” And even if you’ve been trained in mindsets and you’ve learned about this, the concept of going from a victim mindset to creator mindset, a complaining mindset to being in a space of possibility, it is easy to get stuck where you are until you really get that, “Even in this situation that I’m in right now, even in the challenges that I’ve got right now, even with the team that I’ve got right now, even with the circumstances that I’m in right now, I actually do have a choice about how I can think about this.”

I think anybody who is familiar with the idea of changing your mindset, once you change your mindset, you start to see new options for actions to take. And then once you see those new options for actions to take, you’re starting to take very different actions because you made that choice. When you’re taking those different actions, well, you win national championships and in a business environment, you start to achieve what you want to achieve a lot faster, whether you’re running a company, whether you’re a CEO, whether you’re an executive.

Also, if you’re just a brand-new manager, leading people for the first time, that can be a real challenge to your mindset and be able to choose something different every day. That’s what’s important about implementing this. We make it a practice for teams, like, “Hey, everyone on this team, we’re going to prioritize.” It’s practice one, “We’re going to prioritize choosing a creator mindset when we’re stuck, getting out of complaint and we’re going to coach each other to help each other get out when we are.”

Implementing Lessons

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful, man. I mean, I feel like when I was trying to grow my little T-shirt printing company that is exactly what I leaned on, like, “Okay, I’m going to probably face a problem today and there’s two ways to approach them. I can go negative, which I could do all day or I can be positive and just figure out where the opportunities are.” I think that mindset, for me, came from my dad. But it could come from anybody of course. I mean, you could learn it in a course or a book.

David, what do you think, as far communications with your teams, with improving how teams literally go about like you said earlier, Justin, this idea of coaching one another, really uplifting one another, what does that communication look like? You call it, I feel like, what is it? The “get real with each other” practice. This idea of just being 100, being open and transparent with your teammates. Can you share an example of how you all have gone about implementing that and how a company has responded to that?

David Butlein Greenspan: Yeah, it’s a great question.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s kind of a loaded question, my apologies, but I hope you get my gist.

David Butlein Greenspan: I got your gist. It’s a great question and it’s really common when we come into teams, when we’re working with executive leadership teams, the team oftentimes is having two different conversations. They’re having a conversation when the leader is in the room or when a large group is in the room and then they’re having a much more reserved conversation one-on-one or maybe they share about their wife or their husband or a friend after work after a few beers or something.

What we try to do is, how do you actually have what we call a level 10 conversation, an extraordinary conversation? If you think about it, there’s like three levels, there’s like ordinary conversations that are just very polite and then there’s “nothing’s really at stake.” Then there’s medium heat conversations, where I might say something that’s a little challenging or really authentic and you might feel like, “Oh, it’s getting a little warmer in here.” And then there’s like extraordinary level conversations, where I might really challenge someone in that room and say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s the right strategy” to the CEO.” That would be an extraordinary conversation, a level 10 conversation.

And so first of all, we have people score how the team’s doing and usually it’s like five. It’s like they’re not having the real conversation in the room and so it really puts the CEO at a disadvantage because he or she isn’t getting the full conversation. So we begin by acknowledging where the team is and then, we ask people to commit, to raise the heat, to start to challenge themselves to actually be more courageous and to bring it to a 10 or at least bring it to an eight.

We ask the group but really, it’s an individual decision to decide who is going to be courageous and an example of where that happened was, we were working with a team several years ago and the CEO was feeling like, “Oh, we’re having a really honest and open conversations and that we’re doing a lot better than we were in the past.” When the team scored, it was still really low, it was like a six. And he was asking why and everyone in the room was silent. You could hear a pin drop and everyone was looking at their shoes. And then one person stood up and said, “Hey, the reason is because of you. The reason we’re not able to have these, and here’s kind of the specific behaviors that you do that kind of have us not fully share.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: How did that go?

David Butlein Greenspan: And, well, actually, the CEO was great. He said, “You know what? You’re right.” He said, “You’re right. Thanks for saying that,” and after he acknowledged that and heard that feedback, he said, “Thank you and I’m going to work on that,” and from then on, the conversation was a lot more authentic and there were great conversations in the room and then they could talk about the real stuff. We sometimes call it the background conversation, like taking what’s in the background and putting it in the foreground, right?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much because by agreeing and just kind of opening up and letting his or her guard down, right? All leaders, once all of us put our guards down, especially in moments like that where you’re asking for something really specific and then that thing that you’re really asking for is kind of like somebody just needs to hold up a mirror and it sounds like that’s what that courage is implying is that, can you hold up a mirror to that person and hold them accountable and say, “Hey, I’m willing to work with you but you got to also work on X, Y, or Z and I think that will help us all.”

Then eventually, obviously it sounds like this ripple effect happened in the room as well, where everyone else was like, “Okay, now he’s hearing us and he’s willing to change X, Y, or Z, maybe I’ll share my thing, which is this problem over here or this issue over here,” and I love that. I think that’s just an approach of being open and opening your heart and listening to what’s really needed.

So talk to me a little bit about this idea of the “fundamentals of why”, Justin. I think that chapter really resonated with me in thinking about how I approach not only work but really my life in general. Where can you identify that in the team culture and how do you all educate others through the understanding of the fundamentals of why?

Fundamentals of Why

Justin Follin: The third practice in our book is “Know the Fundamental Why” because we are doing a lot. We’re talking about a lot, we’re seeing a lot in our working environment, there is just a lot going on and one of the things we were just talking about in the previous practice of being able to get real with each other is to be able to listen, to listen to understand. Listening to understand means making sure you understand the fundamental why of what someone is saying. Meaning, what’s important to them about this? What’s important to them about what they’re saying?

So if I am making a request of you, there’s what I’m asking for, and let’s say you’re a graphic designer and I am asking you to build me a website and I say, “Well, I want three webpages and I want them to look this particular way and I want them to be blue so it reflects our company brand,” and you do exactly what I asked for but you didn’t get why I was asking for it.

The delivery isn’t really going to give you an opportunity to show above and beyond what you’re good at, how you can add to achieve the why behind my request. And requests are happening like this all day long in organizational environments where the why is not being communicated, the why of a request, the why of a communication. The why isn’t being heard.

The fundamental why isn’t just the why of your organization or the why of yourself as a person. In every communication you’re making, if you want it to be effective, there’s a why behind it. Are you communicating the fundamental why clearly? Is it being understood on the receiving end? So having that practice is a foundation for a team. We’re always asking, “Why is this important? What’s the why? How do we get to the why? Are we clear on that?” So that when we leave as a team, you’re the designer, you’re going out and you’re designing something far better that I could do. I am not a designer at all.

David is going out and he is doing his part and he is doing what he does best because he understands the why of the request. So there’s a way that as a team, when you understand that fundamental why, everybody can step up and contribute at a much higher level than when it’s just what.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that, man, that’s so powerful. Just getting to the root of the why and when you have that to fuel the task or the job or the thing that you gotta go do, it’s really powerful. It’s funny, I was a graphic designer, I own my own printing company so there are a lot of requests from people and you get all kinds of things, like, “Oh, I wanted this logo and I wanted to have these colors.”

Then as soon as you ask, for me, it was like, “Why do you want that and how can we express this further?” And sometimes it was like, “Oh, let me tell you why. There is a deep story behind it,” which is great because then there are those enriching layers to the conversation and then there are times where it’s like, “I just like the color purple,” and there’s not much you can do with that, you know what I mean? So I kind of have to just like the color purple and figure out how purple plays out in your branding. But yeah man, I love that because I think for me the why leads to that deeper conversation. As an artist or as a creator or creative, I think we’re listening for opportunities to kind of surprise the client with something that is embedded into their reasoning as to why these things come together and then we surprise them with something that they like but they’re probably not even anticipating is such a good feeling. I feel like that’s deep listening, that is asking to understand and I appreciate that you brought that up. That really resonated with me.

David, I really want to take us to the “get focused” part of the book. Let’s be honest, our world is not only riddled with distractions, I feel like it is one big distraction now and in some ways, I feel like obviously it’s gotten into our work and everything that we do. But can we talk about getting focused, what does that mean to both of you and how do you help teams decipher that, David?

David Butlein Greenspan: Yeah, it’s another really important question because there are so many distractions and it seems like the distractions just increase as the weeks and months go on. One of the things is that we really look at how you apply the 80-20 rule on a daily and weekly basis. The idea of the 80-20, and I’m sure you’re familiar, it’s the idea that 20% of the actions you take produce 80% of the results.

And 20% probably of the distractions are the most disruptive, right? And people understand it conceptually but really to apply on a daily and weekly basis, to look at, “What are the three things that if I do really are going to move the needle for me today, this week?” And then reflecting back on it. And one of the areas that we have companies focus on a lot is too is meetings and really 80-20’ing their meetings.

Because there are a lot of meetings that are not effective, meetings are really expensive to have, and oftentimes, they can be like junk drawers. You know how junk drawers just collect things? Meetings just collect people.

You don’t really know why they’re there but you feel rude not showing up because the boss invited you or whatever. So we actually have some practices with meetings where one of them is if you don’t know why, if you don’t understand what the fundamental why is of the meeting, if there isn’t a clear agenda of what you’re trying to accomplish and if you can’t say why you need to be there, then you decline the meeting.

We actually have people do this, where they actually go in and they start declining meetings because it is not clear why they need to be there and it frees up a lot of time for them and for the organization and it declutters the meetings.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: The thing that we’re looking for here is not just productivity level but levels to where you can go in to do just the deep work that you need to do for the day. The two or three hours that you may get back are easily applied to whatever project you’re working on and instead of getting through that one task, you might be able to burn through four and leave early for the day. I just think about it like that.

Productivity for me is the byproduct of focus and it is not just, “Oh, I want to be more productive.” That’s just like I feel like always adding more to the table to where if I am just focused, then I am just like, “Okay, the biggest thing I have to get done is this, what’s in my way? These two things. Okay, I can eliminate or do later or do now,” and then draw in, go in and do the deep session.

I love that because getting focused I feel like is one of those opportunities for teams to really build trust and thrive because now we’re, again like you said, we’re not distracted by these meetings that I don’t necessarily need to be in or that I can just get a quick memo on later. I love that approach so much. You two have got some great tangible exercises and the practice that you all talk about was really all throughout the book.

I was kind of looking for spaces where it was just kind of like mindset tools, which you talked about, but everything else is really just tangible. “Here is something you can do, here is how you can get this done.” I love that your book is very action-oriented because you are trying to get this team ready by Friday, so we gotta get moving. I love that.

So, I know writing a book is no easy feat, of course. It is an accomplishment in and of itself but what was it like for you two to pull this book together? What did you learn from that journey? We’ll start with Justin and go to David.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels:

Writing the Book

Justin Follin: Yeah. Well, we got the business of doing what we’re doing because we want the world to work better together, and really quite frankly, we’re in a pretty funny time in the world where a lot of changes are happening and a lot is affecting everybody and particularly in the business environment, it’s constant flux. We started our company to help companies be more adaptive and to be able to adjust and adapt in the world we were working in, in fast-growth, mid-market companies.

We kind of got to become the experts and figuring out how to get teams to be able to adapt quickly, to have the capability to adapt. We are not trying to teach them how to do their job but we do need to give some basic foundational skills to understand how to work together when things are happening like COVID and tariffs and fluctuating economic environments, fluctuating social environments, fluctuating pretty much everything going on right now.

We have been successful doing that in companies where they have to adapt to thrive. There are some really fundamental skills that teams can apply and get a lot better. You probably didn’t go to school learning how to work with people. You kind of know your job, and the “how to work with people” part is, “Okay, figure it out,” even though for most people that is the hardest part of their job.

So, making this book was a matter of, “How do we really distill the practices that have worked in high complexity, high-pressure environments with really high talent people who are running companies, running teams, how do we get the core skills that when practiced by teams we have seen consistently work over and over and over again?” So the process of writing the book, which was a five-year-long process, was kind of the process of distilling and getting really clear on what works so that we could, like you were saying, give you a bunch of practices.

You could actually take the book, have it at your desk, open it up, find a tool, and go do it, and the promise of the book is that you will get better as a team if you apply anything in the book. And not just a little bit better. You will be significantly better by making it a practice and we wanted to share it. That’s what the experience was like. It was actually hard to distill it and to really solidify that, and by doing it, I think it made us better at communicating about it and better at actually helping people do what we promise.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that, man. David, you want to add to that?

David Butlein Greenspan: Yeah, Justin, that was really well said. The other hope really is that we spent so much of our time at work. People spend a lot of times more time at work than they do with their families and loved ones, and for a lot of people, it’s either a tolerable experience or an average experience and there is actually some suffering in there too because they can’t fully give their gift. They can’t fully give everything that they have to give and people want it. People want to contribute to something big and so this is also about how do you unleash teams and really bring out the best in everyone? If companies can read our book, teams can read our book, they actually have the playbook to be better. And for us in writing it, it really required us to, as Justin said really well, to distill and to really bring our best selves and to adapt. We had to adapt a lot and learn and persevere.

So that’s my hope though, that this book can really impact a lot of individuals and teams and businesses around the world and have that impact and create extraordinary places where everyone is engaged and all the intelligence and creativity and innovation and passion is really online. That’s why I wanted to write this book, to make that possible.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful and I love that both of you are so passionate about this purpose of you know, it’s intertwined, right? Everything ties together. If I go to work feeling purposeful, I show up, my teammates are ready to show up with me, we communicate well, we’re vibing, we’re working on our things, we’re not getting pulled into BS meetings, right?

It’s not just busy work, it’s like, “Let’s just do this work, get home to our fam.” I love that because it strips away the fluff and it really makes it powerful in its sense. Like I said, it made me think about these things as like, “Oh, these are tangible. I can practice this today,” you know? I love that because your title really resonates with your message. Improving your team is one of the most powerful ways not only to grow your company of course, but to have a healthy community.

I feel like if people walk away from their daily nine-to-five situation just feeling good, they’re going to come home feeling good, they’re going to do the other things that they want to do in life in a healthier place. So it all starts there and I just appreciate your perspectives. David and Justin, it’s just been a pleasure getting to hang out with you today telling your stories of course, your experiences, and man, North Carolina, how cool?

I’m glad you picked something up there even while you’re there, you were drinking the juice, man, I love it. So the book is titled, Be a Better Team by Friday: A Playbook for High-Performance Business Leaders. So besides checking out the book, where can people find you two and connect with you two?

Justin Follin: Well, our website is and then I’m on LinkedIn posting a lot, sharing a lot. It’s Justin Follin on LinkedIn, Follin.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: What about you, David?

David Butlein Greenspan: Yeah, website and then David Butlein Greenspan on LinkedIn as well.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Perfect. Well, thank you two again. Congratulations on your book. I’m sure it is going to resonate and create the impact that you’re all dreaming of. I know it did for me and I just read a couple of chapters, so I am already inspired but thanks to you two for coming on the show. It was wonderful just getting to hang out with you today.

Justin Follin: Thank you very much, Hussein. It’s nice to meet you.

David Butlein Greenspan: Hussein, that was a lot of fun.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely.