“Strength Spotter for Teams”: Aashima Lakhanpal, Search Product Lead at Google (Video + Transcript)

March 19, 2023

Aashima Lakhanpal (Search Product Lead at Google) believes your team’s talent if leveraged correctly can drive significantly higher productivity and well-being.


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Angie Chang: Aashima Lakhanpal is a search product lead at Google. She spent a decade selling ads, inclusive teams, and writing dad jokes. Having managed global teams across Europe, Asia, and America, she’s on a mission to make teams bias free with training and group exercises that can inspire teams of all sizes to feel included and achieve their potential. So welcome Aashima.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Thank you so much. Hi everyone. I’m glad you all are here to celebrate, you know, Women’s Day and to elevate yourself. This is fantastic. I am Aashima LakhanpaI. I in my day job am a search product lead for retail <laugh> In simple terms, what I do is I channel product feedback to teams at Google based on whatever inputs I get from customers, retailers on search shopping. If you have questions on what do I do exactly, I’m more than happy to connect one-on-one later. But for now, that’s the easiest way I can say what my job is. But that’s not why I’m here.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I’m here today to tell you something about why I’m, what am I passionate about? And you’ll hear that in exactly a minute more. Let me give you a quick question so that you get a sense of where am I headed to now? It said that we receive 11 million bits of information every single moment. I would love to hear from all of you, what do you think is how much of this to we consciously process? Feel free to drop responses in the chat, but I’m curious to understand if, you know, you have guesses on this. Out of 11 million bits, how much does a human brain consciously process? Oh, <laugh>. Okay. 5%. I see that. Yeah.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Well, surprisingly, out of this 11 million bits of information that we receive, we actually only consciously process 40 bits of information, which means 99.9% of the times were actually making decisions based on our subconscious or our unconscious biases I like to call it. Imagine the amount of decisions, like which coffee do I want, which elevator to take. Simplest of our decisions, we’re actually taking as fast as our subconscious brain can process, which is the topic that I’m here for, to talk about is that, well, ladies and gentlemen, bias is something that has been a part of all of our lives for so long, driving almost 99% of our decisions, and we have never ever given it a second thought.

Aashima Lakhanpal: This June, I complete a decade in tech, which is 10 years of working in tech. If someone asked me at the beginning of my career, I would laugh it off and think, well, I’m not gonna be here for long. But ten years is, is what I have done in in tech. And as I look back at my ten years in, the one thing that stands out to me is that I have had a lot of first moments, only moments as as a woman, as the only woman in the room, as the first woman in the room. And it’s been a proud moment, but also quite learning because I have had time to contemplate what these first moments mean. For example, if I remember my first ever conference, it was for an automotive company, and I was supposed to present these really cool gadgets and say why data is going to help these cool gadgets, et cetera.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I remember that session bombing because the entire audience was, you know, room full of men. I don’t know if they wanted to hear what I had to say. That was my very early entry into understanding a room full of men and feeling like, oh, is this something I’m going to experience every time I enter a workplace, a room full of bias? Got to a few years later, I received my first international job opportunity and I remember thinking, well, this is great. I’m gonna be abroad. I’m gonna relocate.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I was also double questioning myself. This means I have to relocate my entire family. Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right thing? I should be focused on building a family. I don’t know if I’m doing the correct thing, which is when I also realized in addition to being at the receiving end of a bias, I am now the person who’s also causing bias. That’s how human brains are. This ten years has taught me one thing. It’s that you are biased.

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Aashima Lakhanpal: I am biased. We are all biased. This is a byproduct of being a human. Each time we see a decision, we’re making a judgment, and that’s how our biases erupt. So while if you ask me, is this a good thing, is it a bad thing? Well, it’s a thing. We’re living with it, we’re taking decisions based off of it. Good or bad, the first step to understanding these biases is acknowledging that they matter. It’s important that each time you enter a room, know that every person there has some sort of biases including yourself. And if you can acknowledge that, that’s step one taken. Let’s figure out what does this mean for, for all of us, right? We’re all working in this, this, you know, tech space where we’re constantly working with teams, we’re working with people in remote setups, we’re working with people in global teams, we’re working with people in diverse multicultural teams.

Aashima Lakhanpal: All of this makes it even more complicated because imagine if our personal lives are so much of bias being trickled down into our decisions. Now think about how much biases enter into our decisions at our workspace. You know, think of simpler decisions like hiring a new person for the team or who gets this project. Imagine all of those decisions being taken and now the amount of biases that help those decisions. So as I went through Covid in 2020 and I kind of worked remotely, a lot of these questions always bothered me that, well, Aashima, I know what biases I have, I’m learning as I grow, I’m learning what means, you know what, what, what kind of biases have I seen as an Asian person, as a woman? I mean, I’m not, you know, ignorant of the fact that as I entered this workforce, I was really docile.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I would hate questioning someone. My biggest bias was that I couldn’t talk to a senior person in the room because I felt it was rude to question them. Now cut to so many years later, my first thought in this process is that, well, now that we’re all working remote, this is only going to get worse from here. How else do I talk to a room full of people who probably have similar passionate interests, but are so diverse in how they operate? How do I take benefit of the fact that we are all biased? What can we do from here? So here is what I decided to do. I kind of made a framework for myself, and I urge all of you to think about your own frameworks as you start to work with different teams, global teams, you know, different people coming from different motivations.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I kind of put a framework for myself to say, each time I work in a new project or in a new space, I would love to understand where this person comes from. And the easiest way to do that, you don’t need too much of research into this, and I’m very conscious that this is also a biased process. But the idea here is to say, look, each time I’m in a new space, I’m gonna try asking someone what is their main motivation or what drives them to work better? And if I can club that into four main buckets, I have a better way of working with each of them. Now I will come to the end and promise I will make this worth your time to say, well, what do you do with this four style model? And what’s gonna benefit us in the long term?

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Aashima Lakhanpal: I will come to that. Let me first little tell you a little more about what this model looks like. I kind of said, okay, look, each workspace typically has one of these four people. And this is how I simplified this for my decision making. I said, well, typically someone says, I love working with people. It’s my passion. I wanna feel like I’m working with family with home. It’s this person is showing you traits of a relator. He’s this person who’s actually meant to build more relationships and he drives off a lot of energy of this particular trade. This person could be called a relator.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The second type of person I would see is someone like an influencer. They are the people who kind of love winning others over. It’s almost like they like viewing you day in and day out because that’s how they operate. You know, they’re the swift talkers. You see them sometimes. I’ve personally been at the brunt of someone who’s been an influencer and felt, look, am I being, you know short sold because this person is so good at what they do. But that’s what influencers do. They kind of persuade you to an idea or a concept, and they do it really beautifully. And I’m sure you see it in some teams yourself too. Even if you are in college school working through some, you know, recently created teams, you will always find this one influencer sitting in your team ready to talk about something.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The third kind of person I’ve typically found is a strategic person. They can literally spot a trend from a mile away, talk about any concept, and they will try finding trends in saying whether this exists, what kind of issues, consequences, problems they can already, it’s almost like they have seen five steps ahead in advance and it’s a good thing because that’s the part that excites them.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The final part is someone like an executor, which I personally relate a lot to. It’s from the idea of, you know, how many people get a high when they kind of tick things off their list. This is me. I love being the fact that I’m so productive. I have done ten meetings today and I’ve kind of ticked so many other things off. That’s my motivation to work, is that I love to implement things and kind of push them until I see it till the end. Now, I know that this is, you know, a typical workspace.

Aashima Lakhanpal: You may have someone fall into one of these four buckets, but I, like I promised, I’m gonna tell you what does this mean? If you are working in a team like this, I realize the benefit of all of us being biased or having judgments or making decisions based on biases that we have is the fact that you can actually benefit from a team member who has a strong motivation like this.

Aashima Lakhanpal: For example, in my case, the fact that I have been an executor and I have loved working, you know, to tick things off my list, I would make a great pair with an influencer. Imagine me and an influencer working together on a project. We could actually make this project look so better than it already is just because my skills and their skills are complimentary.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I urge you to think that each time you enter into a team, think about what is actually complimenting you and anyone else’s skills. And that’s what I call a strength spotter. It’s an easier way because look, we’re all biased. We’re gonna operate from decisions that, that are from our own biases. We could be the ones causing it, we could be the ones at the end of it. But I actually love the fact that this framework helped me think, look, I am a person who’s an executor.

Aashima Lakhanpal: What is the best thing I need for this project in order to move forward? I’ve also had examples where someone like a strategic person and a relator have worked really well. Now imagine if you’re trying to get a project right off from the ground, this relationship builder can actually go and bring anything that that kind of, you know, brings that relationship in. And a strategic person can help you build that framework. So many times you’re just missing those one, two parts that this other person in a team can bring.

Aashima Lakhanpal: As I promise that’s my takeaway for you here, which is the next time you are in a team, right? Remember these three things, acknowledging biases is never going to be out of fashion. Each time you are a person in a room that you feel is awkward, remember that someone else is also feeling awkward.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I love the fact that my manager asked me this question and she’s a female manager by the way. She asked me, Aashima, how are you feeling and how did this make you feel? I remember the power of this question because it meant that wow, someone actually understands where I come from. The next time you are with someone else, acknowledge someone else’s bias. It’s never going to be out of fashion. You’re going to uplift someone so much that is gonna make their day. It’s your key differentiator. And so is it mine?

Aashima Lakhanpal: Working in teams only going to get tougher. We’re gonna adjust to a new reality. Remote, global, complex teams, diverse teams, multicultural teams, it’s going to get better or probably as I say, complex. But if this gets more tougher, learn that your team members key motivation and learn how to pair it with yourself. There is no harm in realizing the fact that these decisions are being taken based on how we think or belief or our system. t’s almost like saying biases is, is going to help you take these decisions, learn your team member’s key motivation to pair it with yours. That was my strength supporter model that I had. I might, and I’m very conscious that this is again, bias at its best because I have simplified it to no extent.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I would love to hear from all of you if you feel like there is anything that has helped you personally work through a team as you work through biases, their own yours and what has helped it work better. But let me know if there’s any more questions here. Oh, I love the comments, ladies. I really appreciate all of this. It makes me feel like you all have been in the same boat at some point and this is a fantastic way of saying we all acknowledge each other’s status where we are at.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Thank you for sharing these comments. It means a lot. I see Susan, your question, which pairs best, in my opinion, it totally depends on the project that you’re trying to do. I have noticed myself work better with an influencer if I need to kind of market my project a little better. Like I am an executor and I feel like I really wanna get extra hours done to get this out. But when I pair myself with an influencer, I feel it’s fantastic. They know how to market it, they’re kind of filling the holes that I don’t have. I also have seen an executor work really well with a strategic person just because they kind of build the bigger picture and I’m kind of, you know, filling in the gaps. I kind of feel like it totally depends on the project, but you can make a pair out of anything.

Aashima Lakhanpal: It’s just a matter of knowing what that motivation is and how you can pair it with you. I love Jennifer, your comment. It is better to lead with your dorkiness, but I I really appreciate this comment. It means so much. Which type of struggle do you collaborate with most and what strengths do you lean on to make it successful? I have worked through three different global jobs and all of them have involved working with people from totally different cultures. I remember working in Ireland at one point and I could feel no relation whatsoever to the audience just because I have been an Asian all my life. It was very difficult to understand what motivates a general Irish person to say, I’m going to go to work today. And that was my, my struggle is because I couldn’t understand where someone comes from.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Marketing was in general an issue. I couldn’t understand what meant work was, you know, what kind of work could I get for myself? Just kind of setting that example or an idea of where does someone come from? You’re not going to live their life. It’s going to be tough to walk in their shoes, but even if you can get an inkling or a fraction of an idea of where someone comes from, it makes it so much more easier to take that journey together. And I think that’s where my struggle has mostly been. It’s just understanding that now I’m in a new setup. It’s an entirely new vulnerable environment. How do I understand where this other person is from? Sarah Love that lead with Dorkiness. That’s absolutely happening. Thank you Susan. I know an executor cuz I feel like I always put in the hard hours and yet at the end of it when someone says, well, you didn’t challenge us enough, it almost feels, you know, that I’m breaking my heart because, you know, it is just a bias that I’m learning to live with and working around.

Aashima Lakhanpal: But yes, I, I appreciate the perspective too. One challenge is multiple time zones and setting a meeting time. Greta, I cannot plus one this comment so much just because having, you know, living ha I have an entire family in India and each time I’m trying to get basic things done and, you know, making time for my parents, making time for my family here, it just seems like a massive task to kind of understand that, you know, just showing someone that I’m trying to be inclusive is an appreciation in itself, which is what I started doing here. Each time I had a festival back home or each time I had something that was important to me, I made sure that my team members were aware of it too, just because that would just drive home the point that, look here is my motivation to doing what I’m doing, or here is the motivation why I’m doing it.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I think people are in general nicer because they want to pick up on things that you’re learning, doing, et cetera. But I I generally love the fact that we have so much more to learn from each other as teams that it makes me excited that I love the fact that people here are accommodating and I say, look, I’m trying to adjust this time to make it work for you. Just acknowledging that is enough for me and I think that’s done wonders for my wider team too. Shannon, I love the fact if you feel like you know, your main trait is a relator you would absolutely pair well with someone who’s a strategic person, especially because you are the person who’s going and building out that relationships and driving off people’s energy.

Aashima Lakhanpal: A lot of people I know, especially in the tech space sometimes kind of feel like this, it does the opposite for them when they’re trying to build this relationship trait. You know, it’s, it’s an effort, you know, it’s wearing them out, but this strategic person can actually bring in those extra traits and see those five steps ahead. I love how you’re thinking about it.

Aashima Lakhanpal: There is a project, this is a perfect way of thinking about how better to pair your team members. Like how better to think about who works better in pairs. So absolutely. Plus one to that. Michelle thank you for sharing. You had a project in the rest, were in Germany and India. They asked me for my preference. That is fantastic On your end, Michelle. I think these are smaller things and you do not even, I can’t even begin to place how much it means for people who are in different time zones to know that someone else has appreciated their calendar.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I really think that’s a plus one to saying, well I acknowledge where this is coming from. So yes, absolutely. Plus one to that. Melissa, someone who’s worked with a team mostly in India and East Africa, it’s tough. I agree. It is absolutely tough and it’s a nightmare at some points. But I like I keep saying, acknowledging step one, step two I think is, you know, your action always kicks in. You’re always doing the right things by saying, look, I’m trying to adjust the calendars to the best way I can. I wonder how these categories pair with Myers–Briggs. Jennifer, you bring a fantastic point and I think this is a good, good insight into this is that Myers–Briggs has evolved over a point. It feels like, you know, what we used to ask before in terms of, you know, where do you fall and what kind of personality trait are you that has become better with time.

Aashima Lakhanpal: We also have more modified versions. Anisha, you are pointing out to StrengthsFinder. That’s another fantastic way and I urge all of you to take a look at these tools. Sometimes they’re a fantastic way of throwing an insight into are you this person or not? They are more detailed, they’re more technologically advanced in terms of how they’re asking you the right set of questions.

Aashima Lakhanpal: In fact, StrengthFinder gives you all of your 35 plus strengths listed out for you. And that’s a fantastic thing if you’re trying to analyze yourself. Like it helped me understand how much of these traits were needed, which were my dominant traits, which were my lesser dominant traits. Kind of gives you an insight into where can you lean more. But this is fantastic because these are tools that are actually helping you guide to understanding yourself as an individual. I had just, like I said, this is bias at its best giving you a four point decision to say, look, here is what you can do for the next time you’re trying to work in a team better.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Thank you so much. This is an excellent talk. I think we have lots of questions. If you’d like to hang out, I’m sure people will like to chat with you in the lounge. Thank you again. Absolutely.

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