We’re here today to talk about High Performing teams, which I know you’re passionate about. Before we start, can you give us an understanding of your background?
Sure. So I have a very non-linear career background I guess. I was a late bloomer academically. Didn’t really go to school that much for the last two years of high school. I ended up having to repeat my final year and then went on to [university] as I thought that was what you were meant to do. So I went on and did a couple of years of psychology and [it was when I] had to do a stats paper again when I realised that this probably wasn’t for me. So then I went out into the workforce for a year, and crossed paths with someone who went on to be a fabulous mentor for me in my life. She suggested that I get into HR. I went and did some HR study and realised I had a real flair and passion for learning and development. I excelled at those topics and that’s what I ended up doing my degree in, majoring in Human Resources Development. I then came up through the ranks via generalist roles and L&D roles, and then of course OD evolved out of that space. I have a flair for facilitation and coaching, particularly around high performing teams.
In terms of hot topics, there is a lot of material and discussion around about high performing teams. From ‘how to build high performing teams’, through to sports analogies where we should look at sports teams, through to military forces. Are high performing teams a myth, or rather a lucky grouping of people?
That’s a really good question. It’s certainly a ubiquitous term. You only have to plug it into Google to see the 45 million search results that come out of that. I think even, there’s one article that says you can build a high performing team in 30 minutes….which is quite impressive.
I guess from my point of view there are some themes that make up a high performing team. They always know what good looks like, they always feed forward and learn from their mistakes and overcome challenges together. They have a very clear understanding of where the boat is being rowed. Very autonomous. There will usually be a leader, a figure-head but it’s usually a very self-governing group. Fredric Laloux probably articulates that very well as part of his definition of a Teal organization.
It is a really nice time for me as an OD practitioner as I’m certifying to be a Coach at the moment, which is what puts fire in my belly. So having looked at the research and my own experiences, and going through the certification experience, I have formed my own view on what makes up a high performing team. I believe it’s to do with three things:
- Focus, or Delivery
I think if teams can align around those three things, then that is actually what makes a high performing team.
In terms of Identity, I’ve borrowed from coaching ethos there in that high performing individuals tend to have a very strong sense of what they will fight for…what’s their driving belief, what’s their aspiration, and so I believe through things that I’ve piloted that if you can get a group of people to harness that, understand that and align around it, it helps them move forward as a galvanised unit.
So there’s Identity, Trust and Focus. Tell us more about Trust…
There’s a lot of compelling research out in the market place around Trust. I think fundamentally the neuroscience tells us that teams that believe in each other and can have open dialogue will be able to make decisions better, can be more creative, are more responsive to change or resilient to change, and can make great decisions.
The psychology of the kind of exchanges that need to go on in those teams needs to be very good. I think Tim Keogh from April Strategy mentioned this very well at a workshop run at Orion Health around values based leadership. The brain actually triggers the release of a hormone called oxytocin when trust is present in groups. So, by sheer biological nature a team is more likely to achieve better outcomes if that trust is there.
Tell us about Focus…
Focus is strongly around delivery. Part of that will be, “what are our strategic goals?”, “do they link to what the Executive need us to do?” [and] “what will be our tooling and process?” – for example, at Orion Health we adopt the OKR process, but other organizations have KPI’s, MBO’s…whatever you call them, the purpose of that kind of goal setting process is to bring focus to what you’re delivering. So output is something that is important, and in terms of high performing teams, it’s all good and well to have a strong identity and trusting environment, but if you’re not actually delivering then there’s a problem there.
Does fun feature anywhere?
So as part of my research and developing of this model, it’s not an absolute list of things. I’m calling it the Foundational piece, basically almost hygiene. I blogged about it recently (myinspiringgarden/wordpress). This isn’t an all-encompassing formula. Wrapped up in that is of course stuff like commercial acumen, negotiation, whatever…there are a whole set of skills that a team will need to have. What I’m saying is basically ‘don’t pass go and collect $200’ unless you’ve actually sat around, together as a team and worked out what’s important
What about diversity? In terms of your thoughts around this model and obviously your own experiences, research and so forth. I watched an interesting Ted Talk by Margaret Heffernan around how studies are highlighting diversity. This particular Ted Talk was talking about gender, but I’m referring to broad diversity.
What are your thoughts on that in terms of high performing teams?
Absolutely. So, as part of the Trust piece, the values of that team are very important. What’s our operating culture going to look like? I think any high performing team in the world now will need to have diversity inclusion as part of their operating culture.
Clearly when you’re talking you’re passionate about this. It comes through as you’re talking to me. Why? What is it about high performing teams that grabs your fancy? Why are you so passionate about it?
I think it’s just a collection of experiences over the years. I’ve gained a real different insight to what a high performing team looks like, being in the Orion Health environment. It’s quite unique. I know every organization says that but I do believe Orion’s context is very unique.
Having been through my coaching certification recently I admire from afar organizations like LinkedIn, Facebook and Google. I love how LinkedIn…basically how every Manager goes through Leadership training, and it brings into focus self, company, world. And so, this idea of contributing to something that’s greater than you, and when it’s fundamentally understood and harnessed, absolutely seems to equal creativity, innovation and great output.
Facebook’s pledge to their employees is ‘this is where you come to do your life’s best work’ and I believe that particularly, on an individual level certainly through coaching, the individuals who take the time to really sit and think about what matters most to me, you know…there is a correlation between their level of performance and whether or not they have that kind of insight. So, I’m thinking ‘imagine if you could apply that in a team dynamic?’ Imagine the power of that. So I’m exploring that at the moment, as a practitioner.
Can people contact you about this and your experiences? Are you open to that?
Absolutely. I think it’s important. These are conversations that need to be had amongst people who work with high performing teams. There is this whole trend around ‘whole person’ coaching, and so there really should be ‘whole team’ coaching. So those people who go off and have coaching and others in the team don’t for instance, [there] can often be a bit of a disconnect. But if people can go through that experience, that discovery and exploration, on their own, then that’s amazing.
I recently read…and he’s on my hit list of people to meet this year…Gilbert Enoka, who is the mental skills coach for the All Blacks. So we talk about examples of great leadership and high performing teams, and…I mean…I challenge anyone to not put the All Blacks up as that (even though I’m a Wallabies supporter). They’re at the top of that list. And [Enoka] in this article, he talks about essentially how you can’t be a prick on the field and a good person off the field. You have to be the same person all the time. And that’s the same of leaders, and high performing leadership groups, is that you can’t be this great decision maker and creative person when you’re in the group and not be that when you’re on your own, or vice versa. So I’m thinking ‘how do you make groups…that old adage of an expert team, not a team of experts’.
Out of all that we’ve talked about, and I’d love to talk to you more about it, for those reading what would be your top tips regarding high performing teams? The top takeaways if people are thinking about how to start out on this journey in their organization?
I think those three foundation groups that I outlined are a wonderful place to start. Certainly when I’ve piloted some material and resourcing around that Identity piece, it’s fascinating to watch…the different dynamics at play, that level of conversation reveals where your strengths are and where your gaps are. Like how wonderful to understand that up front before you embark on a program of work, or a project…and to be able to do something about it.
The Trust piece is huge. Last year in November Google released their research around what makes up a high performing team and at the top of the list was psychological safety, so people cannot fundamentally share ideas or give feedback if they feel like they’re at risk. Similarly to David Rock’s SCARF model. People constantly scan their social environment for risks to their brand, to their integrity, and how they’re seen by the organization. And so if you can mitigate any of that, so that people are concentrating on the stuff they should be concentrating on…not worrying about their brand or their identity, then that increases productivity.
The third being Focus. So which way is the ship going, what’s important to the organization…what will be the mechanisms, how will you collaborate with other teams to make sure you’re all working on the right stuff…People need to make a conscious decision to buy into that process.
Thanks Emma. Let’s add a little twist as we finish…what is the current book on your bookstand?
There’s like three of them…at the top of my list is to finish Edgar Papke’s ‘True Alignment’ which is around the importance of great strategy, execution, aligning people. He’s also got a really strong human centred approach to goal setting…and that’s that people are motivated and get a kicker out of different things, so you need to understand the makeup of your teams and the organizations culture.
Favourite place to travel to?
Um…at the moment my husband and I love Asia. It’s such a wonderful place to remind you that you’re alive, with all the smells, the sights, the culture, everything…
The food, the drink…it’s such an assault on your sense. Speaking to Vietnamese and Thai people in particular, they’re just so kind and wonderful.
Thanks Emma. It’s been great chatting to you and hearing your thoughts and experiences around high performing teams. I look forward to hearing more from you on this topic!