By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

When we view the corporate landscape through the lens of performance and sustainability, there is little doubt that we are living in challenging times. At no point in our history has there been such a pressure on outcomes and performance. Simultaneously we are also challenged to ensure the long-term viability of our organisations, the wellness and fulfilment of those who work for them, while also working to mitigate the ecological issues facing our planet.

Understandably many organisations are becoming progressively more performance driven; forever increasing emphasis and value on measurable outcomes, at the expense of culture, relationships, connection and dare I say it – humanity. There is no doubt that organisations need to have a firm focus on operational excellence and meeting their KPI’s and milestones, but somewhere along the way, the strategies for achieving these outcomes sacrificed the things that matter most.

The irony is that most of the leaders of these organisations believe in the value of creating a positive culture. They see the benefit of building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships and they genuinely respect and value their people. How then do we explain the increasing prioritisation of outcomes, at the expense of culture and relationships? This dichotomous behaviour is often the result of one single flawed assumption; that building a care-based culture is mutually exclusive with delivering high performance.

We’ll blow that assumption out of the water in a moment, but first, what is a care-based culture?

A care-based culture places a premium on culture, relationships and humanity. It views and treats a team member as a whole person, not just as their organisational role and function. A care-based culture reminds us that people come with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations as well as their insecurities and fears.

This does somewhat complicate the management function. Managing someone’s hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their role based performance, is far more challenging than simply focusing on the results they deliver as part of their role.

But what if managers really saw the value in building a care-based culture and set about developing the additional skills needed to manage their people in a more holistic way?  Instead of trying to compartmentalise their lives by drawing boundaries between their work self and non-work self, team members would be supported to bring their whole selves to work, and can thereby gift all their talents to the tasks at hand.

Think of the benefits! Care-based cultures lead to greater levels of staff motivation and engagement – and people work harder and smarter when they are engaged in the task. When teams are able to see and support the humanity of each of their members, tighter bonds are formed and a culture of shared accountability created. This culture of care and humanity then flows into the manner in which team members deal with customers, clients and other key stakeholders – and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this would be received.  When people turn up to work as their whole selves, it also enables them to be more creative and innovative by using more of their life experience, feelings and intuition in order to resolve complex challenges.

Finally perhaps most importantly, organisations that place a strategic emphasis on building a care-based culture not only perform at the very highest levels, the efficiency of the process by which that performance is driven makes it significantly more long-lasting and sustainable than being performance driven for the sake of performance itself.

For most of us, including myself, this is a radical paradigm shift. Until recently I have always advocated that leaders reinforce the boundaries pertaining to an individual’s organisational role, and support those individuals to manage the aspects of their lives that fall outside that role themselves. But in recent times I have been repeatedly astounded by the unexpected high performance that flows, almost as a side effect, from building a care-based culture.


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Operational Excellence means that organisations have the capability to deliver a particular project or task to the required specifications and standards, on time and on budget. Whether or not an organisation achieves operational excellence by meeting its KPI’s is important. However, what is more important is how an organisation approaches the challenge of moving towards operational excellence. So, in building a healthier organisation, the old business adage of the process being more important than the outcome, is definitely true. In this case, the how relates primarily to the efficiency by which an organisation achieves a particular set of results.

Efficiency can be defined as the amount of resources that a business consumes to produce a particular outcome relative to the benefit of that outcome. In an organisational context, there are three key categories of resources — money, time and people. Obviously, these three categories of resources have significant overlap. The more staff on a particular project, the more money it costs the business in wages, but hopefully, the less time it takes. While all three resource categories are important, I believe the most valuable one is time. This is because if money is misspent or lost, it can be made again. Staff members can leave their roles and be replaced, and staff that have a reduced motivation or disengage from a particular task can be re-engaged. Therefore, as important as money and staff are in terms of the resources a business has access to, they can be considered renewable resources. In contrast, time is a non-renewable resource. Once time is spent, that minute, that hour, that day cannot be renewed or recreated. Unfortunately, there are no Mulligans (a golf term used when the golfer is given a second chance to play their shot) or Groundhog days (in reference to the cult movie with Bill Murray) for spent time. Thus, the efficiency at which organisations use their time is probably the most important ingredient in delivering operational excellence and therby showing how healthy that organisation is.

The True North Learning Organisational Health model is designed to do one thing — increase the efficiency which an organisation utilises its resources — time, money and staff, but especially time.

For example, we have worked with clients at their strategic planning days where a list of ten actionable items has been developed; each one of which has the potential to improve the business and its effectiveness in some aspect. Three months later, only a small minority, if any, of these strategies have been actioned in accordance with the implementation plan formulated at the strategic planning meeting. Hence, the one day those eight senior managers took and the associated resources have been effectively wasted. If we do the sums, 8 managers on an eight hour strategic planning day, the cost of transport, venue hire, catering, etc, probably thousands of dollars all for just about zero return. Those managers may well have taken that time and money and gone to the pub — at least they would have had a good time. The return on investment of those resources would effectively have been the same. I know this sounds a bit harsh, and I do admit that I am being a little tongue in cheek in order to make a point.  Most of us have been in teams or worked in organisations where creative and talented minds come up with amazing strategies, but because of a lack of capacity somewhere in the organisational system, these strategies never come to fruition. Therefore, the strategies do not provide a benefit to the organisation (or a return on investment on the resources that it took to create them). In fact, one could argue that not only does this have a minimal return on investment, but it actually also has a negative impact on organisational effectiveness. This is because when senior managers invest their time, ideas, passion and experience into developing a strategic plan only to repeatedly experience those items not coming to fruition, it builds the degree of hopelessness and cynicism in the effectiveness of their organisation. This then affects the extent to which those managers are prepared to invest themselves at future strategic planning days.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

It is hard to imagine that a conversation can build more effective organisations. However, what we observe time and time again is that individuals and organisations that take the time and develop the capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations actually outperform those competitors who place less of a strategic emphasis on this skill.

To be honest, and also slightly more transparent, I am not talking about an average ‘chatting around the water cooler’ kind of conversation. What I am talking about is when and how we have strategic and reflective conversations. In some management literature, these are referred to as ‘difficult’ or ‘robust’ conversations, but I think these terms underestimate the potential benefit these conversations hold.

The ability to have strategic and reflective conversations is one of the most effective ways to engage stakeholders, give role-based feedback and align team members to performance and behavioural expectations. In short, it is probably the most effective way to build a culture of shared accountability within a team or organisation.

However, what we commonly observe is team members, especially managers, running away from these conversations as fast as they possibly can. There are numerous reasons for this behaviour, but most of them fall under one or more of three categories.

Firstly, most people have some degree of conflict aversion. Let’s face it, any normal and sane person, when faced with a choice, is going to choose the option with the least potential for conflict. At the risk of being too psychological, this aversion sometimes originates back in our formative years. It occurs when individuals grow up in a highly conflictual environment which over time reduces their tolerance for further conflict. Paradoxically, it can also occur in individuals who grow up in relatively harmonious environments. This is because, despite the idyllic-ness of a happy and harmonious household, it does not build skills and capacity in having these more challenging conversations.

Secondly, many managers feel under-skilled in the area of conflict management, and it is often for the reasons in the previous paragraph that this area of their development has been avoided or neglected. However, dealing with conflict and having a strategic and reflective conversation are simply skills. And, like any skill, the more you do it, the more you practice it, and the more coaching and support you get on it, the better and more comfortable with it you become.

Thirdly, and finally, some managers feel they do not have the time to have these conversations. I view most things in business from a cost versus benefit standpoint. However, one difference in my version of cost versus benefit is that I believe in viewing an organisation as a holistic system. In other words, we cannot just examine cost versus benefit from a profit or performance viewpoint. We also have to include more intangible costs and benefits. These include such things as levels of trust and engagement of key staff and stakeholders, the morale of team members, the well-being of the individuals within the organisation, the environment and perhaps the planet as a whole. It is only when we can appreciate the cost or benefit to these more intangible and less measurable aspects of our organisation that we can begin to ascertain the real benefit of these conversations.

For example, we have observed on numerous occasions that a one-hour strategic and reflective conversation have a benefit (or return on investment of resources — time, money, personnel) in terms of engagement, role clarity, motivation, performance and ethical behaviour, that far supersedes that initial one hour ‘investment’. Conversely, we have also observed numerous examples, unfortunately in greater numbers than my previous sentence, where the lack of a strategic and reflective conversation has deleterious and sometimes disastrous consequences for an organisation.

The irony is, in our experience, most managers are astute enough to know when one of these conversations needs to occur. The real question is: are they prepared to endure short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit of the organisation?

In summary, to build organisational capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations:

  • Support managers and staff to work on their own psychology around their individual conflict aversion and lead by example.
  • Invest in training and skills development programs so that members feel equipped with the required skill set in order to have these conversations.
  • Be disciplined. Develop the discipline to realise that a one-hour conversation, as difficult and challenging as it may be, could potentially save you and/or the organisation a far less desirable outcome.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

What is the current health status of your organisation?

Naturally, the answer to that question is dependent on how we define “health”. As I shall discuss later, there is a big difference between a healthy organisation and one that is simply performing well. That is not to say that performance is not somewhat based on the health of the organisation, but from an organisational health perspective, what’s more important is the efficiency of how organisations achieve that performance, and the cost or toll to the organisational system itself.

What we have observed with our own clients, which is confirmed by much of the literature, is that there are some trends which are of concern in terms of the long-term viability of organisations and the sustainability of the people that lead them. The three key things we are noticing are firstly, the survival rate of organisations themselves; secondly, the increasing demands and expectations of leadership; and finally, but by no means least, the rising incidence of burnout, stress disorders and mental health issues amongst executives.

Organisational Survival Rates

In 1996, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote an iconic business book, Built to Last. In this book, they studied 18 of America’s most iconic and successful companies. They attempted to break down and decipher a code or the key elements which make those businesses highly successful and consistently outperform their competitors over a period of time.

In 2006, just 10 years after the book was written, and two years before the GFC of 2008, 20% of those beacons of the corporate landscape no longer existed, 46% were struggling and no longer outperforming their competitors, and only 34% were able to maintain their success and competitive advantage[1].

So, it appears that  having a robust recipe for performance, even in comparison to one’s competitors, gives an organisation no guarantee that it will continue to be in existence, let alone successful, into the future.

The Demands on Leadership

These days, when we ask managers and leaders how they are doing, the answer almost invariably comes back as some version of “we are ridiculously busy.” I am often curious if I asked a similar cross-section of managers that same question 10 years ago, would the answer they came back with be any different? It certainly does appear and feel like the pace of business is accelerating at a rapid rate and, as a result, managers feel there are more demands being placed on the limited time that they have to perform effectively in their role.

A survey conducted by McKinsey and Company on Leading in the 21st Century[2], had similar findings to what we are observing with our clients. They summarised their findings as follows:

When we meet with the men and women who run the world’s largest organizations, what we hear with increasing frequency is how different everything feels from just a decade ago. Leaders tell us they are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the dynamics are more complex. They worry that it is impossible for chief executives to stay on top of all the things they need to know to do their job. Some admit they feel overwhelmed.

Executive Burnout and Well-being

The incidence of executive stress, burnout and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety is at an all-time high. And what is even more frightening is that the incidence is actually rising at an alarming rate.

A 2006 study, conducted by The Australian Safety and Compensation Council[3] and sponsored by the Australian Government, found that, in 2002, mental stress claims comprised 5% of all workers’ compensation claims in Australia. This mechanism of injury/disease recorded the highest median claims cost ($9,700) and the second highest average cost ($16,400) as a result of the very high median and average time lost for this mechanism. Almost two-thirds (64%) of adults were classified to low levels of psychological distress, 23% to moderate levels, 9% to high levels and 3.6% to very high levels. In other words, 99% of people within the workplace experience some level of psychological distress, with 35% experiencing moderate to very high levels. This costs the Australian economy an estimated $20 billion a year[4].

What is Organisational Health?

I believe the solution to these challenges is a focus on organisational health.

An organisational health approach means that the need for short-term performance and long-term sustainability don’t need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, in our experience, including an organisational health approach to business in conjunction with traditional performance-based initiatives delivers both short-term performance as well as long-term viability.

Organisational health is the ability for organisations to outperform their competitors in short- to medium-term performance based metrics whilst not impacting on the long term viability of the organisation. In short, organisational health is all about performing at a high level, but also in a manner that is so adaptive[5], efficient and aligned that it enhances the longevity of an organisation rather than detracting from it.

The fundamental differentiator of healthy organisations in contrast to their less healthy counterparts is their philosophical approach to business. Healthy organisations have a systemic and holistic approach to organisational development, change and challenges. This means that healthy organisations have developed the thinking and behavioural capabilities to examine the challenges they encounter through a multi-focal and long-term approach. In other words, they appreciate that inefficiencies within the organisation rarely have one simple cause; they are usually multi-factorial. Hence, their thinking allows them to achieve operational excellence by addressing multiple causative factors within the various levels of the organisational system.

At True North Learning, we have found that when you distil organisational challenges down to the bare bones, and start to examine the underlying dynamics and behavioural processes which gave rise to the original problem, the vast majority are symptomatic of a lack of capacity and effectiveness in one or (usually) more of eight key elements within the organisational system. We have observed the substantial impact of the lack of aptitude in these eight key elements and how they adversely affect the performance and sustainability of organisations across various sectors of business, and also throughout different types of organisations, e.g. private and public sector, non-profit and social enterprise.

What we are effectively saying is that even though there is a range and complexity to the various types of challenges that organisations are confronted with, there are only a finite number of fundamental elements that give rise to those problems. This is simply because if you take those eight key capabilities and arrange them; there is an almost infinite amount of permutations and combinations of them, each of which contributes to manifesting as a particular set of symptoms within the organisational system.

The beauty and power of working to build capacity in these eight elements is that it addresses the underlying dynamics which give rise to organisational problems, rather than simply providing symptomatic relief. This means that building capacity in these “eight pillars” of organisational health actually supports short-term performance as well as the long-term viability of an organisation. This is organisational health.

Over the following months I shall discuss and explore, one at a time, each of the key elements that we consider to be “The Eight Pillars of Organisational Health”.

So please stay tuned and enjoy …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Cranier, S. and Dearlove, D. Excellence Revisited Business Strategy Review, March 2002, updated to 2006

[2] Barton, D., Grant, A., Horn, M. Leading in the 21st Century, McKinsey Quarterly, June 2012

[3] Work-related Mental Disorders in Australia, The Australian Safety and Compensation Council, April 2006

[4] http://www.news.com.au/business/executive-lounge/meltdown-exec-burnout-costing-billions/story-fng3e17m-1226508470134

[5] Based on definition of “Adaptive” according to Heifetz, R. et al The Practice of Adaptive Leadership  Harvard Business Press 2009,BostonMA


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

In challenging economic times, it is imperative that organisations increase the effectiveness of how they train their people. Hence, organisations need to ensure that they get a significant return on the resources – time, money and staff – that they invest in training and development initiatives. We have found that organisations can increase the effectiveness of these programs by asking one key question, but more about that later.

From an organisational context, we see the purpose of training and development is to bridge performance gaps. Performance gaps (hereafter simply referred to as “gaps”) are the gaps between the current levels of performance (both team and individual) and the ideal or desired levels of performance.

One of the keys in designing and delivering effective organisational development programs is knowing which kind of gap the program intends to bridge. From our experience, there are two kinds of gaps. The first gap is a “technical gap”. This a gap created by the lack of skills or knowledge required to do the technical aspects of their role to the desired level of performance. These skills and knowledge are usually specific to the roles and are generally not transferrable to other roles where a different specialised skill set is required.

The second kind of gap is a “behavioural gap”. This is the gap between the way individuals and teams actually behave and the ideal set of behaviours. By “behave”, we are referring to what some may call the “soft skills” of business – it’s how people communicate, take responsibility and ownership of outcomes, how they build trust, have difficult conversations, collaborate, resolve conflict, etc. It’s all the aspects that go into making the culture of a high performance workplace. Behavioural skills are generally transferrable to a different role, even if the technical skills required are no longer applicable.

The key differentiator is how we train people in technical skills versus behavioural skills. Technical skills are generally better developed by what we would call traditional or didactic learning. This means attending lectures, reading, writing, research, and having knowledge imparted to you. Behavioural skills, on the other hand, are not effectively developed via didactic learning. This is because knowledge alone does not make a significant and sustainable change in behaviours. If knowledge alone was sufficient to change behaviours, people would not smoke, be overweight, drive too fast or end up bankrupt. Most people know that they shouldn’t do these behaviours and most know strategies on how to avoid them.

The most effective way to change behaviours is for people to have the opportunity to reflect on these behaviours. Via reflection, individuals can better understand why they behave the way they do, they can see the impact of those behaviours and also gain an awareness of the situations and triggers which elicit those behaviours. In short, the ability and opportunity to reflect on these behaviours is what builds people’s awareness of them. And it is only via awareness that behaviours can be modified or improved in a sustainable way.

Hence, the most effective way of bridging behavioural gaps is Experiential Learning. Experiential Learning usually starts with an activity designed to recreate the desired learning context. Then, via a facilitated debrief, participants are able to reflect on and therefore gain insight and awareness of their behaviours during the activity. Finally, participants make learning links between their behaviours with the activity and how they behave back in the office. They can ask, “How can I take what I learned during the activity and debrief and apply it back to my role within the organisation?”

Therefore, the key question to ask to ensure that training and development programs have the desired outcome is: “Is the performance gap this training is intending to bridge a technical gap or a behavioural one?”

As an example, I was recently working with a team of project managers. One of the challenges that they faced was their tendency to, as a group, rush through vital decision making processes because they wanted to quickly get to the outcome they wanted. Unsurprisingly, the rushed decision making process led to poor decisions and as a result, they spend more resources “cleaning up their mess” than they spent making the actual decision.

In designing their previous training, the assumption was made that the gap was a technical one and therefore the training consisted of the technical aspects of project management. This, however, did not change the dynamic within the team.

As we observed them through a series of Experiential Learning activities and debriefed their behaviours after the activity, what became clear was that under pressure, their trust in each other diminished and therefore their ability to sit in the tension of the unknown without a clear direction was compromised. As a result, they rushed through those parts of the decision making process, simply to escape the discomfort of the unknown and subsequent lack of trust and cohesion. This highlighted their behavioural gap and therefore changed the question we as trainers asked. The question was no longer how do we provide more training on their project management skills, but how do we built a culture that is more robust and functions at a higher level in the face of pressure and an unknown outcome?

This example highlights the tendency of managers to assume the gap they are trying to bridge is a technical one. Sometimes it may well be, but if the assumption is wrong, it will lead to a training and development program that fails to meet its objectives.

So before training programs are designed and implemented, ask the question: ““Is the performance gap this training is intended to bridge a technical gap or a behavioural one?”

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

As we kick start the New Year, there is a tendency for people to make resolutions. While I like the idea of some time for reflection and goal setting, my approach is slightly different. My question is where are my/our thinking and behavioural patterns outdated and therefore no longer in service of our purpose and the outcomes we want to achieve?

In my opinion, one of the key paradigm shifts that will improve our outcomes is developing our capacity to collaborate. Whether we’re talking about national or international politics, companies within the same or similar sectors, or individuals as part of the couple, it appears that humans, as a species, are often challenged around our ability to collaborate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired to be highly competitive and defend vigorously what we perceive to be ours, but appear less  inclined to be collaborative or to even entertain the idea of collaboration.

Here are my 5 keys to building a mindset that is more open, and has a greater capacity, to be collaborative. 

1. Build skills at Facilitative Leadership

Whilst many people see that there is a value in being more collaborative, many also see collaboration as being time consuming and ineffective. And, in most cases, they are right. Collaborative decision making can be highly ineffective. For the collaborative decision making process to be effective, it needs to be well led and well facilitated. In this case, the facilitative leadership skills may support a more effective outcome. In fact, the facilitative leader in these situations might act more like a moderator. They control the flow of the conversation, keep people on topic and ensure the quieter and more introverted members are not drowned out by those more extroverted personalities. They also support members to clarify what they are saying. In doing this, the members themselves often gain more clarity as well as deepen their own thoughts and perspectives.

2. Hold the tension of difference (don’t collapse diversity too quickly)

Inevitably, when teams are being more collaborative, a greater diversity of viewpoints and ideas are able to be expressed and heard. Leaders and managers can sometimes have an ‘or’ mindset, which assumes that it must be plan A or plan B that is the most appropriate. A collaborative mindset looks for the ‘and’ solution. In other words, it assumes that there is some wisdom or ‘rightness’ in both plan A and plan B. By clarifying and deepening each viewpoint, it aims to find hidden treasure or wisdom in each of them and therefore develop an even better plan C. This, however, is not an easy thing to do. It means managers and teams have to sit in the tension of the unknown and have faith that at some point in time a ‘plan C’ will emerge from within the tension between the original opposing viewpoints. However, all too often, the tension gets unbearable and teams jump to either A or B simply to relieve the strain of  the unknown, but in doing so, we leap to an outcome before plan C has had the chance to emerge organically.

3. Be Deeply Democratic

Deep Democracy is a concept developed by Arnold Mindell[1]. He is a Jungian analyst and the founder of process oriented psychology or Process Work. Deep Democracy involves helping the various parts of a group to come forward and interact with each other, including those parts that have been silenced or seen as disturbing[2]. Compared with conventional democracy, where the majority ‘wins’, Deep Democracy allows the voices of those within the minority to also be heard and valued. In this way, even if an individual’s own idea or suggestion is not the one implemented, they still feel that they have been heard and valued and that any wisdom or innovation contained within their idea is extracted and used.

4. Manage unhealthy competition or Territorialism

For organisations to be successful, it is essential that they foster and develop a strong competitive nature. This allows them to compete successfully in the marketplace and carve out their niche of market share.  However, when this competitive culture is not channelled in the right direction or turns in on itself and becomes ‘cannibalistic’, it can reduce the organisation’s ability to be collaborative.

Another way to look at competition is to support it and also find ways to maximise its usefulness. Rather than compete against each other, if individuals and teams compete against their own limitations in how they think, behave and relate to each other, it will create better outcomes. Furthermore, the underlying (subconscious) function of competition is often to experience or reach some level of mastery or excellence. In other words, when individuals and teams are not supported and provided a context within which they can strive towards mastery and excellence in a particular endeavour, that need or drive can morph into behaviours of ‘unhealthy’ competition. 

5. Demonstrate trust over time

What can often impair one’s ability or desire to collaborate is a lack of trust or a general skepticism about the good intentions of others. Collaboration is our ability to work together towards a common outcome or goal; it requires individuals to have a win-win approach to the relationship and intent to act in a way that not only serves their own best interests but also the best interests of others.

Building trust requires two things. Firstly, it requires disclosure. This means that you reveal your real intentions and make known the outcomes and what you are thinking in terms of the collaborative relationship. Secondly, trust requires contract. This is simply doing what you say you are going to do and keeping the agreements that you have made. This is true whether those agreements pertain to small or large matters. At the end of the day, trust is earned and built by making and keeping small agreements. If trust is not present in smaller agreements, it means that having trust in more important matters is much less likely. By acting in a trustworthy manner (disclosure and contract) over a period of time, it starts to demonstrate that you are safe to collaborate with. This slow and steady building of trust is important. This is because the process of breaking down those barriers that people have about collaboration, and changing the thinking patterns, belief systems and assumptions that they have about collaboration, can be slow as well.

 

[1] Mindell, A. 1995, Sitting in the Fire: Large group transformation through Diversity and Conflict. Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 

[2] Diamond, J. and Jones L.S. 2004, A Path Made by Walking, Process Work in Practice Lao Tse Press,Portland,OR,USA

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

I have just finished watching (again) one of my all-time favourite movies: “Remember the Titans”. In the movie, Denzel Washington plays coach Herman Boone. He is the newly appointed coach of the TC Williams High School football team. The movie is set in 1971, in the era when America was de-segregating the education system and for the first time allowing black and white students to attend the same high school. As such, the football team, much like society at the time, was deeply divided along the lines of race. Black and white players were more concerned with their place on the team, defending what they believed was theirs and reducing the accountability of members of their own race so that they would maintain their place on the team. Needless to say, this created a dysfunctional and conflictual culture and one that would have been highly ineffective on a football field.

While this occurs within the context of a Hollywood movie, unfortunately, this kind of division, divisiveness and territorialism is not that uncommon within the teams we work with. And whilst the severity of this dysfunction is rarely as obvious as within the movie, elements of these dynamics still play out on a regular basis.

From the start of their off-season training camp, coach Boone sets the tone for the team; he makes the purpose of the team clear and explicit – the purpose is to be “perfect” in every aspect of the game. He also sets the culture by holding team members and even fellow coaches accountable to “perfect” culture, as well as personally demonstrating the very culture he is trying to create within his team.

In the final stages of the movie, when the team is behind at half time in the State Championship game, he tells the team that in his eyes they are already perfect, and if they win or lose that game is immaterial. One of the team leaders then speaks on behalf of the team and reminds coach Boone as well as his team mates of the original purpose and goal with which they commenced the season – to be “perfect”. He says that as individuals they are not perfect, but as a team they are still perfect as they are still undefeated and intend to stay that way. At this point, it is clear that the original goal and purpose of the coach, has now become the purpose of the players themselves. As one would expect, the team goes on to win the game and the somewhat predictable Hollywood ending ensues.

But what lessons can we learn from this movie which we can apply to our own teams and organisations?

Firstly, for teams to be effective the purpose must be clearly stated. Also the team leaders need to model and embody that purpose themselves.

Secondly, there needs to be process whereby individuals within the team are aligned to that purpose; they need to buy-in to the purpose so that it becomes their own. Team members will usually not go above and beyond the call, they will not strive for excellence and they will not be able to create high performance workplaces if they are working towards someone else’s purpose or a purpose that they don’t identify with. It is once that purpose becomes their own that truly exceptional teams are created.

Thirdly, there needs to be a strong culture of accountability so that individuals within the team act, think, behave and communicate, etc in a way that’s in service of that purpose. Building individual and team capacity to have “difficult conversations” allows managers and team members to hold themselves, and each other, accountable when actions are not in service and aligned to the stated purpose.

How can you use the lessons from the movie to create/review the purpose of your organisation or team so that it inspires and moves team members towards the creation of a high performance workplace?

For more infomation about True North Learning’s Vision and Purpose Development programs visit http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/vision-and-purpose.php

Be Perfect


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Great leaders: are they born or made? It’s a question that has been vigorously debated since the dawn of time, well, at least since the dawn of capitalism.

But before we can answer that question, we first need to define what leadership is.

At True North Learning we see leadership as having 2 functions. The first function of  leadership is to capture the hearts and minds of those they lead and then align them toward the goals, vision and purpose of the organisation. The second function of leadership is to manage the team they lead, the individuals within that team, and finally the task at hand.

However, the role of leadership that we are noticing in many organisations looks very different to the above. We are noticing that individuals are getting promoted into leadership roles based predominantly on their technical expertise. In other words, if they are a talented engineer or IT consultant or teacher, there is an assumption that they will also be capable of leading a team of engineers, IT consultants or teachers respectively. This thinking fails to recognise that the skill set required to be an engineer is very different to the skill set required to lead a team of engineers. It’s like saying because I am good at cricket, I am also good at football because they are both ball sports. As a result we see and work with many leaders who feel over whelmed, stressed-out and under skilled in their roles, primarily because they have been placed in roles that they may not be suited to or have the necessary skill set to be effective in.

Often we find the more skilled and specialised someone is at the technical aspects of their role, the harder they find it to make the transition into a leadership role. This is because the method of developing technical skills compared to leadership skills is vastly different. Technical skills are usually acquired through traditional education ie reading, taking notes, classes, university courses, apprenticeships etc. Also, they are generally specific to that role or job and cannot be transferred to another role.

Leadership skills on the other hand, whilst somewhat based on theory, are primarily a behavioural skills set. Leadership skills can be transferred to a different role ie if you can lead a team of engineers, in theory you should be able to lead a team of teachers. But the key difference is in how leadership skills are acquired. Because they are behavioural, leadership skills cannot be developed by knowledge alone. It is well documented that knowledge alone does not change behaviours.

Behavioural skills such as leadership skills are developed by “doing”. “Doing” is a 3 step process. Firstly you need to do an activity or task which places you in a leadership role. Second, is the opportunity to reflect on how you performed during that activity.  In reflecting you can see where you were effective and find ways to maximise or leverage that.  You can also explore where you were not so effective, and find ways to manage or develop those aspects. And then thirdly, as athletes do, practice, practice, practice until those desired behaviours become second nature. This is where Experiential Learning is a powerful and outcome-driven methodology for supporting effective behaviours and building individual and team capacity.

Therefore when organisations fill roles, especially leadership roles, with the intention of creating a high performance workplace or team, it is essential to have a clear understanding of whether the performance gap (between current function and optimal function) is of a technical nature or of a leadership/behavioural nature. This then allows organisations to screen/ seek the most appropriate people for the role and/or put in place the most suitable training and development strategy ie not pursue technical training for a behavioural issue.

So back to our original question-are great leaders born or made? If we see the 2 functions of leadership as firstly capturing the hearts and minds of those they lead and secondly to manage team, individual and task, then the answer to the question is BOTH. In other words, great leaders are both born and made.

This is because development of a leaders’ ability to manage team, individual and task is very teachable. This developmental process is optimised when the training methodology  used  focuses on the behavioural aspects of leadership (as opposed to being purely knowledge based).

However, we believe that there is an aspect of the ability to win hearts and minds that is not teachable. This is because this capability comes from a certain charisma and capacity to motivate people. It’s an ability to relate to, deeply understand, build rapport with, and inspire people from a diversity of backgrounds. This ability can be developed to an extent, but if its not a strong part of your intrinsic make up, then training and development can only go so far (no matter how hard, or how much I train, I am never going to run like Usain Bolt)

This does not, however, mean that leaders should not focus on their own development in the 2 elements of effective leadership. We believe that an openness and commitment to their own personal and professional growth is one of the ethical responsibilities of leadership. And besides, even though we all can’t be the Usain Bolt of the leadership world, there is something very noble and profound in the quest.

Let us know what you think: Are great leaders born or made?


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

In recent times I have noticed my growing frustration with our politicians- from both sides of the political divide. On further reflection, the aspect of their behaviour which fuels my frustration, is their ongoing tendency to appear to take no responsibility for their  actions, and to use so-called policy as a political football in the blame-game.

This reminded me of one of the models that we introduce many of our Experiential Learning training programs with. It’s called the “Above the Line” model. We introduce the concept by stating that when things don’t go so well, or don’t go to plan, individuals and teams behave in one of two ways-either “Above the Line (ATL)” or “Below the Line (BTL)”.  We have found that individuals and teams that are more effective, tend to exhibit more behaviours that are ATL.  Whilst less effective teams and individuals are prone to demonstrate more BTL behaviours.

Some BTL behaviours are Justifying eg “ I didn’t think that it was that that important”, Blaming eg “It was Fred who miscalculated the profit margin.”, Defending eg “Now you’re just picking on me” and Denial eg “It wasn’t my fault”. ATL behaviours, on the other hand, are to take responsibility, accountability and ownership of individual and team outcomes. It’s the “buck stops at me” mentality, as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”.

Upon presenting this to one of our clients a few weeks ago in the debrief after an Experiential learning activity, I was accused by the group of being BTL by pointing out their BTL behaviour. I have been wrestling with this issue ever since.

In other words, when we observe BTL behaviour that is not in service of the organisation’s outcomes or  its Purpose, how do we point that out without ourselves being BTL? Unfortunately, in this context, two sets of BTL behaviours don’t make an ATL behaviour, so as leaders and managers it’s imperative to model the very behaviour that we want to encourage more of in our teams.

Here is my view and I would be curious to hear the views of others.

Whether or not our intervention, upon seeing the BTL behaviour in our team or team-mates, was ATL or BTL can only be ascertained in hindsight. In other words, there is no recipe for what we should say when we observe BTL behaviour, nor is there a fixed way of how we should say it. Whether or not our intervention was ATL or BTL is dependent on the outcome of what we did. If what we did or said had a positive outcome and empowered or provided an insight which enabled the individual or team to transform their behaviour to be more ATL, then our intervention itself was ATL. If however, the outcome of what we did serves to produce more BTL behaviour, and actually moves the individual or team away from effective functioning, then our intervention was possibly BTL.

This way of leading teams challenges managers to take ultimate responsibility for the outcome of interactions between themselves and their reports. While this may be a heavy burden to carry, some would argue that it is the responsibility of leadership. I would also suggest that it is the responsibility of the authority conferred upon you by your leadership role within the organisation, which means the buck stops at you to a much greater extent than those you are leading.

So if we go full circle, is my frustration at pointing out our politician’s BTL behaviours, BTL in itself? Well the impact remains to be seen, but I suspect that not many people feel empowered or inspired to change by having their “faults” point out by a frustrated onlooker. I guess that means its back to the drawing board for me (read the therapist’s couch) to figure out ATL ways to think about our current political situation.

Please share your thoughts about how to address BTL behaviours in your teams, whilst at the same time remaining ATL yourself?

Dr Errol Amerasekera

 

For more on Below the line behaviours visit our ‘Beating Obstructive Behaviours’ program at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php

 

 


On managing underperformance…. 

Here is an unfortunate fact of life. Almost every team we work with has 1 or 2 of “those” people in it. By those people we mean the people that nobody really wants to work with, in fact, they will go out of their way to avoid working with them. They are the people who lower the overall tone and morale of the team and make underperformance almost acceptable. They appear to have no motivation and are not in any hurry to change. In our work we affectionately use the pseudonym “Bob” for these people. By the way, Bob is gender neutral, but you can call them Bobette if you prefer. :-)

We want to talk about managing Bob from 2 perspectives. These perspectives are not “or” perspectives meaning its one or the other. These are “and” perspectives- meaning we need to employ both of them to get the best outcome.

The first perspective is the personal and team based one. How do we performance manage Bob? How do we make sure they are in the right role and one that is aligned to their own purpose, values, goals and interests? How does Bob’s manager manage them in terms of role-based feedback, coaching, motivation and career development? And really trying to understand the underlying drivers of his lack of motivation. And finally, how does Bobs team build a high performance culture of accountability and ownership, so that under performance is simply not acceptable. When this happens, the team culture itself serves as a managing influence on Bob? These are all important questions and need to be addressed adequately.

The second perspective is them systemic one. In our work we talk a lot about temperature checking, By that we mean taking time out and checking whether we are cooking at the correct temperature in terms of our communication, our strategy, outcomes or leadership or all of the above. So let me ask a question…..if we are boiling at too higher temperature, do we blame the water or the setting of the flame? Yes exactly!! (nod) In the same way how much of Bobs behaviour is representative of the overall operating system we are using as opposed to only a personal behavioural deficiency.

Think of it like this. You’re still using Windows XP, when the rest of the world is using Windows 7. There are going to be some software incompatibilities. We see Bobs behaviour as highlighting the fact that your operating system is out of date. This is unintentional on Bobs behalf, of course, but it doesn’t dilute the validity of the message.

What is interesting is that we often find the skills, attitudes and mindset that Bobs manager and team need to change and develop in order to manage Bob more effectively are the very same ones needed to update and then work effectively within the new operating system.

So firstly, welcome and thank your Bobs; they are here to teach you something that is potentially of great benefit to your business. And secondly use the discomfort and frustration created by Bob to find better ways to doing business.

 

To find out more about True North Learning’s Managing Under Performance Program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php