How to build the best team

Learnings from the Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team

My husband has been an avid cyclist since his childhood. He remembers sitting in the Scout Hall in the late 60’s to watch 8 millimetre movies on the Tour and the Giro that the “lucky old hands” had shot during their trips to Europe – by sea (which also tells you how old he is!). He never thought that he would be fortunate enough to go and see these races live, nor that cycling would become such a followed sport in Australia (he used to get teased about his shaved legs…often), or that we would end up having a Tour de France winner or our very our own cycling team. And of course he never thought he would marry an Italian who knows nothing about cycling.

Executive Coach Exchange Orica GreenEDGE Photo ASO G.Domouveaux
Photo: ASO/G.Domouveaux

So last Sunday, when he organised to go and watch the Orica GreenEdge Movie “All For One” with his cycling group I could not refuse, also because I am an incredibly supporting wife – most of the time that is …

The amazing thing was that not only did I enjoy the movie, I also found some great reminders on how to build and maintain successful teams – so here they are – apologies to all of those cycling enthusiasts in advance as this is more a focus on team building and the things that I found inspiring than on cycling itself.

Allow people to be themselves, have fun … and celebrate being human

One of the things Orica GreenEdge did was start shooting small videos that they would then upload on YouTube called “Backstage Pass“. In these not only did they advertise their team, they also showed the riders as people and how they could have an amazing fun time despite the pressure and fatigue. The “human” side comes out often in the interviews and how their “humanity” has helped them through the tough times as well as the successes.  These videos allow us a glimpse exactly into that, which of course includes disappointments, frustrations and …successes. If you haven’t seen the videos go and take a look because even for non-cyclists like myself they are great fun. So how do we allow individuals to express themselves and shine through adversity? Adding fun and allowing people to be themselves seems like a good start.

Invest in your “Talent” and believe in them as individuals…

The best interviews throughout the movie are with someone who looks like a little kid. His name is Esteban Chavez, he is from Colombia and his story is amazing. When he was contacted by Orica GreenEdge he had had a life changing accident that had left him in a coma and subsequently nerve damage to his shoulder that was not healing. The team saw the potential in him, had him join the team and invested in him, until he proved himself with an astounding 2nd stage victory at the Vuelta de Espana in 2015. The interviews with him and his parents are the most touching throughout the movie. When you believe in the Talent of your team members amazing things happen, and what happened to Mathew Hayman another member of the team is perhaps even more incredible. Cycling is a sport for people who like pain, or at least that can deal with pain over long periods of time. Paris-Roubaix is one of those classics that show you the pain even when you are watching it from home. Mathew Hayman (37 years old and team support rider) had ridden in it 15 times before. Six weeks before the 2016 edition he broke his arm in another race. Six weeks later he won this race, the toughest race on the cycling calendar – despite all odds (including the fact that he had been dropped during it which in this race means you can’t catch up). So believe in all of your team because in times such as this, hard work and determination breed success, especially against the odds, even team members that have always been “supporters” (or “domestiques” to use a cycling term) and may be close to the end of their career.  And what a difference doe their success make to the rest of your team!

Share successes…at a higher and deeper level

We all talk about sharing success – however, what Simon Gerrans did in the 2013 Tour de France gives it an even deeper meaning. Simon was the lead man – team captain – for the Orica GreenEdge team and in 2013 he, along with the team won the time trial and consequently the Yellow Jersey as leader of the Tour de France. Again, I do not know much about cycling but even I know that it is a BIG deal. The attention is all on you – you feel like you are on top of the world and everyone thinks you are. Cyclists that get the Yellow Jersey try and keep it for as long as they can, even though they know they may not win the Tour. So what did Simon do? He walks in the tour bus after this exhilarating experience and tells his team mate Daryl Impey “tomorrow you get to win the Yellow Jersey”. And that is exactly what happened. They worked to make sure that the next day Impey was the one in Yellow. This takes the sharing of success to a much deeper lever – it means allowing your team mates to have their own victories even when you could be the victorious one. Personally I have not had the opportunity to experience this type of generosity often – but I can just imagine what this can feel like both for the giver as well as the receiver and the type of emotions this would create in the team.  This is taking celebrating success to an all-new level.

All of these things created a truly inspiring team that achieved unbelievable goals, permitted individuals to shine by believing in them and at the same time allowed them to be themselves while having a good time. Now, who wouldn’t want to be part of this team?

Contributor:  Our featured member, Paula Liverani-Brooks, is an HR consultant and executive coach.

I need my team to rise to the challenge – educational scaffolding part 2

If you need your team to step up, you need to show them how.

Last week I introduced the topic of educational scaffolding, a method that enables a student to learn how to carry out a task independently by gradually removing the support of a person with greater knowledge and expertise. In the workplace, this concept can be really useful for the manager as coach.

If you use a ‘sink or swim’ approach when assigning work, you are pretty much guaranteeing failure. The most likely outcomes are that your staff member will fail at the delegated task and lose confidence; and you will have to clean up the mess. It’s bad for productivity and bad for morale. It can also leave your own boss wondering about your skills as a manager – and your technical skills, since you are now doing work at the level of your reports instead of at your own level.

Fortunately, most managers assist their staff to develop skills by assigning work and providing feedback over a period of time. This is a good start but what’s missing is the structured notion of scaffolding.

Highly effective managers provide levels of support tailored to the individual skills and knowledge of each staff member. Depending on the task and the individual, the degree of support ranges from high to low and takes more or less time. Here is how it works.

  1. Start by clearly explaining what needs to be done and how.
  2. Assess how much support your staff member will need. This will help you adjust the next steps.
  3. Provide examples of good practice and models to copy.
  4. Provide opportunities for your staff to work with you and other more knowledgeable people as they develop their skills.
  5. Next, give them opportunities to attempt a task or elements of a task without initial support, followed by feedback and support. A lower risk task should be attempted first.
  6. Finally, let them do the whole task from start to finish on their own and then help them bring it up to standard.

One example of how to apply this method is with high level meetings. Here a staff member might first accompany a manager to senior meetings and listen only; later they might attend less critical meetings with peers; and finally begin to represent the organisation at increasingly high stakes meetings.

I have used this method to introduce aspiring leaders to the Managing Director and then the Board. In this case, they were subject matter experts with no experience in presenting to senior meetings. By supporting them through the process, I gave them the chance to show the Managing Director and the Board just how much they knew.

When you take this path, you get the credit for their expertise. You get the credit for bringing the best out of your staff and training them as future leaders.

I also had this experience as a junior member of staff. My boss, a wonderful mentor and teacher, asked me to draft a letter, then shared the final version with me. I was embarrassed to see only one of my sentences remained in the final version. But then he patiently explained every change he had made. Next, he gave me another letter to draft. Again, he shared the final version and explained the rationale behind his changes. As I progressed, we co-wrote a lot of documents and I learned to understand the sophisticated approaches he was using. Finally. the day came when one of my documents came back unchanged. I was delighted and so was my boss.

Managers I have coached have found this approach really helpful, particularly the idea that the amount of support given must be tailored to the skills and knowledge of the individual staff member and to the task. They have found that, over time, they have been able to delegate far more effectively, having ensured their team knew what they were doing.

Although applying educational scaffolding to workplace learning is time consuming, my experience has shown that it builds not only skills but independence and self-confidence in the team. Its success will mean that managers are able to confidently delegate work over time, knowing that their staff member will have the skills, knowledge and learning to complete the tasks themselves.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

Respectful listening

Executive Coach Exchange Gustav Vigeland
Gustav Vigeland, The Vigeland Installation, Frogner Park

Following on from our recent posts about meetings, this week we are looking at the concept of respectful listening.

A leader in a difficult meeting said, “If I’ve listened carefully, I heard you say…”. Notice how the leader took responsibility for listening carefully to the speaker.

At a basic level, respectful listening involves maintaining focus and avoiding distractions.  Using the time while others are speaking to check emails or hold side conversations does more than distract the speaker and other listeners – it also defeats the purpose of your own presence in the conversation.

Some people see the time when others are speaking as an opportunity to plan their next comment. This means they are not part of the conversation because they are not truly present.

The result is they don’t actually hear what others have to say. Even if they catch the broad message, they will almost certainly miss:

  • the subtle nuances of what others are saying;
  • their implicit messages; and
  • the emotional content.

All these, of course, give powerful clues to what the speakers really care about, what they are worried about and what they really need to win in a negotiation.

To listen respectfully, you need to attend to what people are saying and what they mean. Try using these five steps before you respond with your own comment:

  1. Focus on the person and what they mean.
  2. Concentrate on what lies behind their comments as they speak.
  3. Consider their meaning before replying.
  4. Pause and take a breath before you respond.
  5. Then summarise what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve really understood them.

Associate Professor Will Felps of the University of NSW Business School has carried out research into what he calls ‘respectful inquiry’, which has a strong component of respectful listening and also flows from it.

‘Respectful inquiry…involves asking questions in an open way then listening attentively to the response. “These communication behaviours combine to signal the degree to which someone is encouraged to continue to share his/her thoughts on a subject during a conversation,”‘ he says.

Felps says there are three barriers to a “healthy level of questioning and listening”:

  • simple egotism, or thinking about issues only from one’s own perspective;
  • an old-school model of leadership, based on the idea that the job of a leader is to direct; and
  • ‘threat rigidity’, or “the idea that when we are under stress we lose our will to explore”, which means that the time when respectful inquiry is most essential is also the time it is least likely to be utilised.

Listening respectfully and making respectful inquiry takes time, commitment and practice. It’s a more challenging way to have a conversation because it requires so much more attention. With practice, though, you will find the results far more rewarding, both at a personal and a professional level.

Diversity – part 2 – saying it, meaning it, showing it

When we were looking for stock photos for our posts recently, the results prompted us to reflect on the importance of embracing diversity for business– saying it, meaning it and showing it.

Executive Coach Exchange team unsplash pixabay
Is everyone treated as a valued team member?

Despite the outstanding efforts of initiatives like #wocintechchat, it’s difficult to find images which show a really diverse mix of people and even harder to find groups in which all those pictured look like equal participants in the business.

Media representation generally often just doesn’t reflect the reality of the incredibly diverse employee, customer and stakeholder base for most Australian companies, government agencies and NGOs.

According to the ABS, of our 24 million people nationally:

  • 3 per cent identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples, with many areas where the proportion is far higher;
  • 28 per cent were born overseas;
  • slightly more than half are women;
  • around 18 per cent have a disability;
  • almost 16 per cent of Australians are aged between 55 and 69 years of age;
  • 23 per cent speak languages other than English at home; and
  • there are 34,000 same sex couples in Australia.

ABS sources here, here and here.

The HR Council in Canada have looked at the issue from a staffing perspective.

Executive Coach Exchange team #wocintechchat
Can we do more to reflect the reality of our workplaces? Image: #wocintechchat

“Recent statistics indicate that diverse employees are three times more likely to leave an organization than non-diverse workers because:

  • They don’t feel part of the organization
  • They don’t feel valued
  • They don’t feel they have an opportunity for advancement
  • They feel that cultural barriers exist
  • They believe a competitor is more likely to develop career paths for a more diverse range of employees.”

Managing diversity means minimizing the challenges or barriers to a productive and diverse workforce. The more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees.

As Australia continues to become more diverse, failing to manage diversity effectively is becoming an increasingly expensive practice, as Julie Kantor explains. She cites a study conducted by the Center for America Progress: “… losing an employee can cost anywhere from 16% of their salary for hourly, unsalaried employees, to 213% of the salary for a highly trained position”.

A failure to put diverse individuals on the promotion path can significantly decrease job satisfaction, and lead to the departure of talented juniors who cannot see people like themselves represented at senior levels.

Kantor notes the effectiveness of mentoring in increasing staff retention. Anecdotal evidence repeatedly shows that people from diverse groups find inspiration in being mentored by others from that same group.

Does your organisation promote diversity and inclusion? Does the diversity of your staff reflect the diversity of your customers? What sorts of images do you choose to represent your company?

How do you acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples of Australia? What does your organisation do to support reconciliation? When you go to meet with clients, who do you choose to take along? Is the diversity of your staff reflected right through your organisation at every level?

Last week’s post talked about diversity in board representation.  Next week – part 3 – what are you missing out on?



How does short-termism affect performance?

Does managing with a short term view affect performance compared to managing for the long term? McKinsey Global Institute and FLCT Global have recently published the results of their research showing that surveyed companies with a long term view consistently outperformed their short term peers across most financial measures from 2001 to 2014.

The long term companies had the following results by 2014:

  • average revenue growth – 47% higher;
  • average earnings growth – 36% higher; and
  • average market capitalisation – 58% higher.

Executive Coach Exchange pixabay unsplash viewThey also added nearly 12,000 more jobs on average than their peers from 2001 to 2015.

What were the criteria used to judge whether a company had a long term view?

The research focussed on companies that were large enough to be under short-term pressure from investors, boards and others, with market capitalisation of over US$5 billion in at least one year during the survey period. They were evaluated against industry peers in an attempt to remove other factors that would affect performance.

The survey was based on five key assumptions:

  • Investment – ratio of capital expenditure to depreciation – assuming that long-term view companies will invest more, and more consistently.
  • Earnings quality – accruals against revenue – assuming that long-term view companies will prefer cash flow rather than accounting decisions.
  • Margin growth – assuming that long-term companies are less likely to seek unsustainable margin growth.
  • Earnings growth – assuming that long-term companies will prioritise the absolute rise of earnings over earnings per share.
  • Quarterly targeting – the incidence of making, or missing, earnings-per-share targets by less than US$0.02. This is based on the interesting assumption that long term companies are less likely to make an all-out effort to hit earnings targets by small amounts, where doing so will divert resources from greater business needs. They are correspondingly more likely to miss earnings targets by small amounts, which could have easily been achieved with the same diversion of resources.

Indicators of short-termism included:

  • cutting discretionary spending, and delaying new value-adding projects, to avoid earnings misses;
  • higher levels of stock buybacks; and
  • lower capital investment.

The study acknowledges that there are limitations in the methodology, as the assumptions had to be based on hypotheses about how a company with a long term view might behave compared to one with a short term view, and the study showed correlation rather than causation. The study was also based on US companies only.

Interestingly, the short-termists outperformed the long-termists in the financial crisis of 2008, with the long term companies taking greater share price hits, but in the following period the long-termists’ recovery was significantly better as they added an average of $7 billion more in market capitalisation than their competitors.

But perhaps the most thought-provoking findings were about those companies that began the survey period with a short term view, but gradually migrated to the long term category. The leaders of 14% of the companies in the survey were able to shift their companies’ behaviours from short to long term, with corresponding performance improvements.

The authors will next be focussing on finding out what practical steps these leaders took to achieve this turnaround.

How executive coaches can support organisational change

Executive Coach Exchange change SD-Pictures PixabayCEB Global recently released a well-publicised whitepaper on issues with traditional top-down change management processes and the benefits of an inclusive, employee-driven approach.

The whitepaper sets out a compelling case for inclusive change management, with findings including the following:

  • the average organisation has undergone 5 significant changes in the previous 3 years, including restructures, expansion and leadership transition. This frequency of change highlights the need for ongoing, adaptable change management processes rather than one-off approaches.
  • of 400 change initiatives reviewed in the whitepaper, based on self-reporting by the organisations, only 34% were rated as clear successes, with 50% identified as clear failures.
  • surprisingly, the majority of employees report that they are willing to adapt their own behaviour to support organisational change.
  • despite this willingness by team members, previous restructures have created flattened management structures with complex interdependencies and multiple reporting lines, meaning that change in organisations is less able to be managed by a top-down approach now than in the past.How can executive coaches facilitate successful organisational change?

    An executive coach can be a powerful catalyst to help leaders examine how they can be more effective, especially in times of organisational change. By working with senior management to help them understand better when and how to delegate well, executive coaches can facilitate improved leadership in flattened management hierarchies. In a flattened hierarchy, a top-down management approach can easily become a command-and-control approach. Research has shown that this model of management is ineffective. In our experience, command-and-control stifles creativity, undermines trust and demotivates staff. This in turn risks the success of the organisational change.

    Some leaders feel such a sense of responsibility, they believe they can’t afford to delegate. In times of change, however, appropriate delegation is vital:

  • if leaders don’t delegate, their business will atrophy and they risk collapse themselves.
  • if managers don’t trust their staff, staff are unlikely to trust their managers.
  • if staff don’t trust the leadership, they won’t trust their communication, particularly when times are tough.In times of change, people can find communication very challenging. Are staff members hearing the message the executive wants to give? If not, what is impeding good communication? How could it be improved? An executive coach can work with leaders on whether their communication with staff about the change is working and how it can be enhanced.

    An executive coach can help a leader take a new look at the resources they have at their disposal. Not every good idea needs to come from the leadership group; and this is as true about organisational change as it is about other aspects of business. Are aspects of the change being resisted by team members? What are their reasons? Could they be right? Could your team see a better way of achieving your objectives?

    Finally, in times of great change, some people feel they don’t have time for a coach. In our experience, this is one of the most important times to use an executive coach to make you a more effective leader.