In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss techniques for presenting ideas that gain buy-in.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  •  Understanding your manager
  •  Nesting your ideas within existing objectives
  •  Micro Skilling
  •  Matrix Teams
  •  Managing Obstructionists
  •  Using yours and your team’s values to support the cause

INFLUENCE REQUIRES UNDERSTANDING

Successfully presenting new ideas requires you to do the background research and set the stage for change. Take a look at what may be affecting your coworkers and how your idea will impact them. Forbes research shows that 70% of all organisational change efforts fail. Have you done the analysis that will enable you to achieve a break in with your idea?

There is an art to preparing information in such a way that it encourages transformation within your business.  If you present your ideas with no strategy you may experience push back.  The Eighth Mile Consulting offers executive coaching for individuals looking to develop their understanding of the motivating factors that determine the outcomes in their workplace. Developing self-awareness and social awareness can give you the edge that drives your career forward.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to presenting new ideas? Are you seeing positive results from investing time in your own self-development? Let us know in the comments below!

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This article was originally shared by Ian Mathews on Forbes

David Neal spoke with Ian Mathews about his transition from his career in the military into founding his own consultancy alongside his partner Jonathan Clark.

David shares with Ian the considerations he and Jonathan explored when establishing The Eighth Mile Consulting strategy development.

They also covered these points in their conversation which can be seen in this short 8-minute video posted to Linked In.

  1. The costs of not acting on instinct
  2. The lesson on letting your ego impact your leadership
  3. Why do we fall into the trap of micromanaging?
  4. How much time do you invest in developing people who have not yet met their mark?

From Active Duty To Startup Founder: An Interview With David Neal

If you interview an executive and a military leader, many aspects of the conversation will sound remarkably similar. Both are responsible for adapting to change, leading people, thinking strategically and delivering results.

But several times during the conversation, you are reminded of just how different the stakes can be for the military leader. An executive might recall delaying the removal of a poor performer, resulting in a disruption in business. The military leader provides a similar example but with much graver consequences.

I recently met with David Neal, CEO of The Eighth Mile Consulting, to discuss his journey from the Australian Army to founding a successful business. David spent 13 years with the armed forces before leaving to build a company that helps private enterprises with change and project management, strategy and leadership consulting.

What was your first experience in business? When I was 14, I worked in a liquor store. Sweeping, stacking shelves and all that sort of stuff. I learned the value of talking to people and building rapport, particularly at a young age, because a lot of the customers were rough around the edges.

Your focus now is on leadership. What were your early influences? In my adolescence, I did Shotokan karate and worked my way up from a very young age, competing in the World Championships. That drew a lot of my time throughout my younger years. I was coached predominantly by my dad and spent time on the national team.

You mention your father as a coach. What other examples did your parents set for you? My parents worked in the tax office. That’s an interesting story by itself because my mom and dad come from pretty rough stock, a suburb called Elizabeth in Adelaide, which for many years was the highest crime rate suburb in the whole country. My dad scored a scholarship by randomly attending a school hall once. He went into the air-conditioned school hall on a very, hot Australian summer day. To stay in the air conditioning, he had to take an aptitude and IQ test. He is a brilliant man and his scores landed him an accounting scholarship funded by the government. He created a career there with my mom, working shoulder to shoulder on many of the same projects. It’s a pretty cool story when you think back to how they pulled themselves out of tough times through education.

What was your first leadership role with the military? I went to two institutes: The Australian Defence Force Academy and The Royal Military College – Duntroon, where they designate army leadership officer training. It’s a very competitive environment and you get used to being uncomfortable. I also did some infantry-specific training and deployed immediately to Afghanistan. Straight out of military school, I spent 10.5 months on combat operations in Afghanistan, as a 22-year-old in charge of up to 27 soldiers at any time.

What was that like? That was very gritty work. My role was as part of an Australian force that could support the Afghan National Army and make sure that our soldiers were getting back alive. Wherever there was trouble, we got dragged in and would get our hands dirty. That’s where I developed my close affiliation with the U.S. because we supported each other during some tough times.

What was an early observation in that role that stuck with you? One of the things I observed was a difference between the U.S. and Australian forces in style and approach. I used to talk to my soldiers on a first name basis, regardless of what rank they were, and they’d be like, “Yeah, boss,” and walk off. I had a US lieutenant struck by the casual approach to the way that we deal with our soldiers. And he was like, “How can you do that? This is your rank, and this is their rank, and we’ve got to maintain discipline.” I learned not to rely on my position because the Australian Army is less structured in our hierarchies. And so what works for one military did not necessarily work for the other. We both have the same tactics on the battlefield, but the way that we communicate with our teams is drastically different. He thought they were insulting me by calling me boss, but in our world, that was a sign of respect. If they started calling me sir, I knew I’d stuffed up.

Does that lesson apply in business? There’s a level of respect in assuming that the people who work with you can poke fun at you. It shows that we trust your ability to deal with it. And if we don’t talk to that person or we don’t want to offend them or whatever, then that’s probably a more concerning sign in our culture.

Tell me about a mistake you made as a new leader in the field. I did not make the hard decisions early enough. An example of that, I had someone in mid-level leadership that was in charge of other people. I was easily influenced and didn’t want to break up the team just before we deployed. I thought that I could change or educate that person in time, and I was wrong. We had a gunfight, and this person froze at a time that I needed them not to freeze. And I now look back and know I could’ve done something about that.

Why didn’t you act on your gut sense? I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, and I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I paid the price for that at the gritty end. If I had groomed someone else, I wouldn’t have risked people’s lives. So for me, have those hard discussions early and be willing to justify the reasoning behind that.

I went through the same thing as a new leader. My naive way of thinking was, “I can change everybody.” It was my ego saying, “I’m a good enough leader to overcome this.” Absolutely. The lead up to that, we’ve gone through four years of relatively intense training where everything is graded, marked and assessed. You’re compared against your peers. The day you graduate, you’re rated from one to whoever is left in the class. You know where you sit in terms of your cohort, your peers, and these are arguably the best leaders in the country. And you’re getting rated against those people. I mean, that’s always in the back of your mind. There’s a competition about who is the best. I’ve got to be the fastest, and I can’t be the weakest — all these really kind of misaligned perceptions.

How did those rankings impact your judgment? I didn’t want to be the one with the weaker team. I didn’t want to cause problems for my headquarters. I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be the guy with solutions. I’ll fix it. And really what I was doing was slapping more band-aids on the problem but not curing the infection underneath. And ultimately, I paid the price for that. And then I had to endure the rest of the tour with that individual. And it hurt me. I had to micromanage to make sure that my soldiers were safe and this came at the expense of the overall operation. With a few hard discussions early, we could have fixed that entire thing.

What were the consequences as you got dragged down to a lower pay grade? The soldiers see that, and they’re like, “Well, why is the boss mucking around at our level? Why is this, why is that?” And I’m trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that everyone’s safe and we all get back alive. That weighs heavy on your conscience. You’re trying to make sure that we’re all going to get back. The other thing I learned, and I think it relates to corporate, military, and personal life is the value of context.

The times when my staff were most frustrated with me were when they didn’t know how or why we were doing something.

If I could talk to a younger version of me, I would say spend that extra 60 seconds on every engagement you have with people to explain the context about how and why you’re doing something. If you can cover both of those things, it will prevent 90% of the problems before they start.

What happens when a leader isn’t transparent enough? It always creeps out anyway. Whatever you say to one person will get back to the original person. It builds strong rapport and trust when you go up to another human and say, “I have a lot of respect for you, and I’m not going to talk behind your back. I’m going to say these things to your face because I believe that you can deal with it.” If you can frame conversations in that way, people will take it positively. One thing that took me a long time to figure out is that the more vulnerable I am, the stronger I am.

Can you elaborate on the importance of being vulnerable? It is counter-intuitive for someone trained to protect their reputation. The more I share about my vulnerabilities, the stronger the rapport I have with people. And I am able to leverage my network to achieve a disproportionate impact.

I find that the most productive people simply have more people willing to do them a favour. Absolutely. And what that looked like was, “Hey Bill, could I borrow some of your trucks? Could you give me a drop 20 km down the road with your helicopter, Harry? Because that would be a great asset for us not to walk that far.” These were favours, not orders or demands. This was over a mobile phone going, “Hook a brother up, and I’ll do you a favour later.”

How do you share vulnerability in a business context? When we meet someone, we tell them how bad we are at some things. We put those knives on the table before we start. We approached two-star generals with, “Hey look, this is where we’ve personally let you down. Let me explain where we’re weak. We haven’t hit the mark on this particular project.” The more we did that, the more those people protected us because they were like, “I can trust this person. I don’t need to hunt for the negative things. They just tell it to me straight away.”

As you approached the end of your term, how did you decide to start this company? I had no intention of creating a business. I jumped into a project manager role in a large not-for-profit organization to roll out an enterprise project. It was similar to some of the projects I worked on within defence. But while I was in that organization, I observed what I thought were Leadership 101 problems. It was a toxic environment, and I was like, “How can this business run when leaders can’t even talk to their staff? They can’t say one thing without bullying them.

So, you saw a problem first-hand and decided to build a solution? Yes. I started taking notes in the background with my friend Jonathan, as we were working on this project together. We got to the end of our contracts, and I said, “Do you think there’s merit in us starting a business where we can help people based on our lessons learned?” We got so comfortable working in high-performing teams, and there seems to be a complete vacuum of it. And working with high-performing teams is addictive. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re on a humming team, and everyone knows their place, and everyone’s getting stuff done. I thought, “Why don’t we start a business helping companies create great teams?”

Your company’s motto is, “Good people helping good people.” What does that mean to you? We look at projects and change initiatives holistically, but with a lens of, “How do you engage with people?” Because so many problems are disguised as something else. Most of what we deal with is people. What looks like a technical problem is often one person won’t talk to another because they don’t like them, and the company is trying to patch it with a new system that costs a million dollars. We ask why they don’t get the two talking to each other or get rid of the offender.

You started Eighth Mile Consulting with your longtime friend, Jonathan Clark. How important has it been for you to start this business with a partner? It’s massive. We made a deliberate choice that we would fulfil two roles, as we have two different styles. Behind the scenes, we do very different things. I’ve adopted the part of the gap-finder, forward-leaner, opportunity-finder, relationship-builder. Jonathan has adopted the systems, processes, structure, design, organization, management and operational side. Knowing your place in the team and defining it is crucial. We hold each other accountable, and I think our team thrives on that.

How did you think about positioning for Eighth Mile? In true military fashion, the first thing we did was purchase a whiteboard and a big marker. Jonathan and I sat there over bourbon and wrote about where you might not see two knuckle-dragging ex-infantry consultants. Where can we be a point of difference? And we focused on not-for-profits, clinical care, medical and education. We’re going to lean into these areas where we are a point of difference.

What was your marketing plan? We tried LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with different messaging. I aimed at these various industries to see where we might provide value. LinkedIn quickly rose to the top, and I developed a few tactile skills on that platform. So we started building our personal brands concurrently while we were making the company brand. Our messaging slowly switched to, “Well, if you like me as a human, you should see the rest of my team, because they’re incredible.” Since our business has been running, we’ve spent less than $500 on advertising.

What advice would you give to someone starting a company today? In the small business world, you do everything for a while. You don’t have the capital, and you don’t have the revenue coming in. Your margins might be small. Write down your strategy. It’s a contract with yourself and that should incorporate a linkage to your personal life. Do not commit to starting a new enterprise or a new business if you think that it will not affect your home life.

You can read the full article here

In this workshop, we discuss the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

As a leader, our key responsibility is our people. Therefore, we must learn and develop the skills required to provide the right environment for our people, as well as the coaching conversations that develop the people we are responsible for at an individual level.

We cover in detail the 4 steps to leading with empathy 

  1. Promote a growth mindset, with a focus on the learnings, rather than the failures in execution.
  2. Acknowledge fallibility, observing that even in achieving an objective successfully, there may have been components that we missed, and room for improvement exists.
  3. Encourage curiosity over a conclusion.
  4. Exhibit empathy by way of a combination of active listening and observation of the feelings people are displaying.

The Impact of Empathy in the Workplace

Leadership Training that develops empathy is fundamental to creating a culture of high performance within your organisation. 

What does the culture look like at present within your company? Is there a lack of connection?  Are people stuck because they are feeling defined by setbacks? Is there a habit of shame and blame that leads to fear of ridicule? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a resilient and innovative team who are willing to embrace change and support each other against external challenges as a cohesive unit. 

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to developing the skill set of empathy within your workplace? Are you actively fostering a psychologically safe environment for your people to reach their highest potential?

Let us know in the comments below!

In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss getting the balance right in communicating with our employees.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  • 05:48 – Decentralised control and the balance between expectation and empathy
  • 11:00 – The trust issue
  • 16:00 – The freedom in routine
  • 21:30 – Combatting uncertainty
  • 29:00 – The impact of cutting employees to save money
  • 42:00 – Continuous education within a cost-sensitive period
  • 48:00 – How to have courageous conversations

HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS REQUIRE TRANSPARENCY

Successfully developing your people is fundamental to the sustainable growth of your organisation. Take a look at what may be holding your organisation back. Is the rate of change making it difficult for your team to feel connected with a sense of purpose and direction?  Do you feel there is a lack of clarity at the tactical level? Do your leaders feel confident to handle having courageous conversations? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build your leadership team through Leadership Training to motivate disaffected teams and deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to managing employee performance? Are you seeing positive results from having courageous conversations? Let us know in the comments below!

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Panel Discussion at The Eighth Mile Consulting Aligned Leaders Summit

For those who were unable to make it to the Aligned Leaders Summit, we have recorded a number of presentations, including the panel discussion at the end where Peter Keith, Jonathan Clark, David Neal, Trehan Stenton, Neil Salkow and Samantha Pickering answer questions from the audience regarding lessons in leadership and how to support the desired values within our workplaces.

The questions discussed include:

  • 00:55 – What are some of the ways you can incentivise staff?
  • 04:35 – What would you classify as the single most defining leadership behaviour?
  • 09:42 – What do you do to increase self-awareness?
  • 14:20 – How do you pick up on team members’ well-being states and at what stage do you intervene?
  • 18:30 – At what stage in leadership should you start thinking about succession planning?
  • 21:45 – Do you feel we currently are in a mid-cycle economic slowdown with a quick recovery on the other side, or in a position with far more detrimental lasting impact?
  • 23:20 – What is the single most important discipline action that you do for you on a routine basis?
  • And many more…

About Aligned Leaders Summit

The Eighth Mile Consulting has brought together a team of experts to provide an event for Leaders to improve the strategic alignment of their teams, create a culture that fosters resilience, and learn ways to survive, stabilise and grow during times of uncertainty.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Do you have questions you would have liked to ask the panel at the Aligned Leaders Summit? Let us know in the comments below!

In this 50-minute workshop, we discuss the relationship between offensive and defensive business strategies.

Topics We Discussed In this workshop

  1. Personalities, biases and decision making
  2. Running concurrent offensive and defensive initiatives
  3. Understanding the relationship between strategy and risk
  4. Leadership considerations

SMART BUSINESS REQUIRES SMART STRATEGY

Strategy development is fundamental to creating and running your organisation. Where do you want your business to be in five years? Where are you now? How big is the gap between where you are now, and where you want to be? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a strategic outlook and implementation plan to deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to deploying the right strategy in business? Are you leaning towards an offensive business strategy or a more defensive one? Let us know in the comments below!

Over the years I have heard consultants get a pretty bad rap. When I worked on the other side of the fence, I heard consultants described on occasions as ‘vultures’, ‘sharks’, ‘idiots’, ‘morons’ and everything in between. Ironically, the organisations which I worked in at the time had felt the need to bring them in order to get momentum and horsepower in areas where they were significantly lacking. On other occasions consultants were brought in to provide objectivity and impartiality.

I have only been a consultant for a relatively short time, and I chose the profession as it seemed like a logical choice which would enable me to support different organisations in achieving their goals, as well as entwine myself in varying and complex problems.

When we launched The Eighth Mile Consulting, we created a mantra and ethos of ‘good people, helping good people’ and made sure it translated in our service towards ‘positive projects and people only’. At the time we felt the need to do this in order to demonstrate some level of separation from what some people see as a ‘dirty’ word.

Since our launch we have kept true to our mantra and have supported only positive projects taking the form of social support projects, scholarship programs, Veteran services projects, leadership & professional development projects, medical projects, and more. It has been a roller coaster to say the least but here are some of the observations from a ‘bloody consultant’.

I hope that in providing some objective observations it might allow people to learn from some of the consistent friction areas experienced by many organisations

Be very wary of a ‘Yes’ culture

Just because your staff are telling you everything is alright; it doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, no organisation I have ever worked in is without its faults. It is impossible to have a perfectly oiled system and operation. If you cannot find areas for improvement, then you aren’t looking hard enough, or your staff aren’t raising it to your attention.

If your staff are always telling you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear then there might be some significant issues with trust or rapport in the team. Either:

  • They don’t trust the information will be kept confidential and used for its intended purpose
  • They think you will react adversely against them or another member of the team
  • They believe its easier to just go along with whatever their manager or supervisor says than to raise issues.

There is a term I have picked up on my journey called ‘malicious compliance’ and it refers to a tendency for jaded staff to literally follow directions from their supervisors despite knowing that it will have significantly negative effects. When this occurs disastrous things happen, and what is worse is the leaders are left holding the ashes, not knowing how they could have stopped it. Rapport and respect are the weapons against evils like malicious compliance.

Many executives have called us in because they don’t feel they have a good understanding about an issue in the organisation. In this way consultants are gather in order to ground truth what is actually happening and provide truthful feedback for the executive or manager. This can be hard to deliver sometimes, as it takes a very courageous and well intentioned leader to open their doors to critique and objectivity. It also takes an equally courageous consultant to relay information that could be poorly received by their employer.

I have a lot of respect for those leaders and consultants willing to engage in open and honest conversation. It takes integrity, self awareness and professionalism to pull it off.

Plan to communicate

So many issues in the world are caused by miscommunication. In one of my previous articles I wrote that misinformation is worse than no information at all. At least with no information you can actively source data, but with misinformation it will corrupt your decision making and cause nightmares in your deliveries.

Many of the issues associated with the teams we work with are based around a distortion of information from the top to the bottom and back up again. There was a great scene in a Simpsons episode where Bart starts a rumor about another individual and by the time it gets to the end of a long line of people it has evolved into ‘purple monkey dishwasher’. Unfortunately this demonstration of information distortion is uncomfortably close to the truth for many organisations.

Here are some rules which I hope will serve some people in their attempt to tighten their communication:

  • More touch points or crossover points always equates to more errors. Ask yourself how many gates are required in order to get this information where it needs to go. Can we cut it down, or streamline it?
  • Translating information between systems and people dramatically increases the chances of errors.
  • Ensure your communication clearly answers an organisational question or need. Don’t create or collect content for the sake of it.
  • Too much information and no one will read it.
  • Less is more. Brevity is key in communication and stands out like a sore thumb in todays saturated environment.

Leadership will make or break teams

No brainer right? Wrong. I have been very fortunate to be mentored throughout my whole life by very capable and influential leaders. What I thought was intuitive and obvious is not. Leadership is learnt by seeing others and adapting it into a methodology that suits the individual and the circumstance.

People need to be trained and mentored if they are to become better at leading and managing teams. Worse yet, some people will have to be trained to drop bad or toxic habits. Unfortunately for people like myself, we cannot change someone else’s mind. All we can do is provide additional information and context that might lead them to another conclusion.

If your organisation genuinely wants leaders it needs to invest in them. This means (as a minimum):

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Executive and senior management buy-in
  • A strategy that they can understand and align to

One key mistake I see routinely is that people are promoted, or worse yet forced into leadership roles due to their tenure in an organisation. This is dangerous, particularly in technical or specialist streams. Someone might not want to be in a leadership role, or might not be suited to it. This opens a can of worms that can be very difficult to put a lid back on.

Luckily for me and my team, we love helping other organisations with leadership and management training. There is nothing more satisfying than supporting someone else to a point where they can support others.

Strategy reinforced by systems and processes allows you to scale

There is significant pressure placed on organisations who have scaled too quickly and are now forced into becoming reactionary and responsive to their operating environments. Their staff regularly feel like they are behind the eight ball (no pun intended). Over time this develops animosity against their teams and their profession. Scaling properly takes planning and preparation if it is to be done right. It also takes a concerted and deliberate effort in order to decentralise certain roles and responsibilities to other staff or capabilities. One person cannot do it all effectively.

Scaling a business should be leveraged off a unified strategy which can act as a compass during the confusion. When things get crazy and the operating environment becomes more complex, our staff need an agreed direction to head, as well as sanity check their decisions.

Companies that ignore the importance of a well communicated strategy do so at their own peril. Consultants are often well positioned to assist companies in developing a strategy as they are able to cross reference against market trends and other companies.

Resilience is not a buzzword 

Resilience is a serious issue in today’s society. With ever increasing psychological issues influencing our workspaces, it is becoming more relevant than ever to have teams that are robust, focused and unified. Without going in to my personal beliefs as to why this is occurring, I think we can all agree that a resilient team is often a key determiner in improving our chances of success.

Companies that invest in formal resilience training perform better overall, as they see benefits in their staff retention, leadership and their ability to respond to change. Companies that don’t take this seriously experience highly transient workforces, poor reputation, and numerous incomplete projects.

Change takes courage and commitment

The world is going to change whether you like it or not. The difference is whether you are leading it, or being led by it. Companies considering large-scale changes (structural, technological, product delivery, etc) need to seriously assess the implications on their staff, clients, profile and operational delivery. Being quick moving and agile is great providing you have a framework and team built to support such actions. Move too quickly and you will leave a wake of destruction in your path.

Good change management relies on strategic alignment, development of a ‘need’ (combined with an agreed sense of urgency), clear methods of communication, and responsible/accountable people who play a strong stakeholder game. Too light in some of these areas and the implications can be terrible.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Many organisations wait until the damage is done in order to bring in consultants to support their work. This can be a tough gig for consultants as they are asked to achieve seemingly impossible results and are then chastised when it is not delivered. I believe this reflects poorly on the consultant in many instances, as they have not fully expectation managed their client and have then subsequently under-delivered. But in any case, we can probably agree that if issues are addressed early than we have an infinitely better chance of fixing it before it becomes a true detriment.

The key capability a consultant brings is objectivity, providing they are courageous enough to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear – refer to my first point about ‘yes’ cultures. Having someone approach the problem without the same biases and internal politics can be the difference between bad, good and expert.

Conclusion

I love being a consultant! I love being held accountable for my work, and my team’s work. Our consultants at The Eighth Mile Consulting are focused, professional and experienced and it makes my job of managing the brand a breeze.

There is no more satisfying feeling that supporting a positive project or initiative and seeing it through to delivery. Our measure of success is when we get called in to the next positive project, based on the success of the previous one.

I hope these observations serve others well. Remember, it is just one man’s opinions…

If you are ever think you might need an objective and friendly hand on something. Give us a call. We are always here to help.

Safe travels.

Dave

Have you ever completed an obstacle course… On your own?

Picture this, you have just scraped your knees crawling through a tunnel, mud all over you and heavy with water. Your feet are blistered, sweat is stinging your eyes. You hear your heartbeat in your ears and the sharp panting of breath. You are fatigued and in survival mode. You look up to see the dreaded wall. It is ten feet high.

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Too high to jump up, no ropes and it is stopping you from reaching your goal. If only you had a team… Even one other person and you could complete the course.

In crisis, much like obstacle courses there are those who choose to go it alone and self-protect, preferring to minimise personal risk at the expense of the team. They are 50/50 on success and failure. Then there are those that double down on teams and increase their odds of succeeding by sharing a common vision and providing different perspectives to problem solving and communicating effectively.

Share the load

In an average or sub performing team, people are happy to watch other people do the lion’s share of the work, the late hours and own all the pressure and responsibility. They would rather see themselves succeed and the team fail so that they appear strong. In a High Performing Team (HPT), people focus on the overall success and reputation of the team. They put team success before self and proactively search for work. They understand that sharing the fatigue and the burn so that everyone can perform means that nobody gets left behind. While they share the work and their fatigue so that the team achieves more, they all actively seek to be involved in planning at all levels.

Shared planning and supportive decision making

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There is a place for planning in isolation and it usually means there are substantial time pressures or trust issues within the team. A leader who doesn’t trust the team will not value their input into decisions. If they have been burned before, they will want to remove that possibility. In a HPT, everyone’s opinion is valued. It is understood that a wide range of perspectives on an issue may yield a better solution. The team also knows that when a decision is made, the time for shared planning is over and its implementation time!! 

They align and get it done. They support the decision because they understand the importance of achieving the goal and they were involved in the planning. They leverage and reinforce their relationships and maintain open, supportive communication.

Build relationships and a team language

Ever wondered how HPTs can work with minimal communication, or when they do you can’t really understand them. It is like watching a group of soldiers use hand signals and you are standing there, having no idea. They have refined the way they speak to include their history, shared experiences, values and connection to remove superfluous chat. They still have fun and they still care for each other. However, when work needs to get done, they can streamline their language. They know they work from a position of care and support. The HPT will work to strengthen relationships and networks in the good times so that they can lean on each other in crisis. They are calm and deliberate in their actions and communication because they understand that the team’s reputation is more important than their own. These relationships and shared language help understand and communicate the context while implementing the vision.

Clear context and vision

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A team that works to understand and communicate the context in which they operate will be able to make decisions in the absence of leadership, direction and under extreme pressure. They share a common vision for success and work within the boundaries of the defined context. Pushing authorities and decision making as far down as you can, will allow a team to create momentum and take advantage of opportunities. This also mitigates risks associated with slow decision making. The key part of owning the context and implementing the vision is a shared trust in every member of the team.

Trust

HPTs trust each other to a point where they receive feedback without feeling hurt. They understand that the feedback is coming from a place of love and respect to build the overall team and is not a personal attack. They trust that when someone says they will do something, they do it. The behaviour and trust are forged through shared experience and values. They also understand that they will be represented well even when they aren’t in the room.

The steps

The theory of teams is built on a model originally published by Dr Bruce Tuckman. It encapsulates Forming, Storming. Norming. Performing. Adjourning. These steps are normal, linear (step through to build a team) and cyclical in nature (it can relapse back steps at any time) and cannot be skipped. Friction in the storming phase is normal, temporary and MUST happen. A HPT will minimise their time in both storming and norming to accelerate reaching performing. They will also have limited relapses to storming by:

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1. Sharing the workload

2. Conducting shared planning and supportive decision making

3. Building relationships and a team language

4. Having a clear context and shared vision

5. Building trust

6. Acknowledging the steps.

The point 

By understanding what a successful team looks like, how it operates and some of their characteristics, we can work to constantly improve our own teams. There is no secret that, teams are always evolving and constantly changing. Understanding the context allows you to have clarity and accommodate for the disruptions. The steps above are not exhaustive and based on my experiences and opinions. I will say this though, once you have been part of a HPT, you will understand the addictive nature of it. You want it back all the time and will fight to have it again. 

So, if I return to the scenario above. Imagine you are back in that obstacle course and you are looking up at the wall. You are fatigued, tired, wet and sore. Suddenly someone says, “you got this!” A hand reaches down from the top to grab yours and at the same time you are lifted to grasp it. Doesn’t it make a difference?

The world has always been an insanely chaotic place defined by constant change, creation, destruction, and an ever-increasing competition for finite resources and space. This coupled with exponentially changing environmental conditions creates for one confusing place.

So, what does this have to do with leadership? 

Those species and organisms which have developed the ability to coordinate and synchronise their efforts have found resilience, robustness and success that often far supersedes those ‘lone wolf’ characters. There is no clearer evidence of this than humans dragging their way to the top of the evolutionary ladder by working in teams.

We could even argue that our ability to create teams has in some ways become too successful, as it has:

  • Increased our average life expectancy from ‘below 40’ in the 1800’s to now over ’Over 83’ in some developed Western cultures, resulting in over population and an unsustainable drain on environmental resources and space.
  • Allowed us to develop technologies that provide the ability to collaborate, often at the expense of interpersonal interactions and face-to-face engagements.
  • Resulted in us living in cities, sometimes completely devoid of any connection with nature and the environment we are concurrently destroying

The need for strong leaders who are morally and ethically aligned has never been more important.

Teaming allows us to hunt big

‘Hunting big’ originally referred to our ability to take down larger prey by working as a pack. By being able to attack, trap and shape an animal on multiple fronts resulted in the animal becoming overwhelmed and making mistakes. This in turn increased our likelihood of taking down larger animals, coupled with the convenience of having to do less hunts. Less hunts equated to less risk on individuals, which in turn allowed us to live safer and longer. Concurrently whilst other members of a tribe were hunting big game, there were others foraging and sourcing key raw materials which would support the broader community.

Leadership would have been required at all levels in order to coordinate and synchronise the efforts of different teams. This would have also included prioritising their efforts in order to ensure their precious collective energy could be invested in those initiatives that would provide them the greatest returns.

In today’s current corporate context there is little to no difference. The teams that are able to coordinate their efforts and invest their precious resources towards an agreed strategy, win.

Teams help us cover our personal gaps

Teams provide the necessary platform and mechanism in order to capitalise on the unique abilities of the people within them. This is achieved by allowing individuals to capitalise on emerging opportunities and gaps, whilst being personally protected by the team’s ability to absorb risk and danger.

In days of old, this would have looked like an individual taking the opportunity to throw their spear, knowing that another member of the team would be able to protect them whilst they were disarmed.

This would have also looked like community members providing for injured or sick members of the community, only to have the favour reciprocated when the roles were reversed.

The corporate world is very similar. The teams that are able to adjust rapidly to their dynamic industry environments are the ones that will ultimately thrive. This can only be achieved if the members of our team are looking outwards for opportunities, instead of looking inwards for danger.

Teams allow specialisation

Our ability to form and establish teams with specialist capabilities allows us to adjust to an ever complex and changing world. The difficult for leaders is meshing the complex array of personalities and character types into one unified group, and then refocusing their efforts. This takes significant skill and finesse in order to get right.

In the past this would later set the conditions for agriculture and industrialisation. By allowing individuals to perfect a trade or skill, the community was able to elevate its collective standard of life. We would have seen blacksmiths manipulating precious metals, butchers sourcing and preparing meat, farmers and millers creating larger more efficient methodologies for mass producing product. You get the idea…

The point is that the most effective teams are those that understand that each of their members is inherently different and uses that to their advantage. In this way, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

When teams and leadership go wrong

A commonly overlooked aspect of leadership is the impact when it goes wrong. All we have to do is look briefly back in our history to see when poor leadership influences the masses to do terrible things (genocides, religious wars, cults, unethical corporate organisations, etc)

My time on this world has shown me the good and bad sides of teams. The bad sides include:

  • Cliques & nasty social groups
  • Unnecessary wars and conflicts
  • Misuse of precious resources
  • Manipulation of weaker groups
  • Exploitation of people and the environment

Forbes’ provides this definition, “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”. But this doesn’t speak to the morality, ethics or utility of what we are ultimately working towards. I would like to think that the world has progressed to a point where we not only judge our leaders on their ability to empower others, but also towards the validity of the cause itself.

If our leaders are guiding followers towards goals and objectives that only seek to exploit or displace other teams and organisations, then surely, we cannot consider this effective leadership under a contemporary definition. Using our precious (and ever reducing) resources at the expense of others does not seem like a sound long-term or survivable strategy to me. Surely, morality and ethical decision making must come into it.

At The Eighth Mile Consulting we routinely use the mantra ‘Good People, Helping Good People’, not only as a means to keep us honest but also as a filter to screen our clients. Our values are clear and concise and can be used to screen our operational objectives and we categorically refuse to support organisations that leave a wake of destruction wherever they go. This has been a guiding characteristic for our team, and we have found ourselves blessed in supporting positive projects, people and initiatives. We are making the world a better place one little bit at a time, and we are using strong moral leadership to achieve it.

Make sure you are leading your teams towards goal that leave a positive legacy worth talking about…

The best leaders and project managers I have seen are those that can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information quickly, so time is not wasted unnecessarily. It is those individuals, whom through their line of questioning, determine from another person – ‘what is the thing you want?’.

Do not confuse what I am about to say as an excuse for poor stakeholder engagement, or buy-in. This article is geared towards organisations and teams which operate in high tempo environments, experience stressful positions and require streamlined communication in order to survive.

My previous role within the military was one characterised by high and low tempo periods. Due to the nature of high tempo periods, time becomes short to make accurate and well-reasoned decisions often concerning the allocation of resources, and judgements about personnel safety. But what struck me as odd was a phenomenon I can only describe as ‘rambling’. As people got stressed, they felt the need to justify their question prior to asking it. But why would you be saying more when there is significantly less time? – it doesn’t make sense. It only creates more stress. It took me a long time to realise what was happening, but after having reasonable time to deliberate on the phenomenon I think I have figured it out!

As people become stressed they internally perceive the stakes to be higher. In turn, people tend to transition into a self-protection mode (either physically or professionally) – this is seen particularly in the military where individuals are assessed routinely on their technical skills and their ability to operate complex/complicated systems under trying circumstances. As a result, people rearrange the way they ask their questions in such a way that they begin with the justification before asking the question. You might have experienced this before when someone opens with a massive preamble about a problem and all they really wanted was to ask for something simple like a signature for something you already knew about. This is the same issue on a graduating scale.

On one such occasion I was helping run operations in a large scale military exercise. A person (whom I have the highest respect for, particularly their technical ability and their integrity) was ten minutes into a ramble and unbeknownst to them – time from my perspective was very short! I had to ask directly:

“What is the thing that you want?”

They looked at me somewhat shocked as to the bluntness of the question, but I continued,

“If you had to describe in 50 words or less how I can help you best, what would you say? As I have to leave for a meeting.”

Their reply – priceless.

“Can I borrow your computer for a couple of minutes.”

My reply – and a quick pat on the back later.

“No worries”.

Our relationship since that time has never been better. There was no massive social blunder, no awkwardness, just professional courtesy. Since that time, it dawned on me – how many hours of other people’s busy lives I have needlessly wasted by asking questions in the wrong way.

In certain circles within Defence, a technique called Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) is utilised. It directly addresses this problem – it formally requires the individual to rearrange their correspondence in such a way that the question is the first line read on the document, brief or presentation.

BLUF Example:

I seek approval to move item X to area Y?

Justification:

  1. The item needs to be serviced
  2. Replacement items are inbound
  3. The item will no longer work with system Z which will be introduced in June.
  4. Etc.

The result is the decision maker is queued towards the problem early, and can actively consider the justifications without getting lost in the data.

Please note, when I refer to direct questioning, I am not implying one has to be rude, or unapproachable – quite the opposite. I am suggesting that a strong team with well rehearsed lines of communication should be able to circumvent the need to talk unnecessarily in times of extremis, or high stress. Team members should be confident in asking questions directly, and leaders should be comfortable in their team members’ abilities. Those teams that can achieve this level of operational ability are routinely the same that outperform their competitors.

Now I am not suggesting that Nirvana can be reached in terms of perfect communication, but I would suggest that there are certain things we can do at our level to improve our communication when it counts the most:

  1. Think before you communicate – What is it you want? Be prepared to explain why if they ask. Rehearse your question and answer.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask the direct question – ‘What is the thing you need from me?’ or ‘Please describe exactly what you see me doing to help you?’
  3. Train your personnel – Encourage people to be confident enough to ask direct questioning.
  4. As a leader, be approachable and explain your intent – If you have to ask someone to be direct with their question also explain that you are not being rude and you appreciate direct questioning as it helps you problem solve more efficiently.
  5. Reinforce the correct behavior.

In my own experience, I have seen this work very effectively. Not just within Defence but across a multitude of different agencies. By cutting out the white noise I think I have significantly improved the way in which I communicate. My team members have also adopted the same line of questioning, to a point where it has become habitual. Give it a try!

We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.