Our New World: the creative synergy of teams
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Last week I gave my first Team Workshop in 18 months. I was feeling very nervous in the run up to the day. It had been a long time since I’d done this and I was feeling the pressure. A lot of presenters and performers are saying the same: deeply thankful we’ve got the work and also feeling out of practice in live events and anxious to deliver our best. What helped ground me was knowing how passionate I am about teams and how much I have missed working with them. Pre-pandemic I would be delivering international Leadership Team programmes monthly. As with much over this time, it takes absence to know what we love.
What also helped ground me was knowing that the participants were going to feel nervous and strange being back in person and my role was to help them with this transition. As we began the workshop, held in a renowned London Rugby Stadium, the nerves had transformed into an excited buzz and the energy was electric! Colleagues hadn’t met each other for 18 months and there were also newcomers who had joined in the interim to be integrated. Shyness moved very quickly into a warm connectivity and openness. It was incredibly moving to see how willing to share this predominantly male, financial sector team was. I’ve been working with high-performing leadership teams for many years and core to the beginning of any teamwork is setting the scene and creating a circle of trust. This was the same process, but this felt uniquely different right from the start.
People have been working remotely for a long time and we have been incredibly fortunate that we’ve been able to do so, but it is not conducive to innovative creativity, on-the-job training and it is ultimately very isolating. Even the most introverted will feel their energy draining through the screen after too many hours! We are moving into the next chapter and decisions are being made about how we work going forwards. Twelve months ago, in a Perspectives Post ‘Creating the Future: finding a third way’ I wrote:
‘Rather than wholeheartedly accepting remote working, many of my clients now find themselves caught between two seemingly incompatible desires for the future. One of my clients told me yesterday that he really didn’t like working from home all the time but neither did he wish to return to the daily commute to the office. A polarised conundrum indeed!
So, is there a third way and what might that look like? What do I mean by ‘finding a third way’? First, it’s not a grudging compromise between two polarities which satisfies no-one, a 50:50 half measure. It is taking the best elements of each vision and creating a third. This new vision more often than not puts us on an unexpected trajectory. When we accept we need a third way, we don’t know what it will look like. In fact, if we do, then it’s not a true third way. Without knowing the outcome, we take a leap of faith. We intuitively know that the first two paths are defunct and that we need to create something very new and different.
In a Wall Street Journal article: Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All Chip Cutter observes that lots of companies are already embracing this approach to finding a third way, neither staying fully closed nor forcing their employees back into the office full-time: ‘More companies now envision a hybrid future, with more time spent working remote, yet with opportunities to regularly convene teams. CompuCom Systems Inc., the IT service provider owned by Office Depot, may institute “core hours” for its employees, similar to office hours that professors hold on college campuses. The idea under consideration is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate and strategize, says CompuCom president Mick Slattery. Online education provider Coursera expects half of its 650 employees to work “blended” hours once the pandemic passes, with staffers spending three days a week in the office and the rest remote, says Chief Executive Jeff Maggioncalda.’
The future of remote working isn’t written yet, but already we can see a creative and exciting trajectory taking shape. And, of course, this is but one example of the countless ways our lives are changing in directions we cannot control or predict.’
Twelve very challenging months on, one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is a shift of consciousness for a lot of people: a greater awareness of our vulnerability and our mental and physical health; a greater sense of what matters to us, i.e., our values and how we want to live our lives and an acknowledgement of our need for connection to others beyond our family unit. This includes working in teams. We’ve always known in leadership training why teams are so important, but it takes the extreme of experiencing their absence to really get why they are so fundamental to business success.
In the Team Day, we addressed all of this. It was a highly productive, richly full day and everyone left feeling deeply proud of belonging to such an inspiring and talented team.
All my clients know that the secret behind their great success is creating and maintaining a top team. I asked some of them to share their thoughts:
‘My biggest passion is building great teams and leading them to achieve our highest potential because I truly believe that success is only possible with great and happy teams and working with great people is the best way to enjoy one’s life!’
MD at a top American bank
‘Talent, ingenuity, personality, humility and passion. I look for all of these qualities in the people we hire. For the most part, the people on my team have personalities that equal their great talent. This is important in a high pressure and collaborative environment. The best people I have worked with have been passionate about the work they do and driven to get better at it no matter how good they may be. They have a healthy respect for the talent that surrounds them and are excited about learning from each other. They inspire each other.’
Production Designer, Blue Sky Studios
‘Great teams engineer success: beyond the (rightful) talk about team spirit and motivation, strong teams develop proximity, trust and reliance. Teammates feed off complementary skillsets and build up the resilience and grit that makes them great. Great to work with and great for their clients!’
Head of Capital Markets EMEA, BNP Paribas
‘For me the number one quality is mutual trust and respect. A high level of trust will allow you to engage in difficult discussions. Trust also allows you to move fast. A second key quality is commitment to delivering what you promised. High performing teams have fun, trust one another and over-deliver on their objectives.’
Group Vice President, Consumer Hearing Business, at Sonova Group
‘A truly great team is comprised of a group of exceptionally talented people who build rare personal bonds and find incredible satisfaction in the team's collective achievements and in the social interaction the team offers.’
Strategic Advisor with PwC to the world’s largest banks,
following a 30-year global banking career
High achievers are pulled between a great desire to connect with their peers and an equally potent urge to compete and protect their individual drive and passion to succeed. A key developmental challenge for them is to learn to transform this potentially destructive tension into a constructive one that generates a productive synergy. I have seen many talented stars hit their own glass ceiling and derail because they cannot make this necessary transition into the peer matrix. A core aspect of my coaching work is to help these high achievers understand that in order to really fly high they have to get their ego out of the way. That they will only succeed by creating allies and their inner circle.
I ask my clients to answer the following two statements:
1. ‘Why you want me in your Team: what I do and who I am’ (i.e., beyond your technical expertise, what are your strengths as a person?)
2. ‘How I am as a team player: my strengths and my weaknesses’ (i.e., what you bring to and also how you might sabotage the team. Focus on your mindset and behaviour, not just technical expertise)
I always add that this is about our future personal happiness. How we are in a work team is no different to how we are in a home/personal team of two. It’s easy when it’s going our own way and we can be gracious and cooperative, but how do we behave when it’s not going our own way? In what ways do we react and potentially sabotage ourselves and the team i.e., how do we take our ball home? Examples are: we physically walk out; we stay in physically but we are not ‘present’; we are passive aggressive, pretending to comply but undermining the team in various ways, including backstabbing, cliques etc. Or we bulldoze through: it’s my way or the high way!
Once we understand our defensive behaviour, then we can do something about it:
1. We can communicate to others: ‘This is why and how I behave when I am feeling threatened.’ It gives others a chance to understand us and be more tolerant and patient with us.
2. Understanding is not enough, of course. We need to change our behaviour, which takes time, so we do this by inviting ongoing feedback from our trusted inner circle.
What touches me most is that, beyond the workplace, this push/pull dynamic is at the heart of our most personal relationships. We are social animals, born with a deep need for intimacy and connection and we are also hunters born with a hunger for exploration, growth and freedom. This internal contradiction can cause much heartache for all concerned and yet if we can push through our fears and find that creative synergy, we will find the courage to connect and create something greater than we could individually. This is how all great teams, all great partnerships are made.
The header photo is of Tom Daley and Matty Lee winning the gold medal in the men's synchronised 10 metres platform at the Tokyo Olympics. It is perfection in motion: teamwork and partnership at its best! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPdO2uK__tk
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood