Building great teams – no rafts, parachutes, safety nets or mud required

Building great teams – no rafts, parachutes, safety nets or mud required

This is my favourite picture of me at work.  I love seeing every single one of those people, smiling, engaged, fully present.

What’s more, it’s taken in the middle of a challenging and competitive activity where everyone present has experienced unexpected loss and disappointment.

What you are looking at is resilience

Here’s what the CIPD has to say on the importance of resilience:

“A consistent theme among the range of definitions of resilience is a sense of adaptation, recovery and bounce back despite adversity or change”  

And what does this mean for organisations?

“The greater the diversity of resilience strategies available to an organisation, the greater its ability to respond to challenges. Having a number of strategies provides a bigger buffer to survive larger crises, or the cumulative effect of frequent crises.”

The picture you see was the result of a request from a global COO who could see that his teams were finding it hard to give up projects they were working on, were always searching for the perfect solution, causing cost overruns and a backlog of work.

“He asked me if I could come up with “an interesting presentation” so that his senior team, and their teams would “know that this is harming the business, our balance sheet and our reputation.”

But here’s the thing.

People don’t do things because they don’t know what the “right” thing is

They do the thing that carries the least personal risk. Which is actually the right thing in personal survival terms.

To change requires experience of future pleasure that will off-set the imminent pain of doing things differently

And that’s where I come in

I need to design an experience that will allow people to fully experience the full range of emotions in a safe environment so that they will know what change could look and, even more importantly, feel like.

The challenge for me is to come up with an activity that allows the group to:

This is based on Patrick Lencioni’s model of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
Fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust on a team.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective results.

I was born in a country where there was a civil war and it doesn’t rain much, so the idea of “teambuilding” in a semi-military fashion, involving physical hardship and lots of mud has never appealed. Those extreme sport away days can be a journey into the self.  But honestly?

You could discover more about yourself and your limitations in the coaching room, where more could happen in less time

And with less mud.

I want to build awareness

Awareness of how you really feel when put under pressure, not how you think you feel.  Awareness of how the group works – or fails to work – when under pressure. And I want to make visible the elements of group behaviour that are not noticed, or not valued, in the hub bub of everyday work.

I specialize with working with knowledge professionals

Accountants, auditors, lawyers, programmers. Clever people who understand the arcane workings of contract law or IT networks.

So it’s important to create an exercise that makes them THINK and:

  • Plan ahead
  • Budget
  • Disagree
  • Prioritize and decide
  • Deal with unexpected events
  • Compete
  • Recognise failure and deal with it
  • Celebrate success

It’s also important that it makes them FEEL

Teams willing to address the Five Dysfunctions can experience the following benefits. According to Lencioni “high performing, cohesive teams:

  • Avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of lack of buy-in
  • Make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and fewer resources
  • Are comfortable asking for help, admitting mistakes and limitations and take risks offering feedback
  • Tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Put critical topics on the table and have lively meetings
  • Align the team around common objectives
  • Retain star employees”

Every person in that picture has just experienced what it feels like to be in a high-performing team

And they’re now undergoing a de-brief where we’re looking at what they could have done better.

Does team building solve everything?

No.  But then what would? Team building design should ideally incorporate follow up – buddy systems, feedback loops and coaching. And lots and lots of conscious effort to build on the experience of the “event” to build lasting habits.

If your team looks like the one above when they’re de-briefing their errors and omissions, you’ve done a great job.

If not, it really doesn’t have to be that way.  Take a look at how I work with teams and book a no obligation call to find out how I could help your team to stop firefighting and busyness and build trust, collaboration and resilience.

To find out how to build resilience, listen to my Podcast episode on this topic!


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I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank

The hippo, the salesman and the significance of shoes

The hippo, the salesman and the significance of shoes

This week I’ve been asking myself how bad things have to get before we ask for help.

I’m thinking of all the people who struggle with a relationship without seeking counselling. Or those who wrestle with a problem at work and try and solve it on their own, rather than ask for help from managers or peers, or even a coach. Brené Brown, in her research into relationships, discovered we have a strong social imperative to appear strong and avoid feeling vulnerable.  Yet she believes:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Which reminds me of an extraordinary day I spent back in Zimbabwe


How journaling reduces stress and boosts creativity

How journaling reduces stress and boosts creativity

How journaling reduces stress and boosts creativity

Did you know there’s robust research showing that writing a journal helps us let go of difficult emotions, cuts down on over-thinking and procrastination and leaves us calmer, clearer and less stressed?

The research shows a journal habit:

  • • helps your brain regulate your emotions (less shouting at the kids/your spouse/the TV)
  • • gives you an outlet for your full range of emotions (yes, it is healthy to feel anger, fear, jealousy, envy, no it is not healthy to bottle them up or throw them on your nearest and dearest)
  • • boosts your ability to cope with change and adversity (and who doesn’t need that right now?)
  • • strengthens your sense of identity and feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence (vital for people not working whose identity has been entwined with what they do)
  • • build your self-awareness and emotional intelligence (which will stop you being replaced at work by a robot – yes seriously)

I encourage all my executive coaching clients to keep a journal 

After all, coaching is a change process; one that requires reflection, un-learning and experimenting with new ways of doing things.  The process of change will throw up the full range of emotions and will challenge us to think differently about ourselves.  So, look again at those research findings above to see how keeping a journal can be an important part of the coaching process.

As I write this, I realise that coaching is an act of creation; generating new insights, opening up new possibilities and choices.

And there you go.  Sitting down and writing has allowed that new thinking to emerge for me.

But I’m going to be honest, most of my clients don’t end up keeping a journal

For some of them it seems a bit “woo” and for some of them it seems so hard to get started.  There are few things more intimidating than a blank page and a sense that this is an extravagant indulgence when you are so busy (and perhaps also stressed).

Getting started with journaling is HARD and it CAN seem a bit well, woo.

So let’s start with a few common myths:

Myth #1 Writing a diary and a journal are the same thing

They’re not. A diary tends to be a record of things that you’ve done or plans that you have.  What I call “out-there stuff”.  Journaling is “in here stuff”; thoughts, feelings, reactions, hopes and dreams. There can be an overlap between the two, but writing a journal is a structured form of brain dumping. Or what we call in psychology “letting go”.

Myth #2 Writing a journal is about neat handwriting, good grammar and having something important to say

If writing a journal was about good handwriting, that would count me out.  Journaling can include doodling, scribbling, drawing and mind maps. You certainly don’t need good grammar. Developing a journal habit will show you that you always have something important to say, it’s just a case of allowing what needs to be said to come out on paper.

What really holds us all back from writing a journal?

We are held back from writing a journal because of the way we learnt to write

We didn’t learn to write in the same way we learnt to talk.  Our speech developed through experimentation and lots of trial and error.  Our errors were often seen as adorable by our care givers; toddlers mangle the language and it’s cute and funny.

We learn to write under supervision and strict rules

We aren’t allowed to make up our own spelling rules; we have lines to write on and punctuation to get to grips with.  We have teachers and parents watching how and what we write and we are being marked and assessed right from the get-go.

So it’s hardly surprising that when we are adults and we get faced with a blank page in a journal, our Inner Critic and our Inner Editor hold an intervention and start telling us loud and clear that we have no idea what we are doing; who are we to think we are worthy enough, smart enough, reflective enough to fill this beautiful book with words?

Writing a journal is both an act of creativity and a doorway to further creation

There are no rules or limits when you use a journal. If you begin with a blank page in your journal, you could just ask yourself: “How am I now, in this moment?”

The process of answering this question by writing, doodling or drawing for just a few minutes allows you to untangle what you are thinking and feeling.  This opens a space cognitively and emotionally.  This “decluttered”, grounded state is the perfect start point for creativity.  You have given your brain processing speed to consider new ideas and you have given yourself the emotional capacity to take risks.

In this curious, creative space you have also reduced your stress, as neurologically it is impossible to feel both anxious and curious at the same time.

For more reading on how to get started with journaling, click here.


If you liked this post, please share it to your favourite channel using the buttons on the left

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank

What got you here, won’t get you there

What got you here, won’t get you there

“Coaching and counselling are really for losers”, said a forthright friend of mine the other day.

“I know it’s what you do but I don’t believe in this coaching stuff.  If people were just a bit more resilient… I guess if you’re a bit of a loser it might help, but otherwise I don’t believe in it.”

And with friends like that you might think…

But I really didn’t take offence.  I’ve been hearing echoes of that statement for a long time.

The myth that coaching fixes problems

This idea is still widespread.  How else do we explain that two thirds of CEOs understand the value of coaching, yet 90% of them don’t have a coach?

It’s not lack of budget or sign-off power that is holding them back.  It’s the idea that they might have a problem that needs to be fixed, or some trait that needs to changed.

The three simple things that make you better at what you do

The three simple things that make you better at what you do

As a coach, clients ask me into their business to help them get better at what they do. Whether it’s an individual leader, a team or even a whole company, these clients are always interested in improvement.

Most of the time they’re pretty successful (sometimes extremely successful) but they’re looking for something a little bit extra. Some of them realise that what got them to this point may not get them to where they really want to be.

At the beginning big nouns are bandied about: “leadership”, “engagement”, “collaboration.”  I know that big consultancies make big money from trying to grapple with big nouns.

Perhaps foolishly, I start with a few small verbs. Because that literally is where the action is.

There are three verbs – three actions – that guarantee improvement


Time Management: The biggest lie: “I have no time.”

Time Management: The biggest lie: “I have no time.”

If you want to change anything significant in your life you need to nail this lie.

Whether it is exercising more, changing the direction of your business or becoming a better leader to your team, most of us need to challenge this most insidious of self-limiting beliefs that what is stopping us is a lack of time. We need to look at our time management.

I’ve written before that I believe effective time management  is the very first thing needed to be a true leader – without that skill you just have over-busy, stressed managers.

So when can we tell we’re lying to ourselves?