Leading Teams empower high-performing teams and leaders by facilitating cultural change. This is the first thing you read on their website. From Flight Center to the Sydney Swans, Leading Teams pursue performance excellence in organisations, through team development, goal-setting, shared leadership and open communication. So how does Leading Teams embed these skills and values into organisational culture? And what is the link between culture, and a team’s or a business’ performance? We sat down with Shelly McElroy, a facilitator and business developer at Leading Teams, to delve into the process of empowering high performance – its process, its importance and its challenges.
Who are Leading Teams? And why do we need a business such as Leading Teams?
Leading Teams have been around for about 25 years. We are a group of collective high-performing experts and we are used by businesses to support them through sustainable cultural change. This work is aimed at producing overall performance improvement. We work off a 4 step process; learn, commit, do, review. When we work with organisations, whether that’s government or leaders for corporate, education or elite sport, we focus on cultural and behaviours. We work out what is done or not done effectively throughout organisations and through genuine conversations, that’s where we help discover nuggets of gold. This helps shape our programs and priorities for teams to work on and improve, to help take their business to the next level.
So what is the Leading Teams process based on?
It’s based upon core fundamentals that make up our high-performance team model. It’s all about identifying a common purpose for the team and then building strong professional relationships, having an agreed behavioural framework, and then using those elements to be able to have what we call a genuine conversation. That is basically where we give feedback to improve performance, but there are a thousand ways to do it. So many people get feedback wrong or think they have a great skill set in this. So we will challenge them to see if there’s a better way. When we work with incremental performance improvements in organisations, they give feedback on a regular basis. It’s not saved for the first Monday of the month, or it’s not saved for the 12 month period.
What drives you to turn up to work every day?
The biggest motivator for me personally is actually seeing other people succeed. It’s sustainable culture change. Things don’t happen overnight. There’s an organisation I had a session with yesterday, that we’ve been working with since January, and we’re starting to see some of the fruits of their work. They are recruiting based on their core values, not just based on skillset. And that’s just one example. It is very rewarding work. I love what I call ‘the aha moments’. When somebody has the courage to give a leader feedback or to ask their team, “how do you view me as your leader, what is one area of improvement I could enact to motivate you?” Being able to coach them through those conversations, or help them with questions and discuss what their purpose is in this. Helping them with that and helping them execute that, is the most rewarding part for me.
Why do businesses need to think about purpose and what they’re putting out into the world, what they’re putting into their teams?
Any group of people with a common purpose are a team. I think a really good example of this is was a story about John F. Kennedy back in the 1960s. He was doing a tour of NASA and he came across a Janitor cleaning the offices – rolling up his sleeves, giving it everything. And he stopped him and he said, “What’s your role here?” And the Janitor’s response was, “My role is to help put a man on the moon”. So regardless of our role in an organisation, are you clear what the higher purpose is? A clear purpose is vital to any business, team or group of people trying to achieve a goal. Purpose can have impact. The Janitor is so humble and just a cog in the big machine, although he’s not the astronaut, he was clear that his purpose was to help get Neil Armstrong to the moon.
Do you have a set of leadership traits you admire most?
I think for me, leaders with influence and impact are the most inspiring. And leaders that walk their talk. In hospitality, one of the most inspiring leaders I ever had was the one that would never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He cared, he listened to your view and he was calm in a crisis.
How do you approach a team that isn’t clear on whether they’re exhibiting poor performance?
Poor performance doesn’t happen overnight. The key to minimising poor performance is to have genuine conversations. So that’s nipping things in the bud when they happen. Because sometimes, the problem person has been that person for 20 years. They’ve got away with it under X amount of managing directors or X amount of CEOs. Nobody’s ever addressed it perhaps because they might achieve the financial target, or they might have a massive impact on the bottom line of the business. There will be some reason why they get away with it. And while at a time, we might think, “Well, you know, that’s just Shelly, or that’s just Dave”, eventually the team will catch on. It impacts your culture because your team sees what is accepted around here.
It’s about embedding a review process, and we do that by setting the framework in our sessions. We’ll always get some fair commitments at the start of the day. This is their time, so what do they want to achieve today. What does that look like for them? Clarity on expectations is vital. Generally, that might include things like being engaged, being present, questioning things, listening to understand and supporting each other. And then that gives us a framework to work towards. At the end of the day, how did we go? Did they feel supported? And it’s simple. It’s embedding that review process.
Is it always ‘poor’ or high performance? Or is there a middle, greyer area where teams are just doing okay?
I think the “behaviour we walk past is the behaviour we accept”. You’ve got to be clear on the expectation of your organisation. There are so many levels of performance based on what gets rewarded around here. There are some toxic cultures in businesses that are high performing and making money. When we just don’t address issues, it sends a message to the team – “does this organisation even care about me?” The impact is your staff are not happy going into work every day, therefore, has an impact on the team and its performance. There are teams that can operate like that to a certain degree. So whether it falls over now, or in 10 years time, it will happen. And you might be the last one standing. So what do you accept in your team that you know you shouldn’t?