Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age

Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age

Organisational Success Podcast

Teams are an essential part of any organisation’s life. In recent years, many teams have had to go online and operate remotely. Regardless of whether they are in person or online, all teams need developing. In this podcast David talks with George Karseras, the author of the book Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age.



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George Karseras

George is the founding Director of TeamUp, His expertise lies in leading team development and executive team leader coaching programmes. George is one of our members and is heavily research and evidence based in this practice. George is also a Chartered Occupational & Sports Psychologist who has worked around the world in sectors like Banking, Asset Management, Insurance, Oil and Gas, Publishing, Retail, Software, Premiership Football and Media and he has done a lot of work in the sports psychology, personal resilience and mental toughness spaces. George has also previously worked as a principal consultant at KPMG.

George Karseras
George Karseras


[00:00:00] Today, I’m talking with. George Karseras who’s the author of build better teams, creating winning teams in the digital age. Now, George is the founding director of team up and his expertise lies in leading team development and executive team leader, coaching programs. George is one of our members and is heavily research and evidence-based in his practice.

[00:00:24] George is also a chartered occupational sports psychologist. Who’s been working around the world in sectors like banking, asset management, insurance, oil, and gas publishing, retail, software, premiership football and media. And he’s done a lot of work in the sports psychology and personal resilience and mental toughness areas.

[00:00:43] And George’s previously worked as a principal consultant at KPMG. Welcome George.

[00:00:48] Morning. Nice to see you again. Do you just want to kick us off by giving us a little bit more about your background and what kind of led up to you writing the book? 

[00:00:58] So my background is in the last [00:01:00] 15 the last twenty-five years has been in business psychology, predominantly in team development and executive coaching and culture change.

[00:01:08] Those are three sort of spaces I’ve worked in and a team development’s always been my my sort of speciality at my interest. I find teams the most interesting part of my work by far. And so I suppose like many people who create something, they do it because they’re unsatisfied with what is currently there.

[00:01:26] In terms of models and approaches. And I spent a number of years conscious eating, different, trying different mechanisms to solve a puzzle, which is how do you create an normal. For a team to follow a leader, to follow, to maximize the chances of that team working well. And I eventually got there, so that’ll hence the book.

[00:01:47] Okay. Got you. So we’ll just get straight into the book and you start the book with a story of ed Stafford and Luke Lucali’s expedition to walk the entire length of the Amazon river. I think it’s about 4,000 miles or something. Isn’t it. Can you just give [00:02:00] us a little bit of this story and what happened when Madam chair Rivera?

[00:02:05] Who’s a Peruvian adventure and juggle 

[00:02:07] expert. Back in about 12, 13 years ago now two very good friends very close friends, Luke and ed. Decided that they would take on something that’s never been done before, which is to walk the entire length of the Amazon. And it was, seemed deemed to be an impossible task.

[00:02:22] They couldn’t get any sponsorship or from the national geographic society. They couldn’t get even local people on the ground. So it, it, it was ridiculous. So they explained that, but they just believed in themselves and they decided to go for it. And they set off together and after three months they fell out spectacularly and and blue crew left and ed was on his own.

[00:02:43] And at that moment, about four or five days later, he met Cho who was a guide who originally contracted to walk with him for a couple of days and ended up staying two years. And I thought that was quite interesting. A sort of dichotomy, what might what’s 1, 1, 1 relationship work [00:03:00] very badly.

[00:03:01] One works so well that they actually did what no one else felt was possible. Why was that? What was it about that? The way they worked together that explained their success. And that’s why it’s in the book. That’s why I lead off with that and kindly gave me a forward and that allowed for the book and allowed me to interview him.

[00:03:22] And it’s very relevant to to today’s working environment enough. Yeah, 

[00:03:26] That’s actually a bit by followup, how do a couple of people walking along now and what’s that got to do with building better teams in organizations in a digital age? 

[00:03:37] Yeah, that’s not a bad question.

[00:03:39] I asked myself the same question, is it, but you know what, it’s so relevant because the question is relevant and also the situations relevant because they represent the modern team in many ways. They, first of all, the going into uncharted territory we, we talk about food, curb, bottled child, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and they were taking on situations, which they couldn’t, [00:04:00] they could do a little bit of preparation for what they didn’t know what was going happen.

[00:04:02] So that’s very much, the digitalization is very much around rapid change and extraordinary pace of Development creating new opportunities, which has to be seized quickly. And so that was part of similar. They also had to deal with regulation and lots of bureaucracy when you’re booking through the Amazon piles and piles of of filling in checking into the chief’s huts and going through the police.

[00:04:28] And that was also they had to deal with that. They had the mental health issue as well. How are they going to keep themselves sane? And of course, mental health is a top of the list that diversity, because in that team, they didn’t there wasn’t just two white men stale walkers initially with Luke and ad, but they had a whole support acts of guides who were from different parts of the country or local indigenous.

[00:04:51] They had a virtual set up because and of course go back to diversity. Shown self was not indigenous. He actually was from outside of [00:05:00] the country. So he was called Negro and and Chad was called gringo. And there was a diversity in that path, right? From that sort of setup, then you had the virtuality of the team, again, very relevant because you had people back in the UK who were supporting with the fundraising and marketing and social media.

[00:05:18] So there’s a lot of con lots of situations which were very familiar to most team leaders and team members. Now they were in, in very harsh conditions, but they were very synonymous with those, for those situations, those conditions. 

[00:05:30] Yeah. Okay. I get it. Let’s see. Yeah. So just turning today’s organizations and businesses, what types of problems are organizational teams facing today?

[00:05:39] And I suppose, how do they recognize those problems? What are the symptoms of these problems? 

[00:05:45] So this, the problems with teams, it sounds a bit negative, but the us has changed that to children of the challenges that the teams face today. I’m not too dissimilar to how to first of all, they’re the same as they’ve always been, which is how do you [00:06:00] get a diverse set of complex individuals?

[00:06:03] We have these things called emotions. If you’re not predictable to work together. And the track record of teams working well together is not great that the academic research, as says that, that getting high performing teams is a rarity. Most teams are mediocre. So that’s the same as it’s as that doesn’t change.

[00:06:19] But what has changed is even more extreme now than it has ever been with with digitalization in particular and the pace you have teams falling rapidly. They, haven’t got the same time of forming norming storming and, going through a linear process, they have to hit get to work from the get go they’re often project based and they come together for a set number of months.

[00:06:40] They have to increasingly work cross-functionally. And team members are members of several teams. Not just one team. And so the pressure on teams now and this, the expectation and the uncertainty and the chaos in many ways, that is never been greater. So it has never been more [00:07:00] tough in my experience.

[00:07:01] And 25 years in consulting with teams to never, it’s never been more difficult to work and lead a successful team than it is today, and it’s not going to get any easier. I think they need help. I really, to 

[00:07:12] What are the kinds of warning signs that teams would see that they’ve got issues? 

[00:07:18] So the typical the symptoms first of all is feelings, team members don’t feel connected.

[00:07:23] Obviously with COVID that hasn’t helped because of the virtual nature of teaming and teams, these days are coming out of the COVID more moving now into hybrid working. A lot of teams work virtually anyway, these days global virtual teams, especially. So this is the symptoms of teamworking is not just related to virtual teams, but people who feel disconnected because they don’t get the FaceTime.

[00:07:47] But generally people, even in India to intact teams, face-to-face teams don’t feel like they’re a team. They feel the team members are too busy looking after their own pieces of the pie rather than the collective. You tend to get ambiguity, [00:08:00] especially in roles, responsibilities roles might be clear that responsibilities are not so clear.

[00:08:03] So people are not quite sure who’s responsible for what decision and who’s doing what, so that can lead to a bit of stress and frustration. Trust is the, the old adage of trust is comes in. We don’t really, we don’t really trust each other as much as we would like. And I think decision-making and execution is slow.

[00:08:20] And execution has lots of Trico bureaucracy. Getting in the way meetings are frustrating. So there’s a whole host of symptoms, which I see, which tell me that’s the team isn’t where it needs to be. 

[00:08:32] Yes. What we’ll come back to this issue of trust in a minute, because it’s a key issue in teams and because teams are as you say, they’re moving and forming and you’re quite likely not just in one team, you’re in a whole series of teams.

[00:08:48] Those teams are just set up for a short time and then you’ve got to move on. So the teams themselves are transient and not just the people within the teams. Just go to the, the. The theory side of [00:09:00] things for a second around team development models. And there’s loads of these, we’ve got top Burnett, as you’ve mentioned, the forming norming storming and performing model counties five dysfunction models or feedings five CS models and so on and so forth.

[00:09:13] What are the problems that you see with these models for live teams? 

[00:09:17] I think there’s a couple of major issues I have with those models. First one is that some of them are descriptive rather than they don’t tell you what to do. So the forming norming, Tuckman, whichever one knows, cause it’s so lovely and easy to pronounce.

[00:09:29] It doesn’t really tell us what to do. It just describes the stages and it’s quite linear and it’s also 70 years old. So you know that interesting, but how useful is it not particularly then you have other models which are very academic. Peter Hawkins is. Five CS covers the ground.

[00:09:46] So just with Wagman’s model, they cover the grounds nicely. They tell you about how teams work, but most teams don’t really have the time or the influence to influence the culture [00:10:00] around the organization. For example the context is is relevant, but they just want to know how do we work from the get go?

[00:10:06] I’ve got my team in front of me. How do I actually get the best art system? So that they’re not so helpful. The third, one of the other reasons why they’re not so helpless, they don’t give an order. They just give all the things that have to be done. That’s wonderful in terms of telling us the factors that affecting working, but if I’m a team leader, I’d like to know what the pecking order is, how do I, where do I start?

[00:10:26] And it’s not easy. Keep teams of complex emergent system. So working out what to do, and what’s all. It’s a bloody nightmare to be Frank for most team leaders. So they bring in people like me to help them. And I think there’s a lot of teams that don’t need that help if it can be provided in some form of sequence, which they don’t have and the ones that do have a sequence.

[00:10:46] And the there’s not very many, the one that’s so stands out, I think has been very successful because it stands out is that it’s the only this model, but that sequence is not based on good science. It’s actually got very little, very no academic research at all behind it. And [00:11:00]when we look at the academic research is what we’ve done.

[00:11:02] It doesn’t stack up, he’s got the order wrong to be a bit black and white about it. He starts off with building vulnerability and emotional base trust. And that’s not the extreme team and that’s not where we go in any teaming. We don’t go into that sort of level of that starting point. We need to do something else first.

[00:11:19] So those are the three reasons Linda’s to, to, you’re not helpful enough. Don’t give a sequence and the sequence is wrong. 

[00:11:27] Yeah. And I think you’ve also raised another point there about the evidence that sits behind some of these models. Sometimes there’s good. There’s a good evidential basis and things like the five dysfunction models.

[00:11:39] Like you, I can’t go, I can’t find any, 

[00:11:41] there isn’t any, there wasn’t any, what you have is a very charismatic consultant and he’s very good on the podium and he’s very good and it makes sense and there’s nothing else out there, so he’ll go. Yeah, that’s nice. I like the sound of that. There’s a lovely button.

[00:11:53] And so let’s do that, but there is poor silence. And so we thought there’s a better [00:12:00] way. And that’s what we’ve created. 

[00:12:01] Yes. Yeah. It’s plausibility over based work. We see this a lot where consultants are making up things. It sounds plausible, but when you actually start to delve below, beneath it a little bit.

[00:12:13] Yeah. Usually they start getting a little bit defensive and you start to find out why. 

[00:12:17] Anyway, 

[00:12:18] let’s just turn to this, the issue of trust. You spoke about it a little bit earlier on, and you spend an entire chapter looking at trust in particular, the development of the thing called swift trust. Yeah. Can you just explain what swift trust is, why it’s so important for teams, particularly today’s teams who are likely, and particularly for the foreseeable future to be, as you say, either in a hybrid model digitally connected.

[00:12:43] So the remote teams or completely remote teams. 

[00:12:48] So to us, a wonderful, determined itself. It’s not new. It’s been around for a number 25, 20 years, but it’s reemerged and I’m hoping I can help to put it back into the central things. Have trust is [00:13:00] really, was first given in the context of extreme.

[00:13:04] Okay. So you had these teams that the researchers noticed had to go well, immediately emergency teams, army platoons, rescue teams, which didn’t have the luxury of going through the stages of the, for example, the Techman stuff. They have to work from very early stages. And so they looked at the why it is that those teams work so well from the beginning.

[00:13:26] And what emerged was, they had this thing called swift trust and they broke swift trust down into into a couple of very key elements. One was they had respect. They knew everyone was on the same page from the beginning. And they had they, they respected the competence that each of them had in the team.

[00:13:43] So in all those teams, I’ve given you. They’ve gone through some solid training to get, to be SAS or Navy seals or any kind of crack troop, or to be a paramedic that you know, that they’ve gone there. Those people [00:14:00] have gone through, they’ve made a selection, made the cut. They’ve gone through months and months in the case of the army a year, years of trying to get into that sort of team, do you know they’re gonna be bloody good, so you automatically trust them from the get go.

[00:14:11] And that’s interesting because that’s the very same thing we have in organization. These teams now have to form quite quickly. They are in a way extreme teams, but like sports teams, like skip a yacht cruise that get thrown together for races. They don’t know each other, but they know they’re very good sailors and they need to run a race or they need to do something.

[00:14:27] So they, so fifth trust is so important and yeah. The main con conditioners fifth trust is the reason why big supporter of fact in modern teams is because it’s very much cognitively based trust. It’s not emotional based trust. They’re not really interested in psychological safety or vulnerability or empathy.

[00:14:47] I just want to know, can you do a decent job? And are we agreed? Where are we going? How are we going to get back? And from that, they then start to build a relationship based trust. And that’s where the vulnerability and the empathy and the psychological [00:15:00] safety kicks in where the order is very definite start off with with the concept based trust, then go to the emotional relationship-based trust.

[00:15:07] And that’s the key differentiator.

[00:15:09] Presumption of expertise in the rest of the team and that people know what they’re doing. And certainly as my background is military and please and certainly, during a lot of large scale public order disturbances and things, you’ll get put into teams with people you’ve never even met and they may even be from completely different forces.

[00:15:28] One or two of the teams I ended up with were pulled together at the last moment. And you’ve got to just rely on the expertise of everybody around you and that everybody knows what they’re doing and they know how to do that. And then from that comes the bond. I agree with you completely.

[00:15:43] I was going to say that in that situation, David you know what you said, everyone knows what they’re doing and you know that they know how to go about doing it. So assume you’re on the same page early on. And you can’t, if I quickly, if there’s anything uncertain, you then get, make sure you’re on the same page.

[00:15:58] So in the organizational [00:16:00] setting, it’s slightly different because we don’t know, we have CVS and we have reputations. And but we know a bit more suspicious because we’ve been let down probably too many times. So the thing that is the big differentiator I work with teams is you can’t assume that you’re on the same page so much.

[00:16:19] You have to you have to ensure that you failure on the same page to get on the same page. And those are, so you have to establish pretty quickly the mental model. In that team and then that can be done quite quickly. And that’s where the swift trust comes in. If the teams really focus on that early on and they acquire that understanding rapidly, then they can generate that swift trust very quickly.

[00:16:45] And that’s really the starting point for the team is to, just to get to that point. Yes. Getting a 

[00:16:50] shared mental model between the team members. Yeah, definitely. So w you’ve referred to this once or twice this idea of extreme teams and, I get it as far as the special [00:17:00] forces are concerned and, expeditions of the Amazon and things like that.

[00:17:04] What do you mean by extreme teams in an organizational context? 

[00:17:07] Okay. So the extreme teams are reserve stream extreme teams for teams, normally for teams that where lives are at stake, right? Either in the team or as a result of what the team is doing. So in organizations lives, aren’t really at stake. Profits at stake engagement levels at jobs are at stake.

[00:17:25] However extreme team and the notion of of the back to that Amazonian example where you’re dealing with fast, rapid transformation you’re dealing with increased individualize individualism in the workplace. You’ve got more psychopaths in the workplace. Now people are looking at themselves more than the greater good, we know that levels of Machiavellianism and narcissism and psychopaths are increasing in the workplace.

[00:17:54] You’re dealing with As I said, increased regulation and compliance. And that in itself is [00:18:00] just going through the roof. As we know for good reason, you’re dealing with greater mental health issues and ever been experienced, you’re dealing with virtual working and the absence of, and the growth of global virtual teams with different cultures and diversity.

[00:18:15] You’re dealing with diversity, so you’re not just dealing with, not just white men stale across the team, which is how it used to be. But you, so you’re dealing with gen teams at home to manage the complexity of more gender more ethnicity, more age diversity as well, different generations, different teams, members belong to different teams.

[00:18:35] So diversity and co and the complexity that brings the opportunity is massive. We know that. With the complexity and the risk of water. So all these things conspire to make it a more, much more extreme environment. And then you’ve got AI, and the fact that team members are now having to face into the possibility of their jobs being coming automated and how that’s gonna affect them so that these conditions are pretty harsh.

[00:18:58] That’s why I would say I [00:19:00] use the word reservedly slightly with everything, but I think it’s very relevant with the more extreme now than they’ve ever been in organizations. 

[00:19:08] Yes. I certainly think, and particularly with the pandemic, but I think that things have been gradually getting more and more as you put it extreme in terms of the conditions that people are working under in organizations anyway just because of the pace of change is speeding up as well.

[00:19:24] Unbelievable. The pace is just extraordinary.

[00:19:27] Sorry. I was going to say, I don’t know any of my clients, but whatever the industries that they’re in with, you described them at the start of the interview. There aren’t any that are relaxed about the world. That’s for sure. They’re all working fast. They’re all tired. And stress. No, one’s got an easy ride, not for a while, but it is getting more intense.

[00:19:46] And that’s why men is a big issue as well. 

[00:19:49] And there’s certainly been a bubble of an increase in change with it, with the pandemic. That’s been going on and they’ve been able to measure change. There was a really interesting paper a few years ago [00:20:00] from the max Planck Institute, looking at the rate of change and they use the the proxy of how many research papers were being published, know how much knowledge new knowledge was being developed.

[00:20:11] And what they showed was it was really fascinating that from the 17 to something like 1895, I can’t remember the exact dates now that the amount of new knowledge that was being produced in the world was about 4%. The European increased BRP RPA. And until about 1895 from 1895, where we really started getting into the scientific method then up until, and I think it was something like the 1930s or something.

[00:20:39] So it was quite a small gap that jumped to 5% increase per European peer. And then from there, it’s jumped to a 9% increase per year. Stayed steady at that. But when you think about this year is 9%. In fact, it’s going to be because we are in a bubble and the tracking the bubble at the moment, in terms of the rate of [00:21:00] pay, the pace of change that Th this years it’s more than 9% of this year because of the pandemic.

[00:21:06] But two years ago it was 9% is a cumulative on top of all the other 9%. And it’s astonishing, w we tracked the amount of research going on. There’s roughly about 115,000 peer reviewed research papers published every month. Now this last year is incredible. Incredible. But anyway, 

[00:21:27] So 

[00:21:27] in, in the book you’ve you’ve constructed what you call a code.

[00:21:31] Yeah. So firstly, let’s just unpack this, what, why have you called it a code? 

[00:21:37] I call it a code because you could call it a sequence. You could call it an algorithm. But code is simple and I quite like simplicity and the code is tells us what to do. The shortest code that we can have mathematically is three and in a complex system, a complex emergent system, which is a team any more than three, I think is you’re pushing your luck, right?

[00:21:59] It’s [00:22:00] definitely whether it stacks up. So we have a code of three which we should break down into subsets. But the code really is a step series of stepping stones. And we give the code to our clients and we say follow the code sounds follow the yellow brick road and you get to the, you get to the emperor follow the code and you give it statistically speaking, scientifically statistically speaking, you give yourself the best chance.

[00:22:22] I was forming team and the quickest, fastest pace possible. And so that’s it, we have we in and out of the look, the drivers of team performance, which there are loans, we simplified them into 27 and drivers, which we know all correlate each one individually correlates to performance from the research we put them into into this code.

[00:22:48] And we’ve tested it. And yeah, I put my reputation. I put my own fees as a consultant on the line. When I give the code, I say, it works. If it doesn’t work, you, I give you 50% of my fees back. [00:23:00] So yeah I, it stacks up when I, and I’m a big very, unless there’s a new evidence to suggest that things have changed.

[00:23:06] The code will start. And then when the, if anything changes, then the code will change. But for long periods of, I don’t expect it to change by the way. I think at least science as well. Grounded, and it’s not going to go anywhere soon. So that’s why we call it a code. 

[00:23:20] Okay. I’ve got to ask, you mentioned it.

[00:23:24] Have you ever given the 50% back? 

[00:23:27] No people ask, but have given it no, that’s not true.

[00:23:31] No one is no one has come back and said, look, we’re not happy with it. In fact, far from it, we’re getting the opposite reaction. And correct. So that’s why, we’ll see when we go through the code that there’s a reason I do that it’s called skin in the game. It’s all part of the the way teams need a best working is to have skin in the game.

[00:23:46] So I get my own skin in the game. Yeah. And so far so good. 

[00:23:51] Can you outline the code for us, George? 

[00:23:54] No. It’s secret sauce. Secrets

[00:23:56] book. Know, so the code is three stages. [00:24:00] The first is is we call getting set, setting the team up, and this is all about shared mental bubbles and creating cognitive base trust. And and there’s nine mental models, which team advice to create very quickly and they include, or they are. Divided into three, each of the credit has three sections in this three subsections.

[00:24:22] So three times, three times 3 27 drivers. And in the order that we’ve, we give it it start off with mission, which is, does a team agree all these agreements, this first dataset? Or do they agree? Do we agree? Do we agree? Do we have a contract here? So this is about the shared mental models.

[00:24:39] Yeah. We’re not actually really doing the teaming at this stage. Not really. We’re not, we’re just agreeing, the same page as we work. So do we have a clear vision? Do we have a shared sense of purpose? And do we have agreed set of shared goals? Now the word shared is important cause the team great teams share goals and if [00:25:00] they don’t share goals, then they’re team, but they just have slightly different teams.

[00:25:03] So understanding where the shared goals. It’s really key. So that’s we call that mission. The second part of the code is we call it plans and that’s how are we going to go about doing our work? So that’s do we have a high-level strategy and highlight was important because we can’t get too detailed these days, which is we need a kind of a rough direction of travel.

[00:25:23] Do we have stakeholder priorities are they clear because we have to somehow convert a high-level plan into into our priorities. And the big one, as I mentioned early on is role responsibilities. I’ll be clear on our responsibilities, but any ambiguity that we can sort out quickly as to what we’re doing.

[00:25:39] And then the third part of that set of getting set is we call that, so the disciplines. And here we have. Do we agree on a meeting structures and how are we going to govern ourselves and the right people the right time on the right cadence, then we have norms. Do we agree on how we’re going to work together?

[00:25:56] Our target behaviors and our norms and the final one, as I mentioned [00:26:00] already, which is, this is the big one, which is missed, I think in, but a huge believer of this is do we have skin in the game to team? We are we playing a team sports? Do we, are we incentivized and motivated? And given us, given the game to work collaboratively together, not just work to produce individual contributions.

[00:26:18] So those nine models, those nine mental models, if the team agrees on all those things, they’re off and running, right? They have, and they would have high levels of cognitive trust. I love the script trust and they’re ready then to progress to the to the next phase, which is. Getting safe. So we set this, get set, get safe, so safe as you probably gathered that psychological safety.

[00:26:40] And here we have vulnerability, the three levels here, I’ve gone a bit. The team has vulnerable, able to own up to what they don’t know, ask for help. Even humor here is interesting. Cause when we human, we take a bit of a risk as well. The positivity and humor can be a sign of vulnerability in a way we have empathy, [00:27:00] which is listening and sensitivity and offering help and being able to respond nicely to what’s being said and felt.

[00:27:11] And then the third one, the key part of cyber safety is learning absolutely critical that you have a learning team who are able to reflect together. Not just individually when they want to learn, but collectively have the group learning going on and mistakes are de-stigmatized and feedback is exchanged and those three competencies, skill sets they make up the sets, the safe state.

[00:27:36] So we’ve got several, you’ve got, get set, get safe. Now, both of those first two phases, they don’t really produce the value. They set the conditions for the value. So the value is created in the third phase, which is getting strong. And here we have release of we have essentially value driving interactions that take you in place.

[00:27:54] In other words, effective collaboration between people. And so we want to see here, the three phases here are the three skillsets or [00:28:00] autonomy, particularly important in those virtual teams. Especially, it’s just distributed leadership and autonomous working lots of commitment making, again, very important in virtual teams that we have very tangible, I will do this by doing X by Y and lots of visible, tangible examples of progress being made to keep our spirits going.

[00:28:22] And we have constructive tension, which is the big one, because that’s where in virtual teams, especially people struggle a little bit in any teams for that matter. We need to be assertive, not aggressive or passive and be able to hold each other to account. And the key thing here is linked there, all these links, as cause they’re all joins in some way, shape or form. So without Understanding the shared goal is wants shared goals, mean the team leader. Isn’t the one that holds the account team. The team members need to hold each other to account in the shared goal space. This is one of the key pieces of work that we do.

[00:28:52] And then the final one, it culminates in experimentation, the ability to experiment, try things out. And of course, this is exactly what [00:29:00] ed and Cho had to do. You have to probe in complex environments, you have to probe, you don’t know the answer and you have to go into it and see what happens and then react in the moment.

[00:29:11] And then you’re iterating is the agile working iterating and finding out what works and adapting very quickly. Now, if you go through those three phases, you’ve got, get set, get safe, get strong, get set, predicts. We’ve found, get set projects, get safe. This is why the code is why it is. It gets the teams that get set are more likely to be.

[00:29:33] And the teams that are safe and more likely to beat, to be strong. And the teams that are strong are then more likely to create the positive outcomes that we want, which is the fourth stage, which is our outcome stage, which has got success, which is innovation. Adaptability, you get adoption through those, you get profound levels of trust.

[00:29:49] You get results. Most importantly, in a team that want to see results. I want to see outcomes graters. And you’ve got continuous learning for the next, as a result of the teaming. So [00:30:00] knowledge is retained for the next team. So that’s the, yeah. Get safe, get strong and get success.

[00:30:05] Sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s this art is all in there. 

[00:30:09] Yes, certainly. And you can see that in the book, it’s all evidence-based and you can see the research that sits behind it. And certainly because of the way that you’ve referenced it. Can you just say, can we just go back a step, so to 

[00:30:21] the get 

[00:30:21] set phase and give us some idea of the kinds of things that a team might be able to do to get set, as you say, 

[00:30:28] These are conversations.

[00:30:30] Okay. So let’s start up at the top with purpose, the most important part of, why do we exist? So the team can create a purpose statement, which is, what we’re doing. What’s our unique contribution who for and why, what’s the benefit. And so that sounds a little bit like, okay, that’s just an exercise, but actually the team doesn’t understand its purpose.

[00:30:47] That affects decisions and prioritization. And so going through that soprano exercise, and of course they can pull that purpose out on a regular basis and remind themselves, are we really delivering [00:31:00] to our purpose, whether that be to create a is it more around growing the business or is it more around we have to reduce and create a nimble cost efficient and we, haven’t got to be world-class, we’re an easy jet, not a BA or whatever.

[00:31:16] So having that kind of purpose is important. So that’s a good conversation around purpose and shared goals. Really important to identify and ask. What I do is I asked team members, tell me your top four or five I’m interviewing the team or workshop. I asked them what their top shared goals are.

[00:31:33] What are the most important share goals is team ideally what you want. It’s the same answer from everybody, but quite often I say pretty much every team, I don’t get the same answer and most teams don’t know what the shared goals really are. They know their individual goals, roughly speaking, what the goals are, but don’t really know which of those goals really require teaming in whole groups or groups.

[00:31:54] So an exercise to go through, where are our, what are our key goals? And are those represented in our meetings is [00:32:00] another question. Are they really front and center of how we run our meetings? Responsibilities, simply question. In this situation, there’s supposing that, we are working together and on this situ you gave me at the start of this interview.

[00:32:10] This is how it’s going to last an hour. Be quite informal. I’ll ask the questions you gave me the questions in advance. And so this is so right now I’m very clear on what my role is, what your role is or responsibilities. If you didn’t do that, I might be confused, in terms of what are we going to be talking about?

[00:32:26] What are the what’s the, so I might go to you and say, Hey, what is this about? What’s the, who’s the audience? What’s the, what? What’s the, so that’s basically questions. We ask each other questions and get that clarity. So series of questions that need to be asked in that responsibility is something that teams can do.

[00:32:40] And then there’s exercises around norms, behave very important teams, galvanized around a shared where there’s shared ways of working exercises they can do to agree. What are the most important things that we can do? This various exercises that I run. And they’re in the book, many of these exercises and examples of what we do are in the book.

[00:32:57] So there’s, every contract has. [00:33:00] Contract getting into that kind of agreement. There’s yeah. There’s an answer to all of these methods, which is one of the key criteria in the code is everything that’s in there has to be actionable, has to be, I’ve learned, put stuff in there, like cultures I’ve mentioned.

[00:33:15] I don’t even put selection into the team because if we know you’ve got to select people on the team, but there’s not, I’m not interested so much when I work with the team about how you select into the team is there. We have to get the team going, so by nature, everything in the code has a way of developing.

[00:33:28] Yeah. And sometimes teams don’t have any choice about selection. Anyway, they’re just drawn together because they’re the people that have to be closest to the boss’s desk or something 

[00:33:39] a lot. Exactly. And they haven’t got the budget to change. Yeah. 

[00:33:44] Okay. Let’s just move on to team safety. What kinds of things would help?

[00:33:48] Yeah, the big 

[00:33:50] thing was safety is the leader. The leader really sets the tone when it comes to psychological safety. And so we want the leader to create a tone where it’s [00:34:00] okay to, as I say, the code tells us that the leader has to be on the team has to be open and imperfect essentially. And we’d know we don’t want heroes.

[00:34:10] We want people who are human, who make mistakes and learn from them. And so admitting where you’re not so good at something asking about. And very important that we de-stigmatize arrows as well as learning opportunities. And we want humidity. We don’t want to Gresham and finger point and even humor could be Catholic humor.

[00:34:26] It’s not pointed and sarcastic, and it’s not clubby or like my kids, the kids know, and now my cameras can appear. So you want me to move now? I’ll stay here. Yeah, so those are things and very important for learning conversations take place. So retroflection in the agile framework we reflect and we want group.

[00:34:46] So at the end of meetings, how’s that meeting? What did we do? What did we Kirby, how we could we improved in the last month, we should have our norms, behavioral norms say for example we have a norm around making a known, being reliable and our commitments, how are we made enough commitments that we.

[00:34:58] Which ones [00:35:00] are we more reliable than we were the previous months? These questions about how we are together, help to build 

[00:35:06] psychological safety. Yes. Yeah. I agree. And certainly issues around you mentioned this a few times in the book around pre-briefing and debriefing, and I think many teams don’t do that enough.

[00:35:16] In fact, they don’t do it at all from what I see, but anyhow, what about how teams kinds of ideas for teams getting strong? 

[00:35:25] So the first thing was strong. Okay. If I would say most parts, this is where they start. They say, George, can we have more adaptability? Can we be more brave? Can we hold?

[00:35:33] So they want all these lovely things they have to, the first thing was getting strong as do the hard yards. First, the hard yards are getting set and getting, and then building safety. Okay. So don’t just steam in there and think you can be strong without knowing. The root causes of dysfunction and conflict to be because people don’t understand or disagree on the higher level stuff.

[00:35:55] Like the rules of the game, the responsibilities that we [00:36:00] have, what we’re trying to achieve, we have different goals. So go back to basics, make sure you’re ticking the boxes on the set in the shared mental models. Make sure the team, all the work that Amy Emerson said is brilliant science. Okay. The predictive validity of psychos will safety on this.

[00:36:16] Get strong stuff, innovation, adaptability, conflict resolution decision-making collaboration. They’re all very strong correlates. So that’s why. We say, I say the second thing is make sure that you’re building psychological safety, the third. So those are basic principles, but to get to the strong phase you also need and this is where the talent comes.

[00:36:36] You need talent to be able to have the right skill sets, to do these things. So the code doesn’t guarantee success. You’ve got to have the right ingredients. People have to have the courage to put themselves out there and the ability and the knowledge and the know-how to make decisions that are going to be informed and going to be intelligent.

[00:36:52] So how do you get strong open above talent, open above setting and safe. You have to have, I think, a [00:37:00] autonomous distributed leadership set up for sure. People are given autonomy. There has to be some norms around reliability stats and people are motivated to do that as soon as the reflective process.

[00:37:12] Emotional. Management’s very key here. If we’re agitated and we are stressed, it’s hard to have a balanced, non frustrated, angry discussion with somebody or to avoid the conversation. So we have to have good emotional management. This is, these are personal skillsets, as much as anything else and with experimentation, especially then you know, how we react to and celebrate efforts and how we celebrate not just what we achieve, but trying to achieve something is also very important.

[00:37:45] So those are all ways to get strong. 

[00:37:48] Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And certainly from my perspective, things like emotional regulation, as you’re, as you were mentioning a kind of key within teams and quite often, those. [00:38:00] Those skills aren’t exactly there, but yeah. Okay, great. Now I’m a bit of a challenge then.

[00:38:06] So I see a lot of people coming out of the the sports, military emergency services and arena say I was one of those as well using their experience and thinking in the organizational business world to help them. Now the main differences I see between those two kinds of worlds is firstly that organizations and UN all businesses driven by the need to make a profit.

[00:38:28] And usually this means that the bottom line reducing costs and increasing sales, not a focus that sports and military teams usually have to contend with. So the second big difference. Is that sports in the military worlds and emergency services and things certainly that I’ve been in the past. They spend a lot of time training and preparing for specific events.

[00:38:50] And we say the Olympics and, they’ve spent years training for an event now in the organization business world. People don’t have time [00:39:00] to train in that world that the ratio is different. They have to learn on the job. They’ve got to hit the ground running and training abstraction takes time and costs money.

[00:39:10] Yeah. So whilst there’s some training involved, the ratio is, I say of performing is actually turned around and they can’t afford train for years just for one meeting or whatever it happens to be. How can this code help in the world where most businesses and organizations in 

[00:39:30] habit? It’s a brilliant question.

[00:39:32] It’s a very good question. That there’s more to, I think one of the reasons I left sport. Predominantly, although I’m still working with professional rugby, but is I enjoy the complexity in organizational work that I didn’t see in the sporting world, which is more event driven. So I think it’s, so there’s a big difference in, in the two.

[00:39:52] And I think you’re actually right to distinguish between them. The other thing of course, which is different is aggression or in sport and NFI to a degree, we compete against [00:40:00]there’s a winner and a loser in sports, and in military, the same thing, you’ve got to win, lose a battle.

[00:40:04] So it’s not like that in organizations. And so we have to use a lot more of our emotional intelligence, I think in many ways to not be so combustible, combatative, and aggressive to get over to get the wins, to win the events. So anyway, to answer your question the code is.

[00:40:22] The word, the wrong way to use the code. Okay. Is to you say, okay, I tell you we’re going to where we’re not going to get safe until we get set and we’re not going to get strong until we’re safe. Okay. It doesn’t work that way. And if we were training as a team, we’d go, okay, let’s do now the codes is that is a developmental code, right?

[00:40:42] So in other words, if we’re going to work on getting strong, that start work, our work in that setting phase, we don’t, we can’t not collaborate. We can’t not wait to have nice empathic, vulnerable conversations until we are clear. We have to do the whole thing [00:41:00] together. We have to, we have to be running from the get, go, how we spend our training time as a team, the co-directors towards if we’re going to work on something, we need to be working on these fundamentals first.

[00:41:14] So that’s where the code kicks in. That’s where it’s a little bit different. It’s a sports where you know we we met we don’t have that kind of longer toodle four year journey to get to a point. We have to be doing it all together, but we’ll, but we train a little bit more focused on that, those, that code in that order, if that makes sense.

[00:41:34] Okay. 

[00:41:35] Yeah. Yeah. I get that. Okay, great. So let’s just move on a little bit and how do you think the modern digital age changes, teamwork and more importantly, the team development process. So you’ve been 

[00:41:49] talking about it makes the teams more virtual for stars. That’s the first thing.

[00:41:55] And that puts pressure on teams. There’s less, there’s more conflict in virtual teams. There’s less trust. [00:42:00] There’s less. There’s more ambiguity in terms of decisions aren’t made so quickly as. So there’s more challenges with virtual team that’s for sure. So just a realization also makes changes more rapid and more frequent.

[00:42:13] So the state of flux, so therefore clarifying, we have to work harder to ensure we have the same mental models through that flux. What that means is we have to ask more questions, asking questions is a very strong driver of team performance. There’s lots of good evidence to say that the teams that ask more questions to do better.

[00:42:32] So clarification questioning, challenging assumptions, checking out the nodding dog of the old, where you tell me to do something as my boss, I go in and do it and come and pull back that those long, those days are long gone. I have to just, it’s just not so simple and autocratic as it used to.

[00:42:50] Team members have got to take responsibility and also shared leadership. They’ve got 

[00:42:54] to take I think that’s the other thing. David is distribute much more distributed leadership in a digitalized world and the [00:43:00] leader becomes less heroic. The leader becomes more facilitator and people across the team are sharing responsibility, sharing leadership in different areas have different goals.

[00:43:11] And yeah, so those are all of impacts of digitalization. 

[00:43:15] Okay, great. So if you could give three pieces of advice to team leaders today, what would they be? 

[00:43:22] Three pieces of advice. Follow the code would be one, probably the book.

[00:43:26] Three pieces of advice for team leaders would be first of all consider your success and your future. A reflection for your team’s success. So D go yourself, do you hear it? But that’s for hero and really think about the team being the most important factor you have is one, two would be skin in the game for teaming.

[00:43:51] We tend to do a lot of one-to-one and holding you accountable for this and that person accountable for that hub and spoke type leadership that has got to [00:44:00] change a little bit now. And so Cub create skin in the game, motivate people to collaborate and hold them to account for that in positive ways and give the message that those sub teams and small teams are important as well as the big team will be the second one.

[00:44:17] And I think the third one is find a way to, despite the pressures and strains that we have. Positive, fun approach to one. Don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy the journey you can’t be perfect is so important as well because that greats, contagion positive contagion. So there’s a lot of good science that we want to apply.

[00:44:41] If we apply it in a serious way, then the team gets tightened and we need it’s tough out there. So we need to enjoy the ride, even though the military America, there’s black humor, it’s very important to have that kind of gallows humor in, in the workplace too. So enjoy the ride will be the third.

[00:44:59] Great. [00:45:00] Okay. Yes. And the gallows humor that the whole human piece is really important, and there’s a, w we’ve been engaging quite a lot of the research around that. And in the members area, what about someone who isn’t a team leader? They’re just a member of the team. They wished their team was a little bit more like what we’ve been describing here or has been described as a high performance team or they just want a better, more productive team in the frustrated.

[00:45:25] What advice would you 

[00:45:26] give them? That’s a really another really good question as too much emphasis placed on leadership, not enough a membership. I would say, and unreservedly learn the code because the code is for the team, not for the team leader, know the code contribute to, to, to making sure that where you can, you have the shared mental model with people that you’re working with, that you are contributing to psychological safety, that you are managing yourself.

[00:45:50] Operating in that snow strong skillsets. So I would say the code is very relevant for all team members to take responsibility for and contribute to the [00:46:00] team climate, across that code would be my, it would be, don’t assume that’s just for the leader or senior members it’s for you.

[00:46:08] And it’ll never the recipes for success. They’re all data-driven and they will also be good for wellbeing as well. So I would say, get to know that those at 27 drivers and make sure that you are working on those yourselves. 

[00:46:24] Yeah, I think that’s quite important. Certainly if you’re stuck in a team and you’re feeling frustrated, starting that conversation with the team about that feeling, being vulnerable for the moment that you were talking about earlier, but also this whole idea of informal leadership.

[00:46:39] Like there, isn’t just a leader, there are lots of leaders in different moments and in different conversations and you can lead informally as well. And there’s a whole science behind that. And having influence, and usually that’s through, what’s become known as employee voice, but actually saying things and starting [00:47:00] conversations going that are positive, which is one of the things that you were 

[00:47:04] absolutely.

[00:47:06] So 

[00:47:06] just to end with any last bits of wisdom about helping to create a better team, 

[00:47:11] Last bits of wisdom would be that’s everything. I think the shared goals are no, you should know which goals are individual now, which goals are shared cats and bashes work on leader led to two teams is brilliant.

[00:47:23] I think that’s very good would be one thing. I did write some notes on this one, but your interviewing questions being so good. I’ve lost my, my, oh, yes, that’s right. This is the one I had down here, which is stretch, stretch yourself. This the whole idea of the code in a way is moving towards a kind of a place where we stretch out outside of our comfort zones.

[00:47:48] If you think about modern teaming and modern work ambiguity, uncertainty influencing collaboration growth. We have to move, be able to accept the fact. We’re not always going to be [00:48:00] comfortable and our places to work. And therefore we have to grow as growth things, we have to stretch and extend ourselves and be prepared to make mistakes.

[00:48:11] And I think if we are able to stretch collectively as a team, this is what really, that third stage is all about. Then it really helps. We adapt together. Okay. Adduction is a team sport, but individually I would say go be prepared to stretch and embrace the concepts of going beyond one’s comfort zones would be would be my final.

[00:48:31] Then it was. 

[00:48:31] Yeah. So I think that’s important, particularly that, that whole idea of being prepared for failure try things. And I think that’s really important as well, which is that’s where the development comes from. Thank you so much, George. This has been wonderful. How can people get hold of you?

[00:48:46] Firstly of the book and then secondly, how can they contact you if they want to? 

[00:48:51] So the book is as in November and the states, November the ninth and the states it’s on Amazon, you can pre-order it. And it’s coming out the UK, December the ninth. Bill’s [00:49:00]winning, what’s the title code, 

[00:49:02] the build better teams, creating winning teams in the digital 

[00:49:07] age.

[00:49:08] Do you see how much of a non-commercial person I am? I’m too much of a subject master. So build better teams. That’s right. There’s various titles that we were looking at. And I suppose that’s what confused me, but build better teams. So when I was in, if they want to contact me, I’m on George act team, hyphen

[00:49:25] That’s my email address. And you can see us on the internet, on the web Teamup WW dot team-up dot company. And yeah if hopefully people will have enjoyed this and enjoy the.

[00:49:36] Yes. Yes. Yeah. I’ve obviously seen a copy. Yes. I’ve seen the book. Yeah, 

[00:49:42] I, you recommend the book. Oh, yes.

[00:49:45] Yeah. 

[00:49:45] I wouldn’t be doing that. I wouldn’t be doing the interview without it. It’s definitely yeah, I see a lot of books and quite a lot of people. I don’t need the views. Okay. Because we’re obviously about the evidence space. Evidence-based work. Thank you so much, George. Really appreciate it.

[00:49:59] Brilliant. I’ll [00:50:00] put all the links in the show notes to the book, to you to melon, everything else. 

[00:50:04] That’s great. Delighted to have spoke with you, David. Nice questions. And I enjoy our conversation. Thank you for having, yeah, 

[00:50:13] It’s been good. The books been developing, actually some of the conversations have been brilliant.

[00:50:17] I’ve really enjoyed them and learned a lot as well. Yeah, 

[00:50:19] that’s cool. Good.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page