Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations. And this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

Work is the scourge of the drinking classes is a line by Oscar Wilde, which came to mind when I realized that some extra time has elapsed since our last episode. And it seems to be that work is now the scourge of this podcasting class, because work has mushroomed in recent days and weeks in accordance with the advent of spring. And I’m glad to say that a lot of the focus of what clients are looking for out there continues to be in the area of realigning, refocusing, resetting, reconnecting, and rebuilding teams.

If the previous episode focused on establishing the why or purpose of being a team, this episode will focus on the other side of that coin, which is the how. This is really around the behaviours, expectations, rules, and principles that we all sign up for to be the best team we can be.

I’m going to talk during the episode about three things. The first is going to be why talking about the How of being a team gets so little attention relative to other things. Secondly, the impact of getting that right, or not getting it right, in terms of performance. And finally, what are some of the best practices around how to do that as a leader, who is responsible for the contribution and overall energy of your team members.

So let’s begin by talking about why typically, establishing how we should be as a team and how we should work together as a team attracts relatively less emphasis and less focus than other things.  Let’s begin with Leadership 101. If we are responsible for the overall effectiveness as leaders, of our team and our team members,  effectiveness has two component parts.

The first is the execution of tasks, and the second is behaviours. Behaviours, meaning how we approach that task or those tasks.

To my mind, all the emphasis, focus and attention goes on the task side of execution and far less towards the How we do the execution around behaviours. There is so much rigour around tasks and emphasis placed on them, through everything from to-do lists, priorities, schedules, Kanban boards, bullet journals, and a blizzard of efficiency apps, too many to even begin to mention.

Any governance around how to achieve our results, or how we accomplish our tasks as a team, in terms of behaviours, typically occurs by happenstance accident rather than by design. The How and the behaviours surrounding how we get things done is the orphaned child of effectiveness. And there’s no queue around the block for adoption.

So why is there such an imbalance between the What needs to be done, and the How we do it. Well, there are four reasons, and the first is quite obvious is because tasks are tangible, they’re measurable, and they’re predictable. Behaviours, on the other hand, well, they’re messy because they involve people, and they’re mostly abstract.

The second reason that tasks get prioritized is because there is an immediate consequence if we don’t perform the task or get it done.  By contrast, there is no immediate consequence to not focusing on, thinking about, or having a conversation around, addressing how we do things. How we get things done, will always be something that’s important. Getting things done will always be urgent.

The third reason is connected to the second is that as well as things being urgent when they’re task-related, in order to do something that is around the How and the behaviours, we need to be proactive, which requires initiative from us. It’s far easier to be reactive because that’s all you need to be. Every day you come into work, the task list is getting greater, the email box is swelling further. All you got to do to perform the task side of the effectiveness equation, is simply to show up, and react.

And the final, more clandestine reason, is that we all have an assumption, or make the assumption, that we all should know how to show up and how to behave in order to get things done. The reality of our routine avoidance of 50% of the effectiveness equation is that it is all done for very human reasons. We are prioritizing short-term gain while setting ourselves up for medium to long-term pain.

Back to the immediate consequences. The immediate consequence of not paying attention to how we do things is the creation of residue. And what I mean by residue is the absence of clear governance and, transparency, and agreement on how we go about doing things and what are the rules of engagement for the team mean that inevitably, there will be waste and inefficiency on one side. And there will be a breakdown in relationships on the other. Meaning things like, there’ll be conflict between people, a breakdown of trust or an erosion of it, turf wars, blame games, or at very minimal, a reduced amount of discretionary contribution from the people involved.

So, what is the impact of a collection or a collective of behaviours? Well, how it works is this. Everything begins in a team with a behaviour. And it could be something as simple as somebody turning up late for a meeting, or turning up punctually every time for a meeting. This behaviour, repeated, becomes the norm, and the norm over time creates the environment, and the environment then dictates the behaviour. So what you’ve got now is you’ve got a cycle from behaviour becoming a norm, creating an environment that, in turn, dictates the behaviour. This cycle, vicious or virtuous, typically gets rounded up into one single expression, which is called culture.

What is culture? Culture is nothing more than an aggregated collection of expected behaviours that enables you to fit in or, in the worst cases, survive around here. Now, the quickest way to clear a room, in my experience, is to stand up at the front of it and say, okay, let’s have a talk about culture. So, that’s not the place to start with this. Culture, when people talk about it, tends to create the raised eyebrow effect and gets people to think, because it’s an abstract, and how do you begin to even have that conversation?

I had one senior manager who once described culture as, quote, that fluffy bunny stuff, unquote. Well, here’s the thing: Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, every team has a culture. Cultures are like belly buttons; we’ve all got one. And there are only two questions that you need to ask yourself as a leader.

The first is, is the culture that you’ve got, or you’re trying to create, one that is serving you? Meaning, is it making you more, or is it making you less effective in terms of getting things done efficiently, or in terms of people’s contribution and positive energy.

And the second question you need to ask yourself as a leader is, with this culture, are you the driver, or are you the passenger? Meaning are you an active creator of the culture, or are you a passive recipient? Because if you go back to one of our earlier episodes around the leadership contribution and what that means, one of the key contributions of a leader is to become the chief culture officer. Because if you’re not driving the culture and you’re not designing what the culture should look like, then who is?

Even within the same organization, cultures, even if they’re abstract, can be radically different from team to team.

I remember one occasion where working with a large organization, we were on the fourth floor, working with the finance department. And when you got out on the fourth floor, you could feel the energy within that department. And it had a quality where you could label it, and you could put names on it, but it was palpable as soon as you got out on the fourth floor within that finance department.

If you got back in the lift, went up three floors, and got out on seven, and you walked in there, you would not believe you were in the same company because in the IT department on the seventh floor, it was a completely different sensation. There are many things I could elaborate on regarding both of those teams or those departments, but the one thing I can say for sure is that the culture, that is, the aggregated collection of expected behaviours that enabled you to fit in or get on, between floor seven and floor four were very different.

Two final things, before I talk about how to do this. The first is that people don’t leave companies. People leave one of two things, they leave bosses, or they leave bad cultures. And the final point on this, is if culture is nothing more than the aggregation of behaviours, then the place to start is with the lowest denominator, and where you can actually get some traction and get some tangible conversation, which is around specific behaviours.

So, here’s a summary guide as to how to begin to have this conversation and how to build some principles, rules, and expectations amongst your team. The first is we need to make sure that everybody on the team is involved. They need to be part of this conversation. There is nothing worse in a team than getting handed a set of rules, instructions, or guidelines that you had no contribution to making in the first place. So involve all parties, as early as you can. People will tolerate your solutions, but they will actively contribute to implementing something they’d been involved in themselves.

The second idea is to avoid having too many rules, principles, or do’s and don’ts. There’s a reason why there are 10 commandments, Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life, or Chopra’s seven rules or laws of success.

There’s one organization that is working with 15 rules of engagement, but within the 15 rules, there are two to three rules within the rules, which means that there are about 35 to 45 different rules of engagement. This is a little bit like priorities; if you’ve got 20 priorities, then what you’ve really got is no priorities.

So my rule of thumb is, somewhere between five to seven rules, principles around behaviour is perfect. Going back to our original brain science, this is how many items and ideas we can consciously, in our thinking cognitive system, hold simultaneously without getting into confusion.

The third point is, when you’ve got your high-level principles, make sure that you go one level down with those principles to get some understanding of examples of what this means in terms of do’s and don’ts. This conversation is enriching, it’s engaging. One of the pieces that I’m going to do in a future episode is around the tyranny of language.

But one of the difficulties is if we take something like respect, everybody understands the word respect, but until you actually get seven or eight people on a team to talk about what that means within the team, in terms of, this is what we do want, and this is what we don’t want, the risk is that people will take their own interpretation and that in and of itself is going to create confusion and conflict. So therefore get examples of do’s and don’ts underneath the five to seven rules or principles that you agree.

Two final points. The first point is that the easy part is in the conception of these principles or ideas or rules. The hard part is ensuring that they get implemented and abided by as you go off into the future. And if, finally, having crafted as a team, your set of rules of engagement for the team, you want to test how committed people are, or what the level of commitment that people have to what they’ve just created with you, then simply ask the question. How open are we, as a team, to giving and receiving feedback around these principles from now on? The response will give you a fair indication as to how committed people are to making it work.

Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.

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