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Transcript: Building High Performing Teams (EP13)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 13. Today, I'm speaking with Tim Ferguson. Tim is a Director and Facilitator at a company called Leading Teams, which is a company focused on developing high-performing teams and leaders. Tim joined Leading Teams in 2012 and is now based in Northern New South Wales. Prior to joining leading teams, Tim spent 14 years in business development roles in the vocational education and training industry with companies like Construction Training Australia, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, and Gordon Institute of TAFE. Tim played a major role in The Gordon becoming the most commercially successful TAFE Institute in Australia. Now, I had the pleasure of first meeting Tim back in 2016. We got to know each other very well during 2017 when I was involved with an organisation who was a client of Leading Teams and we've remained friends ever since. He's a fantastic thinker, writer, observer, facilitator, and implementer of high performing leadership and high performing teams.

Tim, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast, mate.

Tim Ferguson: Thanks, Brendan. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the intro.

Brendan Rogers: My pleasure, mate. Tim, what I'd like you to start with is can you just share a bit about your own journey, you know, in your career and even down to some of your motivators and what's led you into this position now as a Director and Facilitator of Leading Teams?

Tim Ferguson: Yeah. Well, look, I guess, my journey from a Leading Teams perspective, I was actually, as you mentioned, working for The Gordon Institute of TAFE down in Geelong in Victoria. And at that time, Leading Teams were working with the Geelong Football Club, and a conversation between the CEO of Geelong Football Club and our CEO took place, and Leading Teams ended up working with us. And it was a real game changer for me. That was back in 2009 I first encountered Leading Teams.

I just found the simplicity of the model, the simplicity of the work and the impact of it was really significant. So, I was a client of Leading Teams for three years. And then, as you said, joined the organisation in 2012. And I think, I guess my motivators or my philosophy is around, I've always been really interested in team performance. You know, both sporting and corporate, you know, what makes teams really work or not work. So, look, I think being introduced to Leading Teams, it was a really significant moment, not just professionally, but in my life. 

Brendan Rogers: Mate, what is it about the team stuff that, you know, really rocks your boat? You know, that's given you that passion for teams and being involved in that. Is there something you can put your finger on there?

Tim Ferguson: I think it's about, for me, it's about performance and it's about results and it's about working towards something, whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. And I think it's, for me, I've always enjoyed being able to do that with other people, just that ability to be around other people, to have relationships, to work on a common goal. I was playing a lot of sport when I was a kid and I just really love the dynamic of a team being around other people, sharing success, sharing failures. Yeah. It's always been something that's really appealed to me.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, thanks for sharing that. That's a good move into our, I guess the focus of our topic today, which is all around teamwork, teams, leadership team dynamics, and underpinning that around genuine conversations. So, how about first of all, before going into explaining and giving an overview of the high-performing teams model that you utilise, what is teamwork for you?

Tim Ferguson: Teamwork, I think, starts with a purpose. So, it's not just talking about common goal or, you know, trying to achieve a result. I mean, teamwork starts with purpose, so, why, you know, why are we a team, saying, what are we working towards?

Team, I think I remember actually I sat in a breakfast at the MCG prior to the 2016 Olympics and James Tomkins who was a rower from the Oarsome Foursome was the speaker. He said something that's always stuck with me. He was asked the question, you know, what is the key ingredient for a successful team? There was no pause. He said, “Oh, yeah. That's easy. It's a lack of self-interest.” And He sort of talked about, you know, giving his best performance and that, in the context of a rowing crew, it doesn't matter what he does or, you know, doing his best. It's actually about his best aligning to the rest of the crew. That stuck with me and I think in the teams that I've seen, the one that I’m in, the teams that I work with, I think it is that ability to actually consider what other people need and to try and play a role in that for me is the absolute key to being in a team.

Brendan Rogers: Jeez, mate. I've never heard you share that story before actually. That's a really powerful statement, isn't that? Lack of self-interest. I can see where it really would resonate with someone like you. It certainly resonates with me as well.

Tim Ferguson: Yeah. Look, it was compelling to listen to it. ‘Cause James sort of then went through, you know, how the team around that crew of four works and how that lack of self-interest is almost a trademark or a motto for that group. I was sort of sitting there taking copious notes, which I do, but yeah, just, it's the way he painted the picture so simply, you know, if you think about yourself in a sporting team or in the team at work, it is that, you know, if you get an environment where everyone puts the team before themselves, I think for me, you know, that goes a long way to guaranteeing success.

Brendan Rogers: Yeah. And I guess what's ringing in my ears now as well, is that if you look at the team sports that we love, I love football soccer, the real football, you love the fake football, the Aussie-rules type of football. And if you look at rowing in comparison to the sports that we love, yes, we love team sports, but there is an element of individuality in those sports that can win and lose a game for you. Whereas in rowing, if everyone is not so aligned and cohesive in that rowing group, there's no possible way that you can win.

Tim Ferguson: Yeah, absolutely. Look, I think rowing is a great metaphor for team performance. I think that's probably why it's stuck with me. I think there's always room for individual brilliance in most team environments. Absolutely. But I think it's, you use the cliche about a champion team, but I think that's really what a champion team does. It's actually understanding the collective best, not the individual best.

Brendan Rogers: Yeah, well said. Go into the high-performing teams model that you know so well and is a core part of Leading Teams.

Tim Ferguson: The model we utilise is consistent. It's the same. We work in elite sport and that's probably where the organisation started back, I guess, nearly 30 years ago now, that we did work initially most primarily in the elite sporting world and we still do work in that space. We work with AFL, NRL clubs, relationship with the Australian (Netball team stretching over a long period of time. But, probably, 90% of our work is actually in the corporate space. The model that we use is the same and it's really about creation of high-performance teams. We believe strongly that teams should be looking for great, not just good. And so, you know, the model in that respect is not for every team, but it is for the ones who are actually really wanting to seriously and with discipline, chase high performance, whatever that means for them.

Integral to a high-performance team is its leaders. And that doesn't mean that people who have the title of CEO or General Manager or Director or Coach, it's actually the people who influence, who are the centres of influence in the team. So, every team we believe that has successful has great leadership. So, really, that's where we start. And quite often, when we work with an organisation, we will start with the leaders because the model essentially is an empowerment model. So, it is about the leaders in the organisation or in the team being prepared to be open, to getting everyone's view, as I said, starting with purpose. So, do we have an understood, clear purpose that we're all aligned to? And it's really, sometimes, I think a bit underestimated, but really important to you.

If you think, you know, if you're coaching your son's football team and the purpose that you understand for you as a coach is to develop the kids, then you would coach the team a certain way. If the purpose was purely to win games of football, then you may coach differently and you would utilise your players differently. You know, you would use the interchange system differently as an example. So, purpose is really important because it really then dictates how we set the team up or how we set our organisation up. And when we're looking at the setup, really, we sort of look at firstly, the mechanics. So, what are the systems, processes, even the technical skills that people bring to the table and the dynamics being well, then how do we want our environment to look? How do people interact with each other? And importantly, what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't? And that's when you know, dynamics relate to the culture of an organisation.

And for us, culture is really simple. It's really about the behaviour that's accepted. You know, what do I, if I join your team, what do I need to do to fit in? And ultimately, what can I get away with? And I don't mean that in a negative way, I think at times we will all have an understanding of what's acceptable and what isn't and really, I think organisations who are really clear about that, and actually, are prepared to review against it, for us, that's an agreed behavioural framework. You know, what behaviour will drive high performance for us and what can we not tolerate in our team? And actually use that as an ongoing review piece. We believe at Leading Teams that everything we do can be reviewed and it's an opportunity for feedback.

So, just some clarity around, and that's really the space that we work primarily in is the dynamic space. It's, we're not necessarily technical experts in the organisations we work in, but we have an understanding of how to create an environment that allows high-performance culture to flourish.

So, clear about purpose. We've got some clarity around the culture we’re trying to create. We do, we spend a lot of time and effort with teams and organisations on creating strong relationships, strong professional relationships that are underpinned by trust because ultimately, if we're going to be reviewing and giving feedback and we believe high-performance teams really review when they're under pressure, you know, when things aren't necessarily going, as we would like. To be able to have those conversations, we need people to feel safe to give their view. And really, I guess that's probably central to empowerment that people feel empowered. If they see something in the team that they can reward, they reward it. But if ultimately, if they see something that they think they can challenge or could be done somehow better, that they feel safe to have the conversation. So, that's essentially the model. It's a model that understands that the culture that we create, the environment we create will ultimately be responsible for supporting, driving the what we do, the mechanics of systems processes, our KPIs.

Brendan Rogers: I know from firsthand experience, it is so simple, but it’s very tough on the application. And teams that can really embed this in their environment is just the payoff is that there's actually no level of payoff, it's infinite.

Tim Ferguson: Yeah, look. It is. It's a very simple model. It's really the nub of it is when we see something in our team, we can have a conversation about it. We can review it. We can look for ways to do things better. We can have genuine conversations and really, the genuine (bit is about our intent to actually continue to look at ways to do things better. So, I think you're right. It is infinite and it is very, very simple. And I think that's the thing that struck me when I first encountered Leading Teams and that model in 2009, I sort of thought, yeah, this is sort of how it works. I had been a part of many leadership programs prior to that, which I had always found a little bit theoretical. Whereas this is really just in the doing. It's really, let's have a conversation about what we see in our team. You know, what behaviour is productive, what behaviour is counterproductive, and let's just continue those conversations. So, you're right. It is very simple, but the challenge is in the discipline and the level to which we can have those conversations.

Brendan Rogers: Absolutely. And the beauty is in the simplicity. There's no doubt about it. Mate, there's a lot of things to unpack there. I want to take you back to something you said in the first couple of sentences. You made a comment about ‘it's not for every team’. I find it easier sometimes for myself and people to relate to things that, where this model may not work. So, can you share a bit of insight into that comment about ‘this is maybe not for every team’? Where is it not right for every team?

Tim Ferguson: Yeah, it's a good question. I actually had this conversation with a CEO a couple of months ago and I made that statement. He said, ‘Oh, well, what do you mean?” I said, well, the way he framed the question was, “Why do teams not do this?” ‘Cause he said, “It seems like this is, you know, this would just be teamwork 101. Why would a team not do it?” And my answer to that is because it's easier not to. So, that's where the discipline or rigger sits in the model that everyone, or at least a weight of numbers in a team would need to buy into the fact that “yes, I'm open to getting some feedback on my performance and I'm willing to play a role in helping other people to improve”. From that respect, I think not every team is, I guess, is keen on that sort of environment as some.

And I guess, you know, as I talked about the model is an empowerment model and not every leader aligns themselves with the philosophy of empowerment. Look I've seen plenty of teams or plenty of organisations who are successful. And again, depending on how you define success, but some who would define in terms of profitability and bottom line, plenty of organisations make a lot of money without empowering their people. So, I think they're the two key things for me. One is we'd have to believe that empowerment is something that's going to help us and being in a team where we consider that everyone's view is important. Everyone sees things, everyone can contribute. So, everyone's view is important. Not everyone subscribes to that theory. The other one, I guess it's, some teams are quite happy with the status quo. So, they're not necessarily looking to put, you know, a huge investment into improvement. 

Brendan Rogers: Have you come up with any situation with a client or clients where it's the leader or leaders thought they were up for the challenge and then through the course of the engagement, whether that's been months or maybe years, they've actually, it's just got too hard. And if that's the case, how do you work through that?

Tim Ferguson: Yeah, look. Absolutely. Look, I think the first example that popped into my head was a local government authority I worked with in Melbourne, or started to work with. And our facilitator had a couple of meetings with the CEO about, you know, the model and how it works. And, you know, he was very enthusiastic. And in the first session, at lunchtime on the first day, our facilitator said to the CEO, “Look, what do you think about getting some feedback from the group after lunch as the leader?” And the CEO sort of said, “Well, what do you mean?” And our facilitator said, “Well, yeah. I'll go ask the group to give you some feedback.” And the CEO was quite taken aback. His view, or his understanding of implementing a feedback model was that the group would be getting feedback, not him. So, that was a fairly short engagement, would be fair to say because ultimately, he wasn't really open to that, to the feedback.

That's a fairly quick example, but there certainly are periods or times when you do or times when I've dealt with clients where the leader, eventually, it's sort of, you know, they’ve been given feedback over a period of time. And there are things they’re just not prepared to change. So, there have been times absolutely where a leader will sort of say, “Look, this is, you know, we've got something out of this, but we've sort of hit the point where I've had enough feedback.” It is a challenge. And I guess it's creating an environment where feedback is given liberally. That's not, it's not, a lot of organisations and a lot of people, I think associate feedback as well, you know, ‘I've done something wrong’. So, you need to give me feedback. I think really what we're trying to create is an environment where people have genuine conversations and they take many different forms. It's not just about, “Tell me something I can do better”. It's actually a lot really, a big part of feedback is actually acknowledging the things that people do really well. You know, I think there are plenty of studies to show that what most people value in the workplace is feeling valued. So, yeah. Look, I think there are times where leaders get to the point where they feel that it's got a bit hard, I guess, to put it simply. But really, I think it's about creating an environment where people just feel safe to have genuine conversations.

Brendan Rogers: And I always love that term, you know, the genuine conversation. I know that that's a real underpin of the dynamics framework and the high-performing teams framework. Before we go right into that, I think it's important the other two parts of the model around dynamics and health and culture in the organisation, you've mentioned the behavioural framework and agreed behavioural framework and also creating strong professional relationships. Can you give a, just a brief overview of how would an organisation or a leadership group go about creating that?

Tim Ferguson: Yeah, well look. So, I guess when we were working through that with a team, sometimes the question we'll ask first is well, is there behaviour that we accept or tolerate in our team that's counterproductive to high performance? I think quite often, in teams, we have habits or things that we've chosen not to address that people are aware of, but they sort of become just part of what we do day to day. You know. When I, certainly, when I started in the TAFE Institute where I encountered Leading Teams, one of the first things I noticed was that we started meetings late. If we had a 10 o'clock meeting scheduled, it would quite often start at five past or 10 past. It just had this, it was just a recurring behaviour. I noticed it straightaway because the environment I'd come out of, that did not happen.

The Leading Teams facilitator asked us that  question, it was one of the first things that we, as a team, identified. Yeah. Well, you know, that's one thing. It's counterproductive and it's only a little thing. You know, people are five minutes late, but when we started talking about the consequences of that behaviour, there was actually something much bigger than that. Then, it made people feel like that, you know, we were just not as professional as we could have been. We started hearing from people who were chairing meetings say, “Look, you know, when people turn up late ], I just feel like they don’t value what I'm doing, or they don’t, you know, it makes me feel in some way shape or form devalued. Getting us to look in that way. We then looked at, “Okay, well, what would be the behaviour that's sort of the opposite of that?”

And one of the behaviours we developed at the Gordon was we show respect. Really simple, really broad, but we started to use that. And we said, “Well, you know, in relation to meetings, what does show respect mean?” And in the teams that I was a part of, it was seen as simple as well, “If you are going to be late for a meeting and let's face it, we will all be at some point. We have other things we're doing, you know, you're dropping the kids at daycare or school, whatever it is.” But if we agreed and I guess that's the important bit in a behavioural framework, we all agreed that if we're going to be late to a meeting, we would text or call or email the meeting chair. And so, the first time I actually saw that happen, real, and I knew it was going to be real, was we'd had a meeting. One of the managers walked in five minutes late and no one said anything until our youngest team member, who was actually a temp, said, “Well, you’re late.” And I didn't know about it ‘cause we rotated the chair and Tarren was the chair of the meeting and she challenged the behaviour and the room sort of felt solid. Everyone said, “Well, gee. How’s the manager gonna react to that?” But she just took it on the chin and said, “Yeah, you're right. Sorry I've let us down. I didn't let you know I was going to be late and so I apologise."

And it didn't happen again. To answer your question, to look at what behaviour is perhaps counterproductive and then the flip side to that would be okay, showing respect or another behaviour we had was taking responsibility. Just creating a simple framework that's going to allow us to have a conversation. So, quite often, to start the process you're asking, well, are there behaviours or habits that we have that are counterproductive? Now, let's look at, if we had an agreed behaviour that was, we show respect. And we really locked into living, modelling that behaviour, would we get less of the counterproductive stuff? And we did.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, that's such a powerful story. That just to me underpins exactly the power of this, that it doesn't matter what level of the organisation somebody sits. It's that mutual accountability. And when there's agreement around behaviours that should give people some safety to actually challenge each other, whether you're challenging the CEO or somebody else that doesn't matter, but we've all agreed around this. So, we all have a responsibility to keep each other accountable to it. That must've been really powerful for the group.

Tim Ferguson: Oh look, it was. That was, well, it's 11 years ago now. And I remember it like it was yesterday because it was really the point at which I thought, you know, this is going to work. Tarren, as I said, was a temp. I think she was 20, 21 years of age. She’d only been in the team a matter of months. The manager that she challenged actually reported to me. So, I remember Sarah walking into the room and thinking, “Gee, she's late, this is not great.” You know, we agreed this was going to happen, but I didn't sign anything, I didn't have the courage. And that's part of the reason I remember is that I thought I didn't take the opportunity, but here's our 20, 21 year old temp actually stepping out and the way she did it, and we do talk about genuine conversations, she did it genuinely. She wasn't being nasty, but her understanding of what we were trying to do was well, we said we were going to commit to doing this. So, let's commit to doing it. And her ability just to have that conversation with Sarah in that moment, one, it made me realise, “Gee, that's what I should have done.” So, it was sort of, I guess, a temp showing us what real leadership was.

Brendan Rogers: The other part of the, or another part of the model and dynamics and a high-performing team, the strong professional relationships. What does building strong professional relationships mean? And how do you do it?

Tim Ferguson: Look, I think strong professional relationships are what, you know, strong relationships look like can be different. We're all different. We all build relationships differently. What we value in a relationship can be different. I guess what we’re really talking about is can we firstly create enough trust in one another so that we can have the conversation like we just talked about? It's really about creating a relationship where if we are going to have a genuine conversation, genuine is about trusting the person's intent. If you were to have a genuine conversation with me, if we had that relationship where I had that trust in you, I would know that regardless of whether I agree with your feedback or like your feedback, I would know that you're trying to help me. So, your intent and me trusting your intent is critical. And I guess the other thing is that I think if you’re going to have a genuine conversation with me and give me some feedback about my performance, you probably wouldn't do that if you didn't care about me. That's, I think, wrapped up in strong professional relationships.

So, we're encouraging people to have conversations with others in the team about what does a strong professional relationship look like for you? And then, I guess, what are your expectations of me? As you know, we will get team members to actually have a conversation with other team members about the sort of relationship that you and I would like to have. So, it's not really defining, I think. I don't like to define what strong professional relationships look like, because I think they look different for all of us, but ultimately, it is about underpin by high level of trust. I think relationships that have a bit of vulnerability in them. So, I'd be prepared to share something of myself. I'd have an interest in you sharing a bit of yourself and ultimately, can we, in a team, support and challenge each other in whatever way it’s going to help both us and our team?

And I think some people will separate supporting - you're going to support me, or you're going to challenge me. I think of those two as inextricably linked - support and challenge. If we create an environment where we really trust each other, those two can co-exist.

Brendan Rogers: What I'm taking from that, to sum it up a little bit, is that the genuine conversation, the ability to have genuine conversations, actually is what develops strong professional relationships.

Tim Ferguson: Absolutely. I think it works both ways. So, the relationship allows us to have conversations, but if we can have those conversations and we can do it in a safe way, I think that absolutely builds trust.

Brendan Rogers: What I want you to first explain a little bit more is trust. There's a couple of core components to trust. Can you explain those for us?

Tim Ferguson: We do have a pretty simple definition of trust when we're working with teams and really the two key elements to it are competence and character. It does relate back, I guess, a little bit to the mechanics and dynamics. So, the competence bit is more about my technical skill and the character bit tends to be more about my behaviour. So, if you think about in an elite sporting environment, there are varying levels of skill within a team. So, when we're talking, do we trust my, do I trust my teammates’ competence? Do I believe they have the skills to perform on the field at an elite level? And do I trust that they have the competence to deliver or execute those skills under pressure? So, that's the competence bit, and I think you can very easily relate that back to the workplace. As a leader, if you really need to get something done, who would you trust most to do it? And I think most leaders would go, “Okay, well, when we're really under pressure, I would probably go to Brendan or David or whoever it is in my view, probably more experienced and perhaps a higher level of skill.”

So, that's the competence bit and the character bit is firstly, I would trust you if you're good for your word. And the second part I think, you know, relating to the team is would I trust that you would put us, the team, before yourself? When I'm talking to leaders about the level of trust they have in their team members, it really links strongly back to feedback and having genuine conversations. So, again, if you're in the elite sporting environment and I'm a coach and there's a couple of players that I have a question mark over a particular skill, am I playing a role in having the conversation with the player so that they can address it? And ultimately, I guess what we're looking for in an empowered environment that we want the players to be able to have those conversations. If there's a belief that a particular player has a gap, rather than us working around it or not addressing it, let's have the conversation with the player.

I was reading a scenario the other day where a player left a club and he didn't really know why he’d been cut. And I sort of thought, “Geez, you know, the coaches have really missed an opportunity there. One to help their club, I mean, how far back did they know the gap existed? Why didn't they help the player address it, but to allow a player to leave your club and still not be clear for me is just negligent in your duties as a coach. If you were observing me do my job and you saw something you thought I could improve, I'd love it if you just help me out with that feedback. In a team, do we think that, you know, certain people could improve in certain areas, whether it's skill-based or in terms of their behaviour, why wouldn't we want to create an environment where we could actually help people?

And that's really, I guess, central to the model that we're working with with teams. We want teams to create that high-trust environment, because that does allow, you know, you, I'm sure you've read the, the Stephen Covey book, The Speed of Trust. “High trust equals high performance."

Brendan Rogers: Let's go on to genuine conversation. One of the things you taught me actually is about the 3RS for feedback, the productive R’s and the unproductive R’s.

Tim Ferguson: As you've seen, I mean, part of what we're doing is giving individuals the opportunity to receive feedback from a group. And I think Leading Teams has a bit of a reputation, I’ve read stuff in the media where, you know, we put people out in the front and the group sort of throw rocks at them. As you would know, there's a little bit more to it than that. It's an opportunity for that person to get feedback from their peers. And we think that's a really powerful tool because it's not just getting feedback from the individual. I get to hear the view from the team and there's a certain level, I think, of power and gravity attached to that.

So, quite often, if you're sitting with your team and they're giving you some feedback, sometimes our natural reaction can be to sort of defend or just not be as open to just hearing the feedback. And that's what we're encouraging people to do, receive the feedback. So, that's the first R, just receive the feedback. The second one is reflect. In that situation. We're not looking to sort of open up a broader conversation. We just want that person to just hear what the team are telling you, and you will have the opportunity then to go away and reflect on it. Because quite often, what people hear in that moment of receiving the feedback is actually quite different to what they perceive.

Once they have the opportunity to go away and, you know, if they’re reading what's on the feedback sheets and thinking about what they've heard, their reaction to it will be quite different. So, receive, reflect prior to, then responding. And you know, if I have a leader who's receiving feedback from a team, I'll say, “Look. Go away. Reflect on what you've heard. And when you come back to the team, I'd like you to let the team know, what did you hear? What are you going to do as a result? And it doesn't mean every bit of feedback you receive you have to act on. That's a choice. And then what support would you like from the team?”

So, I had a CEO getting some  feedback a couple of weeks ago, and they asked him to stop using a certain type of negative language in meetings. And he was aware of it. And when he came back and responded to the team, he said, “Look. I'm going to need your help with that one, because I think sometimes I do it, and I'm actually not aware I'm doing it.” That conversation allowed, he gave the team permission to pick him up. And as a result, he’s better placed to work on it. So, they're the 3Rs in what we would say is a productive feedback exchange - receive, reflect, respond. The opposite to that in what could be a counterproductive feedback exercise is resist, react, reject. And that's quite often can be a human, you know, if we hear some feedback that we might not like, or we want to react to it in that moment, and what can come across in that behaviour is that you're showing the team, “No, I'm not open to that feedback.”

So, having the opportunity to reflect on is a really important one, because if you're in that moment and you do react to the feedback when you hear it, the response can be counterproductive. If you are the leader of the team, and you’re demonstrating that resistance or rejection of the feedback, you can really kill it right there and then. Team members have sort of, have the understanding, “Well, no. They're not really open to the feedback.” So, you will find that people will feel not as safe to give it.

Brendan Rogers: Tell us about a situation where, maybe, that feedback process you've set up, you’ve briefed the leader, where has it gone pear-shaped?

Tim Ferguson: I guess one that springs to mind, the framework we use for the feedback is, you know, “What three words would you use to describe this person? And what would you ask them to stop doing, start doing, keep doing?”

Working with an executive team. They were giving the leader some feedback, doing a peer assessment. One of the groups, one of the words they used to describe the leader was ‘defensive’. They found sometimes, if they wanted to give her feedback, she would shut it down pretty quickly with a response. When the group gave her the feedback, so the person giving the feedback read out the three words, and one of them was defensive. The leader actually rose out of her chair and started to defend, or I think the first question she asked was, “Well, what do you mean by defensive?” She was actually almost physically out of her chair and I sort of had to encourage her to sit down and say, “Well, potentially, that's what they're talking about.” It was a pretty awkward situation, I guess, at first, but it allowed the team to have a really good conversation about their hesitation or reticence in giving her feedback. And she was good enough to actually catch herself saying “Oh yeah, Gee, I can see what you mean.” So, what could have been actually quite an awkward scenario actually turned into a really good conversation and I think it helped her immeasurably being able to be in that situation and actually feel for herself what they were talking about.

Brendan Rogers: We've talked a lot about the individual leader and particularly, the conversations and the feedback around the individual's behaviour. Does this also work for team on team? And if so, how would you set that process up?

Time Ferguson: I do quite a bit of work. I work in a couple of large organisations and some of that work will involve getting teams within the organisation together to talk about how they can best work together. I guess I'll give you an example that I was in myself to probably illustrate the best I could.

When I was working in the TAFE, we had a restructure and I inherited the marketing team. And one of the things I became aware of pretty quickly was that the marketing teams relationship or their relationship with one of their faculties was really, really poor. And the language that the marketing team were using around this faculty and some of the language I heard from the faculty was, you know, really negative. So, I thought, “Yeah. We need to do something.” And so, I actually had a chat to our Leading Team’s facilitator and said, “Look, I wouldn't mind just getting the marketing team and these guys together and have a conversation.” And he said, “Yeah, great. Let's do that.”

So, we scheduled a session. There was a six leaders leadership group from the marketing team. And I think there were five from the faculty that came together. And our facilitator, Craig, said, “Look, we're here to look at how we can have a more productive working relationship.” So, we've got a bit of time to spend here together. First thing I want you to do is just write down what your expectations are of the other team. And so, yeah, great. So, we spent about 10 or 15 minutes.  Myself and the marketing leaders and we made a list of things that we thought we wanted from them. And the faculty leaders did the same for us. And Craig asked us to read them out and he put them up on a whiteboard. And when the responses from the faculty leaders went up on the whiteboard, I could feel the colour drain out of my face, because what was apparent really quickly is that they really had no idea what we did. And when they’d finished the list and we were sort of looking at each other, “Okay.” The problem was apparent immediately. And that was, we were never going to meet their expectations because they really did not understand our role. And it was a bit the same in reverse. So, what we were able to do is actually say, “Okay, well, how do we want our relationship to look?”

And we had a conversation around that. Each group gave a bit of an overview of what they did. So, we got an understanding, a deeper understanding of the roles that we played. And then we just got some agreement around, “Well, how do we want the relationship to look like moving forward?” And it was a couple of really, really simple things. I think, when you're part of a session like that, you wonder why we didn't do it before, but we didn't. So, it was really just, again, two teams coming together to actually have a genuine conversation and just to get some clarity around what is our purpose in working together. And I think the great thing, you know, in an organisation, somewhere you can connect, no matter if the role of the team is different, somewhere, you can connect to a higher level purpose. And for us in the TAFE, it was about doing the best we could for our students.

That's what they were there for and we were too. We do a lot of work with bringing teams together and really the model applies equally as well. What's our relationship look like? Do we really trust each other? What sort of behaviour are we seeing from each other that's productive? What are we seeing that's counterproductive? Can we actually talk about it? Can we agree that moving forward, whatever has happened in the past, can we agree to a way to move forward? And then ultimately, can we continue to come together to review what we've agreed to? And that's really the important part. I think it's one thing to agree to something, but it's actually reviewing and being able to again, to just review. I'd be like, well, yep. We've hit the mark in these three or four areas, but no, I think we're still probably not hitting the mark here. And we just continue to have those conversations.

Brendan Rogers: You've been involved with Leading Teams since 2012. If you could just sum up your learnings from, I guess, those successes and failures, what does that look like for you?

Tim Ferguson: There is something that is so rewarding to facilitate sessions, to work with a client where there is strong leadership, there's a belief in empowerment, there's a genuine commitment to helping others, there's alignment, and there's clarity about purpose and clarity about goals and outcomes. For me, there's absolutely nothing better than being involved in that process. Personally, there's nothing better than being involved in a team. And that's the Leading Teams team that actually commit to living that model ourselves. And that doesn't mean we're perfect by any means. I mean, some of the reviews that we've conducted in our own team where we've been behaving or operating or, you know, not doing some of the things we should have, we should have been. We're just like any other team. We're all human, but we certainly have the ability and the willingness to actually continue to come back to the table to have those conversations. So, where it's successful is the commitment to one another and that's in the relationships and a commitment to getting better, to improvement.

So, I think that's where the success is. The success is for me, it's actually not always being successful. It's actually making mistakes. It's learning from them. It's, I said to a group the other day, we were doing some work on relationships and I said, look, we were talking about a relationship assessment exercise, where we're getting some clarity around the sort of relationships we want. I said to the group, “I've been working with some of my colleagues at Leading Teams for six, seven, eight years. I'm still learning how to work with them more effectively.”

And I think I'll always continue to try and do that. So, that's the success bit, but I think, you know, where you're in that environment where you just have that genuine commitment to those, having those conversations, to supporting challenging, helping one another, to being a part of a high-performance team, it's a very, very rewarding thing to be involved in. What I've learned from failures, I think the model applies equally to me as a facilitator when I'm working with clients, you know. Sometimes, where it hasn't worked my relationship with the leader or the leaders hasn't been strong enough. Sometimes, I haven't had the conversations or address things as quickly as I should have. I think there are many organisations where it hasn't worked, and I've always taken something away that I could learn from, but I think ultimately, it's a reflective piece. What could I have done? And in my own personal trademark, one of my words is responsible. If it doesn't work, I'm always looking first or what more could I have done. Understanding that, you know, if you don't have an environment where people have the commitment to having the conversation, that’s, you know, sometimes, that's not there and that will impact, but I think, ultimately, it's always to me about what could I have done.

Brendan Rogers: I know, through one of the articles you wrote some time ago in 2018, you talked about at some length, the recruitment process you went through for employing, I think it was Shelly at the time. Can you just give a bit of a, you know, a summarised version in a few minutes of the process you guys went through as Leading Teams to make sure that you were getting the right person and the activities that were involved in that. ‘Cause it was a pretty rigorous process or most would say, it's a pretty rigorous process compared to their current interview process. But for you guys, it's pretty normal.

Tim Ferguson: Yeah. Look, I guess I'd say firstly, the normal recruitment put an ad out, get someone's resume, get them into an interview, put them into a job and I'm sort of generalising a bit, but I'm not, I've never been convinced that's the best way to find people to best fit your organisation. So, you're talking about Shelly's recruitment process and it is a process we follow when recruiting new facilitators, we do put the ad out and we ask for people to apply. But the first interview is, we ask the people we shortlist for interview to bring three items of personal significance with them. And that's really just to bring three objects, that would help us understand them as a person, as a human being. It sort of sits in the trust model, a little bit character competence. This is more about the character.

We want to get an understanding of who we're employing before we can get an understanding of what they’ll bring. That's the first exercise. You know, people will bring three objects and just tell a story about themselves. We then, you know, we want to get a sense of their experience, you know, have they facilitated, do they understand the Leading Teams model? Can they live it? It's a huge part of what we're about is living what we do.

And the second interview, once we, I think with Shelly, I think we interviewed seven people and then we carried four through to the second interview. And then we got all four of those people together. And effectively, we ran a leading team session where we were asking the four to share a bit about themselves and to present the Leading Teams model, to present what their first 90 days would look like. And then we asked them to give each other feedback. We wanted to see how they would go in that environment. So, effectively, you've got a job interview where you are critiquing the other applicants and they are critiquing you. And then at the end of that session, we spent a morning with the four. We asked the group, “Well, based on what you've seen, if it was your decision, who would you employ?” And of those four, three said, “Well, we think Shelly should get the job.” The only one that didn't was her, actually.

Brendan Rogers: What I'd like you to go into is that personal trademark. I want you to share what that is for you. And it comes around to that question when Leading Teams is really strong around what is your leadership legacy? So, can you touch on those points for us?

Tim Ferguson: Yeah. Sure, Brendan. Look, we talked about the agreed behavioural framework. What we get teams to also do is create a trademark for their team, which is really, well, what's the DNA, or how do we want to be seen as a team? And then the agreed behaviours are really about, well, if we want to be that team, the agreed behaviours will then, well, what does that look like in action? So, I guess a personal trademark is really the personal component of that. So, for me, I have four words in my personal trademark - responsible, invested, caring, and honest. And each of those words mean something for me, but it's ultimately how I want to be seen, how I want my legacy to be both professionally and personally. As a facilitator, as a husband, as a father, what do I want my legacy to be?

And once I've gotten it, and it's a, you know, it's a process to work through. Self-reflection, getting some feedback, really trying to understand yourself and understand what you're trying to be to bring it down into something really, really simple that I have real clarity. It doesn't mean I do it all the time, but I'm not perfect, but I have something that gives me real clarity about how I want to behave. And I use that when I’m at home, I could be doing some preparation for the following day’s session, but I'll, invested for me means, well no, I need to be playing with my kids. So, it just gives me some clarity over my decision-making. And then I can then use it as a review tool. So, if I do a session with a client or I've had a weekend with my family, did I do what I wanted to do? Would I have been seen the way I want to be seen? So, it's really, really simple tool, but for me, personally, and for many people that I work with in this space, it's a very powerful tool.

Brendan Rogers: And mate, that trademark and that legacy for you as a leader, that is something that back in May 2015 was a really challenging moment for you. And particularly, for somebody that, you know, lives these things, the caring and responsible and honest. Tell us a bit about that experience back in May 2015 and the challenges you face and the confrontation you had with your own personal trademark and living that through this news that you received.

Tim Ferguson: Yeah. Well, in 2015, I actually had gone to Bowral, I was living in Victoria at the time. I’d gone up to Bowral to play golf with a couple of mates. I was up there for a mate's wedding the following day. And I got a phone call, which ultimately, was confirmation of our only son at the time having muscular dystrophy, which is a degenerative condition and a pretty serious one. So, yeah. It was a big moment, I guess for me. It was a big moment for my wife, for our family and Genevieve, my wife, was 37 weeks pregnant at that point. So, we were about to have our second child. So, it really, look, it turned our life upside down and you know, it took me, I had to drive from Bowral to the airport in Sydney, fly back to Melbourne and then an hour and a half to get home.

It was, yeah, it was fair to say it was an excruciating day, that one. But I think to have a personal trademark has helped me through that. I think it's just a bit of a safety net. It gives you something that you can build belief in yourself in. When you can go through a tough day, and sit down and review and say, yeh I actually, I know today was tough, but I got through it.” And it helps, I guess, as an affirmation or to build belief that you can do certain things that perhaps you thought you couldn't.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, thank you so much for sharing that. Let's wrap this conversation up now. And I always like to ask people, if you could give one bit of advice to leaders, what would that advice be?

Tim Ferguson: I think my simple response would be is to embrace feedback as a starting point. Whatever you're trying to be as a leader or whatever you're trying to achieve as a leader, I think sometimes to actually get some feedback from the people you lead, your peers, the people that lead you, if you have people that you report into or just to embrace feedback. Get people's view. Be open to hearing how people see you, perceive you. I think it's a great starting point. And I think, sometimes, it can actually be a real lesson that if you go to other people and say, what three words would you use to describe me as a leader? And why would you use those words? Ultimately, you might find, well, the first thing is, are people comfortable to give you that feedback? ‘Cause that can give you an insight into the level of trust that you've built with people around you. So, I think that'd be my one piece of advice, get some feedback, listen to what people say and do something with it.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, thank you very much for sharing. One last question. How can people get hold of you if they want to have a chat or just touch base?

Tim Ferguson: Well, Leading Teams website is probably the place to go. That's www.leadingteams.net.au. There are fifteen Leading Teams facilitators around Australia. So, look, we are always interested in having a conversation with leaders, with team members who are interested in looking at ways they can improve performance.

Brendan Rogers: Thank you, mate. And I just want to add to that. I would encourage people to, when they go onto the Leading Teams website, just have a look at some of the articles you've written. I think you're a fantastic writer. You're so reflective. You articulate yourself so well and you write around real situations. So, one thing I'd encourage you to do, and if you want to take this feedback is mate, if you can write more because I think people will really get huge value out of what you have to say.

Thanks for being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast. Really appreciate it.

Tim Ferguson: (Oh look, thanks too for the chat, Brendan. I really enjoyed it. And I will certainly take your feedback on board.  

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Brendan Rogers: I feel extremely fortunate in my life to have connected with some amazing people. Tim Ferguson is one of those people. Tim and I don't talk to each other often, but whenever we do, for me, it just feels like I'm talking to a mate that I've known forever. For as long as I've known Tim, he has always practiced what he preaches. He is honest and genuine in his assessment of any given situation. He talked about his personal trademarks - responsible, invested, caring, and honest. I know Tim embodies these every single day. As he said, he's not perfect, but he continually reflects and challenges himself to be better. And to live up to his trademarks, which are his leadership legacy.

These were my three key takeaways after my conversation with Tim.

My first key takeaway. A key ingredient for successful teams is a lack of self-interest. Tim shared this perspective from when he attended a talk from James Tomkins, who was a member of the Oarsome Foursome rowing team. For teams to be successful, everyone on the team must put the team before themself. As Tim said, a champion team understands the collective best, not the individual best.

My second key takeaway. High-performance teams set behavioural standards and review against them. The Leading Team Model refers to this as an agreed behavioural framework. Setting a behavioural standard creates a baseline for improvement. If this is not defined, the team has nothing to review their behaviours against. This process seems simple but believe me, the challenge is in the discipline of reviewing and holding each other accountable to the behavioural standard.

My third key takeaway. Leaders embrace and encourage feedback. Feedback involves creating an environment to have genuine conversations and genuine conversations involve trusting the person's intent. Remember, feedback should not only be associated with doing something wrong. It is also about acknowledging when people do something well. Why don't all leaders embrace and encourage feedback? Because as Tim said, it is easier not to.

So, in summary, a key ingredient for successful teams is a lack of self-interest. High-performance teams set behavioural standards, and review against them, leaders embrace and encourage feedback.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.