Performance | Jun 3, 2021
A summary of key learnings from Leaders Performance Institute members across the month of May.

May was another fruitful month of learning across the Leaders Performance Institute as we addressed a couple of pressing themes aligned to the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week and much more. We once again had a packed schedule of of learning across our Communities of Practice, Virtual Roundtables and network connections, which have driven both quality discussion and considerations for all.

By Luke Whitworth

As always, these varieties of learning opportunities, interactions and conversations brought together practitioners from across high performance to discuss their current challenges and immediate priorities through a number of different learning environments.

So what really stood out to us in May? Which key themes came through strongly? Where do we need to get better? Here, we outline the key takeaways.

Community Group Calls:

Across our Community Group conversations, which bring together Leaders Performance Institute members with similar job functions and challenges. This month across all of our communities of practice, we reverted back to more topic-led discussions after taking a break from this format and instead focusing on open forum discussions – the open forums unearthed some interesting areas which we gave attention to in May’s conversations.

Reviewing competition across talent pathways

When one of our communities of practice was asked about current thinking, one area that stimulated deep conversation was whether due to the impacts of the pandemic, we need to rethink competition across our pathways – do we need to be more innovative and challenge traditional norms?

Although we didn’t have all the answers, a few interesting threads did come through from the conversation which are worth considering and how they might align to your respective environments:

  • Capturing and mapping of experiences post-competition: you can go into a competition knowing what it is, so you are able to identify what benefits the players should be getting. However, a major consideration is that, depending on how it plays out, the experience they get could be very different depending on the result and the environment. How can we get better at capturing this?
  • Coaching and developing coaches in competition as opposed to standard coaching environments: this was a good reflection from the group, in particular not just thinking about how you develop coaches in formal, education-based environments but how that looks and works in more pressured environments.
  • Games programmes for young players: we must not lose sight of the competition framework we have got for our youngest entrant players and ensuring the point of entry programme for our athletes is right. We discussed the impact of this in English football and the positive impact it has had on certain individuals performing well in the England national team setups.
  • The importance of the stretch process for your talents: your best players need to have the opportunity to progress at the rate they need to, but it needs to be in the context of highly competitive, varied environments that help them go through that realisation process of what they are like as a competitor and what they need in order to excel. We shouldn’t over-manicure that, but by over-creating the right environments for that the best players will naturally and very quickly adjust. The importance of this is critical within the pathway.

Exploring the art of momentum

Across one of our communities of practice dedicated to top-level coaching, we identified the theme of individual vs. group coaching as one to explore in more detail. The context behind this was that often we have come through systems where there is ‘black and white’ thinking and binary rules around how people should be coached, which in theory doesn’t make much sense as everyone is different.

Curiously, the conversation around this thread led us down an interesting path aligned to momentum and its relationship with different styles of coaching. In relation to individual vs. group coaching, we talked about how you can pre-load those setup sessions and create scenarios where the players have the best opportunities to deal with those situations. The question we asked ourselves was how much of the pressure is placed on the individual or the group, or is it more of an amalgamation of the two?

One of the members of the group shared how they were going to trial this in practice: ‘something we are going to try in training is an exploration of in-game momentum, discussing how over the course of a long while the team have put themselves in strong positions, but lose some momentum in the game at key points – how this linked individual vs. group coaching as an overarching thread is that we will have some discussions in smaller groups where we are hoping we will get some insight into personal experiences that is then shared with others – from this we get that focus on how it can be dealt with individually, but also what it means for a group setting, such as that everybody can support others in these situations. To provide stimulus, we are using a game from the NBA Playoffs in 1992, Game 6 between the Bulls and the Trail Blazers. It is an interesting analysis of everything from body language to crowd etc’.

A final consideration for us all: ‘we find that a lot of players “forget to play” when momentum shifts. This is something we need to keep revisiting as coaches. The only reason for this is what is going on in our brains, so understanding that and finding out ways to counteract it’.

Virtual Roundtables:

In May, we ran three Virtual Roundtables, which featured two topic-led discussions aligned to the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week (Psycho-Social Support & Fostering Vulnerability in Our Environments) and the third part of our Leadership Skills Series, where we focused on teamwork and collaboration. Here’s some of what resonated across the conversations.

Getting better at teamwork and collaboration as a competitive advantage

The third instalment of our Leadership Skills Series focused on the theme of teamwork & building skills. High performance is a collective endeavour – ‘the quality of connections between people is more important than individual talent in determining how well we will perform’. However, we perhaps know more about how to get the most out of individual performance than we do collective performance.

We talked about the two types of teamwork: teamwork itself and ‘teaming’. What are the differences?

  • When we think about high performing teams, what comes up in our mind is a stable team – a group of people who know they are a team, they spend time together so relationships and trust builds (Teamwork).
  • There is also a different type of teamwork that is important for performance, but one we haven’t tended to focus on as much. It is a notion of getting people who don’t know each other that well, performing together really fast (Teaming).
  • The reality is, in a lot of organisations, the problem-solving process is much closer to ‘teaming’. If you want to get really good at teaming, the key insight is getting individuals to start to take more responsibility for their collaborative behaviours. What people tend to do in organisations is notice where teamwork between functions isn’t working but they become passive with the behaviours around it.

Four Skills of Effective ‘Teaming’ 

1. Building high trust relationships. Act as if there is trust immediately. Reach across silos – focus on shared interest. Invest time and energy in building relationships. Let go of baggage. Show respect – make people feel important.

2. Speaking up – contribute; sharing knowledge, insights and ideas.

3. Listening up – situational humility (open to what we don’t know). Let go of ‘right & wrong’. Proactively seek out and be open to other people’s insights, and views. Lead with questions.

4. Facilitation / Diamond thinking. Help the group to make effective decisions and use time. Rapidly drawing out everyone’s input, before evaluating those ideas in order to make a decision.

Finally, what is getting in the way of quality collaboration and, in turn, what are some of the best organisations doing to mitigate this? How does this look or work in your environments?

What is inhibiting quality collaboration?

1. Unequal contribution – who speaks is determined by personality and / or status.

2. Groupthink.

3. Tribal – we are naturally less open with people we see as part of a different group.

4. Lack of psychological safety leading people to withhold their thoughts.

5. Fixed positions and defensiveness.

6. Lack of strategic focus – we don’t use time effectively in meetings.

What are high performing teams working on to ensure quality collaboration?

1. Equal contribution.

2. Diversity of different ideas and perspectives – if you want a good, creative discussion, get people to write down their thoughts first.

3. See everyone as part of the same tribe, focus on shared interests.

4. Encourage people to speak up, and challenge with skilled candour.

5. Staying open and curious about different views to our own. Welcoming challenge.

6. Focus on a few important conversations. Use a diamond structure.

Fostering vulnerability in your environment

Vulnerability – this has certainly become much more of a buzzword in the last few years when thinking about top level leadership and high performing organisations despite it not being a new phenomenon. I think we can all agree, leadership and organizational dynamics are changing – certainly notions such as psychological safety, wellbeing, vulnerability etc. are playing an enormous role in this evolution.

We wanted to take stock of where our collective thinking was in relation to vulnerability and what individuals and organisations were trying in their respective environments to ensure this notion is better integrated across the organisational culture. Instead of writing a paragraph, below are the top lines takeaways that the participants shared at the end of the call:

  • Are we willing to be open and honest to ourselves? Living true to the values we are supposed to carry on ourselves vs. what the organisation maybe demanding of us. As leaders, are we creating a safe space where it is OK for people to be open with their feelings and what they are really feeling?
  • When you are not ready to do something, be open to say you are not ready to do that vs. needing to do something to try and succeed at it – make sure somebody knows that. If you are not ready, the undue pressure can cause the demise of that individual.
  • Think about practical applications towards fostering vulnerability: five things about your story.
  • Consider running and reviewing Annual Culture Health Checks to benchmark against culture and productivity.
  • Story: think about your own and others’ and how that interweaves into their role. Everyone has their own story, so use it to empower others.
  • Empathy: are we teaching empathy? How can we develop that thinking within the environment?
  • Role model behaviours as coaches and continue to focus on influencing upwards.
  • If you ‘can’t take on the mission’ or if you are having a bad day, how do we prevent off-days resulting in career drops? We expect athletes to be at their highest level everyday so what can we do to prevent a snowballing effect?

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