Teams are a hot topic
Team performance is a hot topic at the moment, especially given the rise in distributed teams and the critical importance teams play in just about every organisation. We find the appetite among our members for research on teams and team performance grows year on year.
In this podcast, David interviews one of our members, Keegan Luiters about his new book Team Up: Take a deliberate approach to team performance.
Team up – The book
Team Up is available from:
Keegan is a member of the review and runs a consultancy practice in Australia. He is a speaker, coach, consultant, facilitator and author and runs a practice focussed on teams and team performance.
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Team Performance Transcript
– Welcome back. Today I’ve got a Keegan, who has written a very interesting book called “TEAM UP, a deliberate approach to team performance.” Welcome Keegan. Do you just want to just kick off first by telling us something about yourself, what you do you? And what kind of led up to the writing of the book?
– Yeah great, thanks David. Thanks for having me. I run my own practice and my practice centers around this idea of taking a deliberate approach to team performance. My background is pretty varied, I’ve sort of meandered my way through a range of different industries and the common theme throughout all of those has been sort of people and performance. Just whether it’s been sort of through my initial sporting background, through cricket and where that led me, and then through education into roles in a range of different industries and I guess most recently, the thing that has really pointed me in the direction that I’m heading now is a Masters of Business Coaching, that I did through Sydney Business School down here. And that was really… going into that program really opened my eyes to where I wanted to go. I sort of felt like I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, which is sort of the meandering career path and then it became clear that this was a really good mix of all the things I loved and all the things I wanted to learn more about around coaching in a business and organizational setting. So what I do now is I coach leaders, I facilitate programs, I deliver training programs, all designed, yeah as I said around this idea of helping people take a deliberate approach to team performance. And the way that phrase came from is that I was hearing a lot about how important teams work for organizational performance and how important leaders were and how they all wanted their teams to be doing better. And I just started asking people like really simple questions, like right okay, so do you have a deliberate approach to how you support high-performing teams? And kept getting the same sort of quizzical look keep sort of getting, “erm, well no.” And the upshot was basically people just kind of seem to either throw people together and assume that you know, hard, smart working, sorry, smart hardworking people are gonna somehow work together all the time, even though there’s plenty of evidence of that, that doesn’t happen. Or that I was sort of using some models, that I had a couple of questions around about how relevant they worked for the operating environment that we had. So that’s what led me to sort of starting to explore this as a concept and then putting it out there. So, yeah, TEAM UP is the outcome of that.
– Okay, great. So you were mentioning high-performing teams, what do you actually mean by that?
– So it’s really interesting. What I mean by a high performing team is a team that delivers on what it needs to in a way that is sustainable. And so it doesn’t burn out the people in there, it doesn’t overly use the resources internally or externally, and it can continue to do that. And I think one of the hallmarks of high-performing teams, probably always, but especially now is the ability to adapt and respond to the context that they’re operating in. And so high-performing teams, in my view, continue to deliver results without, in a sustainable way I guess, is the the element that sometimes is easy to overlook.
– Yeah and so what’s interesting is given what’s happening now with COVID, there’s been a huge rise in kind of virtual teams and people having to kind of come together online, a little bit like we are, and through Zoom and-
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– Teams and all the rest of it. So is that having an impact on the ability to be able to develop high-performing teams?
– I think so. I think it’s gonna be really interesting to watch what happens here. And I think one of the differences that most of the teams that are now remote, either fully or partially remote, are doing so having already come together and worked at some point, having some sort of established relationship. And so, unlike you and I for example, we’ve never met face to face so it’s a different relationship to if we had met face to face and then we jumped onto Zoom, but nonetheless there’s still definitely the need for people to… and it’s one of the advantages for people who’ve been taking a more adaptive, responsive approach to teams, they’re in a better position right now, than those who had sort of more centrally controlled and hierarchical. So that’s one of the advantages, but there’s still people sort of muddling, finding their way through. None of us had sort of planned for this, you know, 12 months ago to be here. And I think it still comes around the definition of what you think that attain is, what you think it means to be a team. And so that’s the a lot of the conversations I have is that well, interesting you use the word virtual, and I sort of kind of hope the bear a little bit with people and sort of say let’s not have virtual teams, let’s just have remote teams sort of virtual implies this thing that’s not quite real. And yet I think we can have real teams that are remote.
– [David] Yeah. And so I think that’s one of the conversations I’ve been having with leaders and teams is that we can still have all of these things that are the hallmarks of a team, just doing it remotely, but it takes a requirement. It also takes an understanding of what what a team is and how they operate in order to do that.
– Yeah. So what do you see the difference is between say a team and a group for example, you know, what is a team for you?
– Well, I’ve borrowed the classic Katzenbach and Smith definition of a team, so a small group of people who share a common purpose and objective, I may miss a couple of these words, but who hold each other mutually accountable and work in that way. And so part of what that is, the implication of that, is that they have their own purpose and identity that is aligned to the organization’s objectives, but is not automatically inherited and so there’s sort of importance of that. And it’s certainly around this idea of what do the team members do, do they just need to follow the orders and execute on what this hold or do they contribute and share some of those leadership responsibilities? And I think that’s one of the hallmarks is that they shared leadership as opposed to centralized hierarchy called leadership, that’s one of the things around real teams. And in essence, it’s about them being greater than the sum of their parts, about sort of the alchemy, you know, that somehow we can leverage each other’s strengths and capabilities to be, to do stuff interdependently, that we can’t do independently.
– I think there’s also, there’s a difference in experience being within a team or being within a group, a sense of cohesion and also a sense of predictability, that you can kind of predict what the group of the people are doing, you trust them, is a sense of-
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– Togetherness, but it’s there’s a sense of cohesion, where all the parts are working together, rather than-
– parts not working with you know, so there’s more conflict in groups and things like this.
– Yeah, absolutely. That cohesion, it’s a big part of the framework that I’ve set up here that without it, it’s really hard to imagine how you can be greater than the sum of your parts. If you haven’t found a way to work well together, you can only ever be the sum of your parts or less, if you’re not adding to the next person’s role or the previous, you know each other, it’s just not going to elevate you to that idea of being greater than the sum of your parts. And so that, that cohesion is so important to that. And I think you’re right, around there’s some subjectivity around this the experience that one of the phrases I use in the book is like they’re humans, not resources. And so in groups, we can often feel like we’re just a resource and if I wasn’t here, someone else would just come here and do it and I’m just a cog in this machine. Whereas you know, the experience of great teams is that you feel like your unique perspective experience and values add to this team and that they’re valued there. And I think that’s one of the real things that the high-performing teams offer their members and so it’s a really great experience, you know anyone that if we think of the best team you’ve been a part of, well it’s a pretty good part of this, you know, it’s a good little period of your life, even if it’s only for a few weeks.
– Yes, yes, definitely. And I think it’s important and that experience tends to get missed out in a lot of kind of dialogues about teams, you know, they talk about structures and goals and things like that, but actually internal experience of being part of something that’s working together, and that’s something that’s drawing on your own expertise and knowledge is really important part of this because those emotions make a big difference.
– [Keegan] Absolutely.
– So what, you know, it’s in the title of the book, deliberative practice, what do you actually mean by that?
– I think it’s really influenced by Anders Ericsson’s work around deliberate practice. So this idea that you know, the, you know, there’s a bit of that debate that even sure you’ll be familiar with it around, do you just, you know, is volume of practice more important or is the quality a factor as well? And yes, you made a lot of practice, but you need it to be the right type of practice. And I’m experiencing that right now with my golf. I realized that recently I haven’t got better over the last 15 years, I’ve just been doing the same sorts of things and haven’t been improving and just discovered nearby a practice facility that gives me a lot of feedback and I can get the right guidance, I can get a couple of lessons and all of a sudden I can change the trajectory of my performance. And I think there’s around that with teams, just because we’ve been parts of lots of teams, just because we’ve had a lot of experience around, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re improving the performance of those teams. And so the opportunity to sit back and reflect and go, well, what do we think it takes to make a team work well together? And let’s run almost like running some experience, does this work for us? Does this work for us and calling on the evidence that we’ve got available to us and sort of saying we think that this is likely to improve performance, and it almost always does by paying some closer attention to it and noticing some things, rather than just continuing on the path that you’re already down. And it may be even, I often say this to people, it’s like having an eye test, if you go and you go through this process and go, your optician says, “yep, you’re okay, your your script doesn’t need to change.” You can actually go forward for the next 12 months with a lot more confidence as opposed to you know, have I got the right script in? So at worst that’s sort of what can happen when we look to take a deliberate approach. Almost always though it leads to people going, yeah I think we’ve just, we’ve missed this opportunity. I think if we do these things, we can implement better approaches. And so I think it’s that, it’s the idea of having a plan and having an intent of how you will either establish or maintain or improve your team’s performance
– And because you raised the issue right at the head of the discussion that we’re having here about sports teams. And there’s a big difference between sports teams and business teams particularly is you know, I don’t know any top flight sports teams that don’t have a coach for example, which comes back to this idea of deliberative practice.
– And I just wondered if you wanted to just say something about that and why that’s so important and you know why business teams are usually quite missing out on this idea of deliberative practice.
– Yeah, I think it is so interesting, you know, as part of my master’s degree I interviewed people from both sport and business environments around their experience in teams and then I was trying to see what was similar and what was different. And certainly that’s one of the things that they’ve got you know, their practice to performance ratios almost inverse to what is in the business environment, you know, so you’ve spent 99% of your working life training and you spend one to 5% of your time playing or performing. And it’s probably the other way around for businesses and that’s probably reflective as well around the type of feedback that they’re getting, someone external to that team who can see and notice what individual people need, what collectively is going and being able to provide a lot of that feedback. And that’s just not what happens in business environments. There’s not often people that can observe and notice. And it’s part of what, you know, the role of the leader often becomes or people within the team, becomes that person to try and identify those patterns of behavior, the way that people are interacting, and how to lift the capability of everyone else, but you know, I think it was some of Hackman’s work that they talked about the importance of a coach in team performance, and it is. And again much like leadership, it’s less important about the title, but almost the actions of a coach. You know, coaching is more important than a coach, that there is coaching. and but I think, you know, obviously not an unbiased position, but an external coach is something that can offer a whole bunch of value to a lot of teams because it’s just those fresh eyes that can observe and provide that feedback and help steer those practices for each of those teams.
– Yeah and it’s important also because they’re not caught up in the daily process of the team of trying to get things done is that they can actually observe from a more objective point of view and then give feedback, which comes back to this whole idea of deliberative practice and kind of just moving on from our own feedback and exactly as you’re saying, you know, you can do tennis, golf, and actually you’re not improving very much. It’s not until an expert comes in and says hang on a minute. You know, hold the club like this, or here’s your swing or this is what I’m noticing about this situation that then they, you know the performance really starts to improve. And it’s-
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– that kind of feedback that’s outside of my own experience because I can only see what I can see.
– Yeah, that’s so true. And you know, or you know that even a tennis or a golf coach sort of saying, “did you know that you’re doing this every time before?” “Oh no, I didn’t, I didn’t know that.” Is that normal that these habits that creep in, creep in to our, you know, ways of working, can easily happen, but in that objectivity and that distance, that as opposed to being subject and being a part of that conversation or those interactions is very, very valuable for all sorts of performance and teams are no exception.
– Yes. And it’s also our own perception of feedback. So in business and things, you know, if we go to a meeting and I don’t know we’re selling something, we don’t get the sale, our assumptions about what that feedback means, and actually what the feedback means could be two very different things. And quite often we can end up thinking that we’ve got some feedback, when we complete misconception about what we’re actually seeing and thinking because it’s from our perspective.
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– And you know that becomes
– [Keegan] Yeah. a real problem for lots of organizations. So-
– Yeah, absolutely. And again, I think that for teams it’s same deal.
– Yes, I think so. Yes, definitely. So with the book, you know, given that this is an audience of practitioners, what would you say the main takeaways are for teams, for developing teams in terms of deliberative practice and what’s coming out in the book?
– So the book at a really high level is sort of in three sections. And I think that might be useful for practitioners around the way that it’s laid out, just for themselves. So it starts, the first section is what was, so what are the influences on team performance and what have been some of the, particularly from sort of the 19th century influences that we can still see in our teams at the moment. And that’s a good frame and most practitioners will recognize some of those things in the clients that they’re working with. The middle part is what is, and so a way of seeing how teams operate and that’s the framework that I’ve come up with, that is influenced by a whole bunch of different research and I cite every bit that I can in there, but I think that it seems to be a useful way for people to engage with and then has a little bit of a look about what will be, in terms of what are some of the emerging trends, but what are some of the… if those, the components of the framework come together, what happens? And so the ability to, for practitioners to start a conversation in teams around this, around well what do you think, you know, are you experiencing this? Are you seeing this? And to stimulate some of those conversations, each chapter has a bunch of questions that you can feel free to steal and ask your clients. It’s got some activities in there as well, so if you like them, you can take those and run those with your client groups as well. So I’ve tried to make it pretty accessible for a whole bunch of people, but the idea is that, in many ways this was for my clients, so to, to give it to them, if I’m not there and there’s also part of the legacy to kind of go, you know, we we’d covered this. I remember we had a conversation about this, where is it? What did we do about it? And so I’m giving them some access to that and similar stuff would apply for practitioners looking at you know, how to apply some of these principles. And I think probably for practitioners, particularly members of the Oxford Review, I think the paper that really sort of cemented a lot of this for me was a meta-analysis by Matthew and others, Vice I think came out last year. It talks about the shift in the way that research is viewing teams from input, process, output, to input, mediating factors, output, to small dynamic systems. And it’s just this sort of you know, it was just such a leap from there, from that. And I think that’s a really useful paper and it’s had a huge influence on the way that I see teams. And I think that that may also be of interest for practitioners.
– Brilliant, okay. So if there was one thing that you would, you know, if you were to give advice to listeners of this, practitioners around deliberative practice, developing high-performing teams, what would it be?
– I think the thing that my framework sits on is context. It sits around the fact that great teams only ever exist in response to, and as a result of the context that they are operating in, and those things are never stable. And the fact that that’s one of the reasons we need a dynamic approach and I’d really encourage people to challenge views of teams that are linear or static and really think about how we can consider them in a more dynamic way, because I think that then we’re offering our clients more value than rather than, so you know, rather than short-term kind of sort of feel, you know, just getting the team together and having a chat about how they’re going is gonna be useful. But if we think help those our teams see teams in a more complex and dynamic way, I think we’re doing them a real, real service. And I think that’s probably the big thing for me is that if we can appreciate the context and the complexity that underpins team performance, we’re adding a lot of value.
– Yeah, and I think that’s exactly right. I think there’s people see teams in very, very simple ways and that there’s kind of a set of steps that will always lead to the same kinds of results. And actually, you know they morph, they change, and actually we want them to morph and change because the context is changing and they should be changing, the team should be changing as well as the context changes as they learn more, and having a learning orientation is certainly from the research that I’ve read, it seems to be one of the keys. And in fact, there’s a whole idea of learning orientation, you started to get quite large in the research literature across multiplies-
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– of domains as well. And developing a team that’s got that becomes a real game changer as well. Brilliant, thank you very much Keegan.
– [Keegan] Yeah.
– So where can people find you?
– People can find me at my website, keeganluiters.com. The book has its own website, which is teamupbook.com.au. And one of the advantages of having a relatively unique name is that I’m easily found, I can, I’m on LinkedIn, that’s my social network of choice. And I always love talking to people about this. And so I’m more than happy to engage in a conversation with anyone that wants to explore it more.
– [David] Brilliant. Yeah, that’s been really useful. Thank you very much Keegan, I do appreciate it.
– [Keegan] Thanks David.
– [David] Fantastic.
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