When the game is over move on

I was talking to a colleague who has a rapidly growing business in entertainment. They manage artists, bring shows to Perth and create venues for great content. She's a great leader with a clear vision for her business. Her team are excited about creating it with her. With growth come several inevitable challenges for leaders. Systems have to move and evolve to keep up with where you want to get to. As the team grows, vision and leadership become more important, and simultaneously more diluted - Getting good and consistent messaging to staff and the market about what you are doing is critical. Growth also means that there may be times when staff who were a good fit when you were a different size, no longer are.

My colleague was describing a couple of conversations she had with staff who had been with her a while. In the early days, they had been awesome - Productive, switched on and enthusiastic. But that had waned.  She had spent considerable time with them attempting to recreate how it had been but nothing seemed to be working. Motivation continued to drop and they were starting to get in the way of progress.

She decided to have a straight conversation about the expectations they each had for the business and the role to see if that would lead anywhere productive. End result, the person left and was relieved. The staff member had been feeling obliged to stay with the business - feeling she would let the owner down if she left. She'd been excited about it when she first joined and had been a big part of creating the success. The rapid expansion was hard for her though, and she really liked smaller teams than this one was now. She found the constant evolution and growth stressful and wearing.

When they had an open conversation about what the owner needed from staff, and how her staff felt about the environment, it became clear to them both that it was time to move on. For the business it has been like taking a foot off the brake. A new person has joined with skill and enthusiasm for the current business, rather than what it once was. No doubt the person who left is also feeling relieved.

Situations like this are often stressful for everyone involved. It's easy to become victim to unspoken expectations and assumptions. Our perspective gets bent out of shape, and sometimes that results in conversations like this one becoming adversarial when there was no need for that.

Actions we can take:

Employers/Leaders/Managers - Set up clear expectations for people and roles early, and check in with them often. Use as many opportunities as you can to deepen you/your teams understanding of the expectations. Create an environment where conversations about what we expect and whether those expectations are being met are safe and regular. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

If you work for someone else - Be bold about asking for clarification of what the business expects from you. If your ecxpectations are not being met, raise the issue and explore it. Don't let things fester. If there is tension, friction or conflict do something about it as soon as possible - most big problems start out a small ones.

For both - If it's time to move on - do it.

Why take your team outside?

I had an interesting conversation with a corporate client last week about Outdoor Team Building. We were reminiscing about the late '80's and early '90's when adventure based activities were popular as a company team building event. People in their droves swapped suits for bush clothes and paddled, climbed, swung, paint balled and built their way to team success.

Most activities like this have a similar formula - a problem that can only be solved/overcome by a team who can innovate, communicate and cooperate. It's a solid formula. Most workplaces are attempting to create teams that do just that. So why did these programs all but disappear?

  • One size fits all - Despite being highly flexible about activities and locations, the vast majority of operators ran the same program, regardless of the client. The place and activities might change, but how and why it was done remained much the same.
  • No connection - The potential links between activities and the people doing them were poorly explored. It was fun but didn't relate to the "real world".
  • Missed opportunities - Most programs were staffed by technically skilled young people who knew the activities inside out. Some had leadership experience, but mostly in the outdoors. Few had business experience. Activities were often debriefed in very superficial ways. Canned debriefs included sweeping, generalised statements like "So you see, communication is really important". Participants were given opportunities to reflect on behaviour, but few tools for any significant change. In the worst of programs, teams were actually worse off. They had seen and confronted ineffective team behaviour, and left the program aware, disgruntled and unsupported.

NOTE: These are generalisations. There were and are a few excellent companies providing such activities that do an awesome job of all the above.

So why do I recommend companies take their teams outside?

I just wanted to pass on my gratitude and appreciation for the planning, facilitation, insights, activities, catering and all the other experiences and knowledge created over the 2-day bush retreat. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gained a lot from it including how to use a compass correctly!

The additional resources you gave us are perfect. I set up meetings with each Area manager to work on improving my unit’s service and delivery to them. I am confident that the questions and guidance you provided will assist in us understanding our customer needs and focusing our resources correctly.
— Senior Manager - Bush Retreat
  • Different environment - Stepping out of the familiar work setting changes everything. Hierarchy seems less important. The pace naturally slows. Corporate language and formality drop away. Habitual ways of relating to each other are reset. Communication improves. Silo walls get torn down.
  • Perception expands - Physically people's eyes move from short intense focus to broad soft focus. As teams renegotiate their way of being together, previously unspoken assumptions about "the way things are done around here" get some conscious air time. Collective and self awareness rises. 
  • It's restorative - A growing body of research shows attention, cognitive function and productivity all rise as a result of being outside. Stress, mental fatigue, depression and anxiety all reduce. Almost every company I have worked with is attempting to address one or more of these issues continuously in the workplace.

The bush is no magic bullet, but a well thought out and delivered outdoors program can have massive and lasting effects. If you would like to discuss how you might use some outdoor time this financial year, feel free to be in touch.