High Performance Culture & Teams: What I learnt from Todd Blackadder

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One of the best things about my role is that as I work with high performance CEO’s and their teams I get to learn from them & those they know and work with. Last week I facilitated the annual conference for a Christchurch based client and all their staff. It was the third such conference I had facilitated for them and looking back over what they have achieved as they have set their Vision & Strategy and over as number of years engaged their team and actively executed the plan has been amazing. They are actively focussing on building a high performance team.

Todd Blackadder came into the conference and spoke candidly about how High Performance sports teams (in particular the Crusaders) set and build their culture and how it can be applied into Business teams. What did I learn or have reinforced from his workshop? A number of things. Namely;

1.  The importance of Culture: Culture is really measured by the way the team responds to your challenges. The very first time the team faces a major challenge is where you will truly see what you team culture is. Their reaction is your culture. Makes perfect sense when you think about that but I like the way he articulated it. Culture is a response you get back from people in relation to the challenge you pose.

2. Teams cannot be highly engaged all the time. There are times that engagement levels need to be really high and teams need to discuss and decide when they need to be highly engaged. It is natural for there to be highs and lows but when high levels of engagement are needed everyone needs to focus.

3. MIsaligned culture is your first competitor. This means that the process of alignment, having discussions and getting buy in across the team is fundamentally important to success. It is your first true competitor to overcome and comes before external competition.

4. Culture turns a person into a people. If you get the team or company culture right people will identify as a team or part of a bigger organisation.

5. Language is the lifeblood of any culture. This ties in with the previous point. Having a common language is part of building identity and “one people”. There is high value in having a common language.

6. Accountability starts with the leader. In this case it is the coach, but high levels of accountability means that leaders at each level own failure and also learn from it. Once a problem is owned and accepted then the team can work to overcome it.

7. High performance teams do not have “lifestylers”. Nothing kills a high performance culture faster than accepting mediocrity. Hard discussions around performance rather than making it personal (or about the individual not performing) allows a team to address problems fast. Play the ball not the man and you will find conversations get easier to have.

8. The good of the team comes before any one individual. This is regardless of what position or role you hold. Park the ego and focus on what the team needs to do to succeed and overcome problems, failures and blockages.

9. Train hard. Train, up skill, guide, mentor, coach and develop talent. This is the role a the modern leader. To be authentic and to walk the talk.

10. Celebrate the small wins as they happen. Take a moment to acknowledge all the small steps that start to feed into the bigger wins. Park up reflections that might ruin a small celebration until the best time to address it. Don’t be such a tough task master that you send the message of never being satisfied. Have some fun! Enjoy being with your people.

11. Trust is everything. It all starts with high levels of trust. This means getting to know people, what motivates them, how they live their lives, what formed their values, what experiences have shaped their lives. Get to know them, get to know their families. See the person. This is the anchor of a high performance team and a base for this is the work of Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a team.”

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I learnt a lot about how a high performance professional sports team sets about planning and training to win. How the team builds trust and how it develops the resilience to deal with defeats and blockages that are inevitable in the world of both professional sport and in turn the modern competitive world of business.

There are some subtle differences that separate business from sport too which need to be acknowledged. Things such as business having longer and less defined seasons meaning teams are together longer. The fact that professional sport has no second place whereas in business there is more “grey area” in terms of how success is defined. Strategy and tactics in business do not have to change as fast as in professional sport where it may change week to week.

There are however many similarities and it is possible to really look at how to build a culture that turns individuals into a people with both a common language, aligned goals and values. A team that reacts to challenges in a positive way and overcomes the big hits that temporary failure can deliver.

Some great learnings. Thanks Todd.

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