Any Given Team documents Ray McLean’s journey from teacher, to air force instructor, to leadership consultant. Rather than provide an instruction manual, unpacking the art of leading a team step-by-step, McLean uses various stories to explain the origins and elaborations associated with Leading Teams. Besides being a more compelling means of capturing the full picture, it is also at the heart of the move from instruction to facilitation is at the heart of McLean’s work.
With origins in developing a team of leaders within an elite group in the air force to resurrecting a failing football club, McLean’s initial focus was on supporting teams to develop a trademark to stand by, what he labelled as the ‘Performance Improvement Program’. From these core values, behaviours are identified to drive development and regular group feedback is used to guide this. As he explains,
Take any given team, find out what kind of team it really wants to be, give them some work to do and then afterwards help them talk honestly in their own language about how one another’s behaviour matched up with that team they said they wanted to be; repeat the process, each time trying to do a little better than the last.
Although Leading Teams has become synonymous for its peer review sessions where the team members openly question each other, what is often overlooked is the dependence on an agreed sense of purpose. This focus on values soon expanded to supporting individual athletes in the personal art of leadership. This involved developing their communication skills and connecting them with various community programs to support their place as role models. In addition to this, PIP expanded into business and education.
An idea that comes up again and again is the importance of trust. Although setting rules may seem like an answer, it does not help for transforming actions and behaviours. A point made time and again by Alfie Kohn. This reminded me of Paul Browning’s work on trust and leadership. For McLean, the initial changes to any team is trust, honesty and accountability. The problem is that without this starting point, you only ever have a group of individuals. A key to this change is developing as many leaders across the team as possible, something that Alma Harris discusses in her own work on distributed leadership.
Another point pertinent to the whole program is the place of behaviours. For McLean, performance is a combination of attitudes, habits, beliefs and expectations. So often though the only measurement to go by are our actions. Whether it be our preparation, getting a task down or supporting a colleague, each of these actions are a measurement to a commitment to the agreed trademark and the team.
One of the odd things about the book is the seemingly inadvertent focus on men. Whether it be the air force, numerous sporting clubs or business, it always seems to involve men. This is interesting because my personal experience of Leading Teams was facilitated by a female consultant. I wonder if this is merely a reflection of society and the wider gender divide?
Another question I was left with is where culture starts and stops? Reading the discussions about the St. Kilda Football Club I was reminded of the incident a few years back involving Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna. It leaves me wondering where that sat with the club trademark and culture. Would this happen at a club like Sydney where ‘the bloods’ permeates all aspects of the team, on and off the field? Is there a line you step over which belongs outside of the club? How much should individuals be expected to adapt their lives to fit the team? Milne and Montagna’s actions would have impacted the culture of the club at the time?
My two personal takeaways from the book are: leaderships begins with knowing yourself and having some agreed ‘trademark’ is essential for any team to work together. McLean suggests that, “the best that we can do is manage ourselves properly”. This reminds me of a comment by Voltaire that “common sense is not common.” Managing ourselves ‘properly’ then is something that takes considerable time and effort. Curt Rees’ starting point is auto-ethnography and knowing who we are. While the idea of a trademark reminds me of Simon Sinek’s argument to always ‘Start with Why’. For Sinek, the why always influences what you do and how you go about it. It is for this reason that McLean asserts,
If we can develop an environment where each player has a vested interest in the development of his teammates, and people are driving themselves individually and collectively towards the team they want to be, the team’s performance will improve and continue to improve.
Brad Gustafson also discusses the importance of values and having a trademark in his book Renegade Leadership. His strategy is to pin his school’s transformational tenets near his phone and workstation so that any time he is on the phone to somebody or writing an email he is reminded of these values.
So what about you? What experiences have you had regarding leadership within team situations? As always, comments welcome.
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