What we've been thinking about and working on lately...

what we've been talking about

So what do those things have in common? Well it turns out that the people involved in all of those things have a great deal to learn from and develop each other. Let me explain - we've always known that:

a) Charities are full of passionate and capable people who achieve a remarkable amount with very scarce resources

b) Blue chip companies are full of intelligent people who would love to spend some time making a meaningful difference to charities

So I'm very proud this week to have been facilitating a session involving 3 teams of leaders from United Biscuits to work with 3 amazing charities* as part of a programme to challenge how they can apply their expertise and leadership in a totally different environment. And it turns out that when you get Sales, Supply Chain, Projects, Manufacturing, IT, HR and Finance experts together and have them look at a very different business and how it can grow, improve its' efficiency or transform its' culture, then they can have a huge impact.

Clearly charities do need funds to prosper and grow, but they also need expertise to help develop a strategy, create new sources of income and improve the way it operates - and a team of experts can make a big difference in a really short space of time. So next time you are tempted to give up your time to paint a wall at your local charity, then consider how else you could utilise what skills you have to really make a difference. It's very easy to do and the learning works both ways.

I look forward to catching up with all 3 charities in 3-6 months to see what has happened as a result of the session and how the action plans have developed the businesses.

* NOFA / Little Angel Theatre / Aspire

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It’s that ‘back to school’ time of year. Facebook is littered with images of fresh faced children with slightly too big uniforms and brand new school bags and for many people in organisations there’s a sense of a new chapter, post summer holidays.

With only 16 (yes 16!) ‘proper’ working weeks of the year left it’s a great time to take 10 minutes to check in on how you and your team are progressing towards your ambitions and goals for this year. Setting visions and aspirations in January can often seem a bit idealistic, anything can happen in 12 months, but 16 weeks focuses the mind somewhat.

So here’s our suggestion, sit down with your team and ask yourselves the following;


How are we doing against our goals?

What adjustments do we need to make and what do we need to change?


What do we do more efficiently than we did in January?

What inefficiencies have crept in?


Do we have more trust and respect amongst the team than we did 6 months ago?

What culture do we want to have by the end of the year?


How have we grown the talent in the team so far this year?

What gaps in our expertise do we need to focus on closing by the end of the year?

You may not have all the answers but we can guarantee a fruitful conversation. Let us know how you get on!

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Summer is here and isn’t it wonderful.

This year for the first time we are running a triathlon here in our village – a plan hatched over a bottle of wine on a ski trip over winter for a tough, standard distance tri is finally coming to fruition.

One of our greatest challenges has been recruiting enough volunteers marshals.  In the same way that companies cannot be successful without good, well-motivated employees an organisation relying on volunteers also needs good, well-motivated volunteers and it is vital to keep them happy.

Below are some tips we have picked up along the way:

1. Volunteer Welfare

Remember your volunteer is a human being too.  They cannot stand around on a course for hours on end without water, food and the opportunity for a bathroom break. 

2. Respect

Remember, volunteers are participating out of the goodness of their hearts and no amount of respect and admiration is too much.

3. Keep them informed

It is vital that your volunteers feel involved in what is going on and keeping them informed is vital.   Meetings and briefings provide volunteers with a sense of being part of the overall project. Later on, meetings keep them in the loop on the overall progress of a project and allow them an opportunity to provide input.

4. Be available

Make sure you are available to volunteers who may have questions or concerns.  If they are uncomfortable with a situation or don’t feel they are being listened to then they are unlikely to continue to volunteer. 

5. Be accurate and detailed

Provide volunteers with clear, accurate, and concise tasks from the beginning so they have direction and can produce quality results from the start.  Don’t expect them to figure it out for themselves.

6. Say Thank You

Don’t forget to say thank you and to recognise the contribution of volunteers. 

7. Be flexible

Remember to offer flexibility to your volunteers as well. These people are offering up their free time to assist in your project, so understand when they have certain time constraints.

8. Lead by example

Don’t ask your volunteers to do anything that you yourself wouldn’t be willing to do. Don’t sit around giving orders and then plonk yourself in a chair while they work hard. Show them that you are more than willing to work hard too. 

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I’ve been following Gareth Malone’s workplace choir series on the BBC and I’m finding it a fascinating insight into some of the UK’s largest organisations, especially how it highlights the necessity of unity in a team environment… 

Firstly Gareth sets out to find candidates for the choir with the aim to represent the whole company, across all areas, from the warehouse or kitchen, to the top executives. 

A common issue among the choirs has been a lack of unity. As these organisations are so large, the members from different departments often don’t know each other and this has a direct affect on their performance as a choir. 

Members were practicing alone and then and singing at rehearsal as if they were soloists, unaware of other sounds around them.  To solve this discord, Gareth used a few exercises to encourage the choir to listen to one another, become aware of their surroundings and start working together. In one case, he had the choir lie on their backs on the floor, in a circle with their heads together singing unaccompanied and quietly. They quickly became very aware of each other due to the proximity, they listened to each other and in turn start to perform with unity – as a choir. 

Gareth also found divides between the office and customer-facing sides, so with the aim to unite them, he took them out of the workplace to socialise and bond in a neutral setting. With a little encouragement on his part this really worked, they ate, drank, laughed and sang together. As a result they became closer and eventually a team that encouraged, supported and cared for one another. Only when they found this unity could they perform as a choir and sing in harmony! 

The choir was a great example of what can happen to a team, if all members have their own individual agendas, unaware of their surroundings or other members.  A choir cannot perform well in this state, sounding out of tune, with everyone shouting and no one listening. 

This doesn’t just apply to the environment within individual teams in a business, this applies to how all the teams within a business work with one another.  We have different sections of a choir: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. These sections sound pretty boring and flat if you hear them separately, but if you hear them together in harmony, that’s when the magic happens and you get goose bumps from the beautiful sound… So we must ensure that the teams within our business are interacting harmoniously to produce results that rival a majestic choral sound. 

Gareth said that ‘singing brings people together spiritually, socially... it’s vital!’. So perhaps we should all have a workplace choir, given the results already produced in this series...

  • Do you know your team? Are you a team that encourages, supports and cares for one another?
  • Are you all working on the same song or do you each have different tunes that you’re all singing at a different pace in a different key?
  • Are your team all shouting over the top of one another as soloists or are they listening to each other and sounding harmonious?
  • If there is discord in your team what can you do to rectify this and bring them together?  

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I’ve recently been tempted to make a leadership intervention at home to help decision making as we progress through a rather painful and prolonged home renovation. The current sticking point is paint colour. My husband has a relatively short attention span for what he considers to be a “detail” - so unless he has a very strong view for or against a particular colour it can be very difficult to judge whether a decision I make could come back to bite me.

I’ve seen the following “7 levels of agreement” (sometimes reduced to 5 or 3 levels) framework used very successfully with different teams. The facilitator or proposer asks each individual with a stake in the decision the questions explicitly, even when everyone appears to be aligned, in order to flush out any differences of opinion during the discussion rather than afterwards. When used on a regular basis team members start to use the levels fluently in discussions to assess alignment and to explore different perspectives as part of the decision making process.

Of course, whoever is facilitating the discussion needs to be clear which level of agreement constitutes a “go”. With regard to my current challenge, I know I’m unlikely to get a 1 and will go ahead at level 4 in the interests time and with the knowledge that the a couple of hours with a paintbrush can put things right if necessary. Although I might need to use the same process to agree who wields the paintbrush!  

  1. I totally agree - best idea since sliced bread
  2. Good idea/decision - I can see how this can work
  3. Not the idea/decision I would've made - but OK
  4. I don't really agree, but I can and will support it
  5. I don't think this will work and can't agree to go forward without modification
  6. This idea/decision will be detrimental; I can't agree at all
  7. No way. You'll have to kill me first.

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Last week I spent a considerable amount of time talking with the team psychologists from various elite sporting organisations and clubs. These are people for whom their remit is to support the athletes and team to be at their best and manage their mental mindset and that of the collective team to deliver the best performance they can. David Priestley from Saracens told me about his mantra of ‘comfort the challenged and challenge the comfortable’ which he’s used to great effect, Dave Readle from British Cycling shared with me how humour is a vital resource for him (check him out on Twitter @DaveReadle) and Tom Bates from West Brom FC (@TomBatesCoachng) talked about the importance of supporting people to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

It got me thinking about who the Team Psychologists are for teams in business? I’ve yet to come across a team in an organisation who has a dedicated resource who is solely there to support the psychology of the team, I wonder what would happen if there was one..........

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