Creating a Great Culture – Part 1

I’ve recently finished reading the extraordinary book, “Legacy”, by James Kerr. It is a book about the culture of The All Blacks, the most “successful” sports team in the world. If you are involved in leadership, at any level, especially if you are passionate about developing the culture of your team, I would heartily recommend that you buy yourself a copy – it serves as a great manual! As you might expect in a book which flows out of Rugby Union, there are 15 principles to align with the 15 players in the team. I will therefore make this a 2 part reflection, to make it more readable!

 

I’ve written a few blogs on here about the importance of culture (of joy and kindness) in health and social care, and indeed, the IHI so clearly show that building a “Culture of Joy” in healthcare is one of the core pillars to creating a truly excellent, safe and sustainable health and social care system. If we get the culture right, everything else follows. We spend so much time focused on vision, process and measurement, but nowhere near enough time to establishing a really healthy and flourishing culture. So, how do we do it? How do we build a really good culture? Well….I am no expert, but I want to share what I’ve learnt from this book and am learning through the work we are doing here in Morecambe Bay.

 

1) Character – it is everything. Team is not built on good players, it is built on good character, which is far more important than talent. Good character starts with humility. No one is ever too important to do the most menial of tasks. This has to be modelled.

 

2) Adapt – Darwin said, “it is not the strongest species who survive, but those most able to adapt.” In a target driven system, like health and social care, with edicts handed out from on high, we need to develop the kind of culture that is able to take the strain, to bend, to mold and not lose focus at the whim of every new government initiative. Adaptation means we need a compelling vision for the future and the investment in our teams to move well together, especially at times of pressure.

 

3) Purpose – My coach, Nick Robinson, asked me a great question the other day. I have been really struggling with the idea of ambition. For me, ambition is a word that is tied up in negative ideas like selfishness and arrogance (that isn’t true for everyone – just carries those connotations for me!). So, we explored what a better word might be to help me think about the future. The word we agreed on was purpose. So then he asked me, “So, what is your purpose? Who are you here to serve? And where in the world does that need to be manifest?” At one of the lowest points in their history, after crashing out of the World Cup in the Quater Finals – a match they really should have won, a group of the All Blacks shut themselves in a room to rediscover their purpose. One of the coaches spoke 6 words and it began to change everything. “Better people make better All Blacks.” This is true in every context. Better people make better doctors. Better people make better nurses. Better people make better managers. Better people make better receptionists. Better people make better leaders. We spend an inordinate amount of time developing the skills of our teams, making sure they can ‘deliver the goods’, but we invest precious little time, space or energy in ensuring that we develop better people. Do we help people confront their own ego issues? Do we enable people to get to grips with their shadows, their struggles, their root issues? It really matters who people are, far more than what they can do. Perhaps our development days should focus far more on tools like the enneagram and strengths finder than on some of the “mandatory training” we always make the priority.

 

4) Responsibility – this forms so much of the ‘culture of joy’ I have blogged about before. People need to know they are trusted to do the work they have to do. We have to create a culture of ownership, accountability (not micromanagement) and trust. The All Blacks talk about a collaborative culture in which individual talents can rise and flourish. Are we crushing the creativity of our teams by not allowing people to really come into their own?

 

 

5) Learn – for people to be at the top of their game, they need space and time to develop their skills. In a global landscape, we need to look beyond our own boundaries, discover new approaches, learn best practices and push the boundaries. It’s not OK to just settle for something a bit rubbish – learning allows us to strive for excellence in our work. There is wisdom in this Maori saying: “The first stage of learning is silence. The second is listening.”

 

6)Whanau – Rudyard Kipling wrote: “For the strength of the Pack is in the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is in the Pack.” The being of team comes from within. In the All Blacks, there isn’t space for “dickheads”. Team is everything and those who want the glory for themselves will not find a place within it. The All Blacks build on this principle. It is better to be punched in the stomach than stabbed in the back, or as the Arab proverb says: “It is better to have a thousand enemies outside your tent, than one inside.” We need to create a healthy culture of being able to challenge damaging attitudes and behaviour so that when we move, we move as one in adaptable formation, like the spearhead formation of birds as they fly.

 

7) Expectations – There is a saying the All Blacks use: “Aim for the highest cloud, so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain.” Why aim for something a bit rubbish? If we benchmark ourselves against the best practices, we will strive to be the best we can be. It’s OK to fail – that’s what a learning culture is about. But it’s also ok to not set your standards low and expect failure. Let’s expect the best from our teams so that we create a culture of excellence in the way we work.

 

8) Practice Under Pressure – I think this is especially important in a geography, like ours, in which we may not see some things very commonly. Simulation labs are vital and exposure to other working environments, so that we learn how to deal with serious situations with a calm head. When the heat is turned up, as it so often is in our working environments, we need cool heads and steady hands. Ensuring our training is as robust and pressured as possible, makes us ready for the times our skills are needed most. For this reason, we must not mollycoddle our medical, nursing and therapy students too much. We must expose them and our junior staff and help them be prepared for our times of greatest pressure.

 

In the next blog, I will focus on the other 7 principles of building a team culture. Plenty to think about above though, eh?!

 

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Authentic, Loving Leadership

Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of spending some time on a leadership programme with the NHS Leadership Academy. One of the things it has helped me to do is talk more openly and honestly about what is important to me, what shapes me, what makes me – me! I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the word ‘authenticity’ and how I can be true to my deeply held values, no matter where I find myself, or whose company I may be in.

 

I did most of my ‘growing up’ at University with an incredible set of friends, who have remained at the core of my life. One of our founding principles as a bunch of mates was that we would not do fear or shame, but that we would be honest and open with each other about whatever we were going through. I found myself being able to talk about stuff that had been bottled up for years and making me feel rubbish about myself and as I did so, I found I was loved, not for what I did or performed but for who I was – just me, as me.

 

This kind of open and honest vulnerability sits as one of my core values in leadership because I believe it keeps me humble and permissions others to open up also. For some, there is a fear that if you show weakness, others may turn it against you – but that is a voice of fear that I personally will not succumb to. The depth of relationship that we form in any team is determined by our own ability to open up and show our true colours. I believe that being honest about where we are failing or weak allows others to be honest too and it makes us more human, builds connection and allows us to build team with real integrity.

 

Personally, I am continually influenced and changed by that man, Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we are told that any time anyone questioned his identity, his legitimacy or his authority, his answer was simple: I am, who I am. For us to be authentic, we need to know who we are, so that whoever we are with, we remain true to our core values. Throughout our life’s journey we are continually challenged to decide which way we will walk. Will we walk the easy way of life, in which we allow our ‘ego’ to remain in tact and have people see a projection of ourselves? Or will we choose the more difficult but life-giving way, of letting our ego be stripped back, so that our true self can be seen?

 

What I have witnessed over the last few years, is that leadership can rob people of their humanity. The structures we work within can end up dehumanising us, as the ego becomes puffed up and we find ourselves protecting the image we have projected. As we climb the ladder of responsibility, we can begin to modify our behaviours and as we do so, we begin to subtly let go of our core values. Perhaps we forget where we came from, or we feel the need to protect our position. Perhaps, we’ve never dealt with our own sense of entitlement or the privilege of our background which helped to propel us into positions of influence in the first place. Perhaps we never really confronted our own shadow and have carried on building our own ego project, which somehow permissions us to act in very unhealed ways.  Perhaps we get proud and lose the humility to accept that we don’t know the answer to many of the questions thrown at us, but instead of opening up the conversation towards a collaborative process, we lock down the control and increase the demands on our teams. Whatever the reason, hierarchy so easily dehumanises us, unless we work really hard to subvert it.

 

There is a real art to leading in the midst of complexity, due to the interplay of mechanistic structures and the living systems of which we are a part. The ability to resist the the demanding expectations of the behavioural norms of the machine, whilst ensuring the job gets done and setting a culture of kindness, openness, trust, honour, joy and dare I say it, love, takes bravery, time and audacity. All too often, especially at a regional and national level, I am seeing that people seem to forget who they are and begin to behave in ways that lack authenticity, treating those who were their peers, only a few months previously with disdain. I tire of seeing people talk down their noses at others, or gather people into a room to shout at them, as if this is an effective means of communication. When we see it, we must call it out. We must subvert it before submitting to it. Only by doing so, will we expose it for the phony, imperial nonsense that it is and find a way through to a kinder, more human way of leading. As my great friend, Roger Mitchell says, “Love is the purpose of everything.” A great question for leaders is, “How much love am I loosing here?” If the answer is, “not a lot!”, then maybe think about why on earth you are leading and how you might do it a whole lot more authentically!

 

 

 

 

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