What The Power of Peers Taught Us About High Performing Teams

When Leon Shapiro and I tackled the subject of how and why formal peer groups for CEOs and business leaders work so well in The Power of Peers, our research revealed two important findings: 1) The Learning-Achieving Cycle  common to high performing groups; and, 2) What we called the Five Factors necessary for making the Learning-Achieving reinforcing loop possible.

After conducting nearly 100 self-assessment workshops for peer groups since the book was published, I’ve learned that the Five Factors are more than just components of a condition, they are a system onto themselves.  What’s more, this system (with minor modifications) provides insights into what drives high performing teams.

The five factors were originally presented independently (reinforcing one another of course) yet described as if one had little to do with the other. The Five Factors included: 1) Having the right people in the room (people who share common values and a purpose for being in the group, yet who are diverse in their own ways); 2) A Safe and Confidential Environment – a place where one feels safe to be open and vulnerable and where confidentiality is sacrosanct; 3) Valuable interaction – while providing emotional safety is critical, here we talked about the quality of the topics discussed, the discipline of asking great questions, and the tangible outcomes realized by the group members; 4) Accountability – not accountability to the leader of the group, but to the other members – a solemn promise to one another to be present and bring their A games to each and every meeting; 5) Having a smart guide, someone who served as a servant leader of the group and as the steward of the other four factors.

Today, I see the Five Factors not simply as overlapping, but as a system, much like the Learning-Achieving Cycle:

 It starts off with having the right people, who come to know each other and trust one another enough to feel safe.  This feeling of safety inspires and enables deeper conversations about the kind of serious topics that all too often never happen in the context of our daily lives.  As group members grow to care about one another and their respective aspirations, it inspires each of them to bring their A games to every meeting, knowing that their colleagues are prepared to do the same.  Their currency with one another lies in this place where everyone helps each other achieve new heights.  The smart guide’s role as the servant leader is essentially to serve as the steward of the other four factors by driving this reinforcing loop.  He/she makes sure that the group is always populated with people who add value, that the safe environment is never taken for granted, that members come prepared to share their toughest challenges and greatest opportunities, and that a context which allows for a culture of growing group accountability is able to flourish.

So you may be asking the same thing I did:  Do these five group factors, presented as a reinforcing loop, apply to teams and offer guidance to team leaders?   With some minor adjustments, I believe they do.  Here’s how it plays out for teams:

At your company, it’s about more than hiring good people, it’s about securing the right people.  This involves understanding the difference between those who succeed at your company and those who don’t – despite their impressive resume and amazing interviewing skills.  Having the right people is great, but now you have to get them to work together, which involves getting them to know and trust one another.

Once you have that, you can start looking at how you can help this team achieve higher levels of productivity and commitment to excellence.  As a leader, think of tending a garden.  Your job is to provide the right amount of water, sunlight, food, etc. to make your garden flourish.  If you notice a plant not growing to its potential in one part of the garden, you move it to a better spot.  I’ll take the gardener over the command and control leader any day – and so will your employees.

Now that your team is productive and they realize they can achieve a level of excellence that can only be obtained by working together, they drive each other’s level of performance to new heights, making the team as a whole that much stronger.  The team leader plays the same role as the smart guide, serving as the steward of the other four factors, continually driving the reinforcing loop.

The best teams I’ve studied from business and in sports have all of these factors firing on all cylinders. Don’t let this throw you for a reinforcing loop!  Think about how these factors play into your organizational teams and tell us what you find out!

Peer Groups: GYMS for Leaders

In 2017, one of the guests on my Year of the Peer podcast (renamed What Anyone Can Do in 2018) was Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, professor emeritus at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute.  During our conversation, she told me the more that teachers collaborate with one another outside the classroom, the more effective they can be at building collaborative environments among students inside their classrooms.  Countless leaders of CEO and key executive peer groups have said the same holds true in business.  Essentially, leaders who do group work are more emotionally and intellectually fit to inspire superior teamwork inside their organizations.  Let’s look at why.

To back up a moment, let’s distinguish between group and team.  A group is one where people come together to help each other realize their individual goals.  A team is a collection of people who collaborate in an effort to achieve a common goal.  CEOs connect with other CEOs in groups because they believe that talking with peers who share their common challenges, yet who may come from very different worlds, will help them be better individual leaders and provide them with ideas and insights to help them grow their companies.  College athletes, on the other hand, who participate in a team sport, may aspire to win a national championship – a single goal that can only be achieved as a high performing team.

Think of groups as the “gyms” for team leaders.  Groups are the perfect training ground for strengthening your leadership muscles, building your business acumen, and fine-tuning your emotional intelligence.  My guess is that you wouldn’t consider entering the IRONMAN, running a marathon, or cycling the Tour de France without training for it; yet too many organizational leaders attempt something equally difficult every day they show up to work without having stepped one foot into the gym.  You can argue that you can train in other ways.  Fair point.  You can read books, hire a coach, go to conferences, etc.  That said, here’s one thing (among many) you won’t get anywhere else except in a group – it’s called the Learning-Achieving cycle.

The Learning-Achieving Cycle, The Power of Peers (2016)

Dr. Darling-Hammond told me that we learn better when we learn together.  When we share our learning with one another and engage in deep conversation about a given concept, it not only helps us understand it more completely, but also provides group members the courage to ACT on that learning.  You might read something in a book that on its face seems like a great idea, but you’re unlikely to walk into the office the next day and implement it.  Within days, that idea joins the pile of other interesting things you learned that you never acted on.  Once you act on your learning (trial and error notwithstanding) and you achieve positive results, it inspires you to want to learn more.  This creates a reinforcing loop of learning, sharing, applying, achieving that becomes a force of nature of its own – a force fueled by a leader’s insatiable desire to leverage the group’s intellectual capital for his/her own personal and organizational ROI.

Regardless of what you’re trying to learn, rather than read about it or have someone tell you about it, when you’re part of a group, you actually do it.  You stick your hands in the clay, if you will, at each and every group meeting.  It’s your practice field for business and personal success.  If you want to lead higher performing teams, get yourself to the gym.  That said, my one disclaimer is this:  You can’t just sign up for a gym membership or even just show up there from time to time to receive any real benefit.  But if you dig deep, invest in yourself, and do the work, then you, your group members, and your organizational team(s) will be the big winners for it.

If you have a story about how your peer group helped you get into better shape to be a stronger team leader, share it in the comments!  Thanks!

The Gift Of Feedback

When you receive feedback (positive or negative), see it as the gift that it is. Use it as fuel for reflection and continuous improvement.  Anyone who is great at anything is a product of people who were generous enough to provide them feedback along their learning journey.  We believed the message to be so important, we’re posting it a day early!  Enjoy!

Leo’s Workshops in the UK

Leo stops down in Kenilworth, England, as he nears the end of a two-week swing leading workshops for Vistage Groups in the UK.  In this podcast, Randy talks with Leo about what he’s learned and explores the implications for building higher performing teams in our organizations.

Debunking Myths

Here’s the link to the article, “Put Your Best Foot Forward” published by The Smart Manager, Jan/Feb 2019!

Want to ACHIEVE your New Year’s Resolution this Time?

Time to create a People Plan!  According to a University of Scranton study (2016), more than 9 out of 10 people fail to achieve whatever goal they may have set for themselves at the start of the new year.  When you consider that these are goals people choose for themselves and that they are more likely to be along the lines of losing 5-10 pounds than trying to qualify for the Olympics, it’s a sobering statistic.

I believe we can do better – much better.  To do so, however, will involve doing two things: 1) Be honest with yourself as to whether your resolution is an actual goal or just a wish.  Declaring it as a real goal will be the first step toward making a serious effort to achieve it; 2) Don’t attempt to achieve your goal all by yourself.  Left to your own devices, you’re likely to end up among the 92% of people who fail.  This is where creating a People Plan will make the difference.  Once you embrace the fact that self help doesn’t mean by-yourself-help and that making your goals public, engaging people who can encourage you, provide advice, and help you hold yourself accountable, is what you need to actually achieve your resolution, it will be a game changer!

Check out The People Plan infographic to get you started!   To learn why People Plans work and what they are all about, get yourself a copy of What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself With the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity and Personal Growth.  Happy New Year!

Leo & Randy on the Holidays, Lessons From George H. W. Bush, and What’s Next!

As we close out the year and prepare for what’s next, Randy and Leo talk about the holidays, the many tributes to George H. W. Bush, and the importance of having a people plan in 2019!   Who you surround yourself with matters. Enjoy!

 

Drew Dudley on Courage

Drew Dudley is the founder of Day One. Drew spent 8 years as the Director of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto and served as National Chair of Canada’s largest post-secondary charity, which mobilized 35,000 volunteers annually to support the work of Cystic Fibrosis Canada.

Recognized as one of the most dynamic keynote speakers in the world, Drew has spoken to over 250,000 people on 5 continents, been featured on The Huffington Post, Radio America, Forbes.com, and TED.com, where his “TED talk” has been voted “one of the 15 most inspirational TED talks of all time”. Time, Business Insider and INC. magazines have all included his talk on their lists of “speeches that will make you a better leader”.

Get your copy of Drew’s book, This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters

Connect with him on Instagram and at DrewDudley.com.

Leo & Randy on Thanksgiving

Hard to imagine a holiday that more clearly illustrates the importance of the friends and family who comprise our circle.  Take time today to thank the people who have made a difference in your life and consider how you will give more of yourself to others next year!  Enjoy!

Why You Should Care About What Anyone Can Do!

The Power of Peers (2016) offered a look into how and why formal peer groups for CEOs, business owners, and business leaders work so well.  What Anyone Can Do (inspired by my guests on the Year of the Peer podcast as you stated) extends the conversation in two important ways: 1) It looks at the complete circle of people who surround us (not just our peers), and; 2) talks about ways to engage these people in our everyday lives – not just as part of a formal peer group experience.

According to a 2016 University of Scranton study, 92% of people who declare a new year’s resolution fail at it.  Left to our own devices, we get off to an enthusiastic start, yet too often fail to achieve what we state we want for ourselves.  What we know from studying formal peer groups is that when we surround ourselves with people you will encourage us, provide their expertise and advice, and help us hold ourselves accountable, we can achieve heights we never imagined possible.  By understanding why and how the people who surround us matter, we can do better!

Combining two ideas:  1) Surrounding ourselves with the right people will enhance our chances for success – this we know.  2) As author Joe Henderson pointed out in his 1976 book The Long Run Solution, most highly successful people are not superhuman.  They are people like you and me who simply do the little everyday things that anyone can do, that most of us just never will.  That’s why they succeed.  By surrounding yourself with the right people (which is something I believe anyone can do) they will help you do the little everyday things that anyone can do – far more often.

Why does this matter?  Because achieving personal goals and being in a position to contribute positively to the lives of others (at home and at work) requires us to be our at our personal best.  The airline safety instructions pertaining to the proper way to use your oxygen mask in the event the plane loses cabin pressure serves as the perfect metaphor – apply the mask on yourself first before attempting to help others.  Being at your best FIRST, is better for you and everyone around you.

Ready to double-down on you?  That’s something only you can do.