If there is one great area that this pandemic is testing us, it would be leadership. When we are all working all over the place remotely, how do we reorganize ourselves and establish each of our roles and help our team members? In this episode, Jeffrey Edwards has the perfect guest to help you answer this question and more. He interviews Andrew Neitlich, the founder of the Center for Executive Coaching, the leading executive coach training program for successful professionals seeking their next level of flexibility, freedom, and fulfillment. Andrew shares with us his wisdom from working with these business leaders and provides insights on the landscape of what is going on in organizations and businesses in terms of leadership. At the heart of it, he highlights the importance of distinguishing teams from working groups and helps you assess or reassess where you fall between the two. What is more, Andrew gives some great tips on how you can achieve creating a great team, one that can win any kind of adversity that may come your way, such as this pandemic.
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A Leader’s Guide To Teams And Working Groups With Andrew Neitlich
I have a special guest and someone that I’ve had the pleasure of learning from and continue to learn from each and every day. Andrew Neitlich is the Founder of the Center for Executive Coaching, which is a leading executive coaching training program for successful professionals seeking their next level of flexibility to freedom and fulfillment. It may sound like a commercial, but it’s true. I’m a student and I’m proud to have gone through that program. He is an MBA grad from Harvard, and he’s also the author of three books in the Guerilla Marketing series, The Way To Coach: Executives and Elegant Leadership. He is an accomplished professional. I’m in awe of everything that he has accomplished in his life and continues to not only teach and instruct, but he is one of the influencers out there. Though he’s doesn’t like the limelight, I know that he has impacted tens of thousands of lives around the world. In his own coaching practice, he focuses on helping dynamic leaders in growth companies to be even more successful. I’d like to welcome to the show, Mr. Andrew Neitlich.
Jeffrey, thank you. You’re too kind. You’ve set the expectations too high.
It’s all true. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for you, Andrew. One of the things that we are looking at in this day and age during the period of the pandemic that’s going on infecting throughout the world, it’s proving to be somewhat challenging and raising questions around leadership and particularly teams. How do we reorganize ourselves when we seem to be working all over the place remotely, or in the office? I can see that this is going to be a topic of discussion going forward. In your perspective, what do you see in terms of the landscape of what’s going on in organizations and businesses?
Even before people were sequestered in their home, the first question I’d always want to talk to a company about or leader was one that I borrowed from Katzenbach. He wrote a great book about teams called, The Wisdom of Teams. The first thing he noted that made a big difference to me and my own coaching practice is, do you want a team or do you want a workgroup? What is the most important thing? In most companies, people come to work and they leave. It’s a lot about compliance. We’re collecting a paycheck. If this person goes, it’s not a big deal. That’s different than a team. That’s a workgroup. A workgroup is where we want to do the job, but we’re not going to give it our all, we’re not committed. We’re not going to stick our neck out for people.
When we look at true teams usually in sports, a symphony, a play or something like that, where we see what a real team looks like. The quality of relationships is different than what we often see in organizations. If you have a team, you can win the Super Bowl. You can be a world-class orchestra. You can do amazing things. Most companies though, don’t want to put the effort into creating a team, and quite frankly, many don’t even need a team there. They’re perfectly fine with workgroups. When we’re working virtually, it’s even harder to create a true team. All the case studies I have about teams, people are face-to-face. They’re getting to know each other. They’re taking the time to care for each other. Their commitment in everything shows up. To do it be a virtual setting adds a degree of difficulty, and makes me wonder. Let’s start with workgroups because companies have enough trouble making workgroups work functionally.
It’s an interesting perspective because oftentimes what I hear going into companies and speaking to executives, it’s usually the idea that we need to form a team. We need to build better collaboration. It becomes a theme but in essence, it never seems to become out that way. It usually ends up being the workgroup. Somehow, someway it’s almost seen as a negative.
What’s wrong with a workgroup? To have an outcome, make the outcome happen, and work effectively together. Maybe it takes the pressure off not to try hard to have a team. Certainly, it puts the pressure on if you say, “We want a team,” and you don’t want a team because suddenly, people are expecting things when you use the word, team, that we don’t have. There’s trust, commitment and a bunch of stuff that you don’t see in companies. People will say they have these things because they don’t want to get fired, but if we want to be truthful, maybe we have to tone down the language and say, “It’s a workgroup. Let’s make some things happen. Let’s make it much simpler, then all we have to do is communicate, give people tools, give people resources, have a clear goal, get the right people in the group, and communicate regularly.” Before you know it, you can make things happen.The leader is not the most important thing on a team. It's having a clear goal. Click To Tweet
By what you described, it sounds like if we do that well enough and from position leadership, you can end up with a team and forming a team and building strong relationships within the team members itself.
I’ll bet that’s true. I’ve learned about teams from a couple of places. I never want to be a hypocrite. One of the things we have to do is look at our own relationships with teams. You know my personality profiles. I’m not very sociable, but for me, an ideal team is a tennis team, where I’m 7 to 8 feet away from an opponent and on a sort of a loose team. That’s the kind of team I’m on. I played with a football team. It was a great experience and we came together as the true team. We won one game the whole season and we celebrated like never before. It was an amazing achievement. No one expected that from us, but personally, I can’t say that teams are something that extraordinarily has a leader but I’ve observed a lot.
One of the case studies I remember from business school was an insurance company that wanted to transform itself. They created a workgroup and I don’t think they call it the team, but they put a weak leader on the team. I don’t know if that was intentional or not. We struggled as a class for 1.5 hours trying to figure out, how this team is ever going to succeed with a weak leader on it? It turns out it was one of the best working groups that the company ever had. They achieved their mission. It’s one of the lessons that Katzenbach talks about in his book, The Wisdom of Teams. The leader is not the most important thing on a team. It’s having a clear goal.
What happened on that team was there was a clear goal and they came together to make it happen. You can sometimes get an accidental team forming, even when some of the preconceived notions we have about what a team is, aren’t there. Do we need a team or not? Do we need a strong leader or not? Often, it’s not the case. The same thing as you mentioned the word collaboration. That’s a word that drives me crazy. I’ve seen organizations do overkill with collaboration. We’re collaborative and then what happens? Someone goes up to their manager and says, “I want to try this.”
The manager will then say, “That’s not being collaborative.” Suddenly collaboration becomes an excuse to avoid tough conversations. I know at least two major organizations I’ve worked with where it’s impossible to get a yes, but easy to get to a no. Everybody has veto power because it’s collaboration run amuck. You have to talk to everybody. If anybody says, “No, nothing happens,” so nothing ever happens. There are all these words that get used poorly in companies. People going for the hype of team, collaboration, etc. Maybe it’s just simpler.
What would be simpler? I think of collaboration and like you, it’s a buzzword that can drive me insane. At the same time, you want to be seen as more consulting to get enough information that I consult with enough people to come to that conclusion or come to some idea of what we want to get done. I look at it from a design perspective where it’s about gaining as much insight as you can from different sources so that you have a diversity of ideas that you can pull from and then look at some ways of going forward.
It’s simple enough.
It’s funny your experience in sports is a little different. Most of my career has been in sports and was playing on teams. I was playing football or basketball and I think I bring that idea to everything I do. It is like, “How can we function better as a team?” That’s only because that’s been my lived experience for most of my high school and college life. I think of others who might have also had that same orientation as well, where some people do well on the road and can be high producers. Others need that association with others in order to perform well. In a position of leadership, how do you balance that?
I want to talk about basketball as a team because I got to interview one of the winningest basketball coaches in the NCAA ever. I did it with a guy named Corey Crowder who his son, Jae Crowder plays in the NBA. Corey played for the Utah Jazz and I learned a ton from it. One of the things he would do to create his teams was some exercises that you don’t see in companies like he said, “We’re going to be the best fit team so that in the last two minutes of a game, no one can outrun us.” He would have his team do all these suicides and running all these things, but you’d have to hit a certain mark or you do it again.
He had his teammates carrying each other over the line sometimes to make sure those drills happen. He’d do stuff like that and you probably did this too. He mentioned the movie, Remember the Titans. He’d have people from his team live with each other and introduce each other and get to know each other. You can’t tell me that that happens in a corporate setting. It’s not the level we’re willing to go to. The only thing I’ve seen close is when people return from the military. They talk about that shared sense of purpose, whether it’s Navy SEALs, military leaders or frontline. It’s a remarkable thing and they often struggle because when they go into regular organizations, they don’t see anything close to that. They see people faking it.
You’re then lost and you’re looking for that connection, “How can I connect with the people around me?” It’s interesting because it seems almost like a conflict in some ways where if I have a group of people who are working well, and then do I need to go to the level of, “We need to establish a team because people tell me I have to,” versus, “If I’m struggling with people who are trying to demonstrate the right things that a team should do, should we maybe scale it back and look at focusing on being a workgroup?”
What’s the goal? We have something we have to achieve. Let’s look at the goal. Let’s get the right people together. Let’s make sure everyone’s clear on the path forward. We’ve looked at the risks. Let’s have enough time to communicate, not just about in the weeds communication, but also how we’re doing and maybe it works out. I’m thinking of when things don’t go well, as so-called teams that I’ve seen, it’s usually because of turf, ego, or agenda. For instance, in healthcare, I was part of a number of performance improvement projects where healthcare delivery systems would set up teams to improve things, but the reality was they also had to reduce costs. They had to be more productive while improving or maintaining the quality of care and patient satisfaction. Inevitably, if somebody had people working for them in their department, they were going to find ways to resist doing what had to happen.
They wanted to protect their people and I don’t blame them. They were afraid or didn’t want to make that hard decision. They wanted someone else to make it for them. That’s an example. I remember a so-called team that was supposed to form among faculty of eleven different universities in a specialized field. They were getting a big grant for the National Science Foundation but inevitably when push came to shove, it was about, “How can I get the most equipment? How do I maintain my power?” Whenever people leave the goal and it becomes something like, “How do I win? How do I have this hidden agenda?” That’s where teams tend to go wrong. In fact, we see it in sports all the time. When you get that one person who wants the ball all the time or wants all the glory, those teams tend not to do as well.
In essence, you’ve mentioned it a few times when it comes back to saying expectation. I feel like the leader in the core or at the center of all that saying the vision, the right expectation, and communicating that effectively. In your experience, I’m sure you see a lot of people who struggle with that.A workgroup is where we want to do the job, but we're not going to give it our all. We're not committed. Click To Tweet
You have to set the expectation. In the Center for Executive Coaching, we have a simple one-page sheet that says part of engaging and motivating a team is letting them know how they’re doing and we have a template for that. It’s amazing to me how people making millions of dollars don’t even have that kind of conversation with their team and their team doesn’t have it with their team. People are reading each other’s minds. They’re wondering how they’re doing. There’s no standard for performance and so on.
I always ask this question. It doesn’t matter who I talk to is, how does a company think it’s going to achieve its goals when it doesn’t address the little things? When we talk about little things, it’s more the day-to-day consistency of communicating with people of having a difficult conversation. I see that in a number of organizations where people are afraid to say what needs to be done. They’re afraid of being perceived as being negative or being countercultural when is probably constructive to have that conversation.
You would think it is. Some leaders are afraid. I remember one meeting and again it was a healthcare delivery system where the CEO was being questioned about some of the things she was doing. She stood up and said, “I’m the CEO. One of the values of this organization was supposedly respect.” She’s started tearing into the various people for trying to have a dialogue and try to understand. She took it very personally and defensively. You can imagine how demotivating and disengaging that behavior is. It isn’t that complicated.
To me, being honest about who I am, I’ve been in a number of companies. I used to be an employee and what I came to understand was I didn’t like it because I couldn’t be myself. I couldn’t do the things I can enjoy. Now, I love working the way I do. I have people I work with all around the world. I’ve created my own life. It could be that we look at things like big corporations as an anachronism one day and that it’s going to be more like this. I imagine with the pandemic and people working at home, more people are thinking about, “How can I be that freelance agent more than anything else?”
Looking at some of the people I know who read to this show, they’re in the process of either starting a business or considering going through a career transition. As you well know, starting up a business always has its challenges. You have to be focused on planning and strategy. From that perspective, in terms of tips or advice that you could give to someone who’s in that situation. I think of the person who’s thinking, “I’m trying to get ahead. I’m trying to assert myself. I’m not sure how I’m doing or what to do first.”
Is it in terms of starting a business?
Yes or leading a team. They’re starting something up and they’re a growth company or starting up that way.
If you’re starting a business, the number one thing is the runway. A runway is what gives you freedom. Runway means, “I have enough cash to support myself and my family and not be desperately trying to get this done.” That runway can come from investors, from a debt, ideally or from savings. That’s the number one thing I asked people because you know, 96% of the time you’re going to fail. That’s what the statistics are for starting a business. That’s number one and that leads to number two for me is I think of it more as oil drilling. How do the oil drillers do it? They might have ten fields that they have to try, but they test at a low cost knowing that five of the fields are going to be dry, 6, 7 and 8 might be okay, break even. Nine might be good and ten might be a gusher.
It’s more having a portfolio approach, not thinking, “This is the idea. This is going to work.” That idea could change multiple times so from a company point of view, that’s where companies need to be a little bit more flexible. If they feel like they have good people on board who are doing it, they have to understand things are out of our control. You’re going to get the result or you’re not, but trust your people enough that you’re going to let them drill. Let them test these different holes at the lowest at low risk and find that gusher eventually. That’s how I like to think about it. It’s not like there’s one idea linear way to do it. If you have the runway or you give your people the runway and let them a test, eventually the gusher will come. Before you know it, you have a boomtown.
That’s an interesting perspective. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that. The essence of both humans is trust. It’s is this allowing a certain level of vulnerability as well, along the way.
I’m more of the organic type. I’ve started a number of things and some have gone by the wayside. Some have had a good run and then go away and some continue. I liked that model. I’m never going to be the Google people or the Elon Musk who bets everything and goes big. I find that those are the people that the media tends to obsess about, but they’re not the majority of entrepreneurs out there. I think most of them have more ideas. They test it and grows over time, but it doesn’t have to be this big giant unicorn or gazelle or whatever they call these things.
That’s important for people to know too. They’re like, “I don’t have infinite greed,” as Bill Gates once yelled at an employee as the story goes for not having infinite greed. I don’t have that. I don’t need every parking spot in the mall. I want one spot and I’m happy. I’m going to have a good life, take care of my family, take care of my kids and enjoy my time. A little bit depends. It goes back to the goal of a team. What are you trying to achieve here? Do you need to rule the world like Jeff Bezos being a serial monopolist, or can you start a nice business and make a difference to people and make a good living?
You’ve given lots of food for thought as always, Andrew. As I’m sitting here, reflecting on my own career journey and business journey, you gave me homework to do. You never stopped. I wish I can stop learning from you.
I felt like I rambled quite a bit. Let me go back to basketball. What I forgot to say in basketball that applies to a team. On a basketball team, different players have different roles. If you’re on a team with, LeBron James, he’s going to get the ball that last second. You know that the goal is to get him the ball, but the players all have important roles. There’s the person who does the three-point shot. There’s the bruiser on defense. There are all sorts of things. The point is, back to the team, everybody has a role according to their strengths, but they have to understand their role and know how to play. That’s the other thing with teams. I wanted to make sure we reinserted that. I felt like we left it to go.Everybody has a role according to their strengths, but they have to understand their role and know how to play it. Click To Tweet
In terms of the leaders, they need to go back to communicating the expectations, following up, and holding people accountable to what’s been agreed upon. It’s all part of that whole piecing together of the building blocks to having a team. In regards to the next steps in terms of knowing where you see, in terms of the work that you do. I’m curious, in terms of the projects you have going on either with the school or some other projects, what could people learn from you or how could they follow up with you in any way?
At any time, they can come to CenterForExecutiveCoaching.com. We’re always testing new things. We rolled out a coaching skill for managers, self-paced workshops because coaching skills are important in companies. In fact, it gets to what we were talking about, teams. Those who know how to listen, ask great questions that move people forward together. That’s what coaching is and understand other people’s points of view. I tend to be more successful. Healthcare is a mess and always has been, but more of a mess than ever. I’m rolling out a healthcare leadership certification. I want to pull together some real thought people in healthcare and create a cohort that can make a difference because if anybody needs coaching these days, at least an organization, it’s still a leader in healthcare that need it, whether they’re physicians or not.
Those are two things, but I love what I do. I love working with people who are honest about what they want to do. There are some people who are made to work in organizations and I’ll train them to be internal coaches. There are others though who always want to start their own practice. I love seeing that. Nothing gets me happier than getting emails that say, “I got my first client. It’s been a year and I hit my goals.” I’m happiest working in my home office where I can take my kids wherever I need to. I played tennis before this. It’s a good life to be solo and independent. That’s what matters to me and anyone who wants to learn how to do that, I can teach them.
I know that you’ve taught me. I know that my cohort has gone to great pursuits and accomplishments. It’s always great to hear from you and see the comments from people who keep graduating from the program and continued success to you and all your pursuits. I want to thank you again for being here and sharing your wisdom and also your experience.
Jeffrey, thank you too. The best of success.
Thank you again to Andrew Neitlich for being the guest on this episode. A special thank you to you once again for reading and for allowing me to be a part of your day. It’s always a pleasure to share new insights and people with you and helping you on your leadership journey. Until next time, take care, be good and lead well.
- Center for Executive Coaching
- Guerilla Marketing
- The Way To Coach: Executives
- Elegant Leadership
- The Wisdom of Teams
About Andrew Neitlich
Andrew Neitlich is the Founder of the Center for Executive Coaching, the leading executive coach training program for successful professionals seeking their next level of flexibility, freedom, and fulfillment. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School and is the author of three books in the Guerrilla Marketing series, The Way to Coach Executives, and Elegant Leadership. His own coaching practice focuses on helping dynamic leaders in growth companies be even more successful. Andrew lives in Sarasota Florida.