What you can achieve with a high performing team

We interviewed a business colleague, George Blakeway, who has recently completed an amazing adventure as part of a very diverse team with a whole range of skills and backgrounds to make the whole experience come alive. We asked George what the motivation was to get involved in this adventure in the first place.

George told us he had been thinking for some years that he needed an adventure for two reasons. One quite personal in that he has always been someone who likes adventure and challenging himself, but he was also looking for something that might appeal from a professional perspective and this was the real driver. The challenge he found meant stepping back into a high-performance team that operated under difficult circumstances and had to cope with a challenging environment: The Clipper Around the World Cup Race. George took part in the first leg from London to Uruguay and was away for the best part of two and a half months.

With the dynamics centering around high performing teams and with the length of the challenge covering a long period there was a real need to come together as a team and understand the different dynamics of the team themselves. We asked George what he felt had been some of the real highs and lows that he experienced during the race itself. He told us that the highs weren't just in the race itself but often in the way that they all came together as a team both before and during the race and the way they trained together. A big part of this almost mirrored the classic sort of experience businesses go through when forming teams. George told us he's very competitive, but the team themselves weren't as a whole very experienced in competitive sailing. With most of them being amateur sailors with very little sailing experience before starting the adventure, it was important they had a professional skipper but he wasn't experienced in terms of ocean racing so they weren't given much chance of winning. To get a podium position would have been a fantastic result.

With so many boats taking part although you see everyone at the start line within a very short timescale they are actually more than five or six miles apart and you don't see each other for about six weeks until you start coming back to the finish line - and even then they were so spread out at the finish line they didn't see the other yachts. Effectively this means you're racing against the radar together with the racing elements. George's team finished their leg third which was a really fantastic achievement. Across the whole, Around the World Race, they are currently sitting in 2nd place overall. So they are doing something right in terms of the way the teams perform.

Working with a team in such a closed environment and under often difficult conditions for a long time must be very challenging and we asked George what he felt this had taught him. At the time it probably wasn't that obvious but afterwards, when George sat and thought about it he determined that what he really learned was that we're all different and that this diversity is really important. The fact that they were able to draw on different experiences, different backgrounds, different skill sets was fantastic. But just as important was that they had to appreciate those differences and this would mean a little bit of tolerance. This was a big learning for George which he hadn't considered so much before he started. He told us "When I'm looking at team performance within our clients and that element of appreciating other people's point of view - recognising it, it's different from learning to tolerate it and not looking to change their mind. There are times we just have to accept that they say they see it this way and it's OK if it's different from the way you see it. It doesn't have to be discussed or solved."

"On a boat there is the element of physical space. You feel restrained and you're constantly bumping into each other. You're wet and cold; someone is trying to get their sailing gear off and elbows you in the face; there's no space, the boat is moving around or on an angle and everything is just so uncomfortable. But you just have to learn to accept that kind of stuff. It's almost a metaphor for the behavioral stuff - we also have to accept that someone's just winding me up with what they've said or how they're behaving; or what they're not saying or doing. You just accept that they're tremendously tired; they're probably feeling a bit low, or missing their family. Actually what they need is a bit of a hand hold rather than complaints about not pulling their weight. It's recognising those moments and working with it. That's no different from sitting in a boardroom or a contact centre and appreciating that someone's come into the office with some issues that they've perhaps had at home. Asking them to ignore those issues is ridiculous because it's part of us and is part of our life."

George told us that when they came together as a team before the race he had taught them about DiSC and we asked whether this had helped going into the race with the team having a bit of an understanding about how they behave and how they were likely to behave as a team.

"It did. There was a real powerful coming together on the team and the event organisers certainly facilitated that we did the exercise where we got people standing around a room looking at things through a different lens, and just appreciating the diversity as we were fairly spread across the four areas. Interestingly our Skipper came out as an 'S' and he is very humble, shows vulnerability and was always concerned about how the rest of us were feeling, or what we felt about things. Initially, I thought gosh, we're about to cross an ocean and put our lives in this person's hands and does he have that strength of character. But my gosh, it reminds me that whatever style you are, it's nothing to do with strength of character. He demonstrated this wonderful ability to connect with us all which was his real strength. But he also demonstrated the ability to step into other styles when he needed to. There were plenty of times when he needed to get shouty on the boat and had to be a very very different character, but was still authentic to himself. I think us understanding where he was coming from helped our relationship with him in particular."

"In a team environment be it on a boat or in a boardroom it's having the raising of self-awareness to understand that I am different from the person sat next to me, I am different from the person working next to me on the boat. And sometimes our levels of tolerance can be raised or lowered. Depending on the mood or how you are that day. We had people from every different nationality and culture on the boat. What we were able to do is find a set of values that we all agreed on, and we did a lot of work on the team that weekend about looking at our values and our mission and what we actually wanted to achieve. Interestingly, the one that came out top by a long way was to stay safe."

Looking after each other both physically, because it's clearly a big risk on a boat, but also metaphorically in terms of thinking about how each other was feeling. That was a big part of the way they approached performance.

In many of the teams we work with in our business, looking out for each other is sadly not there. They're very fragmented, siloed as individuals and trying to nurture that through some of the tools that we have available with DiSC and the Five Behaviours really helps them to recognise that this is not just about me - this is about something much bigger - your team performance. As a business, you need to work with that initial phase before even starting to talk about the process and doing better. If you haven't created the right culture within your team to even have those conversations you need to fix that first. It's all about Trust.

Finally, we asked George what he felt taking part in this race taught him about himself.

"I think I always knew that we are capable of extraordinary things. I think individuals are capable of extraordinary things. I think when you come together as a team you can go way beyond what you thought was possible - that's the case when you have the power of the team. I also think it taught me that people have more tolerance than they give themselves credit for. I'd like to think that I've got the emotional intelligence having worked in the business that I'm able to adjust and flex my style but I'm still who I am to that extent. I have that tolerance but I need to work at it and it was inspiring to see how others coped.

What I learned about teams was really the basis of everything. Putting the team ahead of your own reason to be on that boat and therefore agreeing what we all wanted to achieve individually and collectively became more important.

Watch the full interview with George to see how the race went and hear more of what he learned during it.

Find out how George's training in Lencioni's Five Behaviours helped him during the Clipper Around the World Race.

If you'd like to find out more about how we work with you to develop extraordinary teams why not get in touch. Call us on 01905 841 778