Team Dynamics

I was introduced this week (at a Graduate Recruitment assessment centre) as “An expert in Group Dynamics and communication”.  Simultaneously pleased and flattered, I just nodded and agreed.  (Like I allow people to do on assertiveness training workshops…).



It happened again at a Management and Leadership workshop.  It is that joyful moment when the team realise no-one else is going to make things happen except them – and they are suddenly up for it.  Look, if I knew how that happened or why, I would have to charge a lot more.  Sometimes, I really do think you just have to hang on in there, keep learning (or at least be reminded of) some tools and techniques, and then get to know and respect what your other management colleagues are bringing to the table.  it is slow but inevitably more sustainable then drafting in a new team to act as a broom.  Continuity is all , and the glue that holds the values and vision together .  Confidence and some success to sustain that confidence, is the magic dust to sprinkle on the glue.

If there is an absence of any of the following, I find teams are not dynamic, and often dysfunctional:

  1. Respect for the strengths each bring
  2. Mutual understanding of each others roles
  3. A shared common agreed and enacted Vision
  4. An agreed set of short and medium term goals
  5. Overlapping core values
  6. Passion – which creates disagreements on ‘how and why’
  7. Members are excellent at working through and getting past any difficulties
  8. Equal pain in division of tasks

We don’t have to say “Good Communication”.  If the above is in place, then good communication happens.

It is simple, elusive, volatile and so exciting to be involved with a highly effective team.  I did some market research into how often people feel they had been in a Rolls Royce type of team – one where everyone else in the organisation clamoured to be involved; even your competitor organisations knew about ‘that team’?

Most people said it had happened once or never at all in their working lives.

How sad is that?  And the thing that stopped the hyper effective team most often?  The leaders above didn’t support or respect the team, so they broke up.

But it is worth pursuing the dream…

Lord Philip Hunt

Lord Philip Hunt, Shadow Deputy Leader of House of Lords, and former Trust Chair 

So here we are again at one of Roy Lilley’s Health Chats.  As you can see from below, I managed to get Lord Hunt to accept one of my books, and to pose with it!

Lord Hunt, Roy Liley & a cook Book

Philip Hunt and Roy Lilley admire my book!

Why was he being there at The Kings Fund?  Apart from the above, he is also Shadow Health Spokesman.  That’s good enough for me…

I had half hoped that Roy Lilley’s avuncular yet barbed style might have morphed into a Paxmanesque routine. How many times would he ask “So, what is Labour’s Health Policy?”

Was I disappointed? Only slightly. Three times was enough.. but it is amazing how you don’t need to be barbed to get some deep insights, and the occasional, “Did I hear that right?” moments.  As always – a health warning here – these are my own views and opinions of the event, and if you were there, you may interpret differently.

NHS - and Lord Hunt

Calm before the questions!

He’s been around a bit. Baron Kingsheath (a bit of OK Birmingham), was on a sit-in with Jack Straw as Students Union President back in 1968. It seemed important at the time. Then on to an Iron ore mine in Australia (but as a dish washer in the surface canteen). Been there at a lot of the changes (and there have been a lot) in the NHS.

What always impresses me with the folk who get there – really at the top of their profession, pulling the levers and making things happen, is their sensitivity and ordinariness. But then you get the twinkling intellect – the memory for names, places and what happened – and the absolute passion.  Philip added a dry sense of humour and self deprecation to this mix.

It was the names and anecdotes that hit home for me.  Frank Dobson (so good that Blair sidelined him into standing for London Mayor) – was so different as Health Secretary.  He praised people (heaven forfend…).  He made the service make waiting times come down to a position where it wasn’t worth having private medical cover.  Astonishing. Now they are increasing exponentially.  I wonder if the government has any contact with private health care providers?  Sorry, becoming a bit cynical…

Some other powerful quotes: “…Enforced marketisation”.  I loved that.  And any organisation that has had Activity Based Accounting, or ever cross charged to another part of their organisation will know all it does is cost bureaucratic money.

“Why is the NHS supine in the face of the ludicrous things it is asked to do?”   What a great question.  I suppose there is no leader, no head, no General to turn to, to complain.  Maybe the Trusts and the GPs and the Junior Doctors (such a dismissive nomenclature), should start saying NO?  Maybe just to ask for forgiveness if they screw up, rather than forelock tugging begging for permission to do what they know is right?  “There are a litany of new demands placed on them which are very removed from reality”.  Amen.  Start handing stress back to the rightful owner, you local leaders…and let the central guys sweat.  Or just work with The Vanguards, and cut all the others out.  Maybe only pay for your CQC inspection if you firstly concur, and secondly that their suggestions for improvement actually work.  (What do you mean they don’t make suggestions?  Why pay then?  You wouldn’t pay an external consultant unless their report gave you suggestions?) (That bit was just me ranting, like Roy does occasionally (!) about the CQC and others…)

Lord Hunt was slightly more circumspectly political when the Junior Doctors strike ballot surfaced. No real advice to the other Hunt, but I think there was a glimmer of sparkle in his eyes which I read as ‘serves you right for being so negative and condescending’.  I may be wrong….

Devo-Manc was discussed as a good idea, but will the money really follow? (and if everything is devolved, and we stay in Europe – will we really need 650 in The Commons, and the 850+ of their Lordships?).  Contentiously, the prospect of Social Care being means tested did surface too.  I got the feeling Philip thought it inevitable – and it is happening by stealth anyway.  The Dilnot suggestion for limiting the amount you spent on your Social Care was in the Conservative manifesto, but conveniently dropped once they got in against their own odds…

I have a simpler suggestion.  Means Test all social care, and let the local authorities do that.  But if your mum is in a Nursing Home – as they used to be called – then that should still be NHS funded.  How do we decide it is nursing care?  Simple.  If the ward or home has to be locked, because your mum may walk out and harm herself, then that is Nursing, and should be NHS funded.

Lord Hunt quietly talked of the madness of allowing GPs to look after £80Bn of funds when they look after the governance of it themselves.  No public involved.  No real accountability.  He just quietly dropped that in, as is his style.  If you weren’t there you missed the musings and war stories of a fine man.  I just wish he wasn’t Shadow.

Men or women?

Or should that be masculine or feminine?

It feels inherently logical to talk of masculine and feminine traits in managers at least to fit the hard and soft skills stereotypes pretty neatly.


Nurturing, listening, supporting engagement; all soft and fluffy?

KPIs, Performance Management, Strategic Planning; more hunter gatherer?

Where do you put, core values, cajoling, influencing, coaching, accountability, recognition, motivation, teamwork?

It’s not so cut and dried, is it?

I do find the old arguments about which are the traits of a leader and which are those of a manager rather dry too.  Most of us real world people do both, often on the same shift.  OK – the higher up the organisation you are the more ‘thinking the unthinkable’ types of meeting you may well attend.  But we all do both managing and leading – don’t we?

All of us need to get more in touch with what can loosely be termed feminine traits.  They are most helpful to the Soft Skills cause.

But the most important thing to realise is that if we are to make the most of these skills, we really need to make sure we use the right ones in the right context.


Flexibility and adaptability are the keys to this.  Most of us are less flexible and adaptable than we think we are.  Ask the people around you.  Don’t be surprised at the answer.


So it’s not men or women.  It’s masculine AND feminine.  We need both sets of traits to give us maximum credibility and flexibility.

The shock of the new

Change is scary for lots of people in all organisations. It involves loss – of what has gone, of a bit of continuity and certainty, of familiarity.  If you look up change management on business websites you will quite often find reference to The Bereavement Curve, or something like it.  That is because change does feel like a major loss to most people.

There is a major problem in times of constraint, which makes this far more problematic in my view.  People may disguise their feelings, or bury them because of recessionary fears.  They, quite literally don’t want to put their heads above the parapet, for fear of being shot down or singled out for the next round of cost cutting.

Bad employers may exploit this.  Governments may do (public sector pay freezes, as a simple example).  This short termism may well come back to haunt the perpetrators.  Both in the ballot box and in an inability to recruit high quality people in the upturn. And rightly so, in my mind.


People do have two contracts, as you know.  Their contract of employment, and the Psychological contract.  The second is far more elusive and dictates what is usually called ‘discretionary behaviour’.  Simply, if people feel good about their organisation, then they may put more effort in.


One of the hardest things of all about any change though is we have to realise that we cannot change the past.  It really is no use bemoaning the passing of a process, system, client or colleague.  We can only learn from the past and change the future.

So the soft skill here?  It’s about supporting each other.  Listening, cajoling, imagining, creating new ways of doing and being.  And doing this as teams, as groups, as lunch flies, as friends.

We are all in it together if we choose to be.

(Picture is from my friends at The Trainers Library – always good!)

Motivating employees

Just picked this up from Chartered Management Institute:

A team happily working together – at a team building day!

“Being able to motivate staff is one of the key management skills anyone who has recently been promoted must learn.

This is according to Andy Yates, an advisor and mentor for, a money saving site for small businesses.

He says that ensuring your employees are happy is one of the key steps in ensuring your business remains productive.

Indeed, as most of us spend the majority of our lives at work, ensuring that it is as enjoyable as possible is of the utmost importance.

Mr Yates believes one of the easiest ways to keep staff happy and motivated is to praise their work.

He told the Daily Mail: “Praise is a no-brainer for any boss. It costs nothing, it’s easy to give and it means a lot. So why have so many bosses not got the brains to praise their employees more often when they achieve and improve?”

He added that communicating company visions and values and getting the employees to buy into them is also key for any business.”

I like the sentiment, and the ideas of how to are not extensive, and not really rocket science.  The bit that gets in the way, as far as I am concerned, is usually our own experience (or lack of it) in receiving praise ourselves.  We start by thinking “Do they mean me?”, then maybe cynically think “What do they want?” or end up simpering “It was nothing really”.  So try it.  As the One Minute Manager said many years ago “Catch people doing something right – and tell them so”.

The Vision and Values thing is perhaps a little more difficult.  To treat this aspect of the business as if it was owned and forged in the senior management team is to miss an obvious trick, and to make an obvious problem for yourselves.  If the rest of the team aren’t involved in creating these commandments, it will be much harder to engage them in living them and making them happen.  The top team do not have a monopoly on good ideas.

Share, and get people involved.  And remember, praise people when they come up with great suggestions!