Company Coaching: Unlocking Team Learning




Full transcript available below, for those of you who prefer reading over listening!

6 Key Principles Talentism Clarity Coaches use to unlock your company’s potential.

  1. Start with Synthesizing [00:10:32]- Teams often lose the ability to act as an interdependent group of experts. They typically fall to the level of the system around them, starting with the blindspots and dysfunctions of the person who is at the top or leading the meeting. Every individual in a team is both responsible for their own point of view and for supporting the team to win. That means everyone has to synthesize: and form a productive perspective based on multiple sources of information and critical reasoning. No one person can surrender their right and responsibility to synthesize. But someone at the table needs to be responsible for the meta-synthesis – ensuring that everyone is synthesizing well.
  2. Safety Leads to Productivity [00:17:42] – People who are confused or feel under threat will stay silent during critical times, adding to the operational burden of the organization. We have found that it is rare that an important operational problem wasn’t identified or at least suspected by at least one member of a team. We have also found that that person rarely speaks up. The second impact of people staying silent is that they can’t help things get better, which means they aren’t unleashing their potential. Someone on the team needs to synthesize the level of safety and determine what stands in the way of creating more safety.
  3. Reorient to Productivity [00:27:08] – Most communications are unproductive at best or harmful at worst. A team that is poorly communicating cannot turn confusion into clarity and, therefore, cannot unleash the organization’s potential. Someone on the team needs to synthesize the quality of the communication and reorient to productivity when the communication is unproductive. Productive communication solves problems, fosters learning, builds trust, and ensures sync. Typically this starts with someone at the table synthesizing the quality of the conversation, sharing that observation, and reorienting to shared interests, goal-level thinking (shared commitments), design syncs, and prior agreements.
  4. Ensure Perpetual Three-Level Sync [00:34:13] – Teams typically fail to get in sync at any level. They don’t share awareness, understanding, or alignment. Someone needs to synthesize this failure of sync, call it out, and guide people to testing for sufficiency at each level.
  5. Design and Prioritize Leading Indicators [00:43:32] – teams typically become fixated on the past, not on the future. Humans prioritize small near-term risks over catastrophic longer-term risks. Typically teams jump on problems like a soccer game played by toddlers – everyone runs to the ball and kicks the hell out of it until somehow the problem moves somewhere else. Nothing is learned, and the team doesn’t win. Leading indicators require attention to the long-term issues that drive performance, like ECM clarity and trust. When teams spend all their attention on lagging financial indicators, they miss signals that the team at the top needs to prioritize.
  6. Constantly Drive Learning Loops [00:50:51] – everyone is always learning. It is the most human thing to do. But without purposeful learning, based on quality syncs and shared hypotheses, learning will likely be unproductive. Someone needs to hold the responsibility to ensure that hypotheses are shared, syncs enabled, and learning is guided by data, not opinion, putting a point on what was learned and how it should show up in future designs and employment decisions. Someone needs to own the speed of learning of the team and use the levers of the broader leading system to ensure constant improvement.

| Full Transcript |

Angie [00:00:12] 

Welcome to Quick Clarity, the podcast where we talk about all things 3C. For those of you tuning in for the first time, 3C is the Talentism model for understanding why confusion exists. How to turn that confusion into clarity and productivity, and what happens when we ignore confusion and let it harden into certainty. Each week I talk to the founder of Talentism, Jeff Hunter, about the questions we see our clients dealing with and his latest thoughts on the state of humans, business and the world. 

Angie [00:00:54] 

Jeff, I am excited for us to get started today. We are going to be responing to some feedback and questions we’ve been getting from listeners. They have appreciated your perspective on the idea of personal responsibility as a wedge into learning for oneself and this idea of really seeing the system that you’re creating, that you’re responsible for and that you’re also at the mercy of. You know, many of our listeners are themselves, the leaders of organizations, and many of our coaches work with these leaders. One of the things that they’ve been asking us as they listen is how do we expand the aperture, so the leader can go from this learning about themselves to looking at its impact on the full company. How do they bring the company along? One of the things we offer at Talenism, and one of the things you’ve got a long track record of doing, is company coaching. So can you start by telling us what does that mean? What is company coaching? 

Jeff [00:01:50] 

If you think about clarity, and by the way, it’s wonderful to be back here with you, and it’s so great every week. I look forward to it and spend my weekends dreaming about this. So thank you. Which may, of course, mean that I need to get a life. But yeah, let’s talk about company coaching. You know, at Talentism, we talk a lot about clarity coaching. That’s our brand. That’s the product. We innovated; that’s what we do. We use clarity coaching to denote this methodology we have where we’re…we’re not trying to end confusion, we’re trying to synthesize it, bring it forward, make it productive, and make it productive by turning it into clarity. We talk about turning confusion into clarity as the way that you drive perpetual learning. Learning leads to productivity. Productivity is really the heart of excellence and sustained advantage. In some future podcast, we’ll talk about what I mean about productivity because there’s all this productivity craze, which isn’t exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about life hacking. I’m not talking about packing 10 lb of life into a 5 lb bag. I’m literally just talking about how you think about learning to unleash your potential. We have this individual coaching that, you know, we serve thousands of people with and many hundreds of companies. Those same sorts of concepts hold true at a company level as well, because when you take an individual, and you put them with a group of other individuals, and they’re all responsible for goals, and they’re all working together to achieve those goals, you’re going to get group confusion. You’re going to get team confusion, and you need to turn that into team clarity. One of the things I thought I would do today is actually discuss what the principles of team clarity are, what has to happen in order for a team to to get to clarity. I thought I might share those today. 

Angie [00:03:50] 

That sounds great. Should we get started? 

Jeff [00:03:53] 

Sure. Let’s do it. First, I want to start with a story. You know me and my stories. I think I started hearing this in the nineties. It’s a little hard to tell. Hopefully, an astute listener or reader is going to say, ‘No, Jeff, that’s all wrong. Here’s the real story.’ That would be great because being wrong is wonderful, because it leads to learning, as long as you get help. Here I’ll relate the story as I heard it. It’s very easy for all of us now, all of us who are leading businesses, building businesses, running enterprises, organizations, to believe that man, this point in time is really unique. In many ways, it is. What we’re experiencing in the world, as we’ve talked about, We don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of pressure. This level of constraint in the areas of talent, growth, and capital, all at the same time that we’ve seen in any other time. But in many other cases, there’s that old saw. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And of course, there have been many times in the past where business people have had to face existential threat, where leaders and entrepreneurs and managers have had to face existential threat and deal with it. One of those times was actually in the eighties in the U.S. auto industry. Without belaboring the whole thing, obviously coming out of World War Two, the Japanese industrial base had been devastated by the war. So they really had to rebuild. That gave them the opportunity to create far better industrial practices than existed anywhere else in the world. One of my heroes, Edwards Demings, helped them create systems of continuous improvement. This all led to the Japanese auto industry just skyrocketing and doing an incredible job of starting to dominate the world’s auto market. Detroit had always been in the lead in that area. Detroit had since…since the beginning had been one of the key innovators in production methodologies. They and been able to, pre, during, and postwar be able to bring cars to the world. So they had gotten pretty arrogant, and they had gotten pretty sclerotic. They were surprised when the Japanese in the seventies, especially during the oil crisis, were able to deliver cheaper, higher quality, more fuel-efficient cars thaT American consumers really gravitated to. In the early eighties, the American auto industry was facing this existential crisis of losing market share. Their products were not good. There was no product market fit for the current environment. And so the story goes like this… 

Jeff [00:06:35] 

One of the key auto manufacturers, I think it was Oldsmobile, maybe Pontiac. Again, an astute listener can help me figure that out. Decided that the way they were going to face this crisis is they were going to have executive meetings, but instead of one executive meeting, they were going to have two meetings, and they were literally going to have the same group of people meet for a couple hours in one room and then take a break and reconvene in a completely different room, but next door and have a meeting about that meeting. So there was the first meeting, which let’s call the functional meeting, talking about what products they’re putting online, where are the new cars and the design factory and the design process, how are sales looking, all those things. And then they’d get together after a short break in the room next to it and have a meeting about that meeting where they’d ask the question, what just happened in that meeting? And what they were trying to do is figure out where they were collectively blind, or they weren’t speaking up, or they weren’t operating as a clarity team because they’re facing this existential crisis and they need to be at their top performance. And so they need to actually be doing common sense, productive things, behaviors to ensure that every meeting they’re having is incredibly valuable and is worth the investment of the time. And what they realize is they were actually going to have to have meetings about the meeting to talk about what was happening in that meeting. And what happened is they started to discover in that second meeting the first meeting was totally unproductive. At best, the meeting was unproductive. At worst, it was incredibly harmful. 

Jeff [00:08:17] 

Now I’ve sat in, I don’t know, hundreds, maybe thousands of executives meetings, serving as a company coach, also observing as an individual coach. I’ve also led executive meetings myself. I’ve been an executive, and by and large, that story makes a lot of sense to me because I have to say, of all the executive meetings I’ve sat in, all the leadership team meetings. I maybe could count on one hand meetings that I thought were productive, that were beneficial, that were worth the investment of the time. And I would say, you know, 80% of them were worthless, and 20% of them were incredibly damaging. And so you have all the leaders of the organization, the people who are responsible for guiding it, who are responsible for determining the path, picking the strategy, choosing the point on the horizon, the purpose, the vision, the mission. These people are getting together, and at best, they’re wasting time. And at worst, they’re confusing the hell out of each other and actually making things worse. And whenever…Of all the conversations I’ve had with my CEO clients, the most common by far is how do I run a good executive team meeting? Who should be in that meeting, and how do I run it? That…that question is 2 to 1 over any other question I get. And I have a set of principles I talk about. I have structures I’ve talk about, etc., and then we’ll go to implement them. And sure enough, the next meeting is just as bad as the last meeting. And then we’ll have to go through the diagnosis of that, etc… And so one of the things I learned is you need the principles. But then you need someone who knows how to do it. And often, because someone doesn’t know how to structure and lead an executive team meeting, but we’re depending on the people that table to do it. There’s an opportunity for this thing I call a company coach, which is somebody sitting there at that table making sure that this team is really productive together and turning confusion into clarity. So that’s the big idea behind the company coach. There’s these six principles I like to deploy. We’re going to start with the first one, then I’d love to talk to you, Angie, about each one. 

Jeff [00:10:32] 

So the first principle is Start With Synthesizing this incredibly simple to say and incredibly difficult to do. So let’s start. Let’s first come up with a definition of what I mean by synthesizing. What I mean when I say that is you, as an individual, not as a group, as an individual, have a responsibility to form a productive perspective based on multiple sources of information and critical reasoning. So a synthesis is not an opinion. It’s not a feeling. It’s not something off the top of your head. It’s something you invest in. And it’s where you’re forming a perspective on how something is going. How are we doing as a team? How is this organization doing? How am I doing here? All of these things require synthesis. Again, this forming of a productive perspective based on multiple sources of information. And the reason I say start with synthesizing is what we know about human beings. There’s a couple of things we know about human beings. One is we’re all really drawn to bright, shiny objects, short-term risks, and opportunities, which means we typically completely miss long-term risks and long-term opportunities. We also know that we’re very social, and so will tend to default to the most powerful voice at the table or the most popular voice at the table. And what is required in any particular moment For a team to be great together is every person at that table has to have their own independent synthesis. They can’t be starting with somebody else’s synthesis. I see this happen all the time. The CEO will come in there in a terrible mood. Let’s say that just before they went into the meeting, we got the new sales numbers. I’ve seen this happen a number of times, get the new sales number immediately confused immediately puts them into threat. They go into the meeting…doesn’t matter where there’s an agenda, doesn’t matter what’s going on. They slam down the paper, and they say, ‘Our sales numbers are crap, and we need to talk about it.’ Now, that sounds like a synthesis, but it’s not. That does not involve critical reasoning that does not involve multiple sources of information. It fails all of those tests, but they are the CEO. So they must know what they’re talking about. So all of a sudden, I’m there sitting in the room going, ‘Man, we got a sales problem.’ I have literally given up my right and responsibility to form an independent point of view and my right and responsibility to synthesize. 

Jeff [00:13:15] 

Human beings give in to this all the time. There’s this clip I just saw on YouTube that reminded me of this. So there’s this guy that begins front of a room. He’s talking to a really large room, and he says, Hey, listen, I’m here to talk to you about human beings, what human beings are like. And he says, first we’re going to look at this picture, and he puts up this big slide, this big projection, and there’s this bright red circle and a bright blue circle. And he said, Now, these two circles may appear to be the same size, but they’re, in fact, different sizes. So please raise your hand in the room. If you believe the red circle is bigger, you can’t really see the audience. We assume a bunch of hands go up because he sort of counts. Then he says, okay, raise your hand if you believe the blue circle is bigger, and hands go up. I assume…he’s counting. And he said, okay, so now raise your hand if you realize I was lying to you. And he’s like, Yeah, nobody raised their hand, but I am lying to you. These..these circles are exactly the same size. And we see this happen all the time in team settings. Someone will make an assertion, and everyone else is like, okay, that must be right. But if your business literally rises or falls on whether that’s right or not when someone says, ‘Our sales are terrible.’ ‘Our products are terrible.’ ‘Our sales are great.’ ‘Our products are great.’ if your business literally rises or falls based on the accuracy of that perspective, it is beholden to everybody at that table to have their own independent point of view and to ensure that everybody else is synthesizing. And again, one of the things that’s so hard in being an excellent executive team or any team is who’s going to ensure that everybody’s doing that. If I’m the CEO and I’m the leader of the meeting, and I come in in a bad place, and I come in, you know, gunning for bear with all sorts of ideas about fears, about things that are going on. And I make an assertion, who’s going to call me on the carpet? Who’s going to say is that assumption accurate? Where do you get that information? Share the sources of information so everybody can independently synthesize who’s going to say that. A lot of times, that’s where a company coach is critical. So the first is to Start With Synthesizing. 

Angie [00:15:36] 

There’s some nuance in what you just said that I want to make sure that we capture. So the first thing I heard you say is as we think about what company coaching is. It’s the process by which not just individuals or a collection of individuals, but a team, a cohesive unit, gets to the clarity that fuels their productivity, which is how they achieve excellence and create sustained advantage. So this is how a team does the process that we also do with individuals, which is identifying where there’s confusion, risk or waste in their system and turns that into clarity. And the first principle I’m hearing you say is when this team gets together, each person holds or needs to get themselves to a place where they are holding a synthesis, not just an opinion, but their view of what’s going on and why based on their lived experience and the data that they’re looking at. And the reason I paused here, and I said, ‘I think there’s important nuance,’ is because I think it’s very easy to just summarize what you said as, okay, avoid groupthink. And you can say, okay, well, the CEO should speak last or the person in the room who purportedly has the most power because of their title should speak last. But I think you’re saying something different, which is

 Each one of these people has critical lived experience that’s different from the other because of the functional role they play, because of what they’re like and how they see the world. And so there’s a responsibility. Each one has to bring those things to the table in the form of synthesis, not just so that there are different thoughts at the table, but so that their unique perspectives are represented in the description of what’s going on and then critically, what to do about it. 

Jeff [00:17:22] 

Yes, perfect. Well said. Yeah, that’s right. Because everybody’s got potential at the table, Right? And what we live for is we want to unleash that potential. We’re going to get into this in the next principle a little bit. If you aren’t independently synthesizing, you aren’t adding your potential. 

Angie [00:17:39] 

Yeah. Okay. Let’s jump into the next one. 

Jeff [00:17:42] 

The next principle is Safety Leads to Productivity. Here’s the thing we know about human beings, this is very much part of the Talentism IP, and the way we think about things is ,let’s stop thinking about human beings as robots with hearts. Let’s start thinking about us as primates with calculators. As primates with calculators, we’re constantly dealing with this thing we do, which is we pattern match very quickly below the level of consciousness. We get confused because of that pattern match, and then we fall into an emotional state because of that. In that moment, we actually sort of disconnect the prefrontal cortex. We disable all these rules and models we have to help us become productive and the best version of us. We instead..our brain narrows… focuses on and gets to the rule set or the model that we think that our brain, through past practice, believes will be the most productive to protect us. When you’ve got a group of people sitting at a table, it is not a question of whether that’s happening. It is happening. The sooner everybody gets on board with that, the faster everybody will start to understand what happens with groups of people breaking down. Everybody is unconsciously at that table looking for clues of where they’re in threat or where there’s a reward or an opportunity. They’re not doing it consciously. They’re not sitting there with their cheat sheet or with some checklist, mental checklist. That’s not what’s happening. Their mind is scanning lots and lots of information, discarding a lot of it, highlighting or amplifying other pieces of it, and then making a snap sort of judgment to the extent that word can be used about an unconscious system, a snap judgment about what’s happening. And what that means is when people fall into threat, there’s two things that are going on. 

Jeff [00:19:42] 

One is they go into this classic fight, flight, or freeze. If it’s either freeze or flight, they have no voice at the table. If it’s a fight, they’re actually seeking to disrupt the table. And the second thing is, we know because they’re either not speaking up or they’re disrupting, they aren’t adding value to the table. And they have every person…if some…if you have a team, if you have an executive team or any team, you have that team because it is more valuable together than it is apart. You cannot achieve your goals as an entrepreneur, as a business leader, as somebody who has a vision of the future. You cannot achieve your goals without the best from each of these people. If you could do it yourself, you probably would, but you can’t. And so you need these people to help you be your best. So what we mean when we talk about the system influencing us, these people at the table are a big part of your system, but they have to be at their best in order to be able to help you be your best. And if they’re under threat, they ain’t their best. And yet if you go into an executive team…again, sitting through hundreds, perhaps thousands of these things…I got to tell you; most people don’t speak up. And they aren’t speaking up because they don’t have anything to say. I follow up with a lot of people after meetings. I get them into a safe place, and I ask, ‘What’s going on?’ And it’s self-obsession narratives, or it’s anger. It’s things like that that lead to people not speaking up. And it’s so deeply habituated that they actually think they like, ‘Oh, I just don’t have anything to say.’ But just 5 minutes of good communication leads to now, like, ‘I really doubt myself. I’m not as smart as other people in the table or me, and I feel like an imposter or ‘that asshole never listens to me anyway.’ Doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, whether it’s an outward-facing BSL, an inward-facing BSL, there’s this narrative we have about why our voice shouldn’t be heard. But that narrative is triggered by a fear response, and the fear response is triggered by a lack of feeling of safety. If you want a productive team, you have to build an environment of safety. Now, psychological safety is a big topic these days, and that’s not the purpose of this podcast. I’ll just say the following. Most people interpret psychological safety to mean comfort. That is not what I mean here. What I mean by psychological safety is the ability to take productive risk. The ability to actually speak up, take the risk of speaking up, and to have that be valued and to have that contribution matter or to be shown why that contribution could be better. So you can learn. That’s what I mean by psychological safety, not comfort, clarity. So as a leader, you are responsible for, because you’re the most powerful person at the table, you’re responsible for creating that safety. But again, getting back to this Oldsmobile two-meeting thing, if you’re functionally driving a meeting and you’re trying to get through a big agenda, and you as a leader have those feelings about yourself, you have the feeling of being an imposter or scared or angry or whatever, you aren’t going to be thinking about safety. It’s not a common practice for most entrepreneurs and leaders. They aren’t practiced in it. So, the question is, who’s going to create the space for safety at the table and ensure that behaviors that are consistent with creating safety are practiced? Again, this is another thing that company coaches help with when leaders are overwhelmed or unproductive and can’t do it themselves. 

Angie [00:23:31] 

I want to pause for just a minute because I think you’ve highlighted something that can feel like a tension or maybe even go without recognition. When a leader is sitting at the head of the table, which is the feeling of one, Look, I pay these people a lot of money. I’m expecting that they’ll bring their best ideas to the table. And if I’m not hearing any disagreement or objection to what I’m saying, then my expectation is that they’re aligned or maybe something more along the lines of, look, we’re in, quote, wartime. You and I hear that a lot from our clients because of the external circumstances we’re facing. So I need to be able to move quickly. And that sometimes means skipping past the sort of debate and objections piece of…of getting my team aligned. I want to pause on both of those for a minute and just make sure I’m hearing what you’re saying, which is 

In both of those instances, the leader is making an implicit or an explicit choice that is going to cause them to lose out in the long run because they’re not benefiting from the synthesis and the perspective of the people around the table. And perhaps more importantly, they’re not creating the safety that incentivizes those people to take productive risks. I say productive risk because there are risks that have been discussed, their risks that are oriented to learning. What I’m hearing you say is anybody who’s sitting at the head of a table and saying, ‘I don’t have the time to invite in other perspectives.’ or ‘These people are paid enough; they should just speak up when they have something to say.’ Is explicitly making a choice that’s going to cost their organization because there isn’t the safety to take productive risks. 

Jeff [00:25:24] 

Exactly. Another metaphor to think about is, think about the trust bank account. Where as a leader, you’re either making deposits or withdrawals. You’re never leaving the account alone. You can’t leave the account alone. So you’re either making deposits or withdrawals; low trust environments are low productivity environments. Lots of studies validate that. Common sense validates that I trust environments are productive environments, productive systems. So if you aren’t explicitly making a trust deposit as the leader of the meeting, and the way you do that is to create safety, then you are making a trust withdrawal. So you’re decreasing long-term productivity. A. B. You definitely are hoping that you are lucky. That is your strategy; you are hoping for luck. It is highly unlikely you are the smartest person at the table. Even if you are the smartest person at the table, It is completely unlikely that you have all the information everybody else has together. And even if you do have all that information, it is impossible to ensure that you’re thinking is clear without the help of others. And this team is that help. You’re always sub-optimizing today by failing to prioritize safety over the benefit of tomorrow. And you’re making a withdrawal instead of a deposit. And since all leaders eventually have to make a withdrawal, whether they want to or not, they just will be in that position, prioritizing deposits in the trust bank account is always the high-order strategy. 

Angie [00:27:03] 

Okay, let’s keep moving because I know you have other principles you want to share about company coaching. 

Jeff [00:27:08] 

Yeah. Let’s get to the third one. Reorient to Productivity. When a group of people gets together, they communicate otherwise…I don’t know…It’s a movie…So they communicate. The quality of communication really is basically the quality of the team. Again, having sat through hundreds and hundreds of these, I would say most communication is terrible. Either it’s wasteful, it’s not worth anything, or it’s harmful. When it could be incredibly additive, could be incredibly accretive. So what happens in meetings? This is not a made-up example, by the way. I’ve seen this happen so many times. The CEO enters the meeting, has gotten some triggering event or information just prior to entering the meeting, blows up the agenda, drops down, starts working a problem. We’ve all seen that. Happens all the time. That is an unproductive conversation. First of all, as an executive team, and we’ll talk about this a little bit later under a different principle, you should be focused on leading indicators, not lagging indicators. Problems are always lagging indicators. When a problem has happened, it’s either incredibly bad luck or it’s bad design and bad management. There are bad luck there…There are force majeure events in the world, earthquakes, etc. But most of what happens in a business is bad design and bad management. And, of course, because it has to be, because if you were to sit there the entire time and dream of every possible catastrophe that could come your way. Every instance of failure. Every possible mistake. You’ll never get off the dime. And you got to move, got to act, you got to design products and deliver and sell them and pay people. This is all action stuff. You can’t sit in a room just dreaming about the future. Business is about delivery. So you got to go with bad information or poor designs or whatever, of course, but you got to learn from them. You got to learn from the inevitable mistakes that are created by the failure to be able to adequately embrace invest in foreseeing that future. That’s just what’s happening all the time. We’re making mistakes. We’re learning from them, and we’re getting better while we’re solving the problems of tomorrow with the problems of today. You can’t do that if you’re having terrible communication. So, for instance, a team that is poorly communicating rarely can turn confusion into clarity. They can’t identify that they’re in confusion. They just have competing ideas. Some people are speaking up; some aren’t. The people speaking up are usually the loudest voice in the room. They’re yelling; they’re pounding the table. Everyone else is like, ‘I don’t know.’ They’re all afraid. They’re turning confusion into clarity, and so, therefore, they can’t unleash the organization’s potential. But the other thing that’s happening is they aren’t leveling the conversation the right way. So if someone comes in and says, as an example, ‘sales were down, we’ve got to boost sales.’ The next logical question after is, Where did you get the synthesis? Why should we believe it? That’s principle one, but the next is…How should this work? Is this a melee? We’ll talk about the four-year-old soccer game later on. Is this just a melee? Is this just loudest voice wins? Is this just work harder? I mean, everybody’s already crispy fried and at the edge of their burnout zone. How should this entire thing work? Who is responsible for sales? What did we do that didn’t work? Assuming we agree with the synthesis, What are the levers we can actually pull? Who’s responsible for those levers? What part does everybody else in this room own for helping with that? 

Jeff [00:31:13] 

Even if they don’t own sales. ‘How should this work?’ Is a classic leveling prompt. ‘What goals do we have?’ Another leveling prompt. ‘Do we share those goals?’ Remember Oldsmobile, they were having crappy meetings. They’re having these incredibly crappy meetings. Products are delayed. They’re low quality. Customers don’t want them, and then they’re going next door, and they’re saying, ‘How was that meeting, and what happened?’ And what they found is, ‘yeah, that was a really bad meeting because, frankly, all we did was talk about problems in power dynamics. And then no one spoke, and we all sort of went along with the loudest voice in the room. Nobody got us to the right level in the conversation. Nobody guided us to a productive outcome in that communication.’ Somebody in that room, in the executive team meeting, somebody on the executive team, because obviously, executive teams function beyond just meeting contacts. Somebody actually has to re-orient the confusion to productivity. Somebody has to own that. And again, the CEO is often the source of the confusion.  How can they re-orient? The CEO doesn’t come in and go, ‘I’ve just got the sales report, and I’m really pissed. So, I’m not going to be capable right now of getting this team to clarity. Someone else needs to take that responsibility.’ I mean, it would be great if CEOs did that. We see that at Talentism. It’s possible, but most people are not in the practice of that. They don’t have the self-awareness. They don’t know what’s needed. So the meeting devolves. Having a company coach as somebody who can reorient the conversation to productive outcomes is critical. 

Angie [00:32:57] 

Okay, So I’m taking away from that. The headline of ‘reorient to productivity’ doesn’t mean all our meetings should be about whether we’re being productive or not. 

When problems are inevitably raised for discussion, to recognize what level the conversation is being hard at, and to remember that blaming or just talking about what should be done differently, this idea of the, ‘theoretically this should happen differently’ will not actually lead to a quality diagnosis of how we got here and how the system should be changed going forward. The magic question I’m hearing is ‘How should this work?’ Right? ‘How should we get to a good outcome here?’ ‘How is the reality different from how this should work?

Jeff [00:33:44] 

Yes, you can do goal-level orientation or system-level orientation. ‘What are we trying to get done here?’ So reorient everybody to the point of the future, or you can reorient to ‘How things should work.’ A good company coach has a lot of tools in their tool kit in order to make sure that the conversation gets reoriented to productivity. But those would be the most common prompts. 

Angie [00:34:10] 

Great. Okay, let’s go. Let’s get to your next principle. 

Jeff [00:34:13] 

All right. We’re halfway through. We’re on a roll. Okay. Ensure Perpetual Three-Level Sync. So what do I mean by three levels? Well, first of all, by sync, we basically just mean agreement. But most people fail to understand how disagreement happens. What we’ve done is invested a lot of time…there’s lots of places that focus on sync or alignment. We think of it at three levels. 

Jeff [00:34:31] 

One is for two or more people to be productive with each other. They need to share awareness. That’s the first level of sync. We have to be looking at the same data. We have to be looking at the same information. We have to share information so that we’re all saying, ‘yeah, I get it.’ ‘I get what’s happening here.’ ‘I get your priority is A, B, C, my priority is X, Y, Z.’ That’s shared information, which creates shared awareness. The human mind believes that once, especially if the person who owns that mind is in a position of power, once information has been shared, there is sync. That’s not true. It’s rarely the case. 

Jeff [00:35:23]  

In order for there to be sync, you need to now progress to the second level of sync, which is shared understanding. Just because I’ve given you a piece of information and you can recite that piece of information doesn’t mean we share understanding about what that information actually means or why it’s meaningful. The second level of saying is, okay, we’ve shared this information. What does that really mean? How important is it? How do we prioritize it? Give me the context. Give me the whole view around the piece of information so that I can actually put it into context. The same way you put it in the context. Doesn’t mean you and I are going to agree, but at the very least, I need to have information about how you’re contextualizing this so that I can evaluate it from the same lens. If you go through that practice, there’s practices that we teach, or company coaches know, around how to do a repeat with add, what we call a repeat with add, where someone who’s listening to another person recites it back in a way that benefits both in the understanding of that information. You say, ‘Hey, I want to leave at 3:00 pm’ I say, ‘Okay, Angie you want to leave at 3:00 pm,’ and then you leave at 3:00. I’m like, Well, yeah, you told me, but I still didn’t get why. If you instead say, ‘I want to leave at 3:00 pm because I have this other priority, and I need to get to this thing. That’s sort of important within the broader context of what I’m trying to do.’ Now, when you leave at 3:00 pm I get it. Maybe I would have left at 3:30 pm, I don’t know, but Angie’s thinking about this, and I can see that, I have all the contextual information. 

Jeff [00:36:58] 

What we know is that even when human beings share awareness, and they share understanding, they can still get out of sync. They get out of sync at the level of what we call alignment. Which is an unconscious problem, not a consciousness problem. The unconscious problem is, even if you and I get in sync at the level of awareness and at the level of understanding. I still have all sorts of mental models about how things should work, and I can lose that thread of awareness. It can be hard to keep that in active memory. I can lose that feeling of understanding, and then I’ll lose my mental models. So the way to know two or more people are really in sync is when they are not surprised by the outcomes produced and how they’re produced. That’s how you know teams are really in sync. They may not agree, but they’re not surprised. The problem is not agreement or lack of agreement. Agreement is a conscious thing. The problem of sync and confusion is an unconscious thing. We don’t want to use agreement as the template for understanding whether human beings are in sync. We want to get evidence of where people go ‘I expected that person to do that, and they did it.’ ‘I expected the way they were going to do it, and they did it that way.’ So again,for a team to be incredibly productive, a team constantly needs to be going through three-level sync. Not just awareness, not just sharing information, but actually communicating and figuring out whether there is shared understanding. Then tracking whether people were surprised and or confused by what happened and how it happened. Somebody has to be at the table, has to be on the team who owns that responsibility. In the absence of somebody owning that responsibility, people will not get in sync. They will assume it. We know this. This is as sure as the sun rises, wherever the sun rises. Man, can’t believe I use that metaphor without knowing that answer. As sure as the sun rises tomorrow, people will believe they’re in sync when they’re really out of sync. Somebody at the table has to hold the responsibility of ensuring there’s actual sync, tracking where there’s surprise or confusion, and driving that to ground so sync gets better as a practice. 

Angie [00:39:16] 

I’m really glad you brought this one up Jeff, because I see this constantly with my clients, and this idea of really checking for, measuring, and dealing with these three levels of sync is something that is so unintuitive and so quickly impactful when it is explicit and systematized on a team. One of the things that I found often is, I would say there’s even a level zero of sync. Which starts with the leader transmitting information, and actually often ends at that level because there’s not even a check for awareness. ‘Can people say back to me what I’ve just said?’ So often, when I ask a simple chain of questions to someone I’m working with, someone I’m coaching. ‘What makes you think this other person, your CFO, your CTO, is aligned with you?’ ‘What makes you think they’re holding the same idea in their head that you just communicated to me?’ The answer so often will be, ‘Well, we had a conversation about it.’ so I ask, ‘okay, well, tell me about that conversation.’ Often that conversation is the CEO, the leader, telling somebody their expectation and their idea. Just like you said, so much is lost in that transmission, because whatever is going on in the listener’s head colors what they’re hearing. What it means to them. How they would act on it. 

Often I see people stop at that level, zero transmit. I think there is real power in this sort of non-intuitive practice of adding to transmit these three layers, checking for awareness, checking for understanding, and then through action, checking for alignment. 

Jeff [00:41:09] 

Yeah, that’s fantastic. I find exactly what you’re talking about…that’s really resonating strongly with me. I try to share with my clients a very basic principle. If you don’t have evidence of sync, you don’t have sync. When they say, ‘well, I told them.’ I’m like, ‘That’s not evidence of sync.’ That’s evidence that you think you communicate something. I’m talking about bidirectional sync. So if you don’t have evidence of sync, you don’t have sync. That always blows people’s mind because they’re like, ‘But I told them, and I’m like, I don’t know what to tell you.’ 

Jeff [00:41:48] 

I’ve told this story so many times. One of our earliest clients, where I was playing company coach, we were doing all these diagnostics, and there is this new CEO. Incredible guy, I love him. Man, the world’s best salesperson. I think, literally, probably the world’s best salesperson. He just prided himself on his communication, Of course he did, He’s a great salesperson. he had been holding something like 50 weekly all hands in a row, and he used the same script in every meeting. It was unbelievable. He said, ‘I know good communication is consistency, so I’m going to always tell them the same six points’ or whatever it was. I said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ Just like you did [Angie]. ‘How? How do you know they’re getting it?’ He said ‘They’re getting it.’ I said, ‘Tell you what, I’m just going to run a quick survey. There is about 90 employees or something. I’m going to run a quick survey, and I’m just going to name ask them to name one thing you’ve said 50 times, just one thing.’ Came back, and fewer than 20% of people could name one thing. Not all of them, not the whole six, just one thing. I even took answers where they were sort of badly summarizing. I was took these as kind of paying, attention-like blank stares. This guy, I thought blood was going to leak from his ears. He was going to have a hemorrhage. He could not believe it. You just think because you’re saying it, it’s landing. Your job was to figure out whether it was and you weren’t doing that job. This is one of my favorite principles of effective teams. As you said, that non-intuitive process of consistently ensuring sync. 

Jeff [00:43:32] 

Fifth one Design and Prioritize Leading Indicators. As I said in the beginning, we’ve got this thing that all of us do. That bright, shiny object disease. Anything that seems an immediate threat or opportunity in front of us will always take cognitive priority. Over the longer term, bigger issues, bigger opportunities, or bigger threats. we know this because, literally, we’ve got climate change and nuclear proliferation. All sorts of other things. Systemically human beings just keep building this into our systems, where the immediate threat of the enemy sort of helps us rationalize building a long term problem, that quite literally causes more harm than the immediate threat. In business or in an organization, we have a set of indicators we look at. These indicators are always prioritized. I’ve never seen an organization that didn’t prioritize them. They’re prioritized because the system, again, we’re talking at the system level. The system prioritizes these. They are money indicators, financial indicators…financial indicators like profit and loss, and the indicators on the balance sheets about assets and liabilities. The cost of customer access. The long-term value of customers. If we can reduce it to a number and put it on a spreadsheet, it’s sparkly, it’s here, and we want to pay attention to it. The reality is all those indicators are lagging indicators. In other words, they are not about the health of the system before it starts producing an output. That’s about the health of the system after it produced an output. We orient to these things of, ‘oh my gosh, our profits are down.’ We immediately as human beings start dropping into this thing of, ‘okay, well, we got to increase profit.’ As opposed to asking the question of, ‘Why weren’t we profitable?’ ‘What is the thing that was driving that, and could we have caught that early leaving indicators are where teams get the broader perspective?’ They see the future and then give themselves time to act together to solve the problems. 

Jeff [00:45:57] Lagging indicators introduce threat, make us believe that we’re in control of things that we’re not really in control of, and get people all ginned up to drop to the problem level and not, as we just said, reorient to productivity. There are a couple of things we know are key leading indicators of whether a team is going to be high functioning. By team, I don’t just mean the executive team. The entire company, a team. Right? If we’re under one corporate umbrella, we’re a team. 

Jeff [00:46:34] 

What are the leading indicators that can indicate to us this team is not going to be effective? Well, one is the basic measure of trust, and there are different ways to measure that. But basic measures of trust. We see this all the time. I measure, How much do you trust in our software and our measurement systems? We measure, How much do you trust your CEO? How much do you trust your leader? How much do you trust your manager? But also, how much do you trust each other? I was just giving a 360 readout last week where…there is this really interesting dynamic, where the individual who I was speaking to; The CEO I was speaking to created an incredible amount of trust with her people. But her people did not trust each other, and that was because of her behaviors, and what she was prioritizing. We then can link to what projects we are expecting to launch in the next three months, that are likely not to launch, or require bigger capital infusions, or infusions of attention, because the trust is low, and we could identify them. We could go down and say, ‘Yeah, that’s probably going to slip because these people aren’t going to communicate, well. This isn’t going to happen well.’ Trust, meaning… confusion is a rising tide and everybody’s affected by it. It’s exhausting. And what we see in this environment where leaders and talented people are just feeling the heaviness of the yoke of confusion, weighing down upon them constantly. We’re seeing people get more fragility, more mental health fragility, more physical fragility, illnesses, exhaustion. In the middle of that, what keeps you going? What keeps you going? Well, fear can keep you going for a little while. Can’t afford to not be without, you know, to be without a job. But mostly, what keeps you going over time is the sense of purpose. 

I was doing a lot of work on that this week, and I’m really excited to bring that up in a future podcast. How the crisis of meaning and purpose is actually diminishing productivity in the companies worldwide and the companies we work with. What you can know is that people who have a sense of meaning, they feel their work is valued, they feel the outcome of their work is meaningful to people they care about, to customers or their fellow employees. People who have a sense of meaning will tend to be more productive over time than people who don’t have a sense of meaning. They tend to be less fragile during sudden disruptions than people who don’t have a sense of meaning. Trust and meaning, there are others, would be two key indicators to look at that are leading indicators. Now, a lot of people do engagement surveys. I’ve got my own issue with engagement surveys. I think they’re circuit sort of second-order derivatives to core issues. An engagement survey at least orients the conversation and the leadership team to the key elements of what could stand in the way of future productivity, future operational success. So design and prioritize leading indicators. 

Angie [00:49:40] 

The design and prioritize leading indicators, I think, is so exciting when I talk to CEOs because that is it’s…it’s sort of like the risk management team they wish they had but never knew could exist. 

Jeff [00:49:56] 

Yeah, Yeah. 

Angie [00:49:57] 

Almost sort of the…the predictive analytics that really feel the most valuable to steering a business, you know, before the disaster or before the unpredicted but really, really difficult outcome. That rarely comes from the types of survey tools that I think organizational leaders have at their disposal. Whether those be engagement surveys, or whether those be employee policies, because, as you said, whether it’s OKRs or what we typically look at, they’re lagging. They’re telling us what has happened. They’re not telling us where we have risk and leverage in our system today. That is predictive of the outcomes three, six, 12 months from now. I’m glad you’re talking about that and how we look at that a little differently. Okay. I think this brings us to your last principle. 

Jeff [00:50:51] 

The last principle, which is actually, if you’re familiar with Covey’s seven Habits of Highly Effective People’s seventh principle is sharpen the saw. My sixth principle is Constantly Drive Learning Loops. The organization, again needs to be able to do two things. It needs to be able to deliver today, on its commitments. Its commitments to key constituents, its employees, its customers, its investors, its community. It also needs to be able to learn, to be able to do that well tomorrow in a really chaotic and uncertain world. You both have to deliver today and learn for tomorrow. One of the things I love about the system we’ve created is it does both those things at once. It helps you solve today’s problem, and it allows you, through solving that problem, to be able to learn. So you solve problems better tomorrow, or actually, come up with even better problems to solve or bigger goals. I think that constantly driving learning loops is one of the key responsibilities of a team, and a learning loop is…Let’s just be clear. Human beings all learn. We can’t avoid it no matter how much we want to, but most of the time, we’re learning unconsciously and unproductively. We stub our toll on a cabinet. We’re learning. Don’t put your foot there in the future. What we’re not learning is, maybe that’s a bad place to have a cabinet. Maybe that’s a bad place to put something I stubbed my toe on. We sort of orient our traffic pattern around the thing, as opposed to stepping back and learning from that and thinking about how we could redesign so that doesn’t happen in the future. We talked a lot about that in the Health podcast and redesigning the environment. You have to take each of these signals, that’s happening. Each of the problems, or breakdowns, or confusions, that are happening, and turn them into productive learning. Productive learning requires the team getting in sync on what it believes will happen and why that will happen. Then doing the thing, then looking at the results and comparing it to the expectation. Then in that process, saying, ‘okay, before, last time we missed X, Y, and Z, so let’s make sure when we redesign. When we get better. That we take X, Y, and Z into account.’ A productive learning loop is this constant, purposeful, driven, perpetual system, of taking our expectations, turning them into designs, executing, looking at results, learning and updating our expectations so that we can do a new design, so we can deliver at a different level. That’s what an excellent learning loop is. 

Jeff [00:53:39] 

Again, as a CEO sitting at this table and just dealing with everything coming at you about…and by CEO, I mean any leader sitting at a table…Dealing with what’s coming at them, to have them hold that they’re going to ensure that everybody is starting with synthesis, and holding an independent synthesis. That they are responsible for safety, and they’re behaving in such a way as to create the safety, to summon the best from each person at that table and make sure that their voice is heard. To make sure that when communications get bad and or oriented to unproductive, wasteful, or even harmful sorts of information, that it’s reoriented to productivity. To ensure that there’s continuous, as you said [Angie], non-intuitive sync, so that we’re constantly checking where we’re aligned and not aligned. So we can improve, and get those behind the back sort of passes that we see in great teams. To do that and at the same time design, and prioritize the leading indicators, and drive learning loops at the same time. It’s really hard for a leader to be functionally excellent, driving for results, and doing those things at the same time. Driving learning loops is at the core of what Talentism does. It is at the core of what we’re seeking to do with our individual coaching, with our clarity products, with our coaching products, and with our company coaching. 

Angie [00:55:09] 

Jeff, I really can’t top that summary, but I want to reflect back on one of the things that’s really standing out to me as I hear you describe the role of the leader. It almost sounds to me like it’s happening at two levels. The first level is the one we’re all familiar with, which is, you know, have the conversation, deal with the problem, right? Talk to whoever is raising something about the thing that they’re raising. The second level is to constantly be looking at the system that is producing that problem. How the person feels when they’re raising that problem and whether they’re empowered or not. It sort of feels like a Jedi mind trick to be doing both at once, being in the game and then watching how the game is being played. Which is why it feels so natural to me, when you say, it behooves most leaders to bring somebody else to help them do that Second piece, a company coach to help them see how the game is being played because they are a player on the field. What you just shared really solidified for me the challenge of doing both at once, being in it, and analyzing how it’s going. 

Jeff [00:56:24] 

Yeah, listen, this is very, very hard. I think you’ve articulated it really well. What I’m saying is just like great performers, great players, great athletes need a coach by their side to help them achieve their best. Great companies need a coach by their side to help them achieve their best because it’s really hard to play the game and look at the tapes at the same time. It’s really hard to sing the aria and listen to the aria at the same time. This thing you’re talking about, about playing at two levels, that’s incredibly difficult. And so, at least when you’re getting started in that, it’s good to have help. 

Angie [00:57:03] 

That’s great. I think that’s a good place for us to pause and looking forward to questions from folks who are listening and reading. 

Jeff [00:57:11] 

Great. Thank you so much, Angie. Always a pleasure. 

Angie [00:57:14] 

Bye, Thanks, Jeff. 

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