Permalink to Connect People With The ‘Why’ Of The Work They Are Doing

Connect People With The ‘Why’ Of The Work They Are Doing

“…You have to connect people with the why. They have to understand the deeper meaning of the work they are doing and even if the work doesn’t connect to them directly then they must understand how the organization creates deeper meaning in the community…”


These were the words of one of the senior leaders that we interviewed for our Intentional Leaders research. We asked these leaders what challenges they were facing, how they were tackling those challenges and what they found to be effective in addressing these issues.

One of the principles that became particularly clear in our conversations was that team members of all generations, but particularly Millennials, want to see a direct connection between their own values and the work that they are doing. Failing that, they want their organization to be making a difference in the community.

One of the senior leaders told us that he has to work hard as a leader to know his team members well – to understand their motivation and their aspirations and then to connect the team member with work that would best suit them.

This is different from trying to be friends with your team members. Leaders still carry the responsibility of driving the organizational strategy forward. In order to do so, they must know their staff, know their capabilities and work with them to ensure that they are giving their best work. They must communicate the meaning of the work and connect it to the capability of each team member.

To give you an example: Helen is the CFO of a manufacturing company that creates products out of extruded plastics. The organization’s most popular product is a display shelf sold through a client to retail stores.

Helen’s team is a mixture of hard-working, honest accountants drawn from several generations.  As you would expect, her team is ethical and motivated by the principle of professionalism.

But Helen goes further.  When a new staff person comes on board, she makes a point of taking them on a tour of the plant, explaining the different roles of the people working on the plant floor. She also takes the time to find out what kinds of volunteering the staff person does in their spare time, what causes they like to support and what they like to do in their leisure time.

When it comes time for the annual fundraising appeal for charities in the community, she makes sure to involve staff in picking the organizations that would receive the support. Helen’s team members feel respected and appreciated for who they are outside of work and typically put in more effort within their working day.

Staff connect to the “why” of the work and that builds loyalty and commitment which drives productivity.

Permalink to Prerequisite for a great leader

Prerequisite for a great leader

Illustration by Creativity and Innovation Keynote speaker, Simon Banks.

Illustration by Creativity and Innovation Keynote speaker, Simon Banks.


Dr. Stephen Brown, an Australian educator, made this statement and it has a very simple power.

You may be a leader by virtue of position and by virtue of having direct reports but do you have leaders working for you who are mentoring and coaching and producing leaders?

My daughter works in the advertising industry and from the very beginning of her work experience, it was clear that she not only had to learn her job and perform well but she also was not going to be promoted until she had taught someone her job. And she had to teach her job well enough that if she was promoted, she was free to do the new job.  And by the way, her first performance review was one of the best, most thorough performance reviews I have ever seen. It was a coaching document all on its own and it not only addressed how she was performing in many different aspects of her job but it also addressed how she was mentoring her direct report, a summer intern in the most junior position in the organization.

Our clients in the mining industry are fanatical about safety and one of the requirements of first-line supervisors, was to lead a “safety share” every morning and at the beginning of every shift.  The safety share is a way to model awareness, teach about the work that the team is to tackle that day and to create a team that helps each other be safe.  The supervisors also ask team members to contribute a safety share of their own from time to time and everyone takes a turn. This is another mechanism by which responsible leadership gets modeled and passed on.

In the finance industry, the same principles apply. Another of my clients, a senior director in an accounting organization, spoke of how he developed his staff.

I typically hired them for their technical skills and of course they had an implicit mandate to keep current. In fact they were far more likely than I to be on the leading edge of technical knowledge. However, the more important and less obvious development path for them was to grow their maturity, their seasoning and their leadership skills. I sent them on courses where they would be stretched and challenged and where their world view would be broadened.”

He went on to say that when it was his time to move to a different city, there were three high-performing potential candidates for his role. And the one who got his role has continued to grow and impress while the other two went on to different and exciting roles elsewhere in the profession.

What are you doing to create leaders in the people who report to you? Have you been filling the ranks with real bench strength? And are their leadership skills as well developed as their technical ones? If so you are well on your way to being a great leader yourself.


Permalink to Leaders – Think and Act Positively

Leaders – Think and Act Positively

Here are three examples and philosophies about how a leader approaches life and work that can have a tremendous impact on the success of their team.

The Power of Gratitude

There was once a woman who made a courageous choice. She chose to react positively in the world. There were three steps to what she did:

Step one:

She made a list before going out in the morning of what she was grateful for. For example, she had a good job that she enjoyed. So on a workday, that was at the top of her list.

Step two:

She looked in the mirror and chose one aspect of herself to praise.  One day she praised her smile. Another day she praised her energy. And so on.

Step three:

On her way to work, she consciously greeted people she saw with a smile and a “Good morning”.

The first few days, some people looked at her a little puzzled, others responded positively and one person just growled. At work, there was one person who had always seemed grumpy but she went out of her way to say “good morning” and to not be put off by his manner.

Over the weeks, she felt more and more able to maintain her positive attitude and to be grateful for things in her life. This gratitude carried over into her work and because she was now more conscious of the good things about her team, she made a point of telling them how much she appreciated them.

The more she felt good about herself, the more she acted with kindness to others around her, the more others responded in a like manner.  Soon her whole team displayed a feeling of lightness, where before it had been a bit gloomy. And while her team still had some tough challenges to overcome, a dour manner in their leader wasn’t one of them. This is the power of gratitude.

The Power of Positive Psychology:

The second example is about how the power of gratitude is connected to the power of positive psychology. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., is on the vanguard of the Positive Psychology movement. Fredrickson, a research psychologist at the University of Michigan, specializes in the study of positive emotions and developed the “broaden-and-build” theory.

Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions seem to broaden people’s repertoires of things they like to pursue. They broaden ways of thinking beyond our regular baseline, and they accumulate. Broadening, she says, allows people to discover and learn new things. Telling people they do good work is a way to unlock their bold dreams about what they could strive for next. And it is the key to helping people believe that they can be more successful which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As a leader, then, it is important to find ways to broaden people’s thinking about what is possible and what they can accomplish. They will work harder toward these dreams than if all they hear is criticism. So this is the power of positive psychology.

The Power of Teams Acknowledging the Positive

Finally, there is third connection that I would like to make. Some leaders begin their meetings with a “check-in” that asks people to go around the room and share what they are most proud of since the last meeting. This builds positive energy that allows the participants to be more confident in their decision-making, which leads to more and more success.

This doesn’t mean that leaders should ignore their team’s challenges but it does mean that the team has more energy to tackle those challenges. And it starts with the leader. This is not something you can do with your team while not embracing it yourself. This is where you definitely need to lead by example.  Questions that leaders can use to tap into these positive results include:

  • What are you most proud of in any area of your life since the last time we were together?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • If you were to look in the mirror and say what you liked the most about you, what would it be today?
  • Thinking of each of your team members, what do you appreciate about them?


Permalink to Intentional Change: Responding to the Downturn

Intentional Change: Responding to the Downturn

A CEO said his purpose was not to prevent bad things from happening, but to help his people learn from what took place. This is especially true if your people know only times of increased revenues, loose spending restrictions, and underlying assumptions about the business based only on growth. They had never experienced a downturn.


They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But it’s better to say when the going gets tough, smart people become engaged in creating positive change. Here are three examples of intentional positive change, followed by questions to ask.


Example one: Innovation

A mining organization wanted more control and accountability by looking for ways to create an integrated team model. It wanted to modify its EPCM relationships (Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management). The company had taken almost all procurement in-house with a centralized function and established procedures. In one project it started to contract the E (Engineering) separately from CM (Construction Management). It also started to contract for ECM on another project, and decided to stay with the EPCM on yet another.


Innovation came from how the company contracted by identifying the value that was needed and the accountabilities required from its partners. It also started experimenting with a blended, integrated project team. It contracted with external partners to give people key roles that were normally within the company. It also explored how technology could facilitate better real-time communication and accountability. An upside of the downturn is that experienced, contracted people from the engineering companies were available.  Questions:


  • Are you looking at old, established ways of managing projects?
  • Can you use technology to leapfrog barriers you experienced in the past?


Example two: Increased transparency and trust

Hang on to your best people when times are tough. They will be the core of your experience and base of your intelligence. Companies that share information with their employees, and are open and transparent, are likely to be trusted by those employees. A trusting culture breeds loyalty and engagement. But companies that hold back information will not fare as well. Employees want transparency and truth from senior leadership, and in a downturn this becomes more acute. Especially during a downturn leaders should communicate more in person and less by email. You should also sit down with employees and share career options with them. Questions:


  • Have you identified key people you wish to hang onto and told them your career plans for their future?
  • Is there information you could share to build trust and help them plan their career?
  • How could you build a more trusting culture?

Example three:  Future-proofing the work force

An organization had intensified training and development programs for its employees, including financial literacy training. The finance department gave workshops that included EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes), so employees better understood how to manage the balance between revenues and expenses. This created better financial managers and increased knowledge, and gave people more tools. The gift of the downturn is that a young generation of employees who had never known this could learn what managing in a downturn looks like. Questions:


  • Are your employees as financially literate as they could be?
  • Do you understand the development needs of your key people and do you have plans to meet them?
  • Have you communicated with key people about your development plans for them?


[Esther Ewing and Bill Sedgwick are co-founders and partners of Big Tree Strategies Inc. Big Tree Strategies works with teams that are doing critical work, and helps them become more effective and engaged.]



Permalink to Intentional Teams – Stories from the Field

Intentional Teams – Stories from the Field

Strong leadership is key to team success. It provides focus, discipline and energy. Here are three case studies about leadership in the mining industry.

The Bad Apple

On a major mining project, the engineering contractor was also manager for the project, but the relationship between the engineering company project manager and the owner’s team was in trouble. The project manager felt another contractor who had a history of working with the owner company was trying to take over the engineering contract. This contractor and a key person on the owner’s team had a personal relationship. That person was difficult, and negatively impacting the team.

This put the project manager of the engineering company project in a tough position. The ‘bad apple’ had a close relationship with the President of the mining company, and the manager from the engineering company found it hard to communicate bad news about the problem person.

What to do? Start with the contract and find a solution without the problem person leaving the project. You can switch them to another role, take them out of the organization, or mentor the person while keeping them in the role.

On this project, the person was replaced. The leader of the owner’s team recognized the damage to morale and productivity, and took action.


  • Leaving a problem too long comes back to haunt you.
  • Open, honest communication helps resolve pivotal issues early.
  • Keep personal relationships out of the mix through professional conduct and adherence to the contract.

They’re Clients?

The procurement department of a large mining company imposed strict policies and insisted that local units it served follow them. Long-standing supplier relationships in remote locations where the company operated were ignored or overruled. The global company HQR was in another country, and local units felt procurement was insensitive and inflexible about local relationships. Procurement became a bottleneck by imposing restrictions on work flow.

The procurement director must balance the global organization’s need for profitability with the need for success of local business units. This means balancing two sets of customers. Procurement can’t meet the needs of the global organization and ignore local needs. Nor can it afford to serve local needs to the global organization’s detriment. The procurement director should “think globally, act locally.” That means listening to people in local business units, visiting their offices, and going to the sites.


  • Know what others in the flow of work require, and when.
  • Build strategic relationships with everyone involved.
  • Do everything possible to reduce bottlenecks.

One Team, Two Identities

On a large mining project the project team was split between the engineering/project management group, and the owner’s group that was part of the project team. There were separate email lists, presentations were ‘branded’ with the company logo, and team members were located with members of their own company. There were two groups, each with similar objectives, and some duplicated roles and functions. But no notion of One Team. The leader of the team on the owner’s side did something about it.

The team held quarterly milestone meetings focused on finding and resolving issues that held back the team. One member became responsible for collective action plans with authority to convene meetings, follow up with work package leads, and ensure that work packages were being led effectively.

The project director organized team members in functional groups, not by their ‘home’ organization, to encourage communication and interdependence. The project ‘rebranded’ itself with hats and jackets displaying the project name. This discouraged team members from wearing garments with the name of their own organization. Bonuses and compensation were harmonized so everyone on the project had common guidelines for compensation. And project team members started building a true sense of being a single team.


  • Leadership is a contact sport requiring more than words.
  • Changing team culture comes from planned activities that are treated as mini projects with their own resources.

Good leadership is flexible. There are times to lead from the front and pull everyone along, and times to lead from behind and push them forward. It’s about nurturing and being decisive where necessary, and building future leaders.

Permalink to Four Steps to Preventative Team Maintenance

Four Steps to Preventative Team Maintenance

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” ― Pablo Picasso

Preventative Maintenance


Over the past few years we have been developing an approach to team performance we have named Intentional Teams™.  Our research with leaders of great teams showed that they didn’t leave anything to chance. They build their teams purposefully. This approach makes sense to us, but it’s not always the whole story.

Let me demonstrate with a personal example: Many years ago I owned a small sailboat, an old wooden catamaran that I painted bright orange – I was at university and all things bright seemed like a good idea. The boat sat around outside for a year or two before I got round to trying it out.

The experience was instructive. A healthy wind was blowing as I unloaded the boat from its trailer, set up the mast and raised the mainsail. I pushed the boat out into the water, hopped aboard and I was off. However,  there were several factors I had overlooked: the wind had picked up and the waves were about three feet high; the boat had a habit of digging its nose into the waves, not riding over them; and there was a large crack just below the deck on the left hull, which, it turned out, was masterfully hidden by the orange paint.

 My dreams of sailing effortlessly on my ‘new’ boat came to a soggy end. I managed to return to the shore before the left hull filled enough to become a sea anchor. I was embarrassed with my lack of progress and furious that the boat had let me down. On reflection, my thoughts evolved – the boat wasn’t at fault – I was. I had rushed to action and in doing so had put myself in danger. I had failed to check my equipment and had assumed that my ‘repairs’ would suffice on the water. In Picasso’s terms I had intended to sail my boat but I had failed to check its safety and so failed in my intention.


Preventative maintenance

Teams need preventative maintenance as much as boats. Getting ahead of and managing bad news, anticipating problems and making changes before they are needed are some areas that teams can work on. In successful teams we found preventative maintenance was focused on:

  1. Managing sponsor expectations
    Sponsors and senior stakeholders take an active interest in the work of their senior teams, often because these teams are doing work that is critical to the organization. The temptation to micromanage can very enticing. Teams and their leaders have to analyse what senior sponsors will be interested in and find methods to answer questions before they are asked. Being aware of the Board or Executive meeting calendar and agenda and anticipating when the team might have to report can be a useful strategy to get ‘ahead of the message’.
  2. Look forward and anticipate events
    Keeping the team’s peripheral vision clear is critical to not being caught unawares. Regular mini planning sessions can be an important element in anticipating unforeseen events. Great teams build in focused sessions that allow information to flow in from all team members regardless of their seniority or specialty. Ensuring a diversity of information on a regular basis allows teams to maintain their peripheral vision and catch items that otherwise might take longer to see and react to.
  3.  Constantly managing effective communications
    Communications are a major challenge for teams managing complex projects or operations. Preventative maintenance allows teams to constantly challenge and improve their communications practices. Meetings, for example, are a constant challenge for teams – by challenging the effectiveness of meetings a team can streamline its meeting frequency, duration and effectiveness.
  4.  Using the culture of the team to prevent conflict
    Interpersonal disagreements and personality conflicts often derail team effectiveness. Leaders of intentional teams quickly step in to manage these corrosive elements of team life. A key tool is the culture of the team and the agreements that have been forged around this culture. Culture is based on repeated behaviours. If the acceptable behaviours have been identified and agreed to by everyone on the team, the leader has powerful tool to hold team members to account when they are operating against the agreed behaviours.


Going sailing without checking the seaworthiness of your craft can lead to bad outcomes. Not conducting preventative maintenance on your team can also lead to undesirable results. A small investment in getting ahead of the issues and challenges of your team will allow you a smoother ride in the long run.


In coming blog posts, we will explore each of these preventative maintenance topics further.

Click here for a downloadable worksheet: Your Purpose as a Leader

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Permalink to Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make – Part Two

Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make – Part Two

Trying to be friends with staff Managers need to provide a balanced view of performance, both the halos and the warts, and if the manager is trying to be friends with staff, it’s much harder to give tough feedback

This is the second part in a three part series on mistakes newly-promoted managers all make. Part one can be found here.

Friendly newly-promoted manager

Chris was very excited when he was given the news that he was being promoted to team leader but he was a little nervous as well. He had worked very hard to prepare for his interview but he knew that one of his team mates, Marty, had also very much wanted this role. He knew that Marty had expected to win because he had told everyone on the team that he thought he was the best one for the role.

Chris was determined to treat everyone equally and be a really good team leader but he knew it would be hard. Perhaps he could take the team out to the pub at the end of the first day and treat everyone for a drink.

Everything went fairly well for the first month except that Marty was taking advantage of Chris’ good nature. When Chris had asked the team to follow a particular approach, Marty openly disagreed and when Chris insisted, Marty shrugged and said, “Okay,” but Chris could see that Marty was only giving lip service to the new approach.

Over the next month, Chris tried everything he could think of. He tried taking Marty out for a drink to try to persuade him to put more effort in. He tried pointing out to Marty why the approach was a good one. He tried pointing out to Marty that he was shooting himself in the foot because he was losing some goodwill from his fellow team mates. Nothing seemed to get through to Marty who stubbornly continued to tell his fellow team members that Chris was not on the right track.

Chris’ boss George, called up Chris and arranged a meeting. “Chris, I understand that things are not going very well with Marty,” he said. Chris nodded. He explained how frustrated and disappointed he was.

George asked him what he had tried. When Chris laid out his strategies, George listened and then asked him a key question. “And how is that working for you?”

Chris had to admit that he was at a standstill with Marty.

Your team, not your friends

George then pointed out that Marty was making a classic mistake. Chris had been trying to deal with Marty as if he were primarily a friend. “You are no longer just Marty’s friend, Chris. You are his boss. That’s what we are paying you to be. You weren’t wrong in trying the friendly approach but Marty is a tough nut. The friendly approach is not sufficient with him.” George also pointed out, “If you want to get your team working well for you, you will have to be intentional about how you play out your role. Effective teams have effective leaders who are intentional about how they lead. That’s what I’m looking for from you.”

They talked about how Chris could get tough. “You have to really lay it out with Marty. He’ll take advantage of your friendship if you don’t. You have to be really intentional about this. The team’s success depends on it.” They made a strategy together. Chris and George agreed that if Marty didn’t respond to this approach, they would create another strategy where there were consequences for Marty.

A business discussion

Before the end of the day, Chris had booked a meeting with Marty for the next day. It went very well, and by the end of the meeting, Chris was confident that Marty understood what he had to do. What did George suggest? Here was the strategy:

  1. Book a meeting room for the conversation – context matters – by booking a meeting room, it signalled that this was a business meeting and was serious. (Not in a pub which was more social and suggested that they were of equal rank.)
  2. Chris was to ask Marty to listen without commenting until Chris had laid out his point of view.
  3. Chris as then to share a very specific description of Marty’s behaviour and its impact on Chris and on the other team members.
  4. He was then to ask Marty, specifically, for different behaviour (commit to following the approach and support the him and the team). He was to ask for Marty’s reaction by saying, “Do you understand why this is important to me?”
  5. Finally, the plan was that If Marty then acknowledged Chris’ points, then Chris was to ask that he step up and fully support the new approach. If Marty waffled or argued, Chris would repeat the question until Marty acknowledged his point of view. (Broken record technique)
  6. Finally, Chris kept the meeting brief and thanked Marty for his time. At no time, did he ask for Marty’s friendship or imply that this was anything but a business discussion.

Chris was fortunate that he had a boss who understood his dilemma and had a very good strategy to suggest. By focusing on the team and how Chris needed to get the team working together, Chris was able to retrieve the situation. Ultimately, Marty fell into line and Chris was able to show his intention in terms of leading the team.

Having some challenges with your newly-promoted managers? Tips like these and more can be found in our monthly newsletter. Sign up here.

Please reach out to Bill or Esther regarding your team challenges. If more comfortable, contact our concierge at concierge[at]bigtreestrategies[dot]com who can direct you to information about our services that will be applicable to your current needs.

Permalink to The Top Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make

The Top Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make

There are some classic mistakes that newly-promoted managers make. Knowing about them and the techniques for avoiding them can help a new manager make a great start to their role.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the topic. I will identify the three mistakes and give you techniques to not only avoid them but to grow and thrive as you start to develop the foundation of your management strengths.

Three Newly-Promoted Manager Mistakes

  • Trying to do it all – not delegating Sometimes newly promoted managers forget that the way to prove their worth is to get things done through others
  • Trying to be friends with staff – Managers need to provide a balanced view of performance, both the halos and the warts, and if the manager is trying to be friends with staff, it’s much harder to give tough feedback
  • Pushing to be promoted before you’re ready– In their zeal to grow their careers, some managers apply to senior jobs too quickly in order to get ahead. All they prove is that they don’t yet have the judgement to know the growth they still need to make.

Not delegating?

One of my clients, George, a newly-hired Controller, had the disconcerting experience of having his new boss stop by his desk one night. It was 7 pm and George was still working, trying to get a handle on some cost analysis. His boss barked at him, “Is there something wrong with you? Does the fact that you are still here at this hour the fourth day in a row mean that you can’t actually do the job I hired you for?”

George stared at his boss, slightly panicked and not knowing what to say. His boss went on, “I don’t expect my managers to do everything themselves. If you are still here this late, day after day, you are either not smart enough to do the job or you are trying to do all the work yourself. You choose. You will either learn to delegate or you will burn out. I know what I would prefer. Let me know what you decide,” he stumped off.

George was shocked but it was a very useful wakeup call. Had he been delegating enough? Not likely. And he had to admit that staying until 11 pm for days in a row meant that he was too tired to do a good job the next morning.

You can’t do it all alone

From then on, he  decided he must change his ways. He analyzed the work. He met with his staff and portioned it out so that he was not the first preparer of the information but the reviewer of it. It was the beginning of a great career that eventually saw him become CEO of a publicly traded company and a very successful businessman.

George would tell you today that if he hadn’t learned that lesson, he would never have been so successful. And from then on, he always applied the principle of asking himself, “Should I do this work, or should I delegate it?” He became a more intentional leader and his people grew and he grew along with them.

Steps to start delegating

How did George do it? The biggest change was to follow the two points below – changing his mindset, and asking one question about each piece of work he handled:

  • He changed his mindset about his staff. He decided to be intentional about growing the capabilities of his team. He knew he couldn’t prevent problems his staff would have as they learned and stretched beyond what they knew,  but he could make sure they learned the most from whatever happened
  • He asked himself weekly, “Who should do this work and what support do they need from me?” He made an effort to get work off his plate that others could do, or be trained to do.

Delegating, or, not delegating can be one of the hardest things for newly promoted managers to get right. Drop us a line and share with us your delegation challenges, perhaps we can help. Rapidly we can get you or your managers to leave behind the behaviour of not delegating. Our system is a consistent, coachable and repeatable program you can quickly learn and apply.

In my next post, I’ll explain the second mistake newly-promoted managers make – trying to be friends with their staff.


Permalink to Walls or windmills – how do you react to change?

Walls or windmills – how do you react to change?

There is an old Chinese proverb, for which the English equivalent reads

When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.

Reacting to Change

Photograph by Penny Richardson, all rights reserved, used by permission.

Flexible leaders don’t build walls to keep the change out, they build windmills to take advantage of the change and generate power. Being a flexible leader is one of the key principles of Intentional Leadership. One of our clients was working on a large project for one of their clients. Their client had been going through a lot of change with its South American parent. When the project had first started out, both parties would have characterized the nature of their transactions as largely based on goodwill and a handshake.

Change happens all the time

Then the pendulum swung in the other direction – everything had to be documented and seven or eight levels of approvals were required for even very small amounts of expenditures. This frustrated everyone involved. The downside for this was that some of the staff at our client tended to complain loudly about the approvals and the extra documentation. And their client used their documentation requirements to shield them from accountability in making progress on the project. Both sides were pointing fingers and playing the blame game… a classic wall that kept out progress. We worked with the combined team to figure out how they could make windmills out of this change. Our client and their client came together to make sense of this and to generate some mutual power so that the time it took to get the approvals wouldn’t hold up the work. We helped them understand from each other what was negotiable and what was not.

Change affects your team

It required everyone to be flexible,  to be willing to see beyond the detail of procedures and approvals and to keep a keen eye on the overall objective. All parties had to become more open – our client had to step up its game in documentation and their client had to become a little more cooperative instead of using their requirement for documentation in a punitive way.

Do you make walls or windmills? Are you a Flexible Leader? Do you adapt to change so that everyone has more power?

For more information on how your team can weather change and generate creative power, contact either co-founder of Big Tree Strategies, Bill or Esther or send an email to our concierge [concierge at] to explain your needs and see if there is something we could help with.

We have other examples of clients we’ve helped here and here.

Permalink to The Team’s Got to Win

The Team’s Got to Win

“As long as there are games to play it is not over.”
Sir Alex Henderson


Sir Alex Henderson, the Manager of Manchester United football club from 1986 to 2013 is reputed have been a bad loser. More than that, it’s reported he had barely controlled temper and struck terror into his opponents. He also used humour, recognized talent and extolled the virtues of hard work to his players. It worked, apparently – United won the English title 13 times.

An intense desire to win is a strong feature of many successful leaders. It binds the team together and defines the size of the stakes of the game. However, the desire to win must be supported by a compelling story and the ability to tell the story.

My team must win

A project leader we worked with, whose team was sinking a mine shaft as part of building a new mine, defined his winning with the statement: “We will be sinking two shafts to over 3000 metres. It will take more than 18 months, working every day, every week, every month. Here are three metrics you must keep in mind: We must achieve six meters a day, every day, every week, every month. We must do this without injuring a single person. And we must do this within the agreed budget.” They did it.

Leaders have to be many things but more than anything else, they must have the conviction that the team can (and must) win. This must be supported by a single-minded story that describes the finish line and paints a picture the team can grasp and work towards.

Some practices great leaders use with their teams:

  • Choose a Winning Measure – The human brain seems to be wired for three’s. We can remember them and three doesn’t overload our ability to understand the interrelationship between the three items. That are your team’s three key measures? Choose them, explain them and stick to them.
  • Find the Story – We all need a good story. Take the three measures and build them into a story that touches the team members in the heart and the mind. Explain why the work of the team is important. Be clear about what winning looks like, tastes like, sounds like. For the mining team the balance of productivity (six meters a day) needed to be balanced with zero-harm safety and working within a clear budget.
  • Tell the Story – Do it over and over again. Tell it new members of the team. Make it a slogan and a tagline for emails. Get the team to tell the story to each other, to customers and partners. Review the story in weekly meetings and link it how the team is progressing. Internalize it. Then live it.

So, what’s your ‘six-meters-a-day’?

We can help. The work we do with leaders and teams helps them clarify what winning looks like and how to create the story. While you’re here, why not take a few minutes and do a team assessment to find out what may help your team win. Contact us today for this and other team-related questions.


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