There Are Teams…. And Then There Are Healthy High-Performance Teams

There Are Teams…. And Then There Are Healthy High-Performance Teams

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. A less functional team might make you feel low, doubtful of your own ability, and emotionally damaged.  A really great team delivers a boost of energy and confidence that lasts beyond the time you spend together.

2. How a team functions is far more important than who is on a team.

3. In this module, we'll look at "the fab five" secrets of building a high-performance team - in your workplace or even at home with your family.

It’s common knowledge that productivity increases when people collaborate well. That goes for businesses, schools, universities, even social groups like book clubs. High-functioning teams are good for profitability, student achievement, and even fun get-togethers.

But what makes a terrific team? Is it putting the greatest minds together? Socializing outside of work? Grouping people by experience? Having the same level of education? Having a strong leader?

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Good teams might have some or all of those things. But so do bad teams. When you take the time to review the research, none of those factors explain what makes a great team great. So that’s what I’m going to do in this series – offer some answers so you can build healthy, high-performance teams.

But first, let me ask you this: when you think back over some of the less functional, less productive teams you’ve been on, what comes to mind? What was it like? How did it make you feel?

People report feeling pretty low, doubtful of their own ability, sometimes even emotionally damaged when they’ve been part of a low-functioning or failing team. On the other hand, a really great team delivers a boost of energy and confidence that lasts beyond the time you spend together.

Don’t confuse a bad team with a really tough situation or problem to solve. On one of the best teams I ever formed, we all experienced freezing conditions, physically gruelling 18-hour days and rough working conditions (as in, setting up an “office” on the side of a cliff using solar panels to run a satellite network). We were 12,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains. We were often cold, hungry, tired, sometimes even sick….and happy. And we were successful. The living was hard but the teamwork was fantastic. We were high when we got back from the expedition, not low.

We had quite a few things in common, including some fancy credentials and unusual expertise. But that wasn’t why we worked. It’s not enough to have “the best people” in order to have the best teams. There’s much more to it than that.

How much more? That’s what Google asked itself about five years ago when it embarked on Project Aristotle. Google studied hundreds of its own teams and discovered this: how a team functions is far more important than who is on a team. The team’s “communal health” matters the most. It’s not about how smart the members are – it’s about how they view their task and treat one another.

I’m going to share with you what that means. In the next five articles, I’ll draw on Project Aristotle and other research to help you build healthy, high-performance teams – in your workplace or even at home with your family.

I’ll be covering “the fab five” of healthy, high-performance teams: clarity, psychological safety, dependability, meaning, and impact. And what’s really interesting is that all five areas are also critical for overall mental health. In other words, if you incorporate these five aspects into your teamwork, you’ll also be building your mental health (and that of your colleagues) for all parts of your life.

Today's 1% Gain: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Check out this fascinating article from the New York Times about Project Aristotle - a research study conducted by Google that investigated the key elements that contribute to team success.

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #1 - Clarity

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #1 - Clarity

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. High-performance teams have clarity of vision and dream. A healthy high-performance team starts by asking, what’s the dream? What’s the vision?

2. Clarity involves three aspects: understanding job expectations, understanding how to fulfill those expectations, and understanding the consequences of job performance.

3. When team members can “see” what they need to do, how to do it, and be able to assess how well they’re doing it – that’s clarity.

Now that you know that each element of a healthy high-performance team is also a critical element in your (and my and everyone’s) overall mental health, let’s jump right into the first one: clarity.

Clarity basically involves three aspects: understanding job expectations, understanding how to fulfill those expectations, and understanding the consequences of job performance.

When you add it all up, high-performance teams have clarity of vision and dream. Those aspects above are the individual parts of that clarity.

Let me give you an example:

About 18 months ago, I was in a group of grad students, doctors and serious mountaineers who wanted to climb Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. If you take into account the equatorial bulge, Chimborazo is actually two kilometers higher than Everest. We wanted to be closer to the stars than any other humans (those up on the International Space Station don’t count!).

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It’s a challenging climb: steep, dangerous in parts, and a very high altitude of over 6,000 metres at the peak. Plus, the climb begins at the memorial site of those who have failed. The psychology of starting from a graveyard is pretty bleak. Also, I developed some altitude sickness on the climb and experienced tunnel vision, dizziness and confusion. There were some tough times.

In the end, two of my grad students got onto the summit while we older people stopped just below, wanting to survive to return to our families!

We were all able to participate in that expedition because of our clear vision: we wanted to be the humans closest to the stars. We focused on that during extensive training and the climb. That clarity kept us focused. It got us up and it got us back.

Over time, exercising your clarity and focus appears to change a structure in the brain called the inferior frontal cortex, which is involved in decision making and the interpretation of information from the environment. It becomes strengthened when you focus repeatedly. The structure of your brain actually changes. And so, of course, does your ability to maintain focus.

Think of others with exceptional focus and vision, like Elon Musk. SpaceX is about making humanity a multi-planetary species. Tesla and SolarCity are about a carbon-free future. Those very clear visions drive those organizations forward rather than, for example, merely making a car. Or consider J.K. Rowling, a single mother living in poverty and struggling with depression. Her first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishing houses, one of whom suggested she get a day job since she had little chance of making a living with children’s books. But she had a clear vision and stayed faithful to it.

A healthy high-performance team starts by asking, what’s the dream? What’s the vision? When team members can “see” what they need to do, how to do it, and be able to assess how well they’re doing it – that’s clarity. That’s the vision and the dream.

Today's 1% Gain: Clarity of Vision 

The foundation of great team performance is for leaders (you can always lead without a title - anyone on a team can and should be a leader) to be absolutely clear about what their vision is for the project that the team is seeking to complete or achieve. The vision can be a dream if it is big picture or a goal if the task is more concrete and time-limited. The outcome of the project should be articulated and stated. The vision should be stated verbally and in writing at every opportunity. 

Some examples include:

1. When we were climbing Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador our objective was to become the humans who were the closest to the stars.

2. Elon Musk is creating a carbon-free future through his companies Tesla and SpaceX.

3. A school in Baltimore changed their school culture by using meditation instead of detention.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR YOUR KEY ONE TO FIVE PROJECTS FOR THIS YEAR? LET’S GET THOSE WRITTEN DOWN AND TEST THEM OUT BY SAYING THEM ALOUD IN MEETINGS AND PRESENTATIONS AND WRITING ABOUT THEM IN BLOG POSTS OR OTHER COMMUNICATIONS.

Today’s Exercise: Create your own clarity of vision

Check out this article written by Elon Musk about Making Humanity and Multiplanetary Species. It lays out a clear vision and breaks it down into steps that make the impossible possible.

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/space.2017.29009.emu

You can use the Vision Creation Process to map out your own clarity of vision.

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #2 - Psychological Safety

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #2 - Psychological Safety

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. Psychological safety is when people feel that there are no negative consequences for risk-taking, such as being viewed as ignorant, incompetent, or disruptive. They also feel they will not be embarrassed or punished for making a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

2. Here are two questions that help co-workers, students, or your family members feel that the environment is a psychologically safe place: What went well? Where do I need support?

When it comes to building healthy, high-performance teams, the Google study identified psychological safety as most important to team success.

If you’ve ever been in a perfectionist work environment or on a less than great team, you may have experienced things like this: people getting shot down for having wacky ideas, or being criticized for not having the right answer, or being afraid to speak up because someone might roll their eyes or snicker.

I would call that a psychologically unsafe situation! People feel under attack and protect themselves by clamming up or playing it safe. Kids do this in classrooms all the time – maybe you did too when you were a student. No surprise that careful contributions – lacking in original insight or creative whimsy – lead to uninspired learning or weak solutions.

Let’s define psychological safety so you can start to integrate it into your teamwork:

·       A person’s perception that there are no negative consequences for risk-taking, such as being viewed as ignorant, incompetent or disruptive

·       Teammates feel they will not be embarrassed or punished for making a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea

I think Saturday Night Live is a perfect example of psychological safety. Actors come together during the week to generate new ideas, and they pitch them constantly – basically, competing with one another to get their ideas on the air. Obviously, only a few get picked and make it to Saturday night. Once the final skits have been selected, the highly competitive atmosphere switches to a highly cooperative one. Everyone comes together to work on them. Both in the competition stage and in the cooperation stage, there is a high level of support. Just because you want your idea to win doesn’t mean you’re trashing everyone else. And if your idea doesn’t win, you join someone else’s to make it the best it can be.

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On any team, you want members to feel free to offer new ideas without penalty, to stick their neck out. That’s a vulnerable position. The creative flow will shut off if disapproval results. People protect themselves from harm, whether emotional or physical. It’s a survival instinct, and we need to have it for situations that really risky. A great team isn’t that situation.

Psychological safety is what got Melissa McCarthy to her Sean Spicer impersonation. It’s one of the best SNL characters ever. In order to be so creative, the support has to be greater than the risks.

This is true for the workplace, for schools, even for families. Co-workers, students, even your own teenagers need to feel that the environment is a psychologically safe place. Here are two questions that help make that happen: What went well? Where do I need support?

Those two positive questions can lead to amazing outcomes. Try it in a team meeting or at the end of every work week and see what happens when you go around a table and everyone asks and answers these questions. Or do it with your family or your spouse. What went well this week? Where do I need support?

When we talk about these things in a safe environment, everyone wins. And every team gets better.

Today's 1% Gain: The Success and Support Reflection

TO ENSURE THAT YOU CREATE A CULTURE WHERE SUPPORT IS GREATER THAN RISK, HERE IS AN EXERCISE THAT WORKS WONDERS. 

ASK YOUR TEAMMATES TWO QUESTIONS AT THE END OF EACH WEEK OF A PROJECT: 

1) “WHAT WENT WELL?”

2) “WHERE DO YOU NEED SUPPORT?”

I automated this process using an app called 15Five. Check it out here: https://www.15five.com/.

Today’s Exercise: Build Trust

To help you go deeper here is an article from Harvard Business Review on how to improve psychological safety and build more trust in an organization:

https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #3 - Dependability

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #3 - Dependability

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. Dependability is being able to rely on others to complete their tasks well.

2. A dependable team is highly productive. Promises are kept, people follow through, things get done, and trust is built.  

3. The first step is to switch from time management to priority management. If every team member understands the priorities of the project, they are going to stay on track, which means the whole team stays on track.

The third element of a healthy high-performance team is dependability. This is a pretty straight-forward concept: it means being able to rely on others to complete their tasks well. We all have a pretty good sense of what “dependable” means – with our bosses, co-workers, spouses, and even with elements of the world, like public transportation or a favourite coffee shop.

Dependability matters because it draws on and leads to so many other individual and team factors. For example, a dependable team member is building positive relationships as a by-product of being responsible and reliable. That person’s word is their bond, which boosts morale and confidence all around. And of course, a dependable person – and team – is highly productive. Promises are kept, people follow through, things get done.

Most important, dependability builds trust. People who can be depended on are people who can be trusted. Faith in each other and in the mission is strong.

During parts of our climb up Mount Chimbarazo in Ecuador, the whole group was roped together. There were times, especially at night, when we had to completely depend on one another. The image of climbers tied together is perfect for a dependable team. With such a strong sense of responsibility and connection, you’re not going to let anyone down. If you did, the team could fall off a cliff! In our case, it felt amazing to be tied to everyone else. It was empowering. It’s also empowering for other kinds of teams.

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How can you ensure that you and your teams are dependable?

My strong suggestion is that you pivot from time management to priority management. If your team works from a sense of priority, it is going to be highly reliable when it comes to reaching stages and benchmarks. If every team member understands the priorities of the project, they are going to stay on track, which means the whole team stays on track.

I shifted to priority management awhile ago in my life. Long story short: after I ended up in the cardiac ward of a hospital with a heart infection, I reset my priorities: health first, then family, then work.

At the outset of a project, align everyone’s priorities around what is mission-critical. Cut out anything that isn’t essential. As a result, you’ll see dependability rise. People naturally become more reliable when they are engaged in mission-critical activities rather than distracting minutiae.

When my health became mission-critical as my first priority, I was able to complete an Ironman a year after my heart infection knocked me out. Right now, my priority is building great relationships with my family. I spend time with my wife and kids from dinner through to bedtime. I do it every day. That mission-critical focus has made me highly dependable and has been great for the health and strength of my family. The same happens on work teams.

On your teams, spend time at the outset of a project and then periodically afterward asking, what is mission critical? What are the right priorities? You will find that the dependability of each member and the whole team skyrockets.

Today's 1% Gain: Priority Management and the Mission Critical Question

THE KEY TO DEPENDABILITY IS DOING WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO. IN A TEAM CONTEXT, IT IS HAVING THE CONFIDENCE THAT PEOPLE ON YOUR TEAM WILL GET THEIR JOB DONE. DESPITE HOW OBVIOUS THIS SOUNDS, IT IS NOT A GIVEN THAT PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO FINISH WHAT THEY COMMIT TO. SO MANY OF US ARE INUNDATED WITH URGENT REQUESTS THAT CAUSE US TO GET SIDE-TRACKED FROM IMPORTANT WORK 

TWO CRITICAL ACTIONS THAT CAN HELP YOU AND YOUR TEAM BE DEPENDABLE:

1) PRIORITY MANAGEMENT NOT TIME MANAGEMENT. MOVE FROM MANAGING YOUR CALENDAR TO BEING CLEAR ABOUT WHAT MATTERS AND ALLOCATING TIME TO THE TOP PRIORITIES EVERY DAY.

2) START EVERY DAY/MEETING/BLOCK OF WORK WITH THIS QUESTION: “IS THIS MISSION CRITICAL?” THAT WILL ENSURE YOU ARE WORKING ON WHAT MATTERS.

Today’s Exercise: Priority Management

You can download the Priority Management Workbook that will take you through the six steps you and your employees can follow to switch from time management to priority management.

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #4 - Meaning

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #4 - Meaning

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. Meaning is understanding not WHAT you’re doing but WHY you’re doing it.

2. Motivation is more powerful when it comes from the inside (why you care, what you are passionate about, why this matters) than from the outside (rewards, recognition, money).  

We’re on the fourth element of building a healthy high-performance team. We’ve arrived at meaning.

What is meaning? It’s not what you’re doing but why you’re doing it: not what your job is, for example, but what drives you. A teacher might ask herself, why do I work with young people?

Of course, a healthy high-performance team needs to understand the “what” of its work. It’s the task, problem or issue. But the why is much more powerful. What is the significance? How does it fit into the bigger picture? Why does it matter at all?

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And below those big questions, what is driving each member of the team? It’s an important question, because one thing we have learned about motivation is that when it comes from the outside (rewards), it is far less powerful and more likely to die off, than when it comes from the inside (a deep desire to do one’s best, to advance a cause, etc.).

Here’s a story to illustrate how powerful meaning and “why” can be.

When we think of Michael Phelps, the first thing that comes to mind is that he has won more Olympic Medals than any other athlete in history. What many people don’t think of is that despite, or perhaps as a side effect, of all of his money, fame, and success, Michael went through what many of us experience in our careers and lives: a dark period.

In 2014, halfway between Olympic Games, Michael was deeply depressed and really struggling in every area of his life. At the low point, he was photographed smoking weed out of a bong and was twice charged with driving under the influence, including once in a school zone. He also went through a series of bad breakups that were very public.

At the lowest point, he called his coach, explained that he was having thoughts about suicide, and said, “I've had it. I can't take this anymore.” The coach helped Michael get into rehab.

While in rehab, Michael wasn’t one of the most successful athletes in history. He was just a guy working the steps. One of them was making calls to friends and family to make amends, reconnect with people, talk through what happened, work it through – for yourself and for them. 

When he was on a call with his best friend, the conversation didn’t unfold as Phelps had expected. The friend challenged him by asking a simple question that ended up changing the course of Michael's life: “Is that the best that you can do?” Reflecting on the question, Michael realized that what had happened so far, though amazing by any external standard, wasn’t even close to all he was capable of and wanted to achieve. Stepping back, he realized that he had been focusing on the what – the medals – not the why – his passion for training, pushing limits, giving his best, being a guy his team and his country could count on.

Phelps left rehab soon after and returned to his training with a new focus on enjoying and embracing the process. He changed his diet. He committed to physical therapy. He added yoga, stretching, massage, and functional training to his swimming. He repaired a number of relationships. And, maybe most important of all, he stopped reading things like ESPN magazine and started reading biographies of people like Mahatma Ghandi and Steve Jobs – role models of meaning and purpose.

Fast forward to 2016 and the Rio Olympics, and Phelps is a picture of happiness. During all of the media interviews he gave, his themes were being there to try his hardest, to not end up with regret, and to know that he had left it all out there in the lanes.

By pivoting his thinking from outcomes to process, he reenergized his life and found his purpose again. He lived the life he loved.

That’s the power of why. And it lies at the heart of healthy high-performance teams. A great team is driven by something deeper than praise or trophies: it is fueled by meaning. External rewards are fine, but they are not the meaning of our lives and they will not sustain us in our pursuit of excellence in any long-term way.

Today's 1% Gain: Know Your Why

GOOGLE’S PROJECT ARISTOTLE REVEALED THAT HIGH-PERFORMING TEAMS WERE CLEAR ABOUT THE MEANING OF THEIR PROJECTS AND HAD BEEN CONSTRUCTED TO ACCOMPLISH VERY SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES OR CREATE NEW OPPORTUNITIES.

JUST THINK ABOUT THE TEAM THAT CREATED GOOGLE VOICE – A PIECE OF FREE SOFTWARE THAT ALLOWS YOU TO TALK, FOR FREE, TO ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. THAT PROJECT WAS NOT ABOUT CREATING SOFTWARE, IT WAS ABOUT CONNECTING PEOPLE.

SO WHY ARE YOU DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR TEAM? WHY ARE YOU WORKING ON A PROJECT? WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR? WHY HAVE YOU COME TOGETHER?

KNOWING YOUR WHY IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO ENSURING THAT YOU REACH YOUR POTENTIAL.

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #5 - Impact

The Fab Five of Healthy High-Performance Teams: #5 - Impact

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

KEY POINTS:

1. Impact is about making a difference and delivering an outcome that matters. 

2. Healthy high-performance teams understand how their work contributes to larger organizational goals.

3. As you work to power up your teams, be sure everyone involved understands their impact, their place in the system, and their power to make a difference bigger than themselves.

We’ve arrived at the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to healthy high-performance teams. That piece is impact, which is all about the results of your work. Impact is about making a difference, offering an outcome that matters.

Teams need to understand how their work contributes to larger organizational goals. It’s incredibly inspiring to be able to see in advance where the part (project) fits into the whole (mission of the organization). And it’s personally motivating to have an impact on a cause larger than the self. It’s similar to aligning your daily habits and choices with your dreams. That’s living with impact.

At the end of the day, we all have the incredible opportunity to make people's lives better, to give people the opportunity to reach their dreams.

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When I think of impact, I think of Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip, a kind of national poet of the last 30 years.

He was an intensely personal man, never did anything public. He never put his children in public. He kept everything close to the vest. Then, after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he did something uncharacteristic: he shared the news with the world. Then, he and the Hip released one more album and went on tour one last time together.

I had the incredible opportunity of seeing the Toronto show. I've been to well over 100 concerts in my life and it was pretty incredible, especially when Gord stood on stage between one of the encores all by himself and took a five-minute standing ovation. He looked at every single segment of the audience and connected with all of us. It was one of the most amazing things I have seen at a major public event, and I have seen plenty. 

A few days later, in its hometown of Kingston, the band gave its final concert, which was broadcast all across the country and around the world with millions of Canadians watching.

During the concert, Gord completely unleashed his love, energy, creativity and passion. You could see he was struggling. He had to read lyrics from a teleprompter. But he was raw and open and there for the audience and the art all the way through. 

As the concert wound down, he did the most incredible thing, an action that I believe lay at the heart of why he wanted to do the concert. 

Knowing he had the attention of the entire country, he came out during one of the encores and spoke at length about Truth and Reconciliation, the history of First Nation’s Peoples in Canada, and the residential school system that was characterized by assimilation and attempted genocide. And as he talked, he spoke directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and challenged our national leader to lead the way and make it right. 

I believe that the potential impact of those comments, that moment, was one of the main reasons Gord made a commitment to the tour. When he came off stage, you could see on his face how much it mattered to him to finish his life as a musician in this particular way. He was dying but he had purpose, meaning and impact.

After that concert was over, he released his book about Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who was taken from his family, put in a residential school and died when he escaped and tried to walk the 600 kilometers home along train tracks. His impact carried on through sales of the book and a tangible, personal connection for everyone who watched that night. 

Understanding the direct impact you are going to have is a powerful motivator for teams. As you work to power up every team you’re on, be sure to help everyone involved understand their impact, their place in the system, their power to make a difference.

Here, again, are the fab five elements of a healthy high-performance team: clarity, psychological safety, dependability, meaning, and impact.

Remember the finding of Google’s Project Aristotle: it’s not who you have on a team, it’s how the team functions. It’s the team’s “communal health,” not its talent, credentials, or experience. It’s how they view their task and one another. Those five elements can be alive and well on any team. If they are, great things are possible.

Finally, keep in mind that the five elements build mental health. If they drive us at work and in our personal lives, we’ll have more joy and greater psychological and emotional wellbeing. Our teams win, and so do we.

It has been a pleasure spending this time with you. I’ve enjoyed your questions and comments and stories about your journey. I’ve heard a lot about your dreams and your challenges, and I’m lucky to have learned so much from you. Thank you for participating and striving and sharing.

Remember you can send me your questions any time at coach@thewellsgroup.co or check out the contact page on the website.

I wish you the very best on your journey!

Dr. Greg Wells

Today's 1% Gain: Identify your Potential Impact

THIS FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE OF HOW TO CREATE HEALTHY HIGH-PERFORMANCE TEAMS IS BEING AWARE OF THE IMPACT THAT SUCCESS WILL HAVE. THIS IMPACT CAN BE ON YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR TEAMMATES, YOUR CLIENTS, YOUR STUDENTS, THE COUNTRY, OR EVEN THE WORLD.

I HAVE DISCOVERED THAT MY PROFESSIONAL MISSION IS TO HELP 1 BILLION PEOPLE BE HEALTHIER AND REACH THEIR POTENTIAL. IN MY FAMILY LIFE, MY SOLE FOCUS IS ON EMPOWERING MY CHILDREN AS THEY GROW INTO THEIR LIVES. 

BEING CLEAR ABOUT THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF YOUR TEAM AND YOUR OWN WORK IS A HUGE MOTIVATOR. MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT CAN MAKE PEOPLE CONTENT DESPITE THE CHALLENGES THAT OFTEN ACCOMPANY TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD. KNOWING YOU WILL HAVE AN IMPACT WILL ALSO KEEP YOU GOING WHEN OBSTACLES AND SETBACKS ABOUND. 

WHAT IS THE IMPACT YOU SEEK TO HAVE IN THE WORLD? GET THIS WRITTEN DOWN AND SHARE IT AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

Case Study: John Foley

Case Study: John Foley

The Healthy High Performance Teams Program

I had the amazing opportunity to interview John Foley for my podcast. Foley is a former lead solo pilot for the US Navy’s Blue Angels. He is also an internationally-known keynote speaker who gives over 100 talks a year, helping organizations and individuals understand the keys to human performance. Foley also inspires audiences through his “glad to be here” philosophy and foundation. 

During our conversation, Foley shares insights into going after your dream, and how having a high performance team can help you reach it. Below is an edited excerpt from the interview.

You can listen to the full podcast interview here.

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You have an incredible story about your dream to fly with the Blue Angels.

I used to tack model jets on my ceiling as a kid and sleep on the top bunk so I was closer to the planes. My dad took me to an air show in Rhode Island when I was 12 years old. The jets took off and the afterburners just rocked me. I could feel it in my chest. The little hairs were standing up on my arms. I turned to my dad, right then, and said, "I'm going to do that." It took me 18 years to pull it off, but one day I was sitting in the cockpit of a Blue Angel jet. I never let go of that dream to fly because a seed was deeply planted in my heart and not my head. It wasn't just an intellectual concept.

What was one of the earliest lessons you learned about achieving your dreams?

When I was at Annapolis, I realized that in order to get to the next level, you have to reset your beliefs. People often neglect to see that any vision you have for what you want to achieve is built around belief levels. What do you believe you're capable of? What do you believe your team's capable of? These beliefs determine the level of your performance. You have to ask, “how do I raise those beliefs?” 

Tell us about the intensity of flying five feet away from another jet at 1,000 miles per hour and performing extreme manoeuvres?

It's a very calm environment. You reach a point, after hours and hours of practice, where everything slows down because your brain is speeding up. You're in a state of incredible flow and focus, where you can see the cracks in the paint on the plane next to you. 

I remember when I first flew solos – that’s when you fly with one other jet to demonstrate the maximum potential of the airplane. My mentor said to me, “Okay, our two-mile checkpoint is going to be that three-story white house with the green shade on the northeast window.” I’m like, “Are you kidding? How am I supposed to see that?” But then I realized I was limiting belief. In time, with loads of practice, I learned to focus and I was able to see a tiny point on the landscape as we flew past. You get to a point where even when you are pulling 7.5 Gs in a roll-out, you are totally calm and focused. When you achieve that state, you can execute at the highest imaginable level.

When a team is trying to improve their performance, what should they keep in mind?

After every air show with the Blue Angels, we would debrief how it went. It was very professional but very intense. We would deconstruct the show in minute detail. But we would always start with asking, “In general, how did it go?” I teach this to businesses around the world – and you just don't see it enough. Start by connecting with people in a general way, before getting into the specifics of the project. That’s how people connect to a conversation. It’s also how you can find out what's on their mind. From there, you can get into the details in a positive mindset – it makes a big difference. 

If you had to point to one thing that makes a team successful, what would you say? 

Trust. That's the key. You have create a high-trust environment. I encourage people to have what I call “trust contracts,” agreements that you will be there for each other. Things like, “You can count on me.” For the Blues, those contracts were explicit and made it possible for you to fly head-on at another jet at 1,000 miles an hour and pass by only a wingspan apart. Trust is the difference for any team. If you know exactly what your contracts are with each other, you know what you need to do and you do it.