I had the good fortune to see Sir Clive Woodward speak on building high performance teams at the Cornerstone Convergence in London recently. His insights on how to go beyond talent, to create a formidable team made up of exceptional individuals performing at their best in a high pressure environment, was enlightening and inspiring, and certainly an experience I would recommend. One of the core messages was that we need to move beyond just seeing and utilising talent, Sir Clive Woodward phrased it as ‘talent is a starting position, not a finishing position’; instead, he suggested that it is a concept of ‘teachability’ that determines success. Once we look beyond talent to teachability as a core skill to be looked for and exploited, we are better able to build capacity and capability.
This is a messages that should resonate strongly with the Learning and Development profession. If great teams are made up of great individuals, as Sir Clive Woodward states, then it is the job of L&D professionals and teams to ensure that both latent and overt talents are developed in each and every individual, to maximise their ability to grow and acquire skills. However, the idea that people have intrinsic levels of teachability needs to play a role in the general understanding of how L&D can achieve its stated goals, and is crucial to setting expectations of what is achievable and how learning interventions must be structured to ensure success.
Indeed, it is not new to suggest that while some workers may pick up new information, skills and systems quickly, others may need far more support in the workplace to implement themes and ideas that they have learned in training. This is a basic understanding of how ‘teachability’ works – some people are more able to be taught than others, but this does not mean that we should give up on those who find it more difficult to learn and adapt. Instead, this is where management must become part of the training process, to help workers to better implement what they have learned into the performance of their daily tasks.
All training that requires modification of behaviour or the introduction of new responsibilities must be supplemented by coaching, the focus of which should be to oversee and assist with the utilisation of what has been learned at best practice levels, and, where available, mentoring, to assist individuals to function at peak efficiency, and to work to a high standard under pressure. These actions by management should be underpinned by data: what behaviours are reflected in the metrics of the worker? How is the training and coaching process driving the worker to achieve the pre-determined levels of success that management expect from them in their position? What changes need to be made to ensure that the staff member is achieving the numbers required by management?
When discussing the creation of high performance teams, Sir Clive Woodward spoke of the importance of utilising data as a means of informing and encouraging individuals to identify their own weaknesses and drive themselves, in a supported environment, to develop in ways that improve and increase skills and knowledge capital. In this way, training becomes a triumvirate of the L&D team, management and the worker themselves, all driving towards a stated goal, whether it involves expanding knowledge, improvement of skills, or a better understanding of systems and best practice. Most importantly, to the staff member, this process leads to greater engagement with their own development, driving each worker to achieve their potential and moving them closer to the attainment of their career goals.
So if this is how we build great workers for our teams, how then do we get these individuals to function as a collective? The answer to this is to ensure that there are opportunities and expectations that workers, as they grow and develop, will be connecting with those in their teams, and will collaborate with those around them to cultivate knowledge and evolve their skills as a unit. To succeed there are certain skills that the ‘triumvirate’ must work together to engender in staff members, ensuring that they have the capacity and the ability to work together in a healthy, constructive and sustainable manner, and, again, to do so to a high standard under pressure.
For more information on what these skills are and how we can train workers to excel in these areas, look out for Training for Teamwork: Part Two: Team-Specific Skills and How to Develop Them, which is coming soon.