Team Coach Life: Lizzie Simmonds

 

How brilliant to be asked to design and deliver workshop sessions on the powerful human connection and emotion of belonging at a conference in France!  The annual Octave Programme is a cross-company initiative organised by Danone and L’Oreal, among others. Bringing together multi-generational leaders, this residential conference facilitates sharing and learning, focused on adapting to digital, social and environmental transformations in a changing world.

A few stats to set the scene:

  • 310 participants
  • 37 different nationalities
  • 3 jam-packed days

… and many, many sticky notes!

Hear the word ‘conference’ and it’s difficult not to bring to mind corporate themes and images. This annual conference could not have been more different. Being held in Evian (you’re right – where the water is from!) on the southern shores of Lake Geneva, the setting itself creates an inspirational vibe. Add a workshop room with comfy chairs, a spacious patio, and foliage on the ceiling… What more can I say! It was great moment to work with a client who recognises the importance of ‘environmental design’ for eliciting the conversations, behaviours and outcomes desired from delegates.

Sharing and learning

I facilitated a 90-minute workshop to five different groups during the three-day programme. With up to 25 people in each session, I had the pleasure of engaging with more than 100 conference attendees on the theme of ‘Finding Belonging’, exploring the role leaders have in building belonging into their organisational culture.

My workshop was just one of a packed agenda throughout the programme. Other keynotes and workshops, delivered by speakers, thought leaders, authors and academics, all focused on sharing and learning between multi-generational leaders.

The reason behind ‘Octave’

The name Octave comes from the fact that a company is typically like a piano, tending to play on just the two central octaves – the generations of 30-50 year-olds – whilst neglecting the lower and higher octaves. The Octave Programme intentionally promotes intergenerational diversity so that each person, no matter what generation they are from, has a role to play within the company.

Whilst designing my workshop, I became interested in how this intergenerational focus would play out in the room. I was keen to encourage interaction between generations, but not to force the engagement. During the event, I was delighted to see this happen organically, with a keenness shown from younger delegates to hear and value input from those longer in the workplace, and vice versa. There was no right or wrong, just plenty of valuable experiences and ideas shared and discussed.

Why talk to ‘belonging?

As a professional athlete, I enjoyed a 12-year career competing on the international stage, winning medals at World, Commonwealth and European level, and competing for Team GB at two Olympic Games. During my career, I experienced belonging in several ways, with different teams and groups.

Since retiring from competing, I’ve become interested in the links between performance and belonging, and whether belonging should be ‘conditional’ on performance in a work environment. Reflecting on my own experiences of belonging, and the Leading Edge Performance framework for belonging, we discussed how difficult it can be for organisations to create a culture of true belonging alongside necessary performance expectations and criteria.

Belonging – a human need

Belonging is a subjective experience. There’s little consensus on how to increase it, or measure it, particularly in the workplace. I shared the well-established and much-used Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. Not one of the 12 measures specifically mentions ‘belonging’, although it’s clearly at the core of many of the outputs.

Belonging at work is the foundation of performance, although it’s not enough to just tell someone they belong. Cultivating true belonging can be challenging, particularly with the fast pace of innovation, changing ways of working, and social mobility.

With a focus on finding collective strategies to increase belonging, I laid out a paradox for leaders: creating cultures that both celebrate individuality and diversity, and encourage teams and organisations to find shared identity and purpose.

“Be yourself and part of a changing world” was the theme for the 2024 Octave Programme. It captures this paradox well: being our authentic selves, whilst connecting with those around us to find ways to thrive in a fast-paced world.

Increasing belonging in the workplace

During the session, delegates worked in pairs and small groups to share their own experiences and brainstorm ideas for increasing belonging in the workplace. As an overarching objective, I chose activities that helped participants simulate and increase their sense of belonging within the room and to the programme.

Some delegates also came up to me during the following days to tell me how the session was continuing to make them think about their experiences of belonging and what they could, or should, do differently to cultivate belonging back in their workplaces.

A few big thanks…

To Leading Edge Performance for putting me forward for such a unique and inspiring event.

To fellow Leading Edge Performance Team Coach Patrick McMaster for truly embodying everything I love about the LEP Team Coach community and being a brilliant sounding board for ideas (as well as letting me steal a couple of his fabulous activities with pride!)

And to the organisers of the Octave Programme. I can only imagine the immense challenge of needing to keep so many sessions to time. The entire conference was brilliantly organised and an absolute pleasure to be a part of.

 

You may also like this blog on belonging: Insights from an incredible Performance Hub with the RNLI – Leading Edge (leading-edge.co.uk)

 

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Michaela Weller

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