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I took my first exciting step into facilitation as a Leading Edge Team Coach last month with a brilliant group of leaders looking to create habits that would bring to life their new organisation’s leadership charter.
It was a privilege to spend the day with operations leaders from National Gas Transmission, formerly part of National Grid, at a fabulous location in Warwickshire. Although this was my first time facilitating for Leading Edge, the concept of supporting individuals and teams to create strong habits linked to high performance is one that’s very familiar to me.
Create habits; create discipline
Where creating habits is concerned, I’m always inspired by the approaches in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. Creating habits is about creating great discipline that can be extended into other areas. To do this with a team or group of people, I find every opportunity to reference my insights into high performance sport, using different examples from my career to bring to life both the context and the habit.
But before getting into the detail of habits, I wanted to energise this group of 40 leaders with, as it turned out, a rather competitive activity – the Marshmallow Challenge, a simple design exercise with valuable lessons on creativity and innovation. Think: one marshmallow, 20 sticks of spaghetti, one metre of tape, one metre of string. The challenge? Each team needs to build the tallest structure possible with the marshmallow on top.
When planning to facilitate this leadership conference, I knew I’d need activities that gave these leaders a good amount of time with their senior teams. A recent organisational change meant that they were just one week into a new company, so it was clear that not everyone would know everyone.
Allowing time in their area teams (7 in total) before opening up as a whole group was the way to go. Kicking off with the Marshmallow Challenge was fascinating. Looking around the room, there were the teams that just wanted to get on and go for it, the teams that prioritised chatting through their approach before starting to panic that the clock was ticking, and the teams with a laser focus on working out how to cheat!
Wonderful energy was on show right the way through. It really was such a good way to start the day.
Living the leadership charter
This group needed to create habits linked to the organisation’s new leadership charter, a charter that had been developed but that now needed some life breathing into it. But creating habits, and committing to habits, are two different things. So I was looking for strong ‘commitment activities’ to help this group agree to the habits and then align on the ones to take forward.
Knowing the wealth of expertise across business and sport in Leading Edge, I reached out to Team Green and chatted with a few Team Coaches, seeking their ideas on large-group activities for creating commitments. As expected, their input was invaluable. I was looking to hear about the different methods they’d used to tie up similar sessions, knowing that a large group of leaders from different areas of this new business would have created lots (and lots) of potential habits across the sessions.
Leading Edge is special in this way. There will always be someone ready to give up their time so a fellow Team Coach can bounce ideas around. It’s second nature – and it definitely feels so comfortable and natural to me as someone who spends their days as part of a sports coaching team, or heading one up, as I currently do as Head Coach of the Japan National Men’s Sevens Team.
Committing to habits
Each table was tasked with creating habits for one area of the leadership charter and then sharing those habits with the wider group to gain commitment. By the end, we had all possible habits up on the wall and spent a good deal of time talking through which ones everyone felt comfortable with and which ones would be challenging.
I was thrilled with their buy-in to this process. The conversations taking place highlighted that although these leaders from different areas of the business face contrasting challenges, they felt a strong connection in the room. Their interaction was so positive as they shared stories to align on habits and demonstrated their passion for the company in the commitment they were prepared to make.
Without doubt, it was a challenging agenda with a lot to cover off in just one day. And for a senior group in the very early days of a new leadership set-up and new deliverables, they showed incredible focus on creating and committing to habits, habits that will help develop the company culture and their leadership skills in tandem.
My background is in elite sport, as both a rugby player and coach, and I was incredibly fortunate to be part of the UK Sport Elite Programme (2016–19), learning alongside world-class coaches including Gareth Southgate (football) and Melanie Marshall (swimming).