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 The Lift Effect takes executives on a ride of a lifetime, using a network of people, experiences and processes to lift leadership performance. 

- Clare Goodman

The Lift Effect Blog

Time to spice up your off-site


Spice up your offsite

Off-sites are stale. A full day of presentations, an occasional break out session and then a “team building“ activity at the end, which is more about rewarding people for suffering through the day than actually adding value. How many of these have you suffered through?

I believe that it is time to take a new approach to off-sites. Gone are the days where we can afford to take our most senior team members out for a day just to update each other on what happened in the previous period and what is planned for the period ahead. There just isn’t enough value in that to warrant the expense. Unless your off-site develops new thinking, creates deeper trust and provide opportunities for people to really develop then I suggest you cancel it and just send around a deck for people to read.

Here are a few ideas on how to spice up your off site.

1. Ban PowerPoint decks

I believe that if people are senior enough to be included in an offsite then they should be responsible for pre-reading all the update decks. Ensure that all material is circulated at least a week in advance covering all the “traditional” content expected as part of their functional update. Use the offsite sessions as a truly interactive, collaborative opportunity to seek support, advice and ideas. Take the opportunity to challenge ingrained biases and brainstorm solutions to complex issues.

2. Cover the critical and strategic issues first

People get tired and have limited attention spans. Ensure that the agenda covers all of the most strategic issues early in the day.

3. Change up the venue

How often do we spend money hiring an off-site venue only to then sit in a room with the blinds closed around a board table? Environment can have a massive impact on the way in which people think and communicate. If you are looking for different thinking, then it is foolish to expect it to occur in the same environment albeit a different location. I suggest you start by taking away the table. I would even go so far as to take away the seating for parts of the day. If you are felling adventitious and the weather permits, consider taking some of it outside. You will be amazed at the impact this has on the way your teams think and communicate.

4. Do your team building first

Why do we do our team building at the end of the day? Why is it always something totally disconnected from the business, like paint balling, cooking, painting etc. Surely it makes more sense to do it first. True change in behaviour and building of trust only happens when you disrupt the status quo. Your team building activity needs to be able to create this disruption and set up a new way of thinking that you can benefit from for the rest of the off-site and carry through into the business.

5. Don’t be a slave to the agenda.

Be brave. Allow time for the team to discuss the issues and opportunities that they uncover throughout the day. These will often be things that hadn’t occurred to us when we were putting together a fully packed agenda for the day. All too often important issues and opportunities are uncovered in off-sites, parked for future discussion and then never addressed.

Off-sites are all too often a chore, seen as a necessity to get everyone on the same page for the period ahead. I believe that they can be significantly more. They can be empowering, uncover and solve issues, truly bring a team together and develop trust.

Please comment on how you keep off-sites relevant and valuable, I’d love to hear your views.

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What is the ‘potential’ in high potential?

Organisations invest heavily in their high potentials with training, coaching and mentoring often offered to prepare them for bigger roles. But what does a high potential leader look like? Strangely enough according to a research paper called ‘Learning Agility: a construct whose time has come’, high performance is not necessarily a good predictor of future success. In fact, success in a current role does not guarantee success in a different role. So what does? Researchers have been looking at this critical question and discovered that an individual’s learning agility is a much better predictor of success especially where a leader is transitioning from a known role to an unknown or novel role.

The authors go on to claim that ‘ The assessment of learning agility, we believe, will likely become a critical component of talent management practices in most organisations during this decade’.

Learning agility is ‘ the willingness and ability to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first time conditions.’

In another piece of research entitled ‘ Learning Agility as a Prime Indicator of Potential’ the authors hypothesized that high potentials with a higher level of learning agility would perform better once they had been promoted. Indeed this hypothesis was borne out, the more successful leaders, once they had been promoted did indeed score higher levels of learning agility.

In FYI for Learning Agility, the authors highlight four types of learning agility;

  • Mental agility – they are excellent critical thinkers who are comfortable with complexity, examine problems carefully and make fresh connections.
  • People agility – they know themselves very well and can readily deal with a wide variety of people and tough situations.
  • Change agility – they are curious, like to experiment and can effectively deal with the discomfort of change.
  • Results agility – they deliver results in first-time situations by inspiring teams; they exhibit the sort of presence that builds confidence in themselves and others.

And leaders high in learning agility would;

  • Seek and have more experiences to learn from
  • Enjoy complex first time problems and challenges associated with new experiences
  • Get more out of these experiences because they have an interest in making sense of them.
  • Perform well because they incorporate new skills into their repertoire.

So a high potential is someone who is a high learner, able to adapt, change and grow in ambiguous situations.  So how do you spot those high in learning agility? There are assessment tools available on the market, however the research shows that a boss is more likely than peers or direct reports to identify high learners.

The need to identify high potentials is a critical one for organisations and it is worth thinking about how you are assessing these leaders. As a practitioner in the Leadership and Development field I am often asked to work with a group of leaders that have been identified by their level in the organisation, performance or personality and company fit. Let’s change the conversation and start to talk about potential in terms of an individuals ability to learn, adapt and grow.


  • Learning Agility; a construct whose time has come – by Kenneth De Meuse , Guangrong Dai , George Hallenbeck  2010 Consulting Pysch Journal
  • Learning Agility as a Prime Indicator of Potential – by Robert Eichinger, Michael Lombardo – Human Resource Planning
  • FYI for Learning Agility – published by Korn/Ferry International 2010


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Building brain-based team work

Sometimes being in relationships, either at work or at home can be both pleasurable and painful. Positive relationships at work can make the difference between engagement or disengagement. Gallup has recently conducted research into why people come to work and one of the most important factors is ‘the people that I work with’. So people are important and working in a team environment is essential for success in business.

 “Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped” (Lencioni, 2005)

He goes onto describe a dysfunctional team as;

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

A team that trusts one another, engage in passionate discussions, commit to decisions and hold one another accountable are more likely to set aside personal agendas and focus on the goals of the team (Lencioni, 2005). So it seems obvious that to build an effective team a leader needs trust, passionate, honest conversations, commitment, accountability and a focus on mutual team goals.

David Rock devised a neuroscience model called SCARF that may help explain team work further (Rock, 2008)

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

These five domains are essential in building relationships with others. Our brain is wired to minimize threat or maximize reward and if you can maximize reward across some of these domains then you are more likely to achieve a positive relationship.

“The model enables people to more easily remember, recognize and potentially modify the core social domains that drive human behaviour” (Rock, 2008)

In many respects this SCARF goes further into providing a strong framework for building teams than Lecioni’s. It incorporates Lencioni’s plus adds the importance of relatedness and fairness, which according to Rock are strong drivers in the model.

Practical Ideas for Leaders

Use the SCARF model as a framework to start looking at whether you are driving threat or reward behaviours in your team.

Do your team members feel:

  • Status; that their opinions are valued, that they are important, that they ideas are valued.
  • Certainty; that they know what is expected and where the team is heading
  • Autonomy; do they feel that they have some control over what they are doing?
  • Relatedness; do they feel a sense of belonging to the team? Is there a high level of trust and support?
  • Fairness; Do they feel that they and others have been treated fairly? This could include money, bonuses, work allocation, feedback etc.

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Are organisations really set up with our brain in mind?

According to author Daniel Pink we’re in transition from the Information age to the Conceptual Age. He writes in his book The Whole New Mind “The best employees of the future will excel at creative problem solving and different ways of thinking — synthesizing seemingly diverse things together for better solutions, using metaphors to explain new ideas for which no context yet might exist.”

And yet do we really set up our work environments to support this type of rich and dynamic thinking?

Richard Boyatzis, author and professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western wrote “If you want people coming to work with half their brain then put them under pressure”.

And he has a point, the more you delve into the demands placed on employees and more importantly the demands that employees place on themselves you can see their brains bending under the strain. This is great for problem solving but the exact opposite of what is required for innovation and creativity.

For some of my coaching clients, innovation is something that happens in the shower or walking the dog if at all, as work comprises of long hours, back to back meetings and the unwritten ground rule that unless you look busy you are not doing your best.

To add to this large organisations have invested heavily in developing processes and systems, all designed to create consistency and in some cases safety however in many cases employees create a dependency on process and a tendency to stop thinking outside the box.

Although innovation may be an organisations core value, generally cultures fail to support this.

Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting book looking at this problem of innovation in the workplace called Imagine.

“What Imagine and the literature about the neuroscience of creativity says is, when we need moments of insight, when we need to find far-reaching connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, when we’ve really hit the wall…that’s when we need to relax, to stop thinking about work, because the answer will only arrive when we stop looking for it.”

In other words to be able to be creative, as opposed to just problem solving we need to quiet the mind and allow ourselves to slow down. Mood matters, relaxing our minds and getting distance from the problem will increase the likelihood of an a-ha moment.

So what do we need to change in our organisations?

  • We need to really acknowledge creativity and innovation as a highly desirable ability.
  • We need to encourage others to think differently through provocative (not threatening) questions. Practicing a different way of thinking will increase the likelihood of creative thought.
  • We need to give people time to allow ideas to flow
  • We need to trust our employees to change their environment i.e. go for a walk to get into a better mind state
  • And we need to create supportive cultures so employees feel empowered to take time to think and not feel guilty because they are not rushing around the office.

Remember some of the most creative companies like Apple and Google give their employees task free days. These are days where they can work on anything they like without a kpi in sight. And it is through this type of investment in precious time that these companies report that the best ideas emerge.

So how can we get ready for the Conceptual Age? How can we support our teams and employees to develop and cultivate this amazing capability and harness it to create highly competitive organisations?

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Happiness – a personal quest or an organizational strategy?

As an addict of the ‘self help’ section in any bookshop even I was astounded to come across a copy of the ‘Happiness for Dummies’ book.  It just goes to show that in this era of consumerism that perhaps there is a growing need to find happiness in something other than a Gucci bag, new BMW or a 10 berth ‘Gin Palace’. Not there is anything wrong with gaining short term pleasure through these things, it is when we think that when we buy a Calvin Klein perfume that we are buying lasting happiness. (more…)

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