Hear why it’s so crucial for success to build effective teams
My guest today is a remarkable individual, Mark Samuel, who’s now written seven business books. I interviewed Mark back in June of 2019 and thought he had such a powerful message about how to get people to change, even when they really don’t want to, that I had him back. Today’s podcast is about his most recent book, Reimagine Teams: The Missing Piece in Team Building to Achieve Breakthrough Results. Our discussion focuses on the vital role of accountability, which makes teams work or fail. With over 30 years’ experience in the business world, Mark is a transformative leader, having helped hundreds of companies overcome stagnation, transform their businesses, and eliminate toxic work cultures to increase profits, morale and customer experience. Does your culture need an overhaul? Be sure to listen in!
Watch and listen to our conversation here
In our podcast, Mark and I had a wonderful time discussing our shared interest in the success of companies working together in what we all call “teams.” But teams, teaming and team development are being rethought today as our workplaces and work styles change.
These are very fast-changing times. I used to tell my clients, if they wanted to change, have a crisis or create one, and I never wanted to see a crisis like we’re coming out of, but we’re coming out of it. The problem is that people are unsettled as we come out of the post-pandemic period; the old habits are gone. They don’t quite know what’s going on. They were attached to what they knew before the pandemic.
Now they have become adjusted to the post-pandemic workplace. And looking ahead, they don’t know what’s coming. They want to go back, but you can’t go back. So how do we go forward? Often a business leader’s solution is to assemble the team. But what type of team? And how should it perform as business leaders rebuild the culture for the post-pandemic phase?
Bringing about real changes that last through team-building
As an internationally sought-after speaker and consultant for his B STATE methodology (Bold Leadership, Brave Culture, Breakthrough Results), Mark trains leaders on implementing sustainable changes.
As he shares in our podcast, “For decades, corporate team building has consisted of style inventories, communication skill building, and teamwork games like ropes courses, trust falls, and escape rooms. While these activities might bring a team closer together as friends and are certainly fun, they have little to do with building job-related teamwork.”
His message for us: Accountability. Organizations have become accountable just for activity, getting things done, doing things, rather than the outcome of what we are trying to accomplish by the doing of it. You must have teams and they must be accountable. And building effective teams requires practice at being a team. Just like sports teams and music groups which practice what they’re going to perform, business teams must practice their performance as a team, not just as a group of individuals trying to get along.
After listening to this interview, you’ll come away understanding how the old legacies hold us back from success, such as siloed departments, measurements and assessments that miss the mark, and outdated teamwork exercises that don’t translate back to the workplace. Teams should work seamlessly toward common goals, and Mark tells us how.
For a deeper dive into how to achieve culture change, we recommend these:
- Blog: How’s Your Culture? Doing Fine Or In Drastic Need Of An Overhaul?
- Podcast: Jacqueline Kibler—Want To Grow? Take A Good Hard Look At Your Culture
- Podcast: Mike Scott—Creating A Culture Of Accountability
Additional resources for you
- My two award-winning books: Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business
and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights
- Our website: Simon Associates Management Consultants
Read the transcript of our podcast here
Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. As you know, I’m your host and your guide, and my job is to get you off the brink. I love to go looking for people who are going to help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can get off the brink. Our job is to help you soar again; that’s often difficult in fast changing-times. These are very fast-changing times. I used to tell my clients, because I specialize in helping organizations that need to change or adapt to change, I used to say that if you want to change, have a crisis or create one. I never wanted to see a crisis like we’re coming out of, but we’re coming out of it.
The problem as we come out of the post-pandemic period is that people are unsettled, their habits are gone. They don’t quite know what’s going on. They were attached to what they knew and they don’t know what’s coming next. They want to go back, but you can’t go back. So how do we go forward? And often the solution is to assemble the team. The team can take us and the leader can manage that team better.
So today I’m going to bring in Mark Samuel who’s now written six books on teams. And we’re going to talk about lots of things. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about his newest book, Reimagine Teams: The Missing Piece in Team Building to Achieve Breakthrough Results, a pretty cover. And it’s not that big, so you can actually read it. But what’s really more important is what he’s going to help you understand a little bit about.
He’s the founder and CEO of Impact, served as a thought leader for developing accountable leaders and creating clinical organizations. That word accountable should not be underestimated. He’s done it for over 35 years. The author of five books, as I mentioned, the bestselling B State: A New Roadmap for Bold Leadership, Brave Culture and Breakthrough Results. This book is written with Sarah Samuel, a writer and copy editor for Impact. And he may tell you a little bit about who Sarah is.
But this is a time for us to think in new ways about what we’ve always assumed. So I want you to think about your team. What teams do you belong to in your organization outside of the organization? Think about what you did as a kid growing up. Did you play on the baseball team? The kickball team? What was the team and why was it important?
And now I’m going to introduce you to Mark Samuel who I’m going to ask to tell you about his own journey so you know who he is. And then we’ll get to the teaming and what he’s doing now to reimagine teams. Mark, who are you? What’s your journey?
Mark Samuel: Well, thanks, Andi. That was a wonderful introduction. And you’re so spot on around talking about change. My background is that I came from teams, in a sense. I mean, I started on baseball teams, and I went to music groups, then my daughter was involved with acting and that I looked at as a team. So I’ve had all these experiences with teams. And then when I got into graduate school, my focus was on teams. I was taught by one of the top professors, Dr. Newton Margulies from UC Irvine. He was a practitioner, not just a theorist. So he was excellent at building teams and was wonderful.
But what I discovered along the way, on my journey and my path, was that the ways that I was taught to build teams in school and university actually didn’t work as well as expected, and that’s when I had to relook and reimagine what a team is all about. And that’s when I drew upon my sports, and my music background.
Andi Simon: The epiphany that you had, as you write about it, is important to share. How do we have an epiphany, an aha moment, where we’re not going to do more of the same because it’s not working? But what could work? What would you see? So tell the listener or the viewer what happened to make you say, Stop, this is an old way of doing things. It’s not working anymore. But what does work? What was the moment?
Mark Samuel: Well, it was a very distinct moment where I was getting great evaluations on my team building. I had just worked with an executive team and came back three months later to meet with the CEO. As I’m going down the hall, I’m seeing people that were on the team, the other executives, and they’re literally coming up and hugging me and saying, “That was wonderful. I had the best experience. It was so good. It changed my life.”
My head is getting bigger. I was quite young at the time and I’m feeling just on top of the world. And then I asked a very innocent question, which is, “Oh, and how’s the team doing?” And they go, “Oh, well, the team is just as dysfunctional as it ever was. But boy, it was a great experience for me, and everyone loved your session.”
Literally, my heart just stopped. Like, I literally became so discouraged and depressed in that moment. I was in shock. And again, as young as I was at that time, for me, it was, if I’m not going to be effective at what I’m doing, then I’m getting out of this. I don’t belong in this business if I can’t get a better result. I really took it that seriously. And, you know, and again, I was glad that people got whatever value they did. But my purpose was building the team.
Andi Simon: Hold that thought for a moment because it is to build the team, but what you heard and saw was that the effectiveness of the team wasn’t improving. They built a team that was still dysfunctional, but an interesting commentary on “Well done, but not right.” And I have several leadership academies and I find it interesting because we’re working on teams and teaming. But there’s a mythology around a team about how you build it. And what works and doesn’t work? What are we trying to achieve here? What did you discover?
Mark Samuel: I discovered that the focus on relationships were great, it certainly built better relationships. It didn’t mean they were more effective as a team, and didn’t mean that their execution as a team was any better. When execution breaks down, then eventually it’s going to affect your relationships because you can’t count on each other. That’s the true meaning of accountability, and if you can’t eventually trust it, you don’t have relationship trust.
That’s the thing about trust. That’s so interesting. There’s a relationship trust, which like, you can have dinner together, we can socialize together. But what’s different is execution trust, where I can count on you to keep commitments, keep agreements, come through on time, communicate with me, include me in a decision that affects me. That’s execution trust, very different than relationship trust.
Andi Simon: That it almost sounds abstract. It’s so interesting because if it was a baseball team…we have been watching the Mets win. I’m willing to stay up till 10 o’clock at night to watch that team really team up. A little different, or a musical orchestra that plays great music. How do they all do that? Well, they do it as a team. So what goes on in business where we can’t see or hear the music? Or see the hits? What is it that’s so interesting about business, where we can talk about a team, but not very likely?
Mark Samuel: Oh, that’s a great question. And there is one huge difference. Whether you’re talking about sports, baseball, as an example, or music, the way we learn the team is on the field, not off the field. You’ve got to get on the field. Gotta get into a rehearsal hall, and it’s playing with each other that actually not only builds the execution, but also builds the relationships because we’re working together and communicating. But it’s real time, real life. It’s not, “Oh, let’s talk about the theory of communicating.” We’re actually having to communicate to play with each other. And we don’t do that in organizations.
Organizations will tell you we don’t have downtime. We’re always in the game. We don’t have that off time. And I’m saying, “What do you think you’re doing in meetings? Yes. Meetings. You’re not serving customers?” “Meetings? Oh, I know what we’re doing. We’re talking about status updates, sharing information.” But why aren’t we practicing our execution in our meetings by surfacing and solving problems, making decisions, moving things forward, talking about what didn’t work, just the same way as we would do that in a music group or athletic team?
Andi Simon: So in a sense, metaphorically, not necessarily, in fact, and whether it’s remote or in person, asynchronous or otherwise, that gathering of time has to have a new purpose. It isn’t simply to gather. When I joined Montefiore Medical Center as an executive, a long time ago, I was fascinated because I came out of banking. And in financial services, I’m not quite sure the meetings had more purpose, but we did have an agenda and we usually had takeaways and some things that we were going to do, but in healthcare, they just attended and the meeting had no agenda and no takeaways. And I left wondering, “What is my purpose to be there? And I heard what was going on but now what is this, simply a communication methodology of sharing stuff?”
And to your point, but I wasn’t savvy enough to know that this is dysfunctional. It was the way we did things. So how do we turn meetings into something which is more like a baseball team practicing to win than it is simply to appear and be seen and to do?
Mark Samuel: I mean, what’s so interesting is when you’re going to hear the answer become so obvious. We all want to be successful. And the only thing basically that keeps us from being successful are the challenges and obstacles along the way. Why don’t we make meetings about surfacing and solving those obstacles? Anything that’s going to get in the way of us being successful is what we talk about and resolve, not based on one person’s agenda or politics or hierarchy, whatever, it doesn’t matter.
We’ve got problems that are keeping us from being successful. Let’s remove those. And quite honestly, I look at that as the role of leadership. In particular, leadership teams need to be focused on removing obstacles, so the people that report to them can get their work done successfully.
Andi Simon: I bet you have some illustrative cases that you can share, am I right?
Mark Samuel: Yeah, the ones that become the most obvious are the breakdowns between departments that are currently siloed off working on their own. And now they have to come together. This can be in a medical center, it could be in a manufacturing facility, it doesn’t matter. But any time the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and there’s a breakdown, we need to surface it. And it’s all about coordination. It’s all about communication, but not just communication in terms of information flow, it’s communication to let people know changes. What’s going on? Where are difficulties that we need to let each other know ahead of time?
This all happens, by the way, in music groups and sports teams all the time. They’re literally practicing that. So in a way, organizations need to do the same thing. I just heard of one the other day where a department was implementing a new change, and didn’t tell the other departments until the email came out and all the leaders were caught off guard. Like, I actually don’t know how to talk about this or answer any questions because I wasn’t made aware of this ahead of time. And it’s such a simple thing. And yet, it constantly happens.
Andi Simon: Why does it happen? I mean, I’m thinking about all the companies I’ve worked with, and am working with. Now it would seem simple to ensure that everybody knows what’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, to discuss some of the obstacles that are going to be faced, and how to ensure that why the point of what we’re doing has purpose, and actually gets done, as opposed to creates chaos, which sounds like this is what happened here. But why don’t we think about it? How do you change it?
Mark Samuel: Well, it’s actually interesting enough. This might surprise you, but it actually has to do with the word accountability and what we’re accountable for. Because organizations have become accountable for activity, getting things done, doing things, rather than the outcome of what we are trying to accomplish by the doing of it. And so in a sense, that department checked it off the list, we did it, we created the change, we communicated it, that’s part of the checkoff. It wasn’t outcome driven to what’s actually going to make this change successful for everybody. They weren’t thinking of that. They were only thinking of, “My job is to do something.”
And when you then add in the silo behaviors, that I’m not really thinking about my impact on others, I’m only thinking about what I need to do, what’s on my plate and the activities, then it’s a formula for disaster, because I’m not going to communicate it. I’m not going to be thinking about the result of it and what’s going to set everybody up for success. And that’s where we have to shift our thinking around accountability. I’m accountable. I’m not accountable for doing things. I’m accountable for accomplishing something that’s greater than my department, greater than my function.
Andi Simon: I love what you’re talking about and so timely, but tell me how do you make that happen? I’m anxious to pick your brain, because the skills that we bring to our clients sometimes get stale, but more often, we would love to learn what others have done effectively. So help me help my clients with what has worked well.
Mark Samuel: Well, again, there’s actually a simple answer that we’re not doing and that is that when you start, this is actually in some respects a middle management issue, not senior management. Senior managers, they’re meeting together all the time. Middle managers don’t have a purpose as a team. They’re there to support their executive and optimize their department. But that’s not actually true.
What we need to do is bring middle managers together, make them a team responsible for the organization’s excellence and culture. They’re the bridge between direction and getting it done. But they don’t have a common purpose unless you are a team, so what we do is we actually get middle managers, we sometimes will bring in 40 to 50 people in a room, but create a common purpose of what we’re about as a middle management leadership team. That now becomes overriding compared to just our functional area. We become in service to something greater, which is the whole organization, but we do it as a team. And we make that purpose operational excellence and culture.
Andi Simon: Don’t you love it? It’s just so timely and important. Amy Edmondson is working on teaming and raises some interesting questions about exactly what you’re saying. I love if we don’t have a purpose among those managers that shared, there’s no game we’re playing together. I don’t know whethe I’m hitting the ball or catching the ball. I don’t know how my efforts affect yours. Amy talks a lot about teaming across departments, similar to what you’re talking about. But you don’t talk about it as action call teaming. You’re talking about a team but I have a hunch there’s behavior modification here as well. What kind of behaviors change as this middle management team emerges? I think it’s important to visualize it.
Mark Samuel: Absolutely. And this is where the focus that we’ve been having in many several books out right now is on habits, you know, atomic habits and individual habits. But the problem with those, with that concept is, it’s focused on individual habits. And when you really look at baseball teams, football teams, music groups, basketball teams, it doesn’t matter, acting, they’re actually developing team habits. How do you turn a double play? How do you transition from one piece of the music to another? That’s a team habit. We’re all listening. We’re all cooperating, we’re all communicating.
We create team habits around how we surface and solve problems together. How do we make decisions in a timely manner but in an inclusive manner? How do we set criteria for what success looks like? How do we even make sure that we’re communicating with one voice? By the way, that one habit is the biggest game changer for culture of anything I’ve ever worked with before. When you get the whole team, deciding, “How do we communicate? When do we communicate? And how will we respond to questions and concerns in a common way?”
Andi Simon: Do you know how hard that is? I mean, I’m a culture change expert. And following this story, I worked with a company and they brought their 12 leaders there and they each had a different story about what the culture was there. They did. I said, “Okay, where do we start? There’s one octopus running in different directions because you haven’t shared a common story. And if you’re going to change the culture, and now we need to craft that new one, how are we doing? What are we doing? Where are we doing and it has to fit into those corporate top level strategies, as well as what you would like people to actually do.” This is just so timely and important. Other thoughts?
Mark Samuel: Well, can I give you an example. In healthcare, I was working with a medical center, and the leadership team needed to make some changes. The resistance came from physicians; as you know, that’s a tough cookie to crack. I mean, first of all, they don’t work for the medical center. They’re independent, they work in conjunction with it and they had some very loud, aggressive physicians who were always resistant to change. And when we implemented this “speak with one voice,” they all then started to recognize what was the resistance and instead of reacting to it, they planned ahead of time how they would respond. Literally in three months from being so unified, that resistance went completely away.
Andi Simon: Don’t you love it? So you actually happened to change?
Mark Samuel: It shocked me actually. I didn’t know that that would be as powerful as it was, but it was amazing.
Andi Simon: And when you say things like “speak with one voice,” I’m curious about the support for that. How did you meet? Did they meet often? Did they reinforce it through communication channels? What were some of the methodologies? Because typically, you agree, and then you go off on your own. And every day, you remember what you thought you were going to do. And the voice gets diluted into many voices. “Yes, do that.”
Mark Samuel: Well, we created a team habit. And a team habit is really a process of behaviors. So it has an order to it. And they had a wonderful team habit that said, we’re going to understand, we’re all going to message this together, and we’re all going to agree on the message. And then we’re going to brainstorm what’s the ideal way to have the greatest impact on our audience. Do we do it through written? Do we do it verbally? Or both? So they literally strategized communication.
I always tell groups, just to interrupt my own story for a second, the purpose of communication is never to share information. The purpose of communication is to manage the response you get from the information you’re sharing. And that’s a whole mindset change because now it’s not just about getting information out.
So they’re looking at, How do we get the best response, and then anticipate what the resistance would be, and how they would respond well. And here’s a trick that was going on there. If a physician didn’t like what they heard, they went to another manager to get a different story. Now, when they went around that person, they got the same story, if they even got the same article that referenced why they were making the change. And the person said, “Okay, I already got this article from this other guy, stop it already. I’ll just cooperate.”
Andi Simon: Talk a little bit more. And then we can wrap it up. Behavior modification isn’t easy. And I don’t care. I tell people, I don’t care if you’re going to Weight Watchers to lose weight. Or you’re going to exercise every day because it’s essential for your well-being. How are you going to even change your calendar, so you have a gratitude diary.
At the end of the day, the habits are powerful. Your brain hates the unfamiliar. It would much rather do what it’s always done. It has a story in there that’s true. That story is true, but in your mind, that illusion of reality is your reality. And so consequently, anything on the outside just interrupts it, knowing your amygdala deletes it. It hijacks it. It isn’t personal, this is human.
And, consequently, team habits are a great concept because you’ve got to get everyone’s mind to see the same story and to share the same reality and behave in a different fashion. And you’re going to help each other with the behavior modification. Some thoughts?
Mark Samuel: Yes. And you brought up something that’s to me so important; it goes back to my younger days. I’m a perpetual dieter since I was a kid. But I’ll tell you, it’s always easier to stick to the diet when my family is doing the same diet than when I’m eating boring chicken and broccoli and they’re eating pizza just doesn’t work the same way. The same is true in an organization.
The one thing that’s great is, they become a support system for each other because it’s a team habit, not an individual. I’ve got, we’re all struggling with the same habit. So there’s a bit of forgiveness in that and camaraderie if you can do it and support and encouragement.
But there’s one other factor. And it really goes back to my accountability days. And that is, we never plan for perfection. We always plan for proactive recovery. And so we’re never worried about us not being perfect in the new habit. We’ve already set up recovery plans for when we get off track. How do we gently get back on track in a supportive way, without allowing too much time? I always tell people when I’m dieting, my problem has always been that my recovery plan has been about two or three years. Yeah, have a one-day recovery plan and then every day it’ll work.
Andi Simon: You and poor diets, the challenges humans have, almost all of us do. I once saw a great quote from Mary Barra I think. She said, “It isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.” And I do think that managing leading organizations are journeys where you have lots of people and you’re trying to get them to see where you’re going and know that you’re going to detour along the way and keep moving forward. And I love the concept of team habits. So we’re going to reimagine teams. Two or three thoughts you want the audience not to forget. Let’s wrap us up with some good insight.
Mark Samuel: Yeah. First of all, when you come together as a team, don’t be thinking about the problems of today. Create what would be ideal in an optimal way a year from now. Think in terms of a year and discuss it not based on styles, think of it in terms of what outcomes, what’s the reputation we want to have as leaders or as a department in terms of how we’re supporting the big, the greater organization and make it future focused so that we can all align to what we want. And in a practical way, not just a philosophical one. It’s got to be practical for the challenges of that organization.
Andi Simon: Good. Now, let’s emphasize that. At the end of the day, the teams don’t exist to be nice. They exist to have good execution, to be accountable, use the word accountable. I love execution, we gotta get the outcomes. You gotta get it done. There’s something going on. Now, you’ll recognize what isn’t working. You’re never quite sure why because you’re doing your job. But what’s going on, it’s not happening. So that somehow we are a great organization, but it’s not going where we want to go. So let’s assume all the people are good people. They’re skilled at what they do, but they’re just not collaboratively.
So to use your analogy, if you don’t practice the team habit of a double play, when the ball comes to you on the field, you stop and think about where to throw it, as opposed to sending it right to second. So it goes to, first you have to double play. How many times are you going to play that over and over and over and over again in your head before you know if the ball comes to you, you know where to throw it? That’s where I go. It’s a habit. And the team knows that they’ve got to move to the base to pick it up. And it isn’t thought about.
A golfer told me that 749 times I have to hit the ball before my mind stops interrupting it. And heavy comes a habit. I haven’t hit the ball 749 times yet, but that mind gets in the way every time. And so that’ll make it into that new habit. And so the amygdala hijacking it makes it say, “Oh, that was wonderful.” Mark, if they want to get your book or they want to reach you consulting, what kinds of things do you offer people?
Mark Samuel: Well, we offer lots of articles that are free to view. We do have our books, obviously, we have self-learning systems. And the best way to do that is just go to reimagineteams.com. It’s all right there for everyone to see, everything that we have to offer. And it’s easy to engage with us. We do have a monthly newsletter that we put out for people, as well as podcasts and things like that, which we’re doing. So it’s just a wonderful resource because we really made it for people to gather as much information and learn as much as they can without having to invest much. So reimagineteams.com is the place to go.
Andi Simon: So I have Mark Samuel with me today on On the Brink. Now remember, my job is to get you off the brink. So if you’re on the brink, and you aren’t quite sure what to do, reimagining teams might be exactly what you need. And a little help might help as well. For me, my two books are selling extremely well: Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. They’re both about change, which is what we do. We specialize in helping organizations change. And I’d love to help you. So if you want to see, feel and think in new ways, if you’re stuck or stalled, get ahold of us at info@Andisimon.com. and we’ll see how we can help. And Mark is here to help you as well. We do it in similar ways. I love to share with you smart people. We’re going to give you insight so that you, too, can change. It’s not easy. Mark, thank you for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure.
Mark Samuel: Thank you Andi. This is really great. Thank you.
Andi Simon: And for all of you who came, as you always do, you know we’re in the top 5% of global podcasts. Keep pushing them along, share, because there’s nothing better than sharing good stuff. Take care. Bye bye.