How to optimise success in a team?

I have long been interested in the High Performance podcast (https://www.thehighperformancepodcast.com/) series hosted by Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes, in which they draw on interviews with leading sportspeople and entrepreneurs to uncover the hidden principles that drive them to to success. The insights that these high performers give are varied enough to make you realise that there is no one way to succeed, and that anyone can become better at what they do by adapting certain life principles.

Over the past week I chose to listen to the thoughts of two particular sportsmen that I admire for various reasons – Dan Carter, the legendary All Black rugby player, and Paul McGinley, the Irish golfer who famously led Europe to Ryder Cup victory in 2014. They were both fascinating in their own way, but what struck me was the different views that they had on how to ensure success in a team scenario.

Dan Carter put a huge emphasis on the importance of the team, that each All Black that played needed to sacrifice their individuality to the needs of the team performance. The coaches would tolerate mistakes from players where they could see that the error was made trying to help the team. Showboating, or being a “dickhead”, would not be accepted by anyone in and around the All Black community. Being a good human was a prerequisite to being an All Black.

Paul McGinley, despite the Ryder Cup being one of the only team events in the golfing calendar, held on to the belief that his team success was a result of an emphasis on the individual. He argued that world class golfers rose to their status because they thrived on being individuals, and so to get the best out of them for the team he needed to support them on a singular basis, and not pressurise them into thinking about letting the team down. He felt that motivating the ego of these golfing superstars was how he was able to achieve peak performance for team success.

Ultimately both were able to be part of successful teams, but the way to achieve this success was from empahsising different principles. The safe, supportive environment that Dan Carter thrived in allowed him to know that all his team mates would be there to support him: whilst Paul McGinley, by coaching indivuduals behind the scenes and dealing with personality clashes, was able to bring out the best performance of sportsmen used to a competitive sporting environment.

Whether we like it or not, we all have to be in teams in all parts of our lives. They can be a source of both joy and frustration. It is worth reflecting on the part we play in these teams. Are you so focussed on your individual needs that they always take precedence over those of your team mates? How do your teams work best – be it at home with the family, at work with your colleagues, or during your leisure time with your friends? What are the values that you bring to these teams?

In praise of showing up

During the ongoing pandemic that seems to take a new twist and turn everyday, we often hear the term resilience being used to describe how we should cope with setbacks that inevitably befall us, as we plot our way through the obstacles that pop up and keep our normal lives at bay for the foreseeable future. Matthew Savage writes with great insight and candour about what resilience looks like in this months InterACT magazine (https://indd.adobe.com/view/cec6d6b6-0321-4f2a-a6d0-b69d28c84996), illustrating beautifully how simply just showing up after undergoing periods or episodes of difficulty can be seen as resilience.

Every community is packed with individuals who are trying to deal with ongoing battles of self doubt, when even the simplest of tasks can present feelings of stress, and still putting a brave face on things. I see this every day: the student who has a test looming but feels that everyone will judge them by the grade that they are given: the teacher who has their leader in to see them teaching their class, and dreads the negative feedback that they feel with inevitably come their way: the school leader who is suddenly contacted by a helicopter parent, who wants to meet them on an undisclosed topic: the Principal who has a sensitive, but important, message to deliver to the school community. All this on top of the daily worry about COVID-19, not seeing their nearest/extended family members again during the upcoming holiday. Pessimism seems to be all pervasive at the moment.

We should all give ourselves a pat on the back though. Merely living through such difficult times, with all the usual worries that we carry on top of the pandemic related ones, and having the courage to wake up each day and go about our daily lives is a victory. That is toughness. Such resilience should not go unnoticed, and indeed be celebrated. So, please take time to praise others for their resilience and let them know that someone is noticing the fact that they always show up!

Can expats survive a life without travel?

As you may have worked out from many of my posts, I work in the education sector and have spent over 60% of my working life as an educator in International schools. As a family we have lived in four different cities around the world, benefitting from the rich mix of cultures to be found in each one. There have been many advantages to this nomadic lifestyle that we have followed, and one of them is the ability to easily travel both long and short distance to widen our experiences. The past two years, however, since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, have proved very difficult for many ex-pat friends and colleagues for whom regular travel around the world had become part of their annual routine. In a world that is struggling to cope with these new conditions, what are the implications for workers such as myself who continue to enjoy life away from our homelands?

Earlier this year Tristan Brunell, in the introduction to his research article on the crypto-growth of “International Schooling”: emergent issues and implications, wrote that the ISC research group reports the number of “International Schools” to have increased more than fourfold between 2000 and 2019, from 2,500 (employing 90,000 teachers) to 12,000 schools. The number of students enrolled in these schools increased from 1.0 million in 2000, to reach 4.3 million in 2015, and 6.0 million in 2020. Moreover, growth is expected to continue well into the late-2020s, and ISC Research is expecting the number of International Schools globally to have reached 19,000 by 2029. Al this is good news for International school educators then, with plenty of jobs available well into the next decade.

Elsewhere around the western world there have been many reports about the increase in workers deciding to quit their jobs, such as this https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20211028-what-were-getting-wrong-about-the-great-resignation in which many reasons are cited:  poor working conditionsfears of contracting Covid-19 and existential epiphanies among them. So why would International teachers also decide to join this trend, given that they are in a growth industry which promises plenty of opportunities in the foreseeable future? Work conditions are often so much better than back in schools in our home countries, and often the countries in which we are based have made their citizens much safer during this pandemic. Certainly in the country where I am based there have been very few forced job losses, and living conditions remain amongst the best in the world.

I was intrigued by Graham Silverthorne’s (https://www.takumix.org/i-quit/) thoughts on what may be leading to people deciding to quit. He notes: “Some expat workers are simply throwing it all up to get back to home and family; others, both expats and locals, are shifting companies – pastures new, heading for the greener grass, seeking out the next new promised land. It probably doesn’t take a psychologist to unravel either trend. People have been separated from their families for a long time. Worries build. The rose tinted spectacles turn a deeper hue with each passing homecoming holiday missed. For some, the capacity for resilience is stretched beyond repair and breaks.” In the case where one is considering leaving your current job/employer, he goes on to suggest that The first question to ask yourself is whether the feeling comes from your head or from your heart.

The absence of travel opportunities is pulling at the heart of all expats who live away from their extended families, and in some cases their close family. The regular change in rules pertaining to entering countries around the globe, harsh quarantine regimes imposed to ensure that the virus does not enter the country, and the associated costs that these bring to making the simplest short journey over the border are pulling at the heartstrings of global citizens who yearn to spend time with their nearest and dearest, as well as continue to enjoy the pleasure of discovering new places and cultures. However safe your new country of residence may be, however stimulating its everyday life, there is nothing like travel to bring an expat back home or to a new exciting adventure!

How to Get Past Negativity Bias in Order to Hardwire Positive Experiences

In a great Mindshift article by Katrina Shwartz, she talks about hardwiring good experiences in the video below by  Rick Hanson, a psychologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, at a Learning & the Brain conference.

“We evolved a brain that routinely scans for bad news, both internally and externally,” Hanson said. “And when we find the bad news, we tend to focus down upon it.” That’s why when nine good things happened in the classroom and one bad thing, inevitably on her way home that teacher is thinking about the one bad thing.

“We overreact to unpleasant stimulus,” Hanson said. And, unfortunately, if a person is feeling stressed, anxious, irritated or wounded, he is more sensitive to the negative. “The stress systems activate and release cortisol,” he said. “It’s one of the major ways in which we become increasingly sensitised to the negative.”

He has developed a technique he calls HEAL, an acronym for the four steps of the process: have a good experience, enrich it, absorb it, and (counterintuitively) link it to something slightly negative.

HAVE

Either create a good experience or call one up from memory. This could be anything from a time when the body felt strong and capable to a positive memory of an interaction with a loved one. The important thing is to call up the experience, remember how it felt or imagine how it would feel again, and take time to let that experience in by holding it in the foreground of consciousness.

If an educator or therapist is helping a child to create a good experience, she could direct the child to look for good facts in his immediate situation, in current events, in the past, in the future, in his character, even in his imagination. Another way to create a good experience is to think about what it feels like to care about someone else.

ENRICH

Once the child has conjured that positive experience, he can enrich it by extending the time he thinks about that experience or by trying to think about that positive moment with all of his senses. He might think about how important that feeling is because it is rare or about how salient it is to his life. Thinking about duration, multimodality, salience and novelty helps increase the intensity of the feeling, which goes a long way to enrich it.

ABSORB

Absorbing the positive experience has a lot to do with imagining how that experience affects oneself. If a child is thinking about a moment when she felt very competent, she might linger on how it made her feel, letting the emotion sink into her body. She might let herself imagine how she’s going to continue creating that feeling for herself. Encourage her to think specifically about why she feels so good about the experience, what makes it different from other times. Absorbing the experience is about letting the good warm a person.

LINK POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE MATERIAL

The optional final step is to link that bolstered positive experience to a negative one, making sure to keep the positive experience in the foreground, so that the negative experience can be lessened over time. This step can be dangerous for students or people with low executive functioning or who are highly self-critical. If the person is likely to fall into a pattern of negative thinking, “I don’t deserve to feel good,” or has a hard time keeping the positive in the foreground, be careful with this step.

For example, if the positive experience is about a great meal, keep the images of warmth, comfort and delicious flavour in the foreground, with the dim recognition that eating too much could make one overweight in the background. Hanson said that holding the positive and negative in one’s consciousness at the same time helps the positive experience override the negative one.

“It’s natural to replace the negative with the positive,” Hanson said, but it can be challenging, especially for people who have experienced real trauma. The fourth step in HEAL may not be appropriate for people until they’ve done a lot of absorbing positive experiences first.

He also points out that the most traumatic experiences are stored in the least plastic areas of the brain. It takes a lot of positive experiences to reach those areas of the brain. “As the brain evolved, so did its capacity for safety, satisfaction and connection,” Hanson said. He advocates using those new capacities to overcome the negativity bias.

“As we repeatedly do this, we build up a trait that can help us meet challenges in life,” Hanson said. His psychology practice and research support the educational research showing that a key factor in student success is relationships with caring adults. He also points out that practicing HEAL is an effective way of increasing the benefits of mindfulness, which some schools are already integrating into school culture.

Students Learn From People They Love

NYT articleAn article in the New York Times by David Brooks last month underlines the importance of relationships.  As we all know, it is rare that we are motivated to learn when working with people that we struggle to like.  Great learning only really takes place when there is some connect or deep respect for the people that we are being taught or coached by.

He asks some really impartant and difficult questions of schools and organisations:

“The bottom line is this, a defining question for any school or company is: What is the quality of the emotional relationships here?

And yet think about your own school or organization. Do you have a metric for measuring relationship quality? Do you have teams reviewing relationship quality? Do you know where relationships are good and where they are bad? How many recent ed reform trends have been about relationship-building?”

What would you answer in the place where you learn and/or work?

See NYT article