Episode 9: The Changing Role of Leaders in Team Development

One of our clients Lorraine Kelly, the Director of Organisational Development at Kings College London, joins Jo Taylor, MD of Let’s Talk Talent to discuss the changing role of leaders in team development.

Transcript of this month’s episode:

Jo Taylor 

Hi, I’m Jo – MD of Let’s Talk Talent, and welcome to another episode of the Let’s Talk Talent podcast, the show in which our team, partners and clients bring to life some of the pertinent issues from the world of HR by sharing their stories of working life today. Each month we’ll tackle an issue that’s come up in conversations in our network. We’ll share our insights and our stories.

Let’s jump straight in and help create simply irresistible organisations.

Jo Taylor 

So hi, everybody, I’m Jo, MD of Let’s Talk Talent, and welcome to episode nine. I can’t believe it’s episode nine of the Let’s Talk Talent podcast. And I’m absolutely delighted to welcome my friend, as well as working buddy, Lorraine Kelly. No, she’s not from ITV, so don’t get all excited.

But it is the brilliant Lorraine Kelly, who is director of organisational development at King’s College, London. How are you, Lorraine?

Lorraine Kelly 

I’m really well, Jo, thank you so much. Lovely to be with you this afternoon.

Jo Taylor 

And we’re going to talk about, for the next 20–25 minutes, the role that leaders play in team development. Because it’s a real passion of both of ours; we’ve both been leaders in organisations. And with everything that’s been going on, it feels a really important juncture to stop and take stock of what the leadership and team development space looks like.

So what I wanted to do was start off with a big question, which is: why do you think team development is important at this time?

Lorraine Kelly 

You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Jo, about the passion around team development and actually individual development – having a real opportunity to consider the strengths that we bring to our role, and to our organisation. I think for team development from an individual’s stance, it’s about being able to really identify what we’re good at; what’s important to us. And this changes and adapts all of the time.

This is moving and growing all of the time, as we are. And then when we think about that from a team development perspective, there’s a real need there around connection, connection and relationships we have with each other and how key that is to supporting us in our role, how we feel about our strengths, indeed how we feel about our purpose in the team.

So those things for me go really hand-in-hand. And I think one of the other really important factors is the confidence element that that brings to us, again from an individual perspective, from the perspective of our role on how we see ourself in our organisation, and how we can then connect with that wider organisation and where we see ourselves. So for me, it’s really about strength, connections and confidence.

Jo Taylor 

Do you think that’s changed? I was having an interesting conversation with some of the associates today about leadership development. Do you think that’s always been true? Or this is like a perfect storm where it’s suddenly the leadership roles become even more important, because people are looking for that purpose? They’re looking for that guidance?

Lorraine Kelly 

I think it’s always been there to a certain extent, but I think you’re absolutely right, we’ve identified just how important it is now. I think what we’ve learned over the last 18 months is just how key those connections are. Many of us work in areas where creating relationships is really key to our success.

Whether that be our team goals, or our organisational goals, often it’s about those kind of relationships. I think being kept separate from each other, and having a large majority of colleagues having to work from home, has really identified this as just how important it is.

Jo Taylor 

Tell me a little bit, and tell our listeners a little bit, about your role. Your approach and your philosophy – because you’ve been doing some really amazing work in this space in supporting teams at King’s College during the pandemic, but now you’re pivoting that effort as people return to campus. We’d really love you to share what you’re doing.

Lorraine Kelly 

Thank you. Yes. Now I really genuinely feel like it’s a privilege to have this role. I think when you work in organisational development you have, as I say, the privilege of working not only in your own team, but across the whole organisation – really having a connection with many different teams, with different roles, with the whole community. And this time over the last 18 months has really taught us the value of that. I think for our philosophy, it really has been very much about supporting each other, about connecting with each other, about thinking about the different ways of working, actually and what we need to do to be able to support this effectively.

We had a large workforce that were, like many people, catapulted into working from home very quickly overnight. We didn’t always have the infrastructure in place to support that. And actually, we had to be really quick in adapting the support that we needed. So new ways of working has been a huge part of the role over the last 18 months. And actually, even before that, but really thinking about how, again, we develop the needs that we have; the confidence that we need to build in our role – but also how do we do things really effectively? I think it’s no surprise that we found that the back-to-back meetings were a challenge. We jumped on to that on-screen interaction, which was really important to the work that we do. But actually it became a challenge, it was quite difficult to get those boundaries to really be able to think about that wellbeing element, of taking breaks, of actually coming off-screen, of having some downtime.

It’s all about that energy, isn’t it, and where you’re spending that sometimes, but also being able to connect with a large number of people. And actually, we saw that in a really helpful way – being able to be online meant that we could have bigger team meetings to some extent, and share information and connect in a slightly different way, which again was helpful. I think, for us, we’ve had a big focus – our formal programmes were on pause when the first pandemic hit.

So it was really tricky to try and fill the gap and the need of of what we needed to provide for the community. And it was great to be able to work with shorter, sharper webinars that really focused in on what leaders and managers needed to do, how to have courageous conversations, how to support our teams differently, how to support and navigate uncertainty as well, because for so many of us, that was what we were pivoted into, and how do we bring our strengths into that space. We’ve created a new open curriculum. So we’re really excited, this is something that’s a self-serve that all staff can access. And again, we’ve got some really key themes, focusing on wellbeing, focusing on productivity, and resilience, and all of those things that are really important now. And then we’ve got our managers’ essentials as well. And again, this is a slightly new look – we’ve broadened out some of our webinars that are linked here.

We’re focusing on inclusivity, and belonging, and senses of being able to network, but also the importance of setting goals, being really clear on what our expectations are at work, and how we can contribute to that, and the support that we need to develop and keep on track.

Jo Taylor 

That makes a lot of sense and lots of activity, but with that golden thread of giving people purpose. Why are you working for the organisation? How are you empowering your managers to make that connection by being empathetic, having the courage by really driving that energy, but also getting to the heart of the individual. Taking it from an individual, and then a macro level, up to the organisation.

So presumably you’re going to measure both the individual impact, but also hopefully over time, the organisational impact, is that right?

Lorraine Kelly 

Yeah, absolutely. You’re so right. You know, the impact side of this is absolutely key. What looks different? How do we feel different? What has been our contribution to ourselves, to our teams, and to our wider organisation, and we really do want to be able to measure this.

Sometimes it’s quite tricky, actually, to measure development. And I think when we’re in this role, that’s one of our hardest things to do, actually, because true development does take time. And you know, it sounds a bit hard to quantify because you have to try it out. I’m a true believer that actually most of our learning is on the job training. We can come to these webinars, or we can come to these formal learning processes, but actually it’s taking it back into the workplace, it’s taking it back into the team. It’s trying, it’s recognising when we’re doing things differently. Having some more reflection time as well. How did that feel when I did that slightly differently?

If I’ve got to have a slightly different conversation, how do I feel about that? And what stage am I in? So this kind of learning does take time – but measuring the impact? Absolutely. We work really closely with our partners to gain feedback that’s just in time, to collate any themes that are coming out of our organisation. Again, so we can make sure that what we’re offering is really fit for purpose, that it’s actually making a difference, that it’s landing well.

We can have some easy options around obviously numbers, and colleagues that are accessing different types of webinars – we see some that are really oversubscribed and some that are not so much. That gives us an option to ask different questions when we need to.

Jo Taylor 

I think that makes a lot of sense. I read a really interesting article – Claire in my team sent it to me, it was by Raconteur – that talked about the best businesses that have weathered the changing environment have put the consumer at the heart. And they’ve used data and feedback to enable themselves to pivot. They gave some amazing examples of… a florist business that had thought about Valentine’s Day. And they had asked their consumers whether they bought flowers on Valentine’s Day – what flowers they bought, because they only sold red roses, and they realised that it was so cliche, people didn’t want to buy red roses, they wanted to get peonies, for example, or something like that.

So they pivoted the whole business model. And that’s kind of what you’re saying in the way that you’re putting your open curriculum, the managers’ piece and your programmes together, because actually, you’re listening to your consumer, which is your people.

Lorraine Kelly 

We did an activity recently, where we did some persona mapping, which was really exciting. You know, we just paused for a minute, and we said, “who’s in our community?” What does that look like? What are the roles that we’ve got? And what would then be the support that they need? And we’re trying some new things.

And I think one of the things that we’ve also learned over the last 18 months is you have to try new stuff. You have to try something different. So over November, we’re launching a series for new managers. So there’ll be three cohorts. You’ll do one webinar a week, over four weeks. And the idea here is it’s really about coming into that practical, how do you do things, really building skills, but most importantly, building that confidence.

Coming through on a cohort, which is quick, which is easy, that provides the networks, that helps you come out of your area and see things slightly differently. But I think that’s incredibly valuable as well. We are looking at our data in a different way. We’re identifying again, groups of colleagues that we’ve got. We’re really trying to unpick as well what this word ‘manager’ means. How many managers do we have? What types of managers do we have? And what is the support that they need. And that’s really quite exciting, because that makes it even easier then for us to be able to fit the support that we’re popping in place.

We have an incredible group of colleagues – our heads of department that work on our academic side – that we really want to better support, particularly around some of the internal processes of things like HR and business planning, and all of those things that suddenly you’re catapulted into delivering. So again, yeah, our offering will look very different over the next year.

Jo Taylor 

So this may be a hard question to answer. But what keeps you awake at night in relation to supporting leaders in managing teams? What’s the…when you’re lying there… what the hell do I do?

Lorraine Kelly 

It’s a really tough one, isn’t it? Actually, and it has kept me awake at night, I’m not gonna lie. I think when you suddenly see that there are management and capability… whether that’s gaps or issues or concerns, you feel very responsible for that. I personally want everybody to have a great experience. And I know that’s quite naive, but I really do. I know it makes such a difference, that the experience that you have in your team, by your individual manager really makes a difference around the success that you have in that space.

I think one of the biggest things that keeps me awake is bad behaviour. When you see bad behaviour, poor behaviour. Now, the difficulty with managing that is it often comes from a space of needing support, actually, or feeling really overwhelmed, or struggling yourself. And we know that because we’ve worked in this space for so long, but actually, when it’s playing out, it’s really difficult. If you don’t catch that quick, it’s really hard if you don’t have that tap on the shoulder, and have that conversation. Really what we need to be saying to each other is: “are you okay? Is there anything that you need from me?”

And I think that mental health and wellbeing side is really important. One of the things that we’ve learned, again, is the power of vulnerability in our workplaces, the power of being able to be honest, but also in asking those right questions, you know, having the opportunity to coach each other, to take some reflection time, but also being kind enough to give feedback. I think people avoid feedback, often because they don’t want to be the bad guy, or they’re worried about how it will land. And actually I think often the kindest thing you can do, if it’s done in the kind way with that intention, is to sit somebody down and really ask them what’s going on. How can I help you? What do you need? And often just having that moment to pause can create a very different conversation than you expect.

Jo Taylor 

I think you’re right. I was doing an away day the other day, and I was interviewing the leader as part of it. And I asked him that question: what keeps him awake at night? And he said glibly to me, “well, you gave me the question three days ago and I haven’t slept, because I’ve been really worried about it”. Which made me laugh, but it gave him an opportunity to really think and show that vulnerability. It gave him the safety – that psychological safety that we talk about, and that Project Aristotle did at Google, that  talks about that psychological safety – for his whole team to realise that he was a human. And he was a very experienced Operations Director, they’re launching a big product in six weeks from now. And he wanted to bring them together to galvanise them. And by asking some simple questions, as you’ve just said, it allows people to be vulnerable, and that humbleness I think, in some ways gets lost – I don’t know if you agree – through the screen?

Lorraine Kelly 

Yeah, definitely. And you can have a different sort of conversation together face to face, don’t you? I think, you know, not being able to read body language in the same way on screen as you can when you’re face to face – looking at the way that somebody is sitting and moving, or looking, is really important for these sorts of conversations. And as you say, we’ve had limited opportunities to do that.

Jo Taylor 

So I want to leave our listeners with some top tips on how they can support their leaders in managing teams. So to put you on the spot: what are your five top tips for any leader listening to this on how they can get the best from their team?

Lorraine Kelly 

It’s a good question, Jo, as always. I think the first one is around that purpose and clear expectations. So, really having an understanding of your individual contribution. What is my role? How do I contribute? And then having that across the team as a shared contribution is really important. And for everybody to see that there is something about sharing tasks and activities, and who’s working on what, how much is that an individual responsibility? How much is that shared responsibilit? Getting the right balance as well between that ownership and autonomy that you need to have, but also the support, you know, we need to feel supported. It can feel really exciting to have things that you lead on yourself, you do need to know that the rest of the team are there to talk you through it and support – and often design together. That’s the key bit that’s really creative. Now actually having that creative time…

I think there’s something as well about making sure there’s enough stretch in each job. Every single job will have something that we love doing, there’ll be certain things that we don’t love doing so much. But actually, what’s the bit that makes us feel a little bit scared – a little bit, you know, not too sure – because that’s the exciting part. That’s the part where we’re going to learn new skills, we’re going to be in new networks, we’re going to be delivering different things. And I think, again, if we can make sure that we’ve incorporated that across, for ourselves personally, but also for our teams, that means you don’t get bored. That means that you’ve got enough to keep you focused and keep you moving. I think there’s definitely something about fostering relationships and trust. That’s why we work in a team, we work in a team to learn together, to be together. Having that regular time together is really key. Sharing stories as well about our own career journeys, I think is really important.

You know, they’re very personal, actually, career journeys are incredibly personal, and often have an awful lot weaved into them, about identity, our background, our lived experience. And actually, I think the more that you can do that, across the team, you really start to build trust. And you really start to harness those strong relationships. Another really key top tip is just about coaching and developing each other, and actually never forgetting that we are constantly developing and growing. So even when we are leading our spaces, or managing our spaces, we are learning from those colleagues that we are working with, all of the time. They are teaching us new things about ourself.

We are able to also share our experience and to help to develop them, which I think is, again, a huge privilege, a massive privilege. And I think finally, it’s about being a human, I really do. I think it’s about being honest with ourselves, creating a real sense of belonging, so that every single part of our team can feel that they are included, valued, important, cared for. And I think more than ever, they have been the really key areas to success over what has been an incredibly tricky time. And I know personally from my side, when I feel all of those things, I perform differently. I perform much better, not only in my work, but also in my home life and my home activities. I feel more positive when I’m in that space.

Jo Taylor

Amazing. Thank you so much. What’s really striking me about this is it sort of falls into three phases for me. There’s the phase of team development from forming, storming, norming and performing. You’ve got the second part which is actually people don’t leave organisations, they leave bad bosses, don’t they, ultimately? And that teams are an ecosystem.

It’s not the leader’s role to hold everything – it’s like culture – you can have the best strategy in the world, but the culture can be still toxic and horrible. It’s the same philosophy that you have in team development. So I’m loving what you’re doing at King’s. I’m really proud that we’re a partner with you and going on that journey. And from us at Let’s Talk Talent, thank you, Lorraine. We wish you well on that journey.

And we look forward to inviting you back on another episode to tell us how it’s all gone. Thank you.

Lorraine Kelly 

Thank you so much – really appreciate it Jo.

Jo Taylor 

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