Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Book Release - Go Further Together

Go Further Together - 31 lessons from the road and the workplace

Go Further Together by Andrew O'Brien, Sue O'Brien and illustrated by Jock MacNeish is a collection of lessons based on stories from Andrew and Sue running more than 50 marathons together and Andrew and Jock working with organisations.

Each lesson is accompanied by a conversation starting picture from Jock and either an insight from Andrew and Sue (lessons from the road) or a comment from people working in organisations (lessons from the workplace).

About The Authors
Andrew and Sue O’Brien are passionate about healthy relationships and creating desired futures. They combine this with a love of running together and a dedication to inspiring others to be active through their speeches, presentations, books, workshops, blog and websites and

In 2008 Andrew and Sue ran 8 Marathons in 8 Countries in 8 weeks and became know as the “Couple on the Run.” Partnerunning combines Andrew’s “Desired Futures” framework and extensive CEO experience with Sue’s expertise in fitness and exercise.

Sue O’Brien is a tour de force. She is a recognised expert in the fitness industry with 25 years experience teaching, coaching and helping individuals meet their goals. Her achievements include having completed over 50 marathons and having represented Australia at the World triathlon championships.

Sue is the author of “Couple on the Run” and “Lessons from Running Relationships” and is already working on her next project “Partnerunning : How to go further together.”

A strong campaigner for the benefits of health and fitness for success in life, Sue is currently researching women’s health and teenage fitness. Topics that are of particular importance in her personal life, as a mother of two.

Andrew O’Brien is passionate about assisting people create “Desired Futures” and since experiencing a period without personal vision during his 20’s he has devoted himself to becoming an expert in developing personal and organisational vision so as to create desired futures for individuals and organisations. A gifted and sought after facilitator, together with Gary Ryan, Andrew founded the Organisations That Matter Group which oversees an increasing range of successful business activities. Andrew lives with Sue by the bay in Melbourne, Australia and spends as much time as possible in the warmth of South East Queensland and Arizona. After more than 20 years working as a CEO in the services, retail, food, fitness, sports, facility management and higher education services industries Andrew now devotes his time to working with individuals and organisations to create “Desired Futures".

A former winner of a Customer Service Institute of Australia CEO of the year award Andrew has a bunch of masters degrees in business and management and a doctorate on shared vision which was the initial catalyst for the "Desired Futures" series of books.

Andrew is a Thought Leaders Mentor and works with CEOs and executive leaders to develop corporate thinking for commercial advantage.

Jock Macneish was born in Trinidad and went to school in Scotland. He studied Architecture in London and in Melbourne and has worked in many parts of the world, including two years in Papua New Guinea. His work covers Architecture, Acoustic Consultancy, Illustrations and Cartooning. Jock now runs a company that creates images designed to carry ideas. He calls them "Strategic Images".

He lives in the hills near Melbourne where, if he heard a hooter, he’d assume there was a bushfire rather than the start of a marathon.

Book Details
Total length: 106 pages

Order information
Price $25 (Australian) plus postage and handling
Our secure checkout includes a currency converter.
Postage: $5 within Australia, $9 everywhere else

Order the book via our secure server here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

OTM Service Strategy TM

Over many years we have experimented and developed our own model for service excellence. Our model includes six re-enforcing elements. Like any re-enforcing model, when performed correctly the model creates a virtuous cycle (things get better and better).

On the flip side, if any of the elements are missing or not performed correctly, the model generates a vicious cycle, that is things get worse and worse.

The six elements of our model include Understanding Expectations, Service Standards, Develop & Recruit, Listen, Measure & Respond and Recognise, Reward & Celebrate. Each element includes a series of sub-elements, the contents of which provide the detail for implementing each of the six core elements.

At the highest level the model itself is a story.

In order to best serve your customers you need to understand their expectations. Once their expectations are understood the organisation can create appropriate service standards that will give the organisations the best possible chance to meet and/or exceed the expectations of its customers.

Existing staff need to be developed so that they have the capacity to meet/exceed customer expectations and the organisations recruitment processes musty give it the best possible chance to attract appropriate people to the organisation.

Everyone must listen. Management need to listen to staff, staff to management, everyone to their stakeholders, colleague to colleague, department to department and everyone to their customers.

The organisation must then be able to measure how it is performing against its service standards and be able to swiftly respond if it discovers that it is off course.

Finally, the organisation as a whole must be excellent at recognising, rewarding and celebrating great service. A culture that celebrates great service will re-enforce the importance of understanding expectations and the cycle continues.

The OTM Service Strategy is supported by a 50 point assessment tool that can be used to asses an organisation's current practice of service excellence.

Please feel free to comment on this article or to share your approach to providing service excellence on a consistent basis.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aker saga highlights the challenges of the 'Specialist' team role

The sacking this week of professional footballer, Brownlow medalist and three time premiership player Jason Akermanis by the Western Bulldogs (Australian Football League) highlights the challenges of being a 'specialist'.

Meredith R Belbin ( has conducted a vast amount of research and written many books on the subject of creating effective teams. Belbin's nine team-roles include a role known as the 'Specialist'. A Specialist is a person who has exceptional and rare technical skills that the rest of the team do not possess. However, a specialist has a very narrow focus and tends not to be interested in the many facets of being in a team that are being their role as a specialist. Teams are able to tolerate specialists because of their technical brilliance, but that tolerance can come at a cost when the team members are not aware of their various personal team role preferences.

This is one of the reasons why we advocate that teams should be aware of the various preferences of the individual members who participate in the team. Belbin's research shows that teams can be successful when a specialist is in the team. However, the specialist MUST be a true specialist (that is, they must possess a current skill or technical ability that is currently rare and outstanding) and the rest of the team MUST be able to accept that they will 'play' to different rules than the rest of the team.

Jason Akermanis (Aker) is an example of a 'used to be specialist'. There is no doubt that for much of his career he displayed a rare and exceptional skill set. So much so that his individual approach was sustained by the teams with whom he played. However, as he aged and his career progressed, his specialist technical skills became less rare and his ageing body found it harder and harder to perform at such a high level of individual talent.

As this occurred the tolerance of the rest of the team to him 'not playing by the rest of the team's rules' became less and less. Until, of course, the tolerance for his 'specialist behaviours' could no longer be outweighed by his lack of 'specialist' performance. In other words, the progress of the game and Aker's age eventually caught up with him - he was no longer a true specialist, yet he continued to behave like one (which, of course is his preference so he was unlikely to change. In addition, he had in fact been justifiably rewarded for such behaviour for 325 games, reducing further the probability that he would change his behaviour.)

If you watched the 'Footy Show' on Thursday night many of Aker's comments were consistent with those of the 'specialist' team role. He mentioned that he wasn't very interested in the feedback process meetings and that he still considered that all that mattered was how he performed on the training track and in games. This is exactly how a specialist views the world and there is nothing wrong with that. Except, of course, when the 'specialist' no longer performs to the exceptional standards of a current day 'specialist'.

Belbin's research highlights that a person can have a preference for a role and no longer 'perform' according to the expectations of that team role preference. Belbin goes on to say that the most damaging condition that reduces a team's performance is when a team member has what is known as an 'incoherent team role preference'. This means that the person's team role preference is NOT how they behave. This underpins the great challenge of being a specialist. The minute you know longer display rare and exceptional technical ability, no longer are you a true specialist. The very nature of specialists is that they are unlikely to see this change themselves. They will still see themselves as a specialist and will therefore display the characteristics of an 'incoherent team-role preference.'

Another challenge of the specialist team role is that Belbin recommends team sizes of no more than ten members. AFL squads include 40 team members when 'rookies' are included. Such a large team size increases the challenges of working with specialists because the increase in numbers also increases the chances that a number of tthe team members will not like having to tolerate the 'individual first' approach of the specialist. In other words, specialists must have other team role preferences that they can also behave in alignment with, so that they aren’t ‘just a specialist’ if they are to survive as team numbers grow.

The challenge of course for elite sport is that specialists have, over time, contributed to team success. I do wonder if the evolution of the AFL is such that the specialist team role preference (if that is the only functional preference of the team member) is unlikely to be sustainable for long periods as the challenges of working with a specialist increase the complexity of team cohesiveness.

That said, Belbin's research highlights that teams can tolerate and take advantage of 'specialists'. In order to do so teams need a high level of both individual and 'team' awareness.

I appreciate that the concept of team-role preferences is foreign for a lot of people, and that some people see this type of concept as 'fluff'. However, in my 15 years of Personal & Professional Development experience I have seen time again the lack of awareness of these issues cause teams to perform well below their capacity.

How aware of team role preferences are you regarding the members of your teams? Do you talk about these preferences and how they manifest themselves in how team members behave? If you do have a specialist in your team, how are you managing the complexities that arise from such a preference?

Please feel free to share your experiences of working with specialists and/or how you use team role awareness to enhance the performance of your team.

Gary Ryan has worked for several years in elite sport and currently sits on an Advisory Board for the AFL Coaches Association.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are you prepared to be vulnerable?

Over the past few weeks I have conducted a number of teamwork programs. One of the activities that I enjoy facilitating is asking the participants to form small groups and to identify the characteristics of the effective and ineffective teams of which they have been members.

Examples can from from any team experience and I encourage participants to broader their thinking about their definition of a 'team'. Some examples of this definition include:
  • A workplace
  • A family
  • A university study group
  • A sporting team
  • A community group
  • Travelling with friends or family

After providing the participants with enough time to share their stories, I collect the results.

An interesting characteristic that always comes up for effective teams is trust. Similarly, a lack of trust is always raised as a characteristic of ineffective teams.

Trust. Easy to say. Hard to give.

Why? It is my view that trust involves a willingness to be vulnerable. In a team concept, to trust your team members means that you have faith that they will do what they say they will do to the best of their ability. When I ask program participants to describe what it was like to be trusted, they say things like:

"He never looked over my shoulder. Even though it was the first time I was doing this task, he asked if I needed any further help and I said that I didn't. He told me that I could contact him at any stage if my circumstances changed. If I were him I'm not sure that I could have trusted me like he did. And that was special. I think I actually did the job better because I was trusted. I found it really motivating."

"She was the leader, there was no question about that. But when we allocated tasks and she was clear that we understood what needed to be done, she let us 'go for it'. Her door was always open and we knew that, and from time to time we would go to her for assistance, either physically or via email or on the phone. She was always available when we needed her. But she never, ever behaved like she didn't trust us. It never felt like she was looking over our shoulder making sure we did it exactly how she would. And this was an important project. And we knew that, and we respected that. That's why we created such a wonderful result. We were a real team and she trusted us!"

You can't fake trust. It is either genuine, or it isn't. In today's complex world it is nearly impossible to 'go it alone'. Leaders have to trust their team members to do their job, even if the leader could do parts of the job 'better' on their own.

To trust, however, requires the leader to be okay with being vulnerable. Trust can't be broken if it isn't given. So, by nature genuinely trusting someone means that you are prepared for the possibility that they might break your trust, which in turn makes you vulnerable.

In our world of accountability and responsibility, trust can become very hard to 'give'. If I'm the leader, the 'buck stops with me.' If this project fails, then it's my fault. It's complex, isn't it.

I doubt there is any golden rule with regard to trust. I am a trusting person, but I am not prepared to trust 'just anyone'. I use all my 'three brains' (I'll explain what that term means in a future blog) to determine whether I will trust someone or not.

Each time I trust someone I am conscious of the choice that I have just made. Trust is behavioural, so saying, "I trust you" means nothing, if (in a work example) all I do is look over your shoulder every step of the way. Being prepared to be vulnerable is a tension leaders have to grapple with.

Are you prepared top be vulnerable?

What are your experiences of trust both as a team member and as a leader?

How have you managed the 'vulnerability' tension?

The chances are that if trust is not present then high performance will be a long way away. So what is the bigger risk, the preparedness to be vulnerable or the preparedness to under-perform?

Please share your experiences, thoughts and comments.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Leadership Insights Series - Marcus Pitt, President Director (CEO) of SOHO Group

In the first of our 'Leadership Insights: Ask successful leaders what really works' Series, Gary Ryan will interview Marcus Pitt, President Director at the US$1B turnover SOHO Group. The SOHO Group is an Indonesian based pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor.

Marcus became President Director of the SOHO Group at the age of 37. Three years prior he was working as the Strategy and Business Development Manager for a subsidiary at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The progress of his career is quite a remarkable story.

In this 30 minute webinar you will learn about Marcus' practices that enabled him to rise to his current position at a relatively young age. You will also learn about how Marcus has managed the challenges of such an important role and you will have opportunities to ask him questions.

Seats are limited for this exclusive webinar, so register now!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Free ebook - What Really Matters! Volume 2, Number 2, 2010

My 6th ebook, What Really Matters! Volume 2, Number 2, 2010 has just been released.

The focus of this ebook is personal and professional development.

Lessons include:
  • Why maintaining your integrity in business is important
  • Why service excellence is important and how to provide it
  • How to motivate your team members
  • Identifying and understanding service gaps
  • How team talk aids in performance
  • and much more!
Developing the skills outlined in this book will enhance your employability.

You can access the ebook and other free resources here.

Please share any thoughts that you have regarding the topics that should be included in the next ebook in this series, due for release on October 2010.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Free Group-Work Course for University Students

Many university students have recently re-commenced their studies. In this context this short online course (that includes no homework!) is perfect timing to ensure that you make the most of this semester.

Students report that university group-work is one of their most dreaded experiences at university. Yet employers highly value university group-work because it is where students have to learn how to work with different people, just like in the 'real world'.

This free two week introductory course will ensure that you give your university groups the best chance to achieve the success you desire. You will also learn how to ask some critical questions that will help your team to be successful. These questions are not unique to student groups - which is why they are so useful to master while you are a student!

Click here for more information.

Please share your experiences of putting the lessons from the course into practice.

This course includes access to a free ebook titled Teamwork For University Students.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How 'aware' are you?

Today my family and I were at the airport saying good-bye to one of my nieces who had been staying with us during the school holidays.

I was amazed at the number of times there were groups of people who were collectively blocking the various thoroughfares as we were trying to make our way through the airport. Each time we 'excused' ourselves to make our way through these groups of people it struck me that each individual seemed to be unaware of the impact that the group of which they were a member was causing the people around them.

This caused me to wonder about personal awareness, particularly when people are part of a larger group. In general, how aware are people of the impact of the larger group on those around them? Do they even care?

'Awareness' is a Servant Leadership characteristic and includes a consciousness of 360 degrees around us, much like a martial artist is aware of the full circle around them. What is your level of awareness, both individually and when you are part of a group? Is awareness a leadership characteristic that you have ever considered? What experiences of 'awareness' have you had that you are comfortable sharing with others?

If you have been part of a larger group and then you have become aware of the negative impact of that group upon others, what you have done about that situation? Has your awareness led to positive action?

Please share your stories.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Is the word 'customer' right for you?

Many people get hung up on the word ‘customer’. This is the challenge with the concept of ‘customer service’ because many people don’t think that they have customers. And maybe they don’t. Maybe they have clients, colleagues, administrators, staff, stakeholders, lawyers, doctors, labourers, community members, students, guests and any other label that you can think about. The issue is not the label; the issue is the ethic behind how you treat people.

This is why we prefer the term, “service excellence” over “customer service”. Unfortunately because many people don’t think that they have customers (because they use a different term) they think that service has nothing to do with them. But it has everything thing to do with them. Everyone is your customer. Everyone.

Quote from a research participant
"You know that I can’t stand the word ‘customer’. The people I serve are staff, not customers. I find out what they want and I do my best to exceed their expectations every time. So I wish people would stop saying that I have to be ‘customer’ oriented. I’m staff oriented and that is what is important!"

What words do you use to describe your 'customers'?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Discover the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader

Webinar recording. Gary Ryan explains the ten characteristics of Servant Leaders. Gary also explains how a Servant Leader spends their time when in a managerial role.