May 14, 2024

Working With Others: Team Ep. 73

In this episode, Robert and Todd speak to our special guest, Ed Lamont about his new book coming out this month. The focus is on how we improve our work with others, especially for fans of GTD.

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22:24 mins

Working With Others: Team Ep. 73

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0:00:05.3 Todd: Hello everyone, and welcome to another Change Your Game with GTD podcast. I'm here as always with Robert Peake.

0:00:12.4 Robert Peake: Hey Todd.

0:00:14.5 Todd: And we are thrilled to have with us someone we know very well Ed Lamont. Ed and I, many of you will know co-founded Next Action Associates an awfully long time ago. And Ed is the co-author with David Allen of a book, which is just about to hit the shelves. And that book is called, "Team: Getting Things Done with Others." And what we were gonna do today is just let Ed tell us a little bit about the book. We've got some questions, and hopefully for you, those of you at home, you'll gain some insights into the content and also understand why it would be something that you would wanna engage with for you and your teams. So, that's it in a nutshell. Ed, do you wanna just maybe by way of inter, well, first off, anything that I've left out there that you think needs including in terms of an introduction to you. But I think one question that would be interesting for folks is well, two questions. Why this book and why now? What's behind the book and and why is now a good time for it?

0:01:18.0 Ed: Yeah, sure. So how long have you guys been doing this podcast? How many years?

0:01:22.5 RP: Forever and ever? We like to say, there's never not been a time.

0:01:24.3 Todd: Like five or six years.

0:01:27.7 RP: At least six years. Yeah. Yeah.

0:01:29.3 Todd: Yeah. Long time [laughter]

0:01:31.1 Ed: Well, that's the first answer. Like, why now? Because like, you haven't invited me on the podcast for like six years and I figured there was only one way to get on here was to write a book. So that was it really. So why the book and why now? I mean, it came out of conversations that David and I were having a few years back. Some of it came out of my experience of teaching much more recently than David large numbers of seminars. And at a certain point just realising, wow, we are really able to help individuals but we keep training them up and sending them back into systems that aren't really functioning. And so the best they can do if they're in a bad system is to play self-defense.

0:02:25.2 Ed: And that felt at a certain point you can't ignore that. You can ignore it for a while. You can go, well, we're doing our best, we're helping individuals. And then at a certain point you're kinda like, well, yeah, we're not helping them enough. That was kind of where we got to in the conversation. And there's a variety of things around that, but that was certainly one of the drivers. Why now? I think there's been a shift in how people think about work. I would say when I was coming through as a young aspiring working fellow, a lot of development was about individual development. And that might've been just the development that I did, but I don't think so. I think there was sort of in the '90s, the early noughties there was much more a focus on how can you improve yourself? And I think now we are getting to a place where a lot more focus is on how teams work together. Because no matter how good you are as an individual, if you're in a team that doesn't function, then your impact is gonna be muted.

0:03:42.0 Todd: Great stuff, great stuff. And could you just talk us briefly through sort of the process of the book? I mean, how did you do your research? Who did you talk to? What did you get up to as you were actually putting the book together?

0:03:57.6 Ed: Well, so, I mean, interestingly, sort of midway through the writing of the book, it became clear that we were using the material in the book to write the book. So that was one of the things that was happening was, if you kind of look at GTD as a system and you extrapolate from their, some of the things that we were doing were basically just coming from that unconsciously almost. Some of them much more consciously. So certainly the biggest input was something like the natural planning model, which went into informing everything from the initial discussion with the agent through to the book proposal to the publisher, through to planning each of the chapters. I mean, that has been a consistent thing all the way through the process.

0:04:52.8 Ed: In terms of process, I think I initially piled up as many books as I had on team, and then ordered every book that I could think of on team, and then didn't read any of them. And I'm kind of glad about that. On the far side, there was like a, this major pile of guilt for a long time in the process. The main source of information in the book is interviews with let's call expert team expert GTD users, and very often team leaders, sometimes of quite significant structures. And I'm happy about that because I think it's a little bit less polluted with other things that might have kind of grabbed a hold that are available out there and that are very good resources. But that wouldn't have been our book. Our book is based on interviews with people who are familiar with GTD and who have led successful teams. That might be being over honest. But in terms of not reading all the books, it's fine. I will read them now, and I think it'll be a much more interesting kind of dialogue at this point.

0:06:17.0 RP: That's great. That's great. Well, one of the things I hear is just this impetus to help more than [laughter], to not just be teaching self-defense, which is I think is really, really great. So sounds like that got you into what has become a journey toward actually writing this thing. I'm curious, along that journey, what stood out to you? What surprised you? I mean, you obviously, we all have our kind of preconceptions about what a team is and should be, but in the arc of the process of writing this, what surprised you?

0:06:49.7 Ed: So the thing that first comes to mind is just how difficult it is to write a book. That is not obvious. That's not the question you're asking, I get that. But it is rather more diff it's not just piling up a bunch of blogs, which.

0:07:04.9 RP: And there are easier ways to get on the podcast. I gotta say, that's probably the hardest one I could think of, you know?

0:07:12.1 Ed: Yeah. Yeah. But not as embarrassing as some of the other ones. So yeah what surprised me the, well, the other one, which is kind of unrelated to your question, but I'll say it anyways, because it was one of the major insights for me is just how difficult thinking is. Because I realised that I think all day, but most of my thinking is on a particular set of tracks with which I'm familiar. And when you sit down and you look at a blank page and go, okay, well, what do I think about this thing? Or in the conversation with David, what do we think about this thing? It's a different kind of thinking, and it's not one that is as easily accessible as the kind of the quickfire problem solving that we do every day.

0:08:03.6 Ed: In answer to your question, which I think is in what was the surprise about Teams, is I guess the main one was just how simple a lot of the stuff is. It's not... That's not to say it's easy, the famously it's simple, but not easy. But a lot of it, it's just not rocket science. And I guess the surprise there is just how few people do it. In light of that, just how few people take the time to do the really, really simple stuff of setting up a team in a way that minimises friction and stress on the team.

0:08:46.8 Todd: Well, just thinking about I'm trying to put myself in the headspace of somebody who's familiar with GTD. So maybe who knows, maybe it's been long, been coached by us or been along to one of the more individually focused programs that we've had. And I wonder if you could help them, maybe one of the parts of the book, which jumped out at me immediately and I thought was great, was you make a comparison between this idea that most GTDers will be familiar with, which is mind like water, and then another idea, which is healthy high performance. And you imply in the book that there's a bit of an evolution or a migration that goes on there. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

0:09:35.0 Ed: Yeah, so I mean, I don't know if everybody else had the same experience as I did. But my sense is that a lot of people did, and that was when I read the first book that was one of the first things I would say, if I had to name three things that I took for my first skim of the original Getting Things Done book, that idea of mind like water was very powerful. It kind of just opened a door into hey, like, I can see how that might be possible, and that's really worth getting. And so as David and I were thinking about the book it was, for me, a really obvious question is, okay, well what is the equivalent at a team level of mind like water? And the idea of moving from mind like water productive experience, whatever you wanna call that to healthy high performance culture was where we ended up.

0:10:38.8 Ed: Because if you think about what it takes to get to having mind like water, it's a lot of, again, quite simple things that you do repetitively in some systematic way. And it produces really quite outsize impacts in terms of your [laughter] mood, your productivity, your stress levels, all those things. And the same is true on a team. If one can take the time to do some quite prosaic things on the front end that then require maintenance over time, then you will end up with a culture that is much more a culture of healthy high performance. And the healthy high performance thing is it, again, it's kind of, it's rare enough that people who end up in one will often eulogise about it for years after they've exited the team.

0:11:40.1 Ed: And it's a place where people are respectful enough of each other's time and talents that they will not tolerate waste in the way that they're working with each other. It doesn't have to be a... It's not a nasty culture. It's just like, no, no, I respect my time. I respect your time. I respect my talents and your talents. Let's not waste that together. And that just leads to some standard setting that allows the team to function at a higher level without burnout, hopefully have a bit of fun.

0:12:18.9 RP: Great stuff. And you talked about the shift. One of the kind of catalysing situations for this is that shift from me to us. And I think the '80s was called the me generation [laughter] and the 21st century we're looking a lot more at us and at teams, but another big shift is that you, I mean, as I understand it, you started writing this thing kind of in the teeth of the pandemic. Now out the other side of that, we've proven that everyone can work remotely, but people are sort of asking, should we, and is that high performance? And if so, how do we do high performance in what's increasingly being called a hybrid environment? So I'm just curious, your take on hybrid, are the principles that are involved with that in terms of high performance different, the same is healthy, the different or the same? What's, what have you discovered about hybrid working in all this?

0:13:19.4 Ed: Well, hybrid working clearly can work. That was one of the biggest outputs from, let's say the first few months of the pandemic was that everybody kind of got a bit of a surprise, which was, well, actually this can work. There was a lot of stuff that happened there that I think made it work and made it work probably in ways that were not sustainable. So, I feel like everybody just kind of went home [laughter] and everything they were doing in the office, they just started doing on Zoom. And then six months later, everybody felt like a burnt out furgend, and they couldn't work out why. But it's because the nature of the technology is it's different. You can't just use Zoom like you would use meetings in the office. 'Cause it is somehow, I won't say corrosive, but if I do three zoom meetings back to back, I feel very, very hollowed out.

0:14:22.5 Ed: That's the only way I can describe it. So it can work, but I think one needs to pay a lot of attention to the health of the team in ways that are a lot more intuitive for humans when humans are actually in the same space with each other. So that's one of the biggest differences that I think that but someone, probably the leader needs to think hard about the health of the team in ways that are slightly more structured and perhaps more systematic than when the team is regularly sitting together. That's one thing. The other that, and for me the biggest question mark is not really, is it Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, or do we need to mandate it so that we can actually see each other every now and again, those things I think are gonna be navigated hopefully by individual teams after some robust discussion inside of their purpose and vision.

0:15:27.3 Ed: That's the logical place to make those decisions. Not at an organisational level where everybody just has to come in 'cause that's not that kind of doesn't honor the intelligence of the knowledge workers that you've employed. But the big question for me is a cultural one and what needs to happen to maintain a culture to create and maintain a culture over time in circumstances where one almost never sees or never is in contact with the people. And newcomers kind of are in a room at home and then go out into their domestic life and then come back into that room. I think it's hard to inculcate culture in that situation. And that's my biggest question about hybrid.

0:16:20.6 Todd: Let's imagine this, this time has absolutely flown by, and I do wanna get a few kind of practical tips and tricks in here, if that's possible. So if somebody is I'm thinking about section three of the book. Which is called managing a Team. I believe it still is. I have a draft version. But anyway, I'm wondering if you could give folks just a few highlights, what are some things that they might wanna consider very concretely doing differently in order to get the most out of their team in order for the team to be a team that's exhibiting healthy high performance. You've given us a few examples, but I'm wondering if you can sort of give us a quick little checklist of a few high impact things to try.

0:17:06.7 Ed: Well, I mean that latter section is it contains some of the longest chapters in the book, particularly the chapter on saying no as a team. I mean, the first one is on leadership, the next one is on saying no, and I think the last one is on delegation. And, well, I know that it's delegation, I'm just not sure which order those two are in. And so if you're leading a team, obviously we looked at what kind of leadership is required on the team. And it's not leadership in the way that very often it's described or demonstrated on the world stage or in large organisations where, people need to be strong and whatever, it's really much more mechanical.

0:18:03.9 Ed: We ended up with a gardener as a metaphor, someone who's tending to a living system. And that's the thing that I think if I was gonna say about that chapter, is that there needs to be someone who has a main focus of coordinating activity on the team. So who's thinking about who's doing what by when, coordinating that across the piece. Also looking up at the horizon in ways that are, again, pretty prosaic, but without it, the team simply can't function in the way the team needs to function. It's not something that the team itself can do. It needs someone to stand back and do that. In terms of the saying of No that became, I think it is in fact the longest chapter in the book, and it was cut in half because that was requested or suggested at a certain point.

0:19:07.0 Ed: So all the material on how to, and the need for saying no as an individual came out and all that was left was the team stuff. It's simply because there's no way for a team to not fall over if the culture is one of saying yes. If I can use Robert as an example here. Robert is one of my favorite people and one of my most hated people. He's one of my favorite people. 'Cause he regularly, consistently delivers when he says he's going to, and he's one of my most hated people because when I ask him to do things, he says, well, do you want this or do you want that? And do you want this now? Or do you want this later? So he's very, very skilled at saying no in a way that doesn't make me say, well, I'm never using him again. Oh, contraire. The same thing needs to be happening on a team. Again, the leader needs to provide air cover but the individuals also need to have a sense that their leader has their back for saying no to stakeholders who are trying to increase the scope of things or add things in over time.

0:20:24.4 RP: Great stuff. I didn't know you felt so strongly about me, Ed, that's [laughter] flattered and horrified. It's coming out at the end of May. I'm excited. What are you excited about in relation to the book in terms of the content, in terms of the fact of it coming out? What are you excited about here?

0:20:42.5 Ed: I am excited about the ideas getting out in the world and having some hopefully positive impact on the lives of teams. Again, training individuals for 15 years, fabulous work. It's always been great to hear about the impact that we are having on people's lives. And if we can extend that and indeed support that by helping teams to function in a better way, that would be a big one for me. I mean, apart from having a nice party at the launch it would be great if this kind of gets out into the world and makes a difference to people's lives. That's the reason for the book really.

0:21:33.3 Todd: Great stuff. Well that has, as I say, absolutely flown by Ed. Thank you very much. Thank you for being with us. You'll wanna get back to your writing now, write another book so that we'll have you back on the podcast at some point in the future. We'll look forward to that. But in the meantime, for those of you out there, please do as always, like and subscribe. If there's anything you wanna hear from us in terms of teams and in terms of themes, then please do let us know. I'm very happily hear from you. For now for Robert and for Ed, thank you for being a part of this. Thank you for being a part of the community, and we look forward to seeing you next time.

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