Coaching Conversations

Interview with Thane Bellamo: Creating Teamwork by Providing Valuable Work ... Brilliant Insight

July 02, 2021 Tim Hagen
Coaching Conversations
Interview with Thane Bellamo: Creating Teamwork by Providing Valuable Work ... Brilliant Insight
Show Notes Transcript

This podcast episode is about teamwork and L & D expert Thane Bellamo shares his insight on teamwork. His insight is unique and not the traditional team  development stuff. he shares strategies about what leaders can do to facilitate stronger teamwork by understanding the value of meaningful work.

Thane's book  Teamwork in Talent Management (if you want teamwork, then give the team work) comes out later this summer and get on his mailing list for this book:

Speaker 1: Hi everybody it's Tim Hagen from coaching conversations and today we have another podcast episode with Theo Palumbo and Thane is a friend of mine, and an expert in the field of learning and development, and today we're gonna focus a lot on team development, how are you doing 

Speaker 2: Good, how are you, Tim. 

Speaker 1: Good, good. Tell us a little bit about your background, your career and currently what you're doing. 

Speaker 2: Yeah, so I, you know, had a pretty typical upbringing in the sort of l&d/ organizational development field I. Well, that's actually not quite true. I actually started out with a history degree and then realized I needed to find a way to make money so that wasn't going to work so I got into, I got into IT back in the day when you could you know if you could turn a computer on, you could get a pretty good paying job. And so I ended up, you know, working in it and I worked in a chemical manufacturing industry, who at the time were going through. Well, globalization was really ramping up, and Chinese and Indian manufacturers could literally manufacture ship and distribute the same product for cheaper than we could even make it. And so we had to figure out how to survive, right, how to, how to how to transform our organization or at least attempt to, so that we could survive and I, that was my first exposure to this world of like organizational development I didn't even know such a thing existed I didn't even know people did this and we had a consultant come in and I worked, you know closely with this consultant then I sort of found that, you know, that's what I was interested in. In IT, you know I'm competing against people who, you know, read, you know IT manuals in the bathroom I was okay but I wasn't into it like that, you know, you can't compete with people when it's their passion, you know right and so anyway I sort of found this this field and so for the last, you know 20 plus years I've been, you know, in the field and you know, worked in you know in that manufacturing company and health care government, telecommunications, I'm now in the nuclear industry, and which has been absolutely enlightening for me, I didn't think it would be but I've learned an unbelievable amount in the nuclear industry. And, you know, involved in all of the typical stuff, executive coaching work design l&d you know, stand up, training, you know, development, all that and I ended up, you know, sort of focusing on teams as a, as a sort of specialty, if you will. And so here I am, and have had a great deal of fun, learned a heck of a lot over the last 20, some years and, and I'm strangely still enjoying myself 

Speaker 1: Well and you and I've had, you know, I would love to hear your viewpoints on, you know, there's so much team development out there right then you right, and I had initial conversation before this podcast episode and we were talking about. You want people to work, give them meaningful work I'll never forget that conversation when you and I first met and I'm probably paraphrasing, but I shared before we get on my son who works for our company, literally announced that a company meeting yesterday. He doesn't even know what his dad's company does he doesn't even know what his dad does. And it's interesting because he's doing some really valuable work but he she had no clue that he was actually being built out and he's still in college. So what are some of the things you see with team development, what do you see as an opportunity for companies to maybe reframe the way they look at team development, and how do you go about doing that. 

Speaker 2: Um, yeah, so, you know, I start with this sort of simple premise. You ever seen a video, I once saw this video where there had been a car accident and a car had somehow rolled on to the I guess the driver, whatever. People ran to the vehicle. And, you know, incredible to watch all these people organize themselves immediately into how to help this person, right, some people directing traffic, some people down talking to the victim, who you know trying to figure out what you know, how they were other people organizing themselves to move the car off. I had incredible insight into, into teaming right now. They didn't need a team build. They didn't need anything, right, these people organize themselves into a team, because the work was critically important in that moment, and they leveraged the innate thing, frankly that's in all of us around teaming, like in no time in the history of humankind, did people get together and say you know what we should work together. I mean, right like working together is what humans do. Yeah, like trees grow in fertile soil and frogs he flies humans work together. And so, you know these two insights kind of helped me clarify you know kind of what I had seen in my career in terms of teams and how teams perform, what are the circumstances whereby high performing teams develop. And, you know, and I think that, you know, obviously there's a, there's a million books on teams and team development and how to best formulate your teams and I think that, you know, almost all of them have value right they all have a kernel in there a nugget in there that really helps us better understand that but I think, too, that sometimes we missed the point. And it's that teams are, you know best form and function when human beings get together to do something that is important to them. You know and so this idea that if you want teamwork, then give the team work, give the team important work. I'm brought back to that idea of the of the car accident, right. That work was critically important in that moment. And so these people gave their most extravagant effort to make sure that that succeeded. That's what we want in our teams right we want our teams to to be invested in the work, to you know to care because when people care. They're willing to put that effort in they're willing to argue. Right, and that's what we want, like it's funny I work with teams and they always talk about eliminating conflict and I don't think we have enough conflict. I mean, yeah, we can't insult each other but. But if, but if this work is important. Then I'm going to, I care about the outcome. And if we disagree, I'm gonna say Tim I, I just disagree with that, and, and here's why. If the works not that important, then why would I care. Right. You know, you want to do some go down a path and not the works on report I'm okay, whatever. Right. That's not what we want our teams to be.

Speaker 1: What do you think prompts the lack of caring or is it the lack of understanding from leaders today in terms of who's on their team.

Speaker 2: Well I think that first of all leaders tend to think that, well first of all I don't think that leaders really frame it in terms of how the importance of the war, to the people on the team matters, right I think they, there's this sense in many ways that all work is important. If we say we should do it, then therefore it's important, but that's, that's not true. Right. You know I think that we do often a terrible job of framing the work right and how why it's important, and actively recruiting people to that work, like we do way too much voluntelling people voluntelling people is not recruiting them right recruiting that means I'm going to somebody and saying look we have this packet of work to do. Here's why I think it's important, here's why it is important we really want you to be you know involved in this because we, you know, we think your expertise is going to, etc, etc. And if that person. If you can connect that right and that person's like, wow, yeah, I, I'm involved I'm interested now let me let's go I'd love to be a part of that, then, then, okay, that's good. Go to somebody and give your spiel and they go, you know, I'm not buying it. I don't feel it. That's okay. Right, presumably you have a lot of work to do in your organization. And so vector that person to work that they are interested, we should not be holding people hostage to work that they don't want to do. And, you know, I mean look, if they're not interested in any of the work you do well then you got different problem. You know, so anyway I think that leaders don't a frame the work, in terms of where it lies on this spectrum of importance. And then they don't actively recruit people that way, right, to get them, you know on the team and and where that person is really engaged in the importance of that work. 

Speaker 1: You think that there's also an inhibition of employees to speak up, because as you know we teach coaching and one of the top questions we get is having conversations upward. Do you feel that that leaders have that opportunity but do you think it's almost there someone in the inhibited  opening that door for that feedback, you know, I'm not feeling it, like you said. 

Speaker 2: Yeah, I absolutely, I mean I think in many organizations disagreement is is frankly frowned upon. Yep.  And, you know, I tell leaders, a lot that you know one of the most important things you can do as a leader is purposefully ask people why am I wrong. Tell me why I'm wrong. I want you to tell me what and if you tell me why I'm wrong, I'm gonna reward you. Maybe not with a gift card but with a thanks with. Well done, right, so we need to, to, and you know if I ask you, are you interested in this work. We need to make it okay for people and encourage people to say you know what, no, I'm not interested in that work. And again, if they're not interested in any work then you got a different problem, but we have to make it okay for people to do that. I will say too that, you know, not all work is important, and that's okay. Right, like we all know that in, in any organization. Again, there's a spectrum of importance and the bunch of work we do is, you know, less important administrative, whatever. Everybody knows this and being honest with people about it and saying you know what, look I know this work isn't all that important but look let's get together let's bang it out let's do a great job. People can do that, people and and the outcomes are much better in terms of trust in your organization, when you're truthful and honest about that and trying to sell people on unimportant work as if it's important.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Do you think there's a battle between organizational importance and individual importance, and that leaders in their minds have a little bit of a gap.

Speaker 2: Sure, sure. I mean, again, what my view, how my view, my perspective, my, the elevation upon which I stand in terms of the organization of what the organization needs and all that matters right like my view is different than the CEOs view. Sure. So what's important to that CEO might not be important to me so it's the job of leaders in that recruitment. And even you could argue day to day to try to link right to help people understand the importance of the work we do, like you were talking about your organization I mean you guys are involved in coaching. Right. That's important work. I mean you, you know, you're impacting people's lives, not only at work, but at home. I used to when I used to do stand up training years and years ago I would always ask a question, Do you think that your ability to lead people has any impact on their ability to succeed in the workplace, and of course they would all say, Well of course you know I'm a leader. And, and I said okay, okay, well, you must then agree that your ability to lead people then impacts their ability to pay their mortgage. To put clothes on their kids backs, to buy food for their families. So what you're doing right now is a big deal. You can literally destroy people in this job. So if you want to be a leader, because you want more power or you want more, you know, then you might can reconsider. Because, you know you have a huge impact on people's lives. So that's just an example of framing the work that somebody is doing and helping them understand the importance and the impact of that work. 

Speaker1: Yeah, when we talk about you use the term framing we talked about the relationship and stuff, you mentioned conflict. We always talk about confronting is nothing more than building awareness of a tough issue that most people won't spend their time on, and they'll choose to walk away, meaning we don't have the conversations you can go from conflict, but you alluded to earlier, very spirited conversations. So after you and I initially met one of the things I stole from you as I were talking to a bunch of tellers at one of our credit union clients, and I said so when your boss asks you to upsell or cross sell. What do you think they're asking you to do. They all said be uncomfortable, do what we hate, I said or what if you're helping people make better financial decisions during tough times that they have a greater return on their money and you're helping families, and they all stopped in what I was trying to teach the leader was you have to come to the meaningful part of their jobs right you're coaching to the tasks that they have to do, which creates that level of importance which is a lot of what I took from you from our conversation. 

Speaker 2: Hey, first of all I want to say that my daughter gave me this cup, I don't think I'm the best guy. Which is good, I'm glad my daughter thinks. So, but yeah I mean, you know, this is critically important. It's critically important to understand that people understand the importance and when they do, people are willing to give all of that Discretionary Effort. And, and bigger picture. So, okay, great. We have people working on teams and they're engaged because they understand the importance of the work and they're putting all this discretionary effort in we're getting stuff accomplished, that's wonderful. Bigger picture, when people, so I define teams as a group of people working together to accomplish important work, right, that requires the effort of all the team members to succeed. It is in the accomplish is in the struggle to accomplish that important work that teams develop these attributes that we would associate with high performing teams. One of the primary ones we as we know is this idea of trust, right, in that struggle we are often laid bare right. I remember many, many years ago I used to work at a Pizza Hut, when I was like in high school. That job was so hard in the kitchen. You could not be fake. Like you just couldn't be fake, there is no, there was no mental energy to be fake. So, very quickly everybody kind of understood what everybody's strengths were, what their weaknesses were what you know everything about them. And in the accomplishment of this important work right struggling together. Yes. Do people have weaknesses. Sure, sure. They also have strengths, right, we let we naturally begin to accept those weaknesses, right, and leverage those strengths, and in doing so trust forms, and even, even more so this sense of community forms, right, the sense that I care about you as much as I care about the work. I care about your success because I care about you. Right, it right, and, and those relationships and that sense of community lives lives on far after the team is disbanded. Yeah. And so when people go off to different departments and take different roles, right. I'm still calling you up and saying hey you know I'm having this problem can you write him right now you're developed you're seeding your organization with these relationships with this sense of community that drives higher levels of engagement, cross functional collaboration ideas, share, you know, all these wonderful things. But that happens through the, the sort of purposeful teaming, right, that we're talking about important work, making sure that we have all the, you know, the team is. There's the correct number of people on the team, for example, you know like, if you have too many people then you don't need all the members to succeed. It's so well you know when you've properly formed a team you get these ancillary benefits that are far bigger than just the work that you're doing

Speaker 1: Well and I love what you shared before about trust about prove me wrong, we call them listening chats, we encourage leaders to ask for feedback and visibility of things that they may not be seen and we encourage them not to respond. What do you mean what if they say something or say don't respond, give them their voice so they come back through the door, the second and third time you invite him and discount what they say they'll never come back. Right, so we often talk to. What I love about what you're sharing is that framing is, trust isn't something we should talk about trust is something we also have to facilitate as leaders. And we really missed that point. So you've obviously been very passionate about the meaningful of work and coaching people to understand their value of work. So this is a great segue, do you ever thought about writing a book.

Speaker 2: I have and I did. 

Speaker 1: Tell us about the book. The title of the book, when's it coming out. 

Speaker 2: Yeah. Okay, so the title of the book is talent. I mean teamwork and Talent Management. I subtitle it if you want teamwork then give the teamwork, being published by ATD, and it should be out late this summer. And so, you know, the book is basically about what we've been talking about right, how there's sort of this model right this this idea of important work framing it correctly, that leads you know building a culture of challenge and curiosity so that people can wrestle with ideas right this is how we progress. Right? We progress by strong debate and dialogue and challenge and, you know in triangulating on the right answer. And in that struggle, we get trust as an outcome, and community as an outcome and again the impact that that has on your larger organization going forward.

Speaker 1: What's, what's the major takeaway a leader read your book, what do you think he or she is going to say when they're done with the book. 

Speaker 2: What do I think they're going to say? 

Speaker 1: what do you think they're going to get. What's the number one thing you think they'll get out of it.

Speaker 2: I think the number one thing the initial thing I think is going to be, that idea of giving people that it is the, the nature of the work that in, in many ways is a big influencer on whether we're going to have a high performing team. And so that I need to figure out how to make the connections like you did when you talked about earlier, right, how to connect what we're doing to and why it's important. And then, but I think after they think about it, hopefully they think about it, hopefully they read it a couple times, is that, you know that building this sense of trust and community right which are outcomes. They're not something you know you can't go in and say, we're going to Okay, today we're going to create trust. You know that these are outcomes and those outcomes are enormously powerful for your organization. I mean, I mean, think about the teams you've probably been on I know the teams that I've been on they're still people from, you know, 10 years ago that I'm still friends with still reach out to, those connections throughout your organization are, I mean think, I mean it's hard to even under overstate how powerful that can be in terms of idea generation and innovation and problem solving and I mean it goes on and on.

Speaker 1: So and I think about going from the task in a lot of what I've gotten out of our conversation Thane is going from that task to the work to understanding the meaning for part of the work, right, how often you must wonder how many employees are doing work, not even knowing their own value, and then a leader saying okay Thane doing this job walking away okay is completing this tasks, yet there isn't the emotional connection to it because we haven't facilitated it right and then what happens with trust. Jeez, Tim never spends time with me. He never acknowledges what I'm doing, because I'm thinking you know what everything's going okay Thane's not complaining. Yep. But I'm not even spending the time to cultivate not only the trust which I love how you paraphrase, it's the outcome, yet really facilitating so people understand the value and the importance of the work. 

Speaker 2: Right. And you know, it's funny different industries like when I worked in health care, right they one particular hospital I worked with was incredibly good at this, and, and you know they have easier in many ways it's not hard to understand the importance of your work when you're literally saving people's lives, right. So, that is an easy link but even though it was a relatively easy link, the amount of time and energy they spend on orienting people to that. I mean, they would have these stories they would create these posters with a story about, you know this nurse who went above and beyond by, I don't know take, You know, going to the patient's home to get some thing they wanted and bring, I mean, you know, and that was, these are the mythologies that that the stories and the myths that that hospital. Used to, to help people understand the importance of the work. Yep. You know I mean I say a lot that culture, and a lot of ways culture is the stories that we tell about ourselves. Yeah. And, you know, so they put, they put an enormous amount of work in doing that and and I think we could all benefit from, from that model right now who are your heroes, what are the myths. Are the myths and stories about, oh, you remember when Bob was late to the meeting and he got whacked you know you better, that myth that's a myth, that's a story right, that means that you don't be late for meetings, and it's retold. You know.

Speaker 1: Well, so often when we're on teams we remember those teams, and very rarely, I mean, and I loved where your what your book is alluding to, and you know the value in the meaningful part of work is how often people have jobs and you hear people today say it's just a job. I mean it's really interesting how we really lose sight of what we're doing because we get very caught up in the day to day I'm doing my job.

Speaker 2: Yep. Very very easy and very easy for leaders as you said to think well everybody's showing up and doing the stuff so I guess we're good. Yeah, no you know when you have important work to do, then framing it up like that is critically important. But again, I guess I can't stress enough that I hope the takeaway is not that everybody's got to figure out how every bit of work they do is somehow important and sort of bamboozle people into thinking it's important, that is not the message and I see a lot of that, frankly, I see an enormous amount of that and the level of of erosion of trust organizational trust is significant because  flavor of the day and eventually everybody and then when you come to people with actual important work, they don't believe you. And they're like why, you know you told me that was important and clearly it wasn't so right.

Speaker 1: A lot of times we make work to be important because it's important that you don't have to do it, we give it to somebody else, we tell them it's important work to convince them to motivate them because you need the task done  and all of a sudden something valuable comes up, we've kind of lost our audience.

Speaker 2: Right. And people, again, you know, they understand that a lot of, there's a bunch of important important work that we need to do, it's okay. 

Speaker 1: Well, thank you. Great conversation, I will make sure that along with this podcast we attach a link so people can download information and get on your book list.

Speaker 2: I really appreciate your time I had a great time talking to you.