Centre for Population Genomics: Unlocking Team Potential


When we have a high-stakes topic on the table our focus tends to be on the WHAT: ‘What’s the agenda? What are the outcomes? Do we have the information we need?’ We notice that even with highly aware leaders and teams, the assumption is that the HOW will take care of itself.

Which is interesting when you compare this thinking with our counterparts in Sports. We would never expect an elite sports team to run on the field for a high stakes game, having skipped the thoughtful work on how they’ll approach this game and just hoping that once they’re on the field, with adrenaline pumping that somehow things will run smoothly. Yet we do this all the time in our social purpose organisations. We tend to expect that our ‘HOW’ will take care of itself. Never mind that these days it’s possible that we haven’t even sat in a room together for months!

One of our learnings this year is to support teams to design this time in at the beginning of important conversations – off-sites, workshops, strategy sessions – and notice the difference it makes.

We saw this with great effect recently with our highly innovative client, the Centre for Population Genomics (CPG). A unique organisation, they draw on talent from leading technology, genomic science and community engagement.

The team had some really important topics to cover and were investing in bringing their geographically diverse team together for a two-day offsite. We were privileged to see an early draft of the agenda and noticed they too had jumped straight into WHAT – assuming that everyone’s brains, relationships, and emotions would go into elite performance mode as soon as they walked in the door. We suggested spending two hours up front, setting the stage. To their credit, they rejigged the agenda, and took a gamble that the time ‘on the team’ would pay dividends.

CEO, Daniel Macarthur reflected afterwards that it was indeed the right call:

“The activities were exactly what we needed to get the group in the right frame of mind. We grappled with a number of genuinely thorny problems, but the group dynamic was fantastic: the conversation was open and frank but collegial, and there was a great sense of a team working together with a shared mission, with very little defensiveness or territoriality.”

Hats off to Daniel and the CPG team for a late change of agenda, and for reaping the rewards, which will extend to their online team meetings too.

Next time you are putting together the agenda for your senior team perhaps ask yourself whether it makes sense to work on your HOW with as much care and consideration as your WHAT.  That way you might even walk out with two wins – a more cohesive team and your outcomes!

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