The power of small teams

@JCU The power of small teams

Paula Johnston, Director Financial & Business Services at JCU, shares her experience on the Australian Rural Leadership Program Course 24 Session 1.

What can seven individuals brought together from across Australia, across industries, age, gender, race, occupation, upbringing, education, likes, hopes and fears achieve in two weeks? As it turns out, seven people working together can achieve anything and everything.

For two weeks in August I was privileged to attend the first of five sessions of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) Course 24 as this year’s JCU sponsored candidate. As one of 33 leaders I travelled to the vast and spectacular Kimberley joined to them only in the ambition to become better leaders for rural, regional and remote Australia. What I came home with two weeks later on that 10pm Saturday night flight back to Townsville was definitely a clearer insight into leadership, a dusty pack, a hat in tatters and more insight into teams than I could of ever imagined.

On day one, meeting the rest of my small seven member team I was skeptical and unsettled by the chaos of solving very real problems with people I didn’t know and didn’t trust. Now 12 intense days later there is nothing I wouldn’t do for those people and in their hands they hold my absolute trust.

So what happened in that 12 days? What brought this team of misfits together? And what happened to the hat?

Through trial and error, a little facilitation and some light bulb realisations I learned or was reminded that team success relies on:

  • Establishing a common goal, it takes time to establish but once we had one we could buy into rather than just paying lip service to, it focused our decision-making and defined success.
  • Absolute honesty and respect, we started politely and buried our frustrations with each other in the name of harmony. However it wasn’t until we were timely, open, honest and authentic with our feedback that the team came together and that individuals started to gain strength from the team.
  • Recognition of the value of diverse views and skill sets and paying to the strength of individuals to maximize the success of the team. You have to be a good team member as well as a good leader.
  • Learning the value of self censorship, if you don’t have anything new to add or meaningful to contribute save your voice until you do.
  • Celebration of successes, loudly and proudly. Take the time to smell the roses.

There is so much power in a small team drawn from diverse backgrounds and I see that these learnings have a very practical application both in my own team Financial & Business Services and across the broader University and community. In challenging times we often seek out the familiar and the predictable to bring order to chaos. We need to resist this impulse and push beyond our comfort zone to really make a difference and that includes inviting new people into your team to spark new ideas.

Leadership is something that personally I don’t think you can ever master but it is my obligation to my team that I keep trying to be better and encourage them to do the same. Where I am on my growth as a leader is profoundly like the answer to my question ‘where are we?’ to our indigenous guide late at night, map in hand, obstacles before us. He answered quietly and seriously ‘You are here and you are not there yet’. I have reflected on that answer many times since that night and it has taught me more than many of the textbooks I have read or seminars I have attended. Luckily to help me inch closer to ‘there’ are four more ARLP sessions, plenty of opportunity every day to practice what I have learned and at least six other people as invested as I am to succeed.

So what happened to the hat you may ask? That is one of the many adventures I can’t tell you about yet, however if this insight has made you curious, and you fundamentally believe in developing your leadership capability I encourage you to join the 1000+ alumni and put in an application before 30 September 2017 for Course 25 which commences in July 2018. Once you come back from the Kimberley, then perhaps we can talk about the hat.

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