Over the past few months, I have regularly been asked to provide my opinion on how to get the best out of groups of people. I always feel slightly worried about providing my opinion on this matter as I never feel that I have had the necessary experience to offer an educated answer. But when I think about it, getting the best from the people around me has been a constant in my career. Whether that be on Military Operations in Afghanistan, training future leaders at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell, or delivering influence consultancy to clients, the onus has always been on getting the best out of the team. But back to the question at hand, how do you get the best from them?

Well, my answer to this is twofold.  First of all, it’s absolutely crucial that you understand the people around you.  Now, the degree to which you will be able to understand will depend on how large the team is but being aware is the first phase. I have led teams in the hundreds, to elite teams of 7-10 and in all instances I wanted to understand as much as possible. My thirst for this information was crucial if I was to get the best out of my team. The best way to obtain this knowledge was quite simple; dedicate time to know your people and ask them questions. And by questions, I mean real questions, not the safe, simple, ritual, clichéd ones that require little input from you or the respondent and as a result deliver little in the way of useful information.

When you have had the opportunity to understand, you can then find the best way to push the team into effective stretch (in other words outside of their comfort zone). In my previous jobs, we would look for opportunities to push individuals or the entire group (getting out into the wilderness or into water were ideal situations) into stretch. The benefits were usually stark; better communication, rapid decision making, cadre formation and creativity to name just a few. Sometimes the benefits were not immediately obvious, and this for me was the outcome that I felt brought about the best opportunities.  

The lack of clarity on the benefits of being put into stretch provided me with an opportunity to get the team together to provide feedback to each other and it’s here that the real benefit came. Increasing the tolerance to being under pressure and surviving in effective stretch is, from my experience, invaluable in developing your people and creating an effective bond between them.

I will let you in on an observation; effective stretch wasn’t for everybody and certain people fell by the wayside or just plain didn’t want to engage, but this allowed me to do something. It allowed me to understand the thresholds of certain individuals and identify clashes. In certain circumstances, being able to identify this allowed me to make decisions about people’s participation within the team, which if I hadn’t pushed the team to effective stretch, wouldn’t have come to the forefront until it was too late.

The requirement for effective stretch is something that we apply today at Applied Influence Group. In the New Year, we will be attempting a stand-up comedy course which culminates in a live delivery to the public (the location of which will remain a secret). Something that will, without doubt, stretch members of the team significantly. I can already see the potential benefits that the level of stretch will bring to both the team and the individuals within it, and I am already looking forward to the feedback that will come as a result.