This interview first appeared on the StKilda FC website titled ‘Leading Teams with Justin Peckett‘.

Leading Teams was engaged by the St Kilda Football Club in the 2014 pre-season to implement a Performance Improvement Program. Justin Peckett, Leading Teams partner and former Saints player is carrying out the work. We caught up with Justin to see how the program is going so far.

Justin, how are you finding being back at the club as a facilitator after playing there for 17 years?

I’m really enjoying working with the club and catching up with some great St Kilda people who I worked closely with many years ago. The players and coaches have really embraced the program so far which is obviously a positive sign that the group is focused on improvement and high performance.

How has the club’s approach to leadership and team development changed?

Richo has come in and created an environment of empowerment, accountability and resilience. The players have permission to take ownership, to lead and to challenge each other as opposed to the senior coach being the only one with that responsibility.

The leadership group are much more aware of what they need to do to influence high performance and are driven to leave a positive long lasting legacy on the club and its players for many years to come

What was the first thing you worked on when the program began?

We believe that for any team to be high performing, they need to be able to have genuine conversations about behaviour. In order to have those conversations, they must have strong professional relationships and have agreed on a clear set of behavioural expectations. We’ve worked hard on this to ensure all players and coaches are aligned to how they want to be seen as a group and are willing and able to engage in peer to peer feedback about performance (on and off field). The group also understands their individual roles in supporting each other to achieve sustained high performance.

A big part of the Leading Teams program is developing a team trademark and defining behaviours in relation to that trademark. Many clubs don’t like to give away their trademark – can you let us in on what St Kilda’s may involve?

One of St Kida’s younger players, Sam Dunell had mentioned that in one of his first sessions we spoke about building up the trademark and having some honest conversations about what we stand for and how our culture will reflect that. The players Trademark is an agreed statement that supports the players on and off field performances. It is up to the players if they want to share their Trademark to people outside the club so I am not at liberty to share it unfortunately.

We have seen so many of the young players come through and get on board – it’s great to see the young blokes come in with their enthusiasm for the program. The leaders have certainly influenced the younger players regarding the importance of culture and the link to performance.

We have worked hard on creating our Trademark which is how we want people to see us, particularly the opposition, supporters, sponsors, the community, etc.

How does the club want to be perceived by opponents, supporters, media and the general community?

Obviously we want to be respected by all of the above; we want to be seen as a hard team to play against, competitive, hard-working and responsible as in doing the ‘right thing’ and have teams know that we will be a challenge and we will continuously work hard to improve ourselves and our team.

Leading Teams promotes having open and honest conversations about behaviour which sometimes involves peer reviews – how is the team managing this?

Peer Reviews play a small part but an important part of the overall program. At this point the Peer Reviews have only been done with the key leaders (both players and coaches) as they need to role model the feedback processes. Feedback is still regularly given however it has taken place in a number of different forums and with different processes.

How are the younger players going with the program?

The younger players are enjoying the Leading Teams model; it gives everyone a voice and an opportunity for equal input. All players’ opinions and feedback are valued, which has encouraged teamwork and development throughout the club.

Leigh Montagna came out at the start of season and expressed that he’d like to lead the club, St Kilda have never seemed short on key senior leaders but with few senior players left are the younger/less experienced showing the same enthusiasm for leadership roles?

Yes, a number of the younger players have some natural leadership tendencies so in an empowered environment with clear behavioural standards, expectations, feedback and support these players can be fast-tracked as leaders. Any player can show leadership by living the Trademark and behaviours. The program, if embraced can increase leadership capacity.

What players are named in the leadership group and was it who you expected?

Six experienced players – Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, David Armitage, Jarryn Geary and Sean Dempster. Yes, this was to be expected so the challenge is to develop the leaders underneath by creating opportunities and continuing with an environment that allows the players to feel empowered to act and make decisions.

What were your first impressions about Leading Teams and the program that was implemented in 1995? And when do you remember buying in to the Leading Teams model?

I was a bit unsure about how it could work and had not spent too much time thinking about my behaviour, my role in the culture and the link to my performance and that of the team’s.

In the second year of the program, I started to realise some of the benefits to addressing this side of our performance and as an individual saw how the model could assist me in my personal life. It took me a few years to fully embrace the model and make the changes I needed to make on and off field. The program definitely played a part in the club’s improved performances from 1995 to 2006, which was my last year.

Eight years after your retirement you’re back at St Kilda in the facilitator role. What were your own personal goals heading into this?

The only goal I had was for the players and coaches to see me as a useful resource in their pursuit on improved performance. Like I did as a player, I now have an opportunity to leave the club better than when I arrived.

With a young list of players, and the departure of some very experienced players, many assume St Kilda will be at the bottom end of the ladder this season. Where do they see themselves finishing?

I think with all things being equal, the Saints could finish mid-table while giving plenty of their young player’s senior experience.

Finally, what are the key elements of the program that you feel are improving the performance of the Saints?

Creating space for the ‘dynamics’ conversations – clear expectations, feedback, accountability, behaviour and linking to how we play footy, how the club performs on and off field.

Clara McCormack

Clara McCormack

Clara worked for Leading Teams from 2012-2018.