IMAGE: Richmond Valley Council team cleaning up after the floods.

Organisations, well everyone really, has been tested in the last 2 years with the COVID pandemic changing the way we live and work.

In addition to this, a large chunk of the east coast of Australia have recently faced severe flooding causing damage and destruction to homes, towns, and communities.

Three organisations we support have been directly impacted by these natural disasters. Two organisations are Brisbane City Council and Richmond Valley Council, which are both situated in flood affected areas. The third is First Response Maintenance Solutions who operate in the flood affected areas and have been inundated with requests for help.

When speaking to leaders from these organisations they all agree that the time their teams have invested into developing relationships, building trust, establishing a team trademark, and agreed behaviours has helped them endure and perform better during these trying times.

Establishing a team’s trademark

At Leading Teams, we help teams and leaders to improve performance.

As part of that we help teams to establish a compelling trademark and accompanying behavioural framework; something that the team agrees to and puts into action every day.

This framework provides a common language that the team uses to provide feedback to improve each other’s performance.

Under pressure it is a natural human response for communities and teams to band together and help where they can. However, that doesn’t mean teams and leaders should wait for these situations to start investing in building an empowered culture, with strong relationships and high levels of trust.

There is a quote our team uses often;

‘build relationships before you need them’.

The value in this quote is evident in pressure situations having high levels of trust and respect ensures team members feel safe enough to ask for help when they are struggling and empowered enough to make decisions prioritising what is best for the team over the individual.

As Tash Tobias from Brisbane City Council remarks:

“You don’t create culture in a crisis; you rely on the values and behaviours that are entrenched in ‘peacetime’. Thankfully, for us, we were well and truly set up for success. We have lived our trademark and we are proud of each other and our people.”

Vaughan Macdonald, General Manager at Richmond Valley Council (RVC), felt that his team stepped up significantly when the floods hit their region.

He credits this to the work done to build leadership capabilities across the organisations by creating clarity around the behaviours they want to model as leaders and investing in building strong relationships.

When times got tough, and a large percentage of the council team’s homes were directly impacted by the floods, the team rallied together to put in longer hours, and chip in many different ways, without waiting to be directed by Vaughan or other RVC leaders.

In their most recent staff newsletter Vaughan and the Council Mayor made sure to recognise and reward this great team effort, saying “we are so proud to be leading this organisation, the way we all responded in our community’s hour of need was impressive.”

Purpose-led decision making

For First Response Maintenance Solutions, their purpose was first tested when the pandemic started.

Their organisational purpose is ‘providing high quality building and maintenance solutions whilst improving the lives of the people we partner with’.

As businesses shutting down practically overnight, the leaders at First Response had to quickly decide their priorities to keep the doors open.

In the past, they may have prioritised their own personal interests, however going back to their purpose and agreed behaviours their energies were focused on keeping their team employed.

This meant they would adjust their own salaries and increase their efforts to ensure they would have enough work for their team to deliver. This proved to be a valuable decision for the culture of the team and the long-term performance of the business.

When the floods hit, their team was again tested as they were inundated with enquiries for assistance and help. They again used their purpose to communicate with clients how they will be ranking and prioritising enquiries during this time.

This quick response and clear communication resulted in an excellent response from clients who emphasised their appreciation of the transparency of their communication.

Acknowledging and celebrating

Our Leading Teams facilitator, Martine Harkin works with teams within Brisbane City Council and the first time she ran a session with them after the floods was the first chance they had to come together and breathe for a few hours, as for the previous 3 weeks, none of them had done their ‘real’ jobs.

They were asked to tell their best story of their trademark in action over those 2 intense weeks.

Whilst emotions were high, tissues were passed around the table and the 2 responses that stood out were:

  1. “We need to make this BAU (they had just finished talking about empowerment, genuine care and support, people taking responsibility without questioning)”
  2. One leader shared that because the team had invested in stronger relationships in the team, she felt safe enough to put her hand up to ask for help. “I needed to check out Monday night, to look after my own health, my own wellbeing and if I didn’t trust this team like I do, then I wouldn’t have been able to put my hand up and be honest about that. Thankyou.”

Martine also noted ‘overall, they were very clear – without the work they had put in over the last 12 months, whilst they would have got the job done, it was the strength of relationships and their trademark that helped them through this time.’

Our high performing teams model consists of both mechanics (what a team does) and dynamics (how they team interacts with each other).

Teams will all be tested at some point and leaders who prioritises putting time into team dynamics don’t necessarily decrease the amount of pressure a team deals with. However, an aligned team can better share the responsibility of this pressure and provide all the people in the team a consistent trademark which they can rely on to make decisions and common language by which they can communicate.

We are proud to continue to partner with organisations are committed to ensuring their teams are aligned and empowered to work together through these difficult situations.

Anna Sallows

Anna Sallows

Anna has been part of Leading Teams since 2019. She relishes being part of a successful team, in all facets of her life, as a sister, daughter, partner, colleague, friend, teammate and coach.