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What drives high performance: James Kerr

Posted 1 month ago in Xero news by Dina Veljanovska

At Xero, we know the importance of building a strong team to help your business succeed. This week, James Kerr author, motivational speaker and business consultant conducted a workshop with our NZ leadership team to work with them on the significance of successful leadership. We sat down with him to talk about what he views as the most important principles of a cohesive team.

What is your background?

I work with high performance teams across sport, military and business; from Manchester City to the New York Mets to the Navy Seals. I also work with businesses from an organisational change and a leadership perspective. I’m interested in the core principals that drive high performance environments across different domains and how to best utilise them.

My book, Legacy uses the All Blacks as a case study. I’ve taken the insight I learnt from working with them and rendered it in a way that can be used across the business world.

What are those insights?

The All Blacks display qualities that all great, cohesive teams display. Establishing humility within a team is one of the most important principles to stand by and one the All Blacks strongly represent. You also see it with other teams – the Special Air Service have a Regimental ethos of humility and humour, and the Navy Seals have an American eagle with its head bowed in humility as their insignia.

You need a degree of humility to survive as a team – a sense of entitlement is always the enemy of high performance. If one person is entitled, it will threaten the cohesion of that team. And a lack of cohesion brings with it a lack of trust. So, it’s no coincidence that humility turns up so repetitively in establishing strong team environments. You need to ask yourself, “If I jump out of a plane with this guy – would he have my back?”

Teams must also maintain a relentless pursuit of excellence. This needs to be driven by quality and passion. Chasing quality is always the best business plan.

Creating a culture of empowerment is paramount to a team’s success. Leaders should trust and empower the next level down, to create a full organisational push. There is no point in one team member having all of the responsibility. This way, all team members are given the opportunity to rise to the occasion and showcase their abilities.

Finally, teammates must have a sense of respect for one another and the way that other people are treated. I always focus on instilling an environment of “stab me in the belly, not the back” within a team. If you need to criticise the way someone is performing, do so in a professional and constructive way. Disrespecting your team members will only lead to a lack of cohesion and therefore, trust.

How can we use these insights to better our team at Xero?

Successful high performance environments focus on developing strength and depth of their members. They know how to bring people up and to become part of the team. These teams tend to have a very values-based vision and are purpose driven. They know what they stand for and have a clear vision of where they are going. However, it’s important that the leaders establish these goals and visions in a way that everyone in the team can relate to them.

The reason I’m here is to work with the Xero leadership team to help them “reboot” – to switch off and back on again. So I want to talk to them about what hell looks like in a team – this is what you don’t want to become. Then I want to talk them through my insights on how to become a strong and highly functioning leadership group.

The leadership team needs to understand that the war isn’t won or lost in the battlefield. Its fate is determined in the platoon, based on the cohesion of the team. It’s the small moments of connection that make or break a bigger effort. So, finding ways in which to ensure your team is working to meet the same ends is vital.

Success for Xero

Team cohesion doesn’t end when you leave the office. Your life decisions outside of the workplace influences the decisions you make for your team. Craig Hudson said to me today, “a better person makes a better Xero”. I think it’s really important that Xeros acknowledge this and bring their whole, authentic selves to work. As I’ve always believed, you are part of a team 24/7. You’re an All Black 24/7. You’re a Xero 24/7. You are always representing the team. So what do you want your team’s legacy to be?

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