As industries across the board continue to transform, we’re not only changing the work we do every day, but also, how we do said work. Without the right dynamic, culture, and leadership structure, a team can fall apart pretty quickly, so improving the way we work is often just as important as the work itself.
This is a practice often referred to as organizational development, and it’s playing an increasingly essential role in corporate structures everywhere.
Transform It Forward with David Cummins: A new era of leadership
In the most recent episode of Transform It Forward, I sat down with a guest who is an expert in organizational development, as well as a transformation facilitator, leadership and collaboration mentor, speaker, writer and much more. David Cummins is also the owner and managing director of Ministry Group, an agency based in Hamburg, Germany.
We sat down for a discussion about strategies for improving the way we work in team settings and as individuals so we can reach our fullest potential.
Transforming human potential
So far on the podcast, we’ve covered more than two dozen dramatic industry transformations. But we haven’t yet done a deep dive into the humans who make these transformations possible.
This is what David has been looking at for most of his career as a transformation facilitator and leadership mentor. He first started working with Ministry Group back in 2004 when it was operating as a digital agency, or an internet agency as it might have been called back then.
When he was asked to become one of the owners a few years later, he saw it as a golden opportunity to demonstrate how things could be done differently and more effectively. From the beginning, it was clear to David that a collaborative, team-based environment was necessary for the agency model, and that greater agility would be required if they hoped to encourage all the different disciplines to work together.
“And about 2006-7 is about when we started really thinking about agility and how does it work? And I think we were very fortunate in hindsight that the typical agile tools and toolsets and mythologies didn’t fit for an agency setting. So we had to start looking more into the principles of the whole thing. What does it mean? You know, what does involvement mean? What does commitment mean? You know, how can we get the different disciplines to work together? And it kind of went from there.”
Championing career development
As the agency made these changes, David and the team also had to think about new ways to make employees feel like they could find purpose, meaning and a path for growth at work. This has only become more of a priority for employees across industries since 2020, as people strive for careers that bring them true fulfillment instead of just a pay cheque.
To accomplish this, the leadership team at Ministry Group opened up new opportunities for team members to switch gears depending on their interests, and work more autonomously according to their own rhythms. By tapping into the psychology behind human behavior and balancing the diverse preferences of different personality types, the group was better able to work synergistically with employees and chart a path forward together.
David noted that one of the ideas the team put forward was self-organizing teams, which proved to be an invaluable learning experience in itself, even though it wasn’t supremely successful out of the gate.
“It’s also about security. You know, we have basic needs of feeling safe, being accepted and having influence. And we were trying to give people influence and acceptance. That was a pretty good narrative to try and give them influence. But they were in a new situation. They didn’t feel safe, so they weren’t able to move on out of that.”
Self-awareness is key
One of the most important points David made during our discussion was about the value of having self-awareness—no matter your role, industry or function. Before we can take appropriate action, we need to first have a clear understanding of our own strengths, weaknesses, needs and desires so we can make the best decisions moving forward.
In addition to connecting with ourselves, we need to find time to connect with our fellow team members in order to find common ground.
“Going into connection with people is pretty much the most crucial thing of all. I mean, it is the question itself, how do you do this? How do you do that? It’s so hard because there’s no one answer, so you need to go into a dialogue with people. You need to talk to them. But of course, you need to just start with yourself. What do I want? What do I want to do? Is this the right thing for me? That’s a bit of the problem we have.”
In David’s view, self-awareness is key when it comes to taking responsibility for final outcomes. He believes everyone within a team structure is ultimately responsible for the successes and failures of an organization, not only those at the leadership level.
Taking a holistic approach
My conversation with David reminded me that all too often, we live inside the same constraints, governing ourselves the same way we have for the past 50 years, while expecting different results. In the midst of transformation, it’s crucial that we look inwards on an individual and collective level to determine what’s working well and what needs retooling.
I’m a believer that big companies are typically just a collection of smaller ones, so many of the principles David has put forward can still be effective whether you’re talking about a specific department or division, or a view for the whole company.
“Too often we look at only a team or we only look at leaders and individuals, or we only look at the structures that we’re building. And we need to look at all of them, all of these aspects. That makes it more complex and makes it harder to understand, but that’s the only effective way to go.”
- For the Ministry Group, helping their people grow as individuals was an important value from the very beginning. By creating a culture that champions growth, learning and development for everyone, the agency enabled their employees to explore their interests and really flourish alongside one another.
- In addition to championing growth and learning for their teams, David and the other leaders of Ministry Group recognized that all humans have a basic need to feel safe and accepted in their community. According to David, helping employees feel secure in their roles provided a solid foundation for trust and creative exploration.
- David also reminds us of the importance of understanding your own motivations, or as Socrates would say, know thyself. Many people will make crucial decisions about their careers without really taking the time to reflect on what they truly want from their work life. However, learning more about your own goals, ambitions and preferences will ultimately set you up for greater success wherever you find yourself along your career path.
- One of the key qualities a great leader should possess is perspective. In other words, effective leadership requires the ability to take a 360-degree approach to the company’s goals and really get a sense of the bigger picture. If you’re able to make decisions from a broader vantage point, you’ll be creating space for your team to focus on what they do best.
- And finally, whether you’re the leader of a team or not, it’s crucial that we all take ownership of our own unique roles and responsibilities. David believes the team is ultimately responsible for the outcome of a given project, not solely the leader, so it’s important to build a culture that encourages individual responsibility as well as a collaborative and supportive work environment.
Listen to the full podcast episode here.
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