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Partnership challenges – which of these issues do you recognise?

Common challenges in partnership relationships

Which is your biggest pain point when working with partners? Let us know…. When you’re working with partners within or external to your organisation, how many of these issues are you familiar with? What impact have these issues had on the success of your partnership or project?

We’d love to hear your experiences – comment below or send us a private message.

And….If you recognise more than 3 of these issues, you could benefit from a conversation with us about how to launch, manage or reset your partnership more effectively.

As partnership coaches, we work with the whole system to improve alignment, performance and impact. FREE 30 min discovery calls available to discuss your needs. Contact us.

How hard do you push your team members?

“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”    Patrick Lencioni

We’ve been working a lot recently with teams who through building trust and relationships are arriving at a place of healthy, constructive conflict in service of maximising team achievement and results.

If trust is absent, many will either avoid putting their head above the parapet and openly disagreeing with others or pushing you harder, or will push in a way that is destructive and counter-productive.

By building strong relationships based on deep trust, it becomes okay to disagree or to push others – and yourself – harder, because there is a shared goal or purpose towards which you are working.  And disagreement or a push is more likely to be viewed as ‘just another perspective’ rather than potentially destabilising when you know it’s because they just want the best for the team result.

How deep are the relationships and trust in your team?  How do you know they are deep enough to allow healthy conflict?   How do you encourage creative conflict so that people can have their say?

What are your experiences of the impact of trust – or its absence – in teams?

Creating positive change

I believe every one of us can create positive change in the world, on some scale.
Find something you can do, then do it, and just keep moving forward.

If you need help with that, find the right resource – a friend, a mentor, a coach, Phoenix.

Choose your words carefully

be careful with your words - forgiven not forgotten

Choose your words carefully – they can bless and encourage people or hurt them. And can be remembered for eternity…

How many times have careless words, thrown away by a colleague or manager, left you with a sour taste in your mouth?  Some of us even remember times from our childhood when a friend, peer or adult said something that left a deep impression on our memory.  In these days of the instant message, the quick email or tweet, it’s even easier to cast words into the world without much thought.

Yet we need to think carefully before speaking – none more so than in the pressure-charged atmosphere of the modern workplace, where urgency and sometimes overwhelm can leave us little time to think.  This applies to both the every day and also to the more obviously important conversations like appraisals and performance reviews or planning sessions.

If we get it right – our words can encourage, bless, positively challenge and motivate others.

If we get it wrong – at best it can create a mental ‘ouch!’  At worst, it can pierce the confidence of someone and create the conditions for a downward slide in motivation and performance.

So – in the heat of the moment when words are burning the tip of your tongue to be spoken – take a deep breath, bite your tongue and just play out in your head the words and the tone you were planning to use to test it for ‘sting’. Never release words in anger in the heat of the moment. And in planning for the bigger conversations – consider the outcome you want from the conversation – perhaps someone who is clear on what they do well and with a plan to improve on some specific areas, and who feels motivated and empowered to make those changes, and plan your words carefully to achieve it.

Be careful with your words.

Towards effective People Management & peak performance

management pyramid


How does your organisation prepare people for management responsibility? In a recent rough and ready online survey we conducted, we found that only 36% of people managers had received any formal management training before starting their first people management role

[1].  Leaving the 64% majority to learn ‘on the job’, presumably.

That’s a pretty staggering statistic, if it proved to be representative of the general manager population.  Without training, we’re asking people to take on a completely new responsibility, with its own discrete skillset, without any preparation.  Like handing over the car keys to a complete novice and saying “Drive” or asking an incredible classroom teacher to take on the leadership and administrative responsibilities of a head teacher role.  It doesn’t make sense, does it? Essentially, there’s an assumption that ‘everyone knows how to do it’, and that’s a big risk to take with your organisation’s most precious resource: Its people.

As a manager, your job evolves from just being the ‘doer’ of a task to being responsible for managing these three key resources to achieve a goal: Money, time and people.  And you may still have to balance that with performing a specific role. Take the example of a copywriter in the marketing department of an organisation Phoenix has worked with.  Promoted to head of a small team, she not only needed to produce copy herself, she now needed to manage others to do the same, and support them in prioritising, communicating, developing in their roles. An entirely new skillset, and in many cases an undervalued change in role.

The problem is that many organisations just tack the management side of the role onto the existing role, perhaps not even understanding that there is a difference in skillset and provide little training or support to do it, and then wonder why things are perhaps not running smoothly.  In the case mentioned above, the copywriter’s organisation wisely invested in a development programme for new line managers from Phoenix, resulting in improved confidence, capability and a deeper appreciation of her new role.

Is management right for everyone?

First of all, not everyone wants management responsibility, but they may still want progression. So what opportunities is your organisation providing for people who want progression, development and a sense of responsibility – without managing people?  Secondly, for those who are willing to be managers of people, how well are they prepared for this new and different role?

In our survey, formal management training (or the lack of it) had a significant on how prepared respondents felt to be a manager of people. Unsurprisingly, over 63% of those who had no training felt either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ prepared to be a manager of people.  Only 36.5% felt ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ prepared.   These figures more than reverse for those who had had management training:  Here, over 76% felt ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ prepared.

 LM prepared graph

So why does ‘feeling prepared’ matter? Well, it’s just one indicator of how engaged and motivated an employee is in their work. And there are many proven links between employee engagement, morale and retention level.   All of which have financial implications.

Other clear benefits of providing good quality training include:  Setting clear standards for what is expected from people managers, demonstrating the value and importance of the role as separate from the technical aspect, and most importantly, the creation of effective people managers that add value and drive the organisation’s performance.

The dangers of poor management

The effects of poor management on an organisation can be huge, 0066rom missing objectives and poor product quality, to financial losses and the impact on people.

According to the Hay Group as quoted in Personnel Today, “One in five UK workers is frustrated in their job, and the fault rests with their Line Manager.” The frustrations as quoted included a lack of authority to make decisions, poor handling of underperformance and the inability of managers to create productive working environments.[2]

Another piece of research by KRI (Kenexa Research Institute) in 2009 stated that “Only 50% of UK employees rate their managers as effective, according to a survey of 22,000 staff in 18 countries.  According to the survey, “being a ‘good manager’ has a significant impact on the engagement levels of staff and their overall perception of the company.  Employees in the UK define a good manager as someone who keeps his or her commitments, evaluates employees’ performance fairly, makes use of employees’ ideas, quickly solves problems and practices open, two-way communication.”[3]

The CMI recently published a survey of 750 of the UK’s top leaders, which identified priorities for where managers needed to excel in the next 10 years to ensure the UK economy is able to grow and compete. To quote, “The biggest rising priorities identified by managers include building partnerships and networking (cited by 87% and 78% respectively); creating agile teams and tackling underperformance (85% and 77%); using social media (79%); and managing complexity (76%).” Interestingly the research then looked at the perceived skills gaps, with many of the above skills showing as the biggest gaps.  In fact, team management skills ranked as the third lowest rated skill amongst twenty assessed activities, where “34% are ineffective at decentralising decision making, 27% at creating agile teams and 24% at tackling underperformance.”[4]

How to equip managers with the skills they require

It’s pretty clear that further development and support is needed to improve the performance, quality and ‘future-proofing’ of the UK management population.  The next question is ‘What and how to equip our managers with the skills they require?’  Our survey told us that even for those that had received training, fewer than 22% said it was adequate for them to manage staff effectively.  A further 65% said it was only partly adequate. So there is room for improvement.

A variety of topics had been covered in the training received by respondents, which Phoenix categorizes into two broad areas:

–           The ‘legal’ side of management, which includes administrative/HR/procedures, critical for the smooth and legal operating of the business

–           The ‘performance enabling’ side, which allow managers to get the best out of their people in order to meet the organisational objectives

In our survey, the most common topics covered in training were coaching skills, setting objectives, managing different learning styles and different personality styles. Of course, there is no way of measuring the quality of the training provided or the level of support to embed it into the business, so no way of knowing why so few respondents said it was adequate.

So what would we recommend?  Phoenix has developed the ‘Great Line Manager Model’ to illustrate the key skills required within the ‘Performance enabling’ management skillset:

LM model

Essentially, to get results, you need to set & communicate clear goals, then delegate effectively and support staff with managing their workload and prioritisation. And you need to develop your teams to deliver effective performance through the use of feedback, coaching, development reviews and an understanding of how high performing teams work.  Both of these require an understanding of individuals’ different learning styles or preferences to get the best out of them.  And most of us aren’t born knowing these skills, we have to learn them! Underpinning all of this is the development of self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and building trustful relationships between managers and staff.

Our experience tells us that the ‘sheep dip’ approach of delivering a ‘one hit’ training in everything, all at once, to a big group, rarely works.  Instead we tend to adopt a modular approach over a period of 3 – 5 months, with half day small-group sessions interspersed with one to one coaching, action learning sets and an expectation and opportunity to embed the skills learned in the workplace in between sessions.  It can be adapted to all levels of management, builds on live workplace examples and experience, and creates a real focus on the value of the role of the manager.  It gets great feedback, scoring an average of 9.3 out of 10 for ‘overall rating’ over the last 4 years, and more importantly delivers significant and sustainable changes in capability.

So wherever your organisation is currently in terms of developing management capability, take a moment to reflect on how you could improve the effectiveness and preparedness of your people managers to deliver peak performance through your organisation’s most valuable asset: Its people.

For more information, get a copy of the survey results summary or to discuss your needs with Phoenix, contact us on: or call 020 3417 9284.  

[1] Source: Personnel Today, 30/7/08

[2] Source: Personnel Today, 27/11/09 (

[3] Source: CMI (

 [4] Survey conducted by Phoenix Training & Coaching td. In September 2013. 64 respondents across gender, age group, industry who either are, or have been, managers of people.

Are you living the life you really want?

Think about your future retirement date, whenever that will be for you.

Mine is likely to be in around 20 yrs time (2040.)

Imagine you’re at YOUR retirement age now, looking back over the past 20-30 years or so.

How will you feel at that point, looking back at how you lived your life till then? Will you feel like it went by in a flash/haze of working crazy hours, spinning multiple plates and juggling everything else in your life order to satisfy your employer or image of success? Perhaps you will feel like you slept-walked (or sprinted) through it, head down, just focusing on whatever was next to meet the demands of your busy job. Perhaps you will feel like you’ve only just woken up, at retirement age, to the choices you made during your working life that got you here?

All good if you actively and consciously made those choices, and are happy with the outcome.

For those who are frightened they’ll arrive at retirement and not yet have lived the life they really want, maybe now is a good time to pause and reflect.

What do you REALLY want? Is the career ladder and financial success the only thing? Stop putting off things till tomorrow (life, family, real joy.) Instead, find out NOW how you can live the life you really want. Call a coach.

hashtagDesignYourLife hashtagCoaching hashtagLifeChoices

Successful Partnership Working – Top Tips video series

We often work with teams and partnerships…. and we’ve noticed some common pitfalls in how they operate, meaning that the road to success can be a lot bumpier than you’d hoped.

So we produced a series of videos with some Top Tips on how to make your partnership and team working more effective.


Intro video

Watch the rest of the series of 7 Top Tips below, plus the wrap up video.


Tip #1 for Successful Partnership Working – on the subject of the project/team/partnership mandate


Tip #2 for Successful Partnership Working – on the subject of the shared vision for success


Tip #3 for Successful Partnership Working – on HOW you work as a partnership/team


Tip #4 for Successful Partnership Working – on making sure your team really does add up to more than the sum of its parts


Tip #5 for Successful Partnership Working – on understanding your stakeholders


Tip #6 for Successful Partnership Working – on team vs. individual results


Tip #7 for Successful Partnership Working – on effectively reviewing or checking in with progress – without micro-managing!


Wrap up – and how we could help YOUR partnership/team


That’s it – do message us on, or comment below, if you’d like a FREE no strings 30 minute call to explore your needs and ask us some questions.





Difference, differentiation and diversity.

Diversity of uniqueness

As Garry Turner’s (The Listening Organisation) recent newsletter to subscribers pointed out, there is a lot of pressure in modern society to be ‘different’ or to stand out to be ‘the best’. ‘Differentiation’ has emerged alongside this, with companies and technology now seeking to tailor make their products or services to particular groups, subsets, demographics or even at the extreme to individual needs. We’re being told from so many angles that ‘being different is good.’
And yet as Garry points out, being different can also be polarising and separating. He goes onto explore connection as the antidote to difference or differentiation.

I had a different thought when I read his views. Whilst I wholeheartedly embrace the importance of connection as an antidote to difference or differentiation, it also made me question whether there was another way to achieve it.

What I get excited by is ‘diversity of uniqueness.’

This is where we have the possibility of celebrating everyone’s unique gifts and talents, accepting and welcoming our diversity of physical and mental ability, sexuality or gender, ethnicity, thought, cultures and backgrounds etc. And more than that – the possibility of acknowledging all of these as varied and valid expressions of humanity, whilst rejoicing in our connection as humans and our common humanity.

Commonly, current diversity programmes and initiatives seem to focus primarily on ensuring there is equal (or at least more diverse) representation in the workplace of genders in particular, with increasing focus on ethnicity. This is hugely important and needs tireless work on this and extensions of the principle (LGBTQ+ inclusion as one example.)
What seems to be less in the spotlight is the simpler act of celebrating the diversity of thought, experience, background that is present in many workplaces, teams and partnerships. Not enough diversity yet – and yet we don’t celebrate the richness that is already there.

Few partnerships or teams we’ve worked with are even aware of the huge range of even work experience that their peers, partners or colleagues have behind them, let alone the enormous diversity of other skills and talents. What if we first brought these into the forefront, and then celebrated them? And taking it further – once everyone is aware of these unique skills and talents – what if some of them could actually be proactively used in service of the partnership, team or organisation reaching their goals?

A case in point – a previous client of ours worked for a charity in their Media team. They were heavily involved in the intense annual three-month campaign period during which there was huge focus on PR, Comms, and where the norm became to work very long hours and pushing themselves to the limit. In a team session we facilitated for them, this individual shared that she had a passion for and quite extensive knowledge of Nutrition. “So what?” you might ask. Well, in times of particularly high pressure and long hours, one of the first things to go other than leisure time can be healthy eating – instead we start to skip meals, eat more ready meals, junk food or sugary snacks to boost our energy or just as a ‘treat’ to see us though the hard times. Often this is all counterproductive in terms of managing our energy and performance. Which is where someone with some good knowledge of nutrition might come in. In fact, when we discussed how these different secret skills could be used, the team agreed it would be a huge help if she could share some simple hacks on nutrition and energy management in busy times. It sounds almost too simple to be true or even useful, doesn’t it? But imagine the incremental benefit of avoiding some food that actually makes your blood sugar crash and your energy slump (with potential lost work quality), and instead perhaps maintaining the nutrition levels in your diet of the required vitamins and minerals, and how that could help the team stay healthier, perhaps avoid some of the bugs that go round, thereby avoiding sick days. Multiply this up over a team of 30 and you could save days of man hours, as well as on the upside improving focus, concentration and performance.

It’s just one example, but there are so many small things that could give your team or partnership a ‘Marginal Gain’ and improve performance incrementally, or help you avoid declines in performance. And you just don’t know what they could be until you explore the talents and skills of the people you already have.

Imagine doing this with a newly formed Partnership group, or a team. Imagine how it could help you to achieve your no doubt ambitious goals.

So – let’s be more proactive in celebrating our diversity of uniqueness. It can help to create a jigsaw or tapestry of a partnership or team that is far richer than the one we so often we stop at (with just our functional skills). And the process of exploring and celebrating it can create human connection at a deep and powerful level, in itself supporting more effective relationships and performance.

We’re happy to have an initial free conversation with anyone wanting to find out more about how you can help your team or partnership even more high performing, and to talk about your specific needs. Send us a message and we’ll be in touch.

Contact to set up your call.

Jo Wright is founder of Phoenix, and specialises in coaching Partnerships and Teams, from setting them up for success, to helping them to ‘reset’ when things are going off track.
Thanks to Garry Turner of The Listening Organisation for his newsletter which sparked the idea for this article.


A Systems approach to team success: Lessons from the Thai cave rescue

Recently I worked with a team who are working to deliver a joint project together.  They had a project plan, actions and Leads for each area.  Good progress was being made.  Then an unexpected absence by one Lead meant that certain actions weren’t completed, and the project fell behind.

I was curious about this from a Systems point of view.

In Systems work, Roles belong to the system (team in this case) and not to individuals.  So, the role of performing this Lead task belonged to the system rather than the person who took it on.

What’s interesting is that when the system was disrupted in some way, the role was not taken up by anyone else in the system, with consequences for the project.  Systems are regularly disrupted for a variety of reasons:  People joining or leaving a team, sickness or accidents, new information or priorities, etc.

So, I wondered about what had happened in my client team when their system was disrupted and came up with some options which I later explored with the team.

  1. Lack of clarity on team purpose – what they were here to do
  2. Lack of buy in to the team purpose (not unifying or compelling enough?)
  3. Lack of awareness of what each Lead was doing and where they were up to (was there a process in place to keep each other updated?)
  4. Focus on individual vs. the team objectives/results (so that perhaps a heavy workload for other members of the team/system may have meant they didn’t stop and check, or have time to pick up additional tasks as they prioritised their own projects.)

And then I wondered what would have happened, or perhaps DID happen, in the recent case of the Thai cave rescue.

In that situation, there was one clear and unifying purpose for everyone involved:  The safe rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the caves.  And it was highly compelling: Lives were at stake, and heavy rainfall was imminent, the world was watching.

There were different roles in the system involved in this, and the Independent stated that in total 10,000 people participated, including 2000 soldiers, 200 divers and representatives from 100 government agencies.   From the diving team, to the medical care, to the engineers who pumped water away or out of the cave system, to the logisticians who coordinated the equipment and teams to manage the rescue.  Local volunteers got involved in filling other roles:  Food provision, local children helping to test the full face masks in local swimming pools, moving equipment etc.

Each of these is an Outer Role in Systems Coaching.  They belong to the system or team and are populated or occupied by individuals. Many of the individuals were highly skilled at their role – a classic example is the cave diving experts from around the world including Thai navy seals.  Others just saw a role that needed fulfilling, stepped in and did it.

And yet that wasn’t enough to prevent the death of one Thai Navy Seal in the days leading up to the final rescue.

But what happened after this tragic loss of a team member?  In my client example, work on the project in a specific area stalled.  In the cave rescue, the team purpose was still unifying and compelling, and someone else will have been brought in to fill the role that had been left vacant.  What would have happened if this had been different?  The whole rescue could have stalled, with disastrous consequences.

In the Thai cave rescue, alongside the grief at the diver’s tragic death, the focus on the team purpose was relentless. The role he had occupied was taken on by someone else and the rescue continued.  Three other divers were hospitalised when their air tanks ran low during the rescue.  When bringing out the 11th member of the boy’s team, the diver lost hold of the guide rope and in pitch black had to backtrack to try to find it again, delaying him and his precious cargo by nearly an hour.

With every setback, the team worked together to solve the problems, stepping in to fill the formal and informal roles that were needed to get the job done.  The incredible result of all 13 being successfully rescued was one I certainly didn’t expect.  And it’s a wonderful example of how a team, with no prior ‘team building,’ but a clear mandate and purpose, relentless focus on the team’s (vs. individual’s) result, creativity in approach, flexibility in how they went about getting the job done despite setbacks, can be spectacularly successful.

With the team I’ve been coaching, we explored what had happened and why. It transpired that they did think the project purpose was clear, compelling and unifying enough and in fact each had taken great ownership of their various actions and tasks.  Where they had fallen down was as the disruption (unexpected absence of a team member) hit the system, they hadn’t come together to come up with a contingency plan.

Knowing that disruption is inevitable, I facilitated a discussion about how they wanted to handle it in future, and they came up with a 5-point action plan:

  1. Ensuring all team members are kept up to date: The nominated ‘observer’ for any team meeting will commit to updating any absentees with what happened, what was agreed and the actions
  2. Filling vacant roles: They all took personal responsibility for noticing and naming a disruption to the rest of the team, so that between them they could fill the vacant role in the system – or agree as a team to postpone deadlines
  3. Shared communication/project files: From now on, they will more regularly keep their shared filing/documentation up to date so that it is easy for anyone in the team to trace where a particular part of the project is up to – and pick it up if needed
  4. Mitigating the risk of vacant roles: To help mitigate the risk of unexpected absenteeism, where possible they will have two named owners on a project area/workstream – a lead and a ‘buddy’. Not only will the buddy be more up to speed, but there’s a secondary advantage in buddying with someone from a different part of the team to exchange ideas and approaches
  5. Team vs. individual results focus: Where workload is an issue (so the possibility of focusing on individual vs. team results exists), each individual agreed they would raise this quickly with their line manager to agree priorities – and to agree and communicate the implications for the team project, so that the team project would not fall behind because of an individual workload challenge

I’ll be following up with the team in a few weeks to see how they’ve done.

How clear are you on your team’s purpose?  How compelling and unifying is it?  What could you do to make it more so? And how willing are you to put the team’s goal ahead of your individual goals and priorities?  Finally, how do you handle setbacks that occur due a temporary or permanent change in the team personnel (remembering they are just occupiers of the various roles the system requires)?

If you want some help working on this with your team to make it even more successful, drop Phoenix a line – it’s our speciality and we love to make a real difference to team performance.


Source for much of the details of the Thai rescue is from this article:


Author:  Jo Wright                                                                                                                                24th July 2017

Jo is the founder and lead facilitator for Phoenix Training & Coaching Ltd.  Phoenix works across a wide range of organisations and sectors with the aim of bringing humanity to work and driving performance, by working with leaders, managers and teams who want to shift gear and be more effective.

If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything

This is so true both on a personal and professional level.

How often do you reflect on your core values? The things that are really important to you and that without, you wouldn’t be you? If we don’t understand what we stand for, it’s easy to get pushed around or trodden on by others – who may do it unintentionally, but do it nonetheless. We might not push back because we’re not standing on the firm ground of our own values.

One of my core values is about fairness – at an individual and global level. It’s one of the reasons why working with so many charity clients who strive to create positive change in the world fits so well with me.  And perhaps that’s why I seem to be attracting more clients to me that want to work on their values and organisational culture.

At a global level, it’s becoming more and more important to both understand and stand for our values. We have to create the world we want to live in. No one else will.

What will you stand for?    #humanity_to_wk

Bring your whole self to work

I passionately believe this – it’s the reason behind the Phoenix mission of Bringing Humanity to Work. We are all whole, complete beings – and the sooner we can freely access all parts of ourself in both professional and personal environments, the less effort we will have to put into being 2 separate identities (and boy, does this cost effort – I’ve done it!) Which means you have more energy to put into the important stuff – building relationships, solving a tricky business problem, being available and supportive to your kids, family and friends. #humanity_to_wkBring your whole self to work

Connect and then lead

cartoon - how to lead - warmth & competence
“Connect and then lead” – what a great message. Great leaders build trust with their teams, backed up by strength and competence, to build connections so they can inspire and lead.

I think that in days of old (and in just a few of today’s organisations), we forget that leadership is about PEOPLE first – not strength or competence. Leadership is actually followership, if you think about it.

How good are you at inspiring followers?