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Building a high-performing culture is only many painful conversations away

By Emile Studham, 18th March 2019

Having your team reflect on their current pain points and showing vulnerability is a key aspect to team success.

A book that has generated a lot of interest for us is “Principles” by Ray Dalio.

Dalio is the billionaire founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with a world-renowned performance culture built around radical transparency and the use of algorithms to make non-emotional fact-based decisions.

We love his straight talk and honest approach. Something our society can use more of.

The one concept that’s really showing up for us a lot is:

Pain + Reflection = Progress

Dalio speaks directly about an individual’s ability to reflect on their pain when they are experiencing it (and not just reflect post-pain) as an integral part of one’s growth and development.

Working in the field of Team Dynamics, We want to explore the importance of this principle from a team perspective.

What interests us is the ability for individuals to perform this activity and do so when working with their team mates (in a team environment). In other words, reflect on their pain, in real time and with their team mates. This concept is extremely important for a number of reasons.
The power of vulnerability, as often discussed by Dr. Brene Brown, is proving time and time again to be an extraordinary relationship builder. She encourages her readers to be vulnerable and speak about their challenges and refers to courage as the ability to be vulnerable.
Sharing your pain & struggles (aka. being vulnerable) has huge human connection benefits inside of a team environment (when delivered and accepted correctly).

Secondly, when leaders build a structure that enables, and actually demands, their players to speak of their pain and challenges in an open forum, the growth and learning is multiplied and amplified for the entire team, and not just the individual.

The new learning and distinction the individual obtains is now shared amongst their peers where the new insight can be shared by all that are present.
Now all team members have this new insight to build off.

If you are a (courageous) leader, you can build a system into your meeting rhythms whereby a consistent agenda item is:

Share your current biggest challenge/pain, what you are doing to try and overcome it (and what help you might need)


Share a recent pain that you’ve overcome, what behaviour you displayed to work your way through it and what new insight you obtained

With a simple structure like this, there can only be growth and development inside of your organization, and like we said, it can be systematized.

At PBD, we call these Performance Connections. Little and often moments inside of your business structures where team members are able to practice both reflections and the giving and receiving of feedback. This ‘little and often’ approach is the key to building a culture of trust and continuous learning.

In other words, a culture of continual improvement.
These come in the form of four different topics:

  1. Biggest win/s and what behaviours you displayed to get the win
  2. Biggest challenge or pain you are going through, what behaviours you are displaying to get through and what you need from the team.
  3. A challenge or pain you’ve worked through, what behaviour you displayed to get through it and share the new insight you obtained from the experience
  4. A Teammate ‘Shoutout’ – Recognize a teammate for their performance and what behaviours that person displayed.

By now, you will have identified we refer to ‘Behaviours’ a lot within the Performance Connections.
If you want to improve the performance of your team, please have them speak about performance through behaviours. It’s an integral part to building an organization that executes well.

The misconception we see is that corporate leaders see culture as ‘team building and/or fun events’ and they define culture as ‘how well a team gets along and how much fun they have together.’
That’s a fun culture for sure and you can have a fun culture where everyone gets along and has a good time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a high-performing culture.

High performing cultures speak openly and honestly about performance, both praising and recognizing each other consistently AND challenging each other in healthy dialogue. We have nicknamed this ‘Harmonious Conflict’.

The deeper the conversations, the stronger the relationships, the better the performance.

How much alignment and clarity do you and your team have when engaging in conversations about performance?