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Podcast | From Unproductive to Unstoppable. Exploring Healthy Tension in Productive Teams

In this episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, Pursuant CEO and President Trent Ricker talks with Tim Arnold, whose work in leadership and team development focuses on helping leaders unleash the power of both/and thinking in an either/or world.

Tim’s latest book, Next-Level Teamwork: The 5 Tensions to Manage for High-Performance Teams, guides leaders through overcoming the five common tensions or dysfunctions that all teams face. In his conversation with Trent, Tim illustrates how, through a both/and approach, each dysfunction becomes a healthy tension that takes teams from unproductive to unstoppable.

It’s an episode that’s chock full of practical advice that your team can start using immediately. The goal is to produce a team that is productive but also has fun together and enjoys their work. Listen now.

Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode:


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Trent Ricker: Tim Arnold. Welcome back. It's so good to see you again, my friend. Welcome back!


Tim Arnold: It's great to be here. It's always an honor to be invited on a podcast like this. But to be invited back is just the next level. So, I've been looking forward to this, looking forward to the conversation very much.


Trent Ricker: Well, I have as well, and congratulations on the new book. We're going to talk a bit about that. But I think more macro … Some members of our audience and listeners have gotten a chance to get to know you through our previous podcast. And since we've worked together a little bit, I know you've gotten to do some one-to-one work specifically in the nonprofit space.


You also are no stranger to the nonprofit space as being a former leader there. So why don't you reintroduce yourselves to our listeners and (give) some of your background, and particularly what you're doing in the Leaders for Leaders world. And then we'll talk about the new book.


Tim Arnold: Fantastic. It's great to know that I'm speaking to some friends and familiar faces out there, and I know there'll be lots of new folks as well. So again, I'm coming to you from just north of the border in Canada. And although for the last few decades, I have spent a good part of my time working with CEOs and corporate leaders and startups, I do a lot of work in the nonprofit space.


And then I had about a 10-year piece of my background and history that was starting up, scaling, and operating a 40-bed homeless shelter. And we were, as a shelter, connected to our local health unit. And so, it was interesting, because, for me, it was the first time where I realized that a lot of leadership, a lot of team development does transfer from nonprofit to corporate. And there are a lot of things that are very unique about the nonprofit world. And I think that (took) some years to learn real time.


But the cool thing now is that I get to work with folks like your audience on (issues like) how do you run your nonprofit, so that you are pursuing mission and margin? You really are not just putting values and visions and missions on the wall, but you live them out every day. And to be able to come alongside people and help them do that is a pretty great thing.


Trent Ricker: It's amazing, and in your own work on that, too. And we've hit on this before, but it's worth revisiting — and I would jump the gun a little bit here, because I think that one of your main themes of your new book is that teams are kind of inherently dysfunctional. We shouldn't settle for that. We'll come back to that in a minute. But I also think in the nonprofit space, we lead with our heart a lot, which can be in tension and conflict with running a successful organization.


And I think a lot of your work — if you can maybe give a 30,000-foot perspective of the work that you do — I consider you to be a master of the tension, if you will, because much of what you say, “Let's think about both/and rather than either/or.” So, talk about the philosophy behind tension.


Tim Arnold: Absolutely. And I often say I get to help people tap into the superpower of both/and thinking or both/and leadership in what's becoming an increasingly either/or polarized world. And you know this — we live in a world on many levels that just likes to pick sides, that's feeling more and more divide and polarization. And yet, although that's troubling and disturbing on many levels, it provides an incredible competitive edge to leaders and teams and organizations that can rise above that and recognize that tension can actually be a good thing.


And we can lead and relate to each other in a way that goes beyond either/or. And when we do, it just stands out from the crowd. And everyone listening right now does need either/or in their nonprofit. You make decisions every day that are right and wrong, good and bad. Should we go with this technology or this technology? At the end of the day, should we launch this new service or not? Well, these are yes/no, right/wrong.


The thing is, although you rely on that either/or, so much of what you deal with takes a different approach. It's those things where, maybe, as a leader, you hear somebody on your team voice a concern. In the back of your mind, you're thinking, “Are we still talking about this?” But when something's ongoing or chronic, it usually means that, you know what, this is complex. And now we're dealing with a situation that's not really right and wrong, but right and right.


And what you need to do, and your organization needs to do, is actually lean into that complexity and say, “This isn't necessarily a right and wrong. But we do need to make decisions. And we want the best option, which means we're going to lean into a bit of tension.” We don't need everyone to see everything the same way all the time. We're actually safe in our teams to say things like, “Wow, I don't see it that way. Or you know what. I wouldn't approach it that way.” And when we start to make that safe and realize that certain types of tension aren't just good, they're critical if we're going to really make great decisions and, as I said earlier, walk our talk.


So, that's the focus of my work for the last 20 years: How do you go beyond the simplistic problem-solving right/wrong approach and actually tap into a whole new level of effectiveness and relational strength by becoming both/and teams and leaders and organizations?


Trent Ricker: It's excellent. So, you've invested your entire leadership and collaboration with leaders on that, which I just really value. Your earlier work was called Lead with And: The Power of Healthy Tension. And to our listeners, if you have not picked up that book, please do yourself a favor and read that. But Tim's built upon it now.


You're going to be doing a few volumes, but you're focusing on the area that sounds like it's most important. That's leading teams. So, this new book called Next-Level Teamwork: The 5 Tensions to Manage for High-Performance Teams. And if I understand correctly, the volumes that you'll be investing in here start with teams, and then we talk about change, and we'll talk about culture ultimately in these future volumes. But talk about these important themes, and specifically, as we then delve into the recent thinking that you're expounding upon in the book related to high-performance teams. But first, talk to us a little bit about that arc.


Tim Arnold: I wanted to take a different approach, because I've been fortunate to get some books out there. And I found, as I talk to leaders, the pile on leaders’ desks of books to read or back-ordered or backlogged in their Kindle is long, and I don't want to add to that. So, at the same time, I know people are looking for really practical, actionable things that they can do to enhance the effectiveness of their organization. So, I decided to take a bit of a different approach.


This thriving workplace series is a three-volume, one-per-year series. Each one's really focused. So, as you said, this first one's on collaboration and teamwork, and the next one is specifically on leading change and change management. And the final one will be on a thriving workplace culture. But each one's only about 50 pages. I'm using the word playbook so that, rather than spending a week or two reading, you can actually just dive right in and, over the better part of one or two sit downs, grasp the book. But it's set up so that, if you just take a few of the plays that I put in the book and put them into practice, it's not going to solve all your problems. But it's actually going to set you up for success.


So, the goal is really quick and practical and hands-on and, so far — I was able to send out some copies to leaders like yourself in advance, and it's been received really well. So, this first one, Next-Level Teamwork, just actually was released last week. And it's been an exciting time to actually be able to bring some new thoughts to organizations like the ones you reach out to.


Trent Ricker: Well, one of the things I've always valued about your collaboration and your instruction, if you will … this playbook (is) great, because I think what's important, even as we talk today, and for the benefit of our listeners — practical applications are what it's all about.


And I think what I love about the new book in particular — and when you've been live, you’re fantastic as well — fantastic illustrations that, when you even thumb through things, it just jumps out. I think most leaders can say we live in this tension. And when you can articulate it in an illustration that shows it and helps us to think about, “Well, how does this become a win-win?”


Backing up one more click before we dive deep. I think you and I have also discussed the pandemic — now it’s late 2023, so the pandemic seems like forever ago, but it really wasn’t. But we're never going to go back to the teams that we once had. Even with Pursuant. Earlier this year, we went through a merger, and we're now 240 team members wide and all over the world, actually. It's not as if you're going to be combining offices and working out of cubes and being able to walk (to). Many of my team members, I have not yet had the privilege to actually meet face to face. We have to lead differently.


And with that, there's a new reality post-pandemic. Teams need to be aligned in a certain way, and collaboration doesn't just naturally happen the way that it might have if you're opening up a shop and hiring new employees (that) come to work in that office every day. We have dispersed teams. So, as our last topic before we dive into the book — specifically into those five tensions — how have you seen that evolve in the partnerships that you've been doing some consulting with as well?


Tim Arnold: It's so interesting, because I got into leadership development and organizational development on the team side of things way back, we're going to the late nineties. I was an outdoor adventure guide. So, I took groups like yours outdoors, and we did high ropes courses and paddling adventures, more the bonding side of things.


But I realized, even at a young age, that a lot of teams that I worked with — you hear this more in lunchtime conversations or maybe at a reception after — a lot of teams are quite dysfunctional. And I would bet that almost everybody listening right now can think of a team that they've worked in where they've had a lot of dysfunction. I bet everyone listening can think of a person close to them right now that has left a job that they cared about — maybe even a profession they cared about — because of their negative team experience.


And as I was digging into research around this, I found that every study that I looked through pointed to the fact that most teams, specifically here in North America, deal with ongoing dysfunction. And what was interesting — and this was actually before the pandemic, this was just at the end of the 2010s — about seven in 10 workers, professionals, would say that if they could choose not to work in a team they would, just because of their past experiences of drama and division and dysfunction. And what was interesting is that was before the pandemic, and now we have an environment where (suddenly) we are working in new ways, new types of technology, remote, hybrid, all these different ways of working. Working with a talent pool sometimes that are in lots of different time zones.


And I think we're realizing that, although there's huge benefits and advantages that can come from that, teaming's never been more challenging. And what I would say to anyone who's listening, Trent, is, you have to remember that just because a group of people happen to be in an org chart, it doesn't mean teamwork is happening. I mean, teamwork only happens if one plus one plus one equals more than three. Otherwise, you just have independent contributors. And I've been in lots of organizations where one plus one plus one doesn't even equal three because of the drama and the division.


So, for teamwork to happen now, I think people are realizing, first of all, there isn't a magical formula out there. And although some people are making loud statements on their new reality, I think we're realizing we're all just figuring this out. That said, if we can get our head around the advantages that we're starting to tap into since the pandemic — things like new technologies, new ways of working, new talent, pools, tapping into the upsides of flexibility —but do that in a way that also ensures collaboration and alignment, and a sense of belonging that actually attracts and retains good people, you have a competitive edge more than ever. So, I started working on this book long before the pandemic, but it just felt like I had to get it out sooner than later, because right now, I just think it's so timely.


Trent Ricker: I couldn't agree more. You're seeing the next generation of leaders become leaders during this — a couple years ago, I might have said unprecedented times, now it's the new normal. And so, as we're emerging with some new leaders who might not have been able to draw on the skill set of saying, “Well, every Monday we're going to start our week by meeting in the conference room, all 12 of us, and we're going to kick our week off.” Now that might be a virtual meeting, and then we go our separate ways. And we're trying to do our work in between all that. So, I do think, as we emerge the next generation of leaders … and then there are the more mature leaders that have been doing it for a while and doing it a lot of different ways. And now, having to adapt new leadership styles with their emerging team. So, tension all around, absolutely.


Let's go back now and dive into the book, because I do think that the thesis you're starting with is that most teams really don't work — and I don't think that's a shot at anybody. I think you're basically saying that we settle for dysfunction. And the way I interpret it, we might recognize the limitations, and we somehow then settle and say, “Well, because of the limitations, I might not be able to get out of my team the performance.” The collaboration, the camaraderie, the execution, the accountability, the trust, the engagement — all the things that we'll dive into. So, we settle. We can explain away because of the circumstances that being mediocre or dysfunctional is okay. Talk to me a little bit about that as your thesis for the book.


Tim Arnold: Yeah, I think that settling is a fair word to use, because I think a lot of teams, if they're honest, aren't really teams. They're just groups. They're just people who happen to work for the same company or in the same area. But you're not really getting the synergy that comes from true teamwork. And what's devastating about that is, beyond the fact that it allows the best work to happen, it allows your organization to be at a whole new level.


If you look at the numbers, the biggest investment most organizations make is into their payroll. It's into their people. And yet, we don't often think about, “Are we getting the full return on that? And that's more than just people delivering on their job. It's, “Are we tapping into the synergy that comes from people really aligning and collaborating and working well together?” And sadly, too many organizations just aren't.


Now, I can tell you this. I've worked with countless teams across the world, from small startups, for profits, not-for-profits. I spent three years working with weapons inspectors with the United Nations. No one has figured it out. I have yet to work with anyone, including organizations that I've been leading, where it's like, “You know what? We've got it all done. We're good to go — full synergy.” It's always a work in progress. There's always work to be done.


I would say this, though. At any given time, especially as a leader, you need to ask yourself — although we haven't figured it all out, and there's no magical formulas — “Are we moving forward? Can I look at this quarter and say, ‘You know what? We're tapping into more synergy than the last. There's more psychological safety and a sense of belonging than there was last season. You know what? I feel like we're really getting the best of each other.’ Or not.” And I think that's the question.


I'd say to every single person who's listening right now: Do you feel, when you look at the season ahead, that you're stronger now than you were a season ago? And the goal, again, is just incrementally being committed to move forward. And if that happens, again, that energy is what attracts people and engages people. And that's what we're looking for.


Trent Ricker: That's excellent. So, your first tension is a theme that's pretty common in leadership, but one, that is probably the most important — that's trust. I think (of) Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Or you go all the way back to lots of teachings along leadershiptrust is critically important. It's evolved to a point today that it's not only more important than others, particularly when you don't have the close relationship in the bonding that you could otherwise have.


Or you talked about some of the work that you previously did, it might be to bring people together in a common way that's beyond just the work that they do together. We don't get the opportunity to do that. So, how can teams strike the right balance between focusing on the tasks that they need to do and nurturing the relationships to build trust within the teams efficiently? And I want to add a layer to that, because I'm really interested in how they build those relationships, both down, sideways, and up. We're part of multiple teams. Let's talk about that first tension of focusing on tasks and relationships.


Tim Arnold: Yeah, and it would be worth mentioning to folks who haven't maybe worked with me or heard me speak before that when we say tension, you're generally talking about two things that almost feel like opposites. Kind of like breathing with inhaling and exhaling. One can’t exist without the other. And when it comes to trust, trust has an underlying tension of, “We will have a solid foundation of trust if we have both a strong relationship focus and a strong task focus.” Now, it's interesting because, going back to when I got into this work decades ago, we thought that if we're going to have a strong relationship focus, we had to take a two-day retreat and do trust falls in the woods, and hold hands. I don't think that's actually what you need to do.


When it comes to having a strong relationship focus, it means that we need to know each other beyond job descriptions. You know, leadership philosopher Peter Block talks a lot about, “We need connection before content … without relatedness, no real synergy can happen.” And that means that, although we're not going to always do two-day retreats where we go to the woods, we do need to carve out time for connection.


And you know, in next level teamwork, I talk about (how) you can do that in ongoing, really simple ways. One thing that I would say daily is, if you and I have a Zoom scheduled, or maybe you've got a team meeting, you've got 30 minutes — carve out three or four for just connection. And sometimes it feels like you don't have time for (it), but this is one of those things where you go slow to go fast. If you can get those three or four minutes to go beyond, “How's everyone doing?” and ask a real question. Or maybe do a not too corny but enjoyable icebreaker, something like that. The rest of the meeting will go more effectively. So just make sure you’re doing that up at the top of the meeting.


It can be something simple. “Hey, what was the highlight of everyone's weekend? What's one thing that people are looking forward to in the season ahead?” If it's one-on-one, it's checking in, “Hey, what's going on in your life right now?” But again. Two or three minutes can make that whole half hour more productive.


I would say weekly — and this is true whether you're a team of two or 200, you need to have something in your system, in your structure that celebrates wins. And that might be part of an ongoing stand up that already happens. It might be something that you do virtually through some sort of technology, but something where we can give a shoutout to work that's been done. I have one team that I work with, and they do a weekly “share the love,” and it's when you can share the love to somebody in the team who helped you that week. So, I'd say, “Hey, I'm going to share the love with Trent because this is what he did for me,” and they bounce back and forth. But it's just making sure that we recognize good stuff is happening and individuals are going above and beyond.


And I think that even with remote and hybrid teams, once or twice a year you do need to get together whenever possible. You need to come with some time. I have a CEO I work with who, for five years in a row, (he’s got) one of the most rewarded cultures in Canadian companies, and his motto is, “Relationships can't be built without wasting time together.” And there's something to be said about that. Or like Plato wisely said, “You can learn more about people in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.” Allow yourself to go beyond the agenda now and then to make those relationships happen.


Now, that's the relationship side. On the task side, the one thing that I would encourage everyone to be thinking about is, just because your team would say they're busy doesn't necessarily mean they have a healthy task focus. Busy and productive are two different things. Busy and engaged are two different things.


When I was researching this chapter on trust through task and relationship, the task focus actually meant, “We are trusting that we are doing good work and fully engaged and committed.” And as I looked through research that differentiated between busy and productive, I would say that your team members need to all answer yes to three key questions. And they're pretty simple. The first one is, everyone's got to individually be able to say, “I'm clear on what my piece to this puzzle is, and I feel like I have what I need to deliver on that.” And that could be the time, the people, the technology. And that's not just, “I have a job description.” It's that I feel like I know what that looks like. A week from now, a month from now, I'm clear on what my piece is.


Second question, if you want a healthy focus on task, is that I believe that my teammates are fully committed to delivering on their pieces. And you're probably not surprised by this Trent, but one of the quickest ways to engage and motivate people is (to) put them in a group of engaged and motivated people. One of the quickest ways to suck the energy and life out of star performers is (to) put them in a group of mediocre performers. So, the second thing is, I know that not only do I know my piece, but my teammates are committed, and they're delivering on their piece.


And then the third question, if we're going to have a really healthy task focus is, individually and collectively, we can at any given time assess if we're winning or losing. And that's easy to do if you live in the world of sales or marketing. You have KPIs that are clear. But if you're maybe in HR or different types of service, knowing if we're winning or losing is trickier. And yet it's every bit as important. I need to know, “Are we actually moving things forward or not?” So, if you deliver on both of those things, really invest in both relationship and task focus, the overall sense of trust in each other and commitment goes up.


Trent Ricker: That's really good stuff. A couple of reactions just from my own experience, going back to the relational side. When you talk about sharing the love, I've witnessed a lot of solutions coming out to help equip businesses and business leaders to thrive in this decentralized post-pandemic world. But even an HR/management system that has virtual shoutouts that get rolled up and decentralized with tools like Paylocity or Microsoft Teams, while important, I never see the same result as when you suggest to, quote, “share the love” when we shout out successes for team member contributions. Or when in real time, let's say in a Teams meeting, the comments and the chat flow. It's very empowering, and even that's very different than getting the laundry list of the folks who have been given a virtual shoutout at some point during the last month, and they're entered to win a drawing. I think that's important, too.


Don't take that wrong at all for those of you that are doing that. But to Tim's point, if we aren't intentionally making time to build relationships as part of our agenda as leaders — to allow people to celebrate, recognize, and then soak that in even virtually, then we might be missing that opportunity. So, I love that from a relational side.


I would also add, I think what's harder too, when you flip to that task side, that clarity is really important. One of the things around KPIs or OKRs … I've been more of a fan of the objectives and key results because (in) some organizations, it's a forcing mechanism to say, “This is what we're trying to achieve as measured by.” And in some cases, to your point, it's not always in black and white metrics — dollars sold during a period or impressions — but it forces you to think that through.


But as we think about that task relationship (and) trust a leader has to feel in this day and age — people’s schedules are very different nowadays, and (you) have to build trust and rapport. “Will you get it done when you say you will? And will you get it done in a way that is useful to me and the team?” Which is an intuitiveness that, back to the quote — I think you said it was from Plato — that intuitiveness comes from just working together that’s a bit absent now.


I used to hire through a lens, and I still do it. Does the candidate have the intelligence or the competency to do the job? Do they have the insight, which would be the relevance of their competency to the field that we're hiring for? So, the (first is) intelligence, the second insight, and the third being intuitiveness. Part of the reason why I think some teams have velocity, when we hire people that we've had work experience with, the velocity comes from the intuitiveness that they otherwise brought with them.


So, to close on this tension, how do you — and maybe it fills into another one of the tensions that you’ve got coming up — how do you coach for the tension of having that intuitiveness that's necessary for the velocity of a high-performing team in this new post-pandemic, dispersed team age?


Tim Arnold: Yeah, I think we could have a whole other podcast on that conversation, because so much goes into discerning — hopefully before you pull the trigger on team members — do they have the skills to deliver on the job? But that might get you halfway there. If you want someone that's really going to bring out the best in other people and feel like they are part of this, those other pieces are huge. And I don't have a magical answer on how to do that.


I do feel, though, that this is where you want to get into some really solid behavioral interviewing and a ton of in-depth, not just reference checks, but interviews with people that can demonstrate, “No, this person, they exude that. I've seen it in this way.”


You know, we have a small team here, and I waited six extra months until I made my last hire, and that was hard on many levels. But, man, when you get it right, and that person does have that intuitiveness, and they've got not just the competency, but the character and the chemistry, it was worth the wait. I’d do it again.


Trent Ricker: That's great. Well, that's a good segue for the next, the next tension, leveraging structure and flexibility. I love this one because I think that we do struggle with this in the post-pandemic age. Structure is critically important — roles, responsibilities, titles, output. But at the same time, we want to empower our team members to be the best that they possibly can be and contribute in ways that can have a semblance of flexibility.


So, can you share some insights on leveraging both structure and flexibility to increase that team engagement and the equilibrium that's necessary to get to the next level of high performance?


Tim Arnold: First of all, I would challenge everyone that's listening to be open and recognize that structure and flexibility — like breathing, inhaling, and exhaling — one only goes well when it's with the other. And I think that, from the pandemic, we've emerged into a place where people expect more flexibility than ever. Flexibility in how they work, and when they work, and work styles and locations. And I think that's great. I think there's so many benefits that we're tapping into by this openness to flexibility. And you know as well as I do, if we're not, as an organization, willing to embrace flexibility, we just will not attract and hold on to good people.


At the same time, flexibility only goes well when it's paired with structure. And as we embrace more flexibility, we need to be clearer than ever on the non-negotiables and the things that are, just, our way. And you know, it's funny, I think back to when I was about to be married many years ago, I remember my wife and I went through some marriage mentoring with this couple. They were wonderful mentors to us, and I remember one of them said to us not long before we got married, “Both of you are going into this relationship with a lot of expectations on the other person, but you don't know what they are until the person violates them.” And it was true based on how I was raised, the family I was brought up in, my personality. You just assume this is the way things work. And I think, in teams, the same thing holds true a lot of times.


People do things, and we go, “Well, that's not how we do it” or “That's not the way we should do it.” And the question is, is that a structure, or is that something that's flexible? And I remember again the marriage mentoring I was given. When you start to feel that “Hmm, I thought this was a commitment or a structure,” be open handed, and that's when you want to have a conversation.


I do an activity sometimes with teams, and I'd encourage you to do this with the teams that your listeners have. Ask questions just like this and say, “Everybody right now, give me a thumbs up, thumbs down. Is it okay to show up to work or log in to work 10 minutes late, as long as we make up the time at the end of the day? Thumbs up, yes; thumbs down, no. And what you find is you get a lot of variety in the room. How about this one? When should I cc all team members on an email with a client relationship that they all are connected to? All the time, some of the time? Is it okay to text a team member after work with a work question? And what's interesting is when you do that thumbs up yes, thumbs down no, you look around and realize, “Wow! We are not all on the same page.” And that's fine, but those are the structures you want to talk about so that you can say, “Hey, when do we have flexibility, which we want to embrace? And at the same time, when do we want to be clear?”


These are structures that we all want to agree to. And I'm not talking about having a policy book 100 pages long, I'm just saying when it comes to meeting behaviors, availability of work, people after hours, punctuality, there are some structures we do want to have in place. And when we do that — I go back to language that I was introduced to decades ago from the Gallup organization — when we leverage flexibility and structure, we start to take a chess approach as opposed to checkers.


Checkers looks the same as chess, but all the people move the same way. Chess is different and strategic. We have the flexibility to leverage each person's skill set and learning style and unique approach, but there are still structures in place. And (if) we take that chess approach again, our organization just stands out from the pack. So, I really believe that (with) structure and flexibility — if you can get your head on not how to pick sides but how to embrace both sides — you will tap into a huge competitive edge right now.


Trent Ricker: I think that's so critical. And I also think it's important to effectively communicate something different than just expectations, because it isn't just a matter of, “I'm your boss, and this is what I expect from you. If I send you an email, I expect a response within a certain period of time.” You might say, “This is how I'm accustomed to working, and this is what I need to feel good about the progress for my responsibilities. What do you need?”


One of the coolest tags I saw at the bottom of an email recently from a gentleman I was introduced to … it was a little asterisk, below the signature. It said, “My working hours might not be your working hours. Please don't feel obligated to reply outside of your normal work schedule.” I prioritize my mental health and my family, which means I can work some odd hours. If I happen to email you in the middle of the night, please don't assume that I work all the time or expect a response right away, because I don't. So, having not even met this gentleman in person, it was a setup for a meeting that we're having. I thought that was fascinating. And as I later learned, his family travels to different parts of the time zones, and I think they have some property in Hawaii, so he could be on some different time zones, and he's just expressing flexibility.


But within that, there is an expectation that there would be structure. I would imagine working on that gentleman's team would require an understanding of what success would look like and that he's leading from a place of flexibility as well. Very important for sure.


So, interesting stuff there. I think, as we move to the next (tension), communicating truthfully and tactfully … wow, this one's really deep as well. Can you spend a little time on that? What strategies have you seen work best for fostering that kind of truthful yet tactful communication within teams?


Tim Arnold: Yeah, I don't think there's ever been an organization I've worked with that hasn't identified communication as a key skill set to teamwork. We know that we need to communicate well. Most organizations would always identify areas where they could improve around communication. It's, again, something that's always a work in progress.


But I will say, one thing that you want to really embrace as an organization is an organization that's truthful and tactful, not truthful or tactful. You need both/and. On the truthful side, it means that we can be candid and honest, and there's enough psychological safety that I don't feel like I have to always edit my thoughts. I can be wrong. I can be right.


But embracing truth and candor isn't an excuse to shut other people down. And although some people love to say things like, “Well, I was just being honest. I'm just a truth-teller.” That's not an excuse for being hurtful and destructive. When we overdo truth to the neglect of tact, the outcome often is defensiveness, embarrassment, shame. At the same time, if we (do a) pendulum swing, and we're all about being a nice team where we are super polite, and we're very tactful and diplomatic, but we neglect truth, we don't help each other. And what happens is, we often have a lot of back channeling, where we don't really say things to people, but we say them about them behind their back.


So ideally, what we want to do — and I'm not talking about 50-50 or meeting in the middle. I’m talking about being fully truthful and fully tactful, which means that I am going to do my best to say what I'm believing, thinking, feeling, and I'm taking responsibility to do that in a way that can have the best impact possible. It doesn't mean that I'm always going to be liked. It doesn't mean that people won’t sometimes get defensive. But I'm also owning the fact that relationships matter.


And I've got lots of ways in the book that organizations can lean into that. I would say a couple of things because everyone listening would find themselves probably biased toward one side or the other. I’ve worked with a colleague for many years who has got the gift of diplomacy. She's tactful and relational. She's so empathetic, and when she overdoes that, it can become passive. It can not only limit her impact but limit her impact on others. So, I know for my colleague, Claudia, she would say, “There (are) two things I need to do if I'm going to push myself to not give up tactfulness, but to be a bit more canned and truthful. One is that I need to count the costs of not speaking up.”


If we really lean towards tact, we're often counting the costs of speaking up. Well, that might hurt their feelings, it might hurt the relationship. What happens if you don't speak up, or what happens if that conversation doesn't happen? You miss out. The client misses out. The other person never gets your full value. So, think about what happens if you don't speak up.


The other thing I'd say to anyone who feels like they do the tact thing well but need to maybe embrace more of the truth and candor is that you need to anticipate that it will be uncomfortable. We have both an emotional and rational brain. And when we're stepping up that truth (and) candor, it sometimes activates a bit of the emotional part of our brain, so our heart may start pounding. We may feel a little bit of anxiety in our shoulders — totally normal. Anticipate it, and you'll get through it. It's okay to sometimes be a little bit uncomfortable if the end goal is worth it.


And there may be some people listening that feel like, “Oh gosh, no, we do the truth telling. We embrace candor.” Maybe you could do it a bit more tactfully. Maybe a bit more diplomatic. That would be me. If I'm not my best self, I am probably overdone on the truth, a little low on tact. So, a couple of things I'd say there: one is, I know that I discipline myself not to hold back. But I do discipline myself never to be the first or last to speak in a meeting. And sometimes I'll even say, “Trent, Leah, I know there's ideas here. I’ve got things to share, but I really would love to hear from a few people first.” Or if I'm finding myself talking and talking, saying, “I'm going to pause now because I really want to hear from other people.”


And then the other tip would just be … I have to push myself to ask open questions. Closed questions result in yes/no, on board/not on board, good/bad. Open questions or “Hey, Trent, what's your take on that?” Or “What concerns do you have?” Or “What approach do you think would be the best?” (These) questions that require real deal managing truth and tact. And you just want to say, “How do I do both well over time?”


Trent Ricker: That's excellent. What I think is interesting about the nonprofit space and the leaders, there's a pretty big chasm in nonprofit organizations. There are customer-driven nonprofit organizations, higher ed, hospitals, arts and culture that also have a philanthropic foundational side. But mostly, those philanthropic professionals are run a bit more like a business. Because in many cases, those organizations are hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars of organizations.


The other side are the mission-driven nonprofit organizations that don't have a customer base. They're usually in the business of helping others in an organic way, raising money to cure cancer, to help the homeless, etc. Many folks that lead and are attracted to leadership positions in mission-based nonprofit organizations are nice people. There's a heart that, when it comes to working with one another, they are more people-pleasers. And they're in the business of giving to others, which prevents them at times from understanding the importance of that tactfulness, the balance of the necessity. You can't have one or the other.


Sometimes I've also witnessed that when leadership comes in from the “outside,” suddenly, there's a new Chief Marketing Officer that came from a Fortune 500 company because their family was afflicted with fill-in-the-blank and they want to give back. So now they're on a C-level suite at this organization that's fighting cancer or whatever it might be. And they come from an organization that might be Jack Welch-like — it's very much “We're going to be candid and truthful and, boy, there’s dynamics.” I've worked with some organizations … We've seen high turnover because of that.


And I like what you said about, to help those that are mission, heart, people-pleasers, maybe not saying what needs to be said. That's something that I learned in my executive coaching. What's not being said to encourage and invite people into the conversation.


But is there any thought, also for our nonprofit leaders, because we sometimes do have that balance — folks that have the experience in a little bit more disciplined or cutthroat organizations that are very much for-profit, and they come and serve in this space. And then suddenly, there's tension amongst those teams because of this different style. Any advice on that?


Tim Arnold: Yeah, first of all, I would consistently be trying to see it and frame it as a both/and. We are not going from nice to brutally honest, or we're not going from assertive to all of a sudden, hold back. The goal is, if the culture is very nice and relational and tactful language, how do we hold onto these values and get the upsides by integrating a bit more candor? We're not exchanging one for the other. We're expanding one with the other.


We have a good thing going here. How do we expand that by the upsides of a bit more candor? Or we've been really assertive, truthful, and we've been getting the upsides of that for a decade. Now, what would it look like to step up a little bit more of the relational, empathetic approach, so that we take this to the next level? And it's, again, where the both/and paradigm can really minimize resistance and push back because I'm not giving up my values. I'm just looking to take them to a higher level.


Trent Ricker: That's outstanding. Yeah, great advice. And one that nonprofit leaders need to pay close attention to. You probably can draw from, in your teams, folks that are not as assertive as they need to with the truth, and the candidates necessary to drive toward some velocity with high-performance teams and, at the same time, still remaining compassionate.


I would say it's one of the most wonderful things about working and serving nonprofit spaces. That compassion is a leading emotion that we have in common amongst those that are either on the nonprofit leadership side or those that serve those organizations. Don't sacrifice that moment. Be who you are.


Tim Arnold: No, hold on to it at all costs. Let’s be clear, the moment we lose this, we're done. We just want to see it even have more impact.


Trent Ricker: Let's move on to the next one: promoting collaboration and independence. This one, again, it has to be both/and. Can you provide some examples where teams can successfully collaborate?


Tim Arnold: Here’s what I’ll say about collaboration and independence. For most organizations, during the pandemic, we shifted toward more independent work. And we realize, “Wow! We can still get stuff done and not even see each other.” And it's true, and I think it helped us get our head around (the fact that) there's something to be said for just putting your head down and dividing and conquering.


I think now we're realizing, “Oh, but wait a minute. We're missing out on the collaborative energy that comes from getting the best from each other and getting pushback and even the fun that comes from working with people, collaborating with people.” So, I think we're realizing we want to find the perfect blend for us on collaboration, independence. And what I would say to everyone listening is, do not take this as a one-size-fits-all approach. The way that every single organization that's listening right now manages collaboration (and) independence should be different because your team and your organization is different. So, I often say, think of sports teams. You have teams like track and field relay teams where, at the end of the day, everyone has their role. They’ve got to stay in their lane. They need a really good hand off. But that's it — not as much collaboration. They still have to have collaboration, but it's a lot of independent work.


Well, there's other teams — being Canadian, I'll be stereotypical — like hockey teams, where we are on the ice. We're passing it back and forth. There are constant changes, it’s highly collaborative all the time.


Then there's even another team. This is often in sales environments where it's like a competitive gymnast team. We all want to win for our country or for our company. But we also are competing against each other, and we're going for individual goals.


The type of team that you are will dictate, how much collaboration do we need? And how much independent work do we need? And the first step is to get your head around, “It's going to be different for us than anyone else.” But let's talk about it. Are we getting all the benefits of collaboration? Are getting all the benefits of independent work? And if not, let's tweak that model a little bit.


Trent Ricker: Those are three great examples. I love that because they all make a lot of sense. Sometimes we think about crew because you'll see some of those images where everyone's rowing in synchronicity. That may be true for certain projects, but I think to your point, there is a balance between collaboration and independence that's so critical for us to be successful.


Well, take us home on one that is critically important. Once again, I'll hammer this one home because I think this one, for the nonprofit space, can use quite a bit more emphasis as it relates to the balance between empowerment and accountability, because accountability is so critical. But if we're not doing it in a way that empowers individuals, then we aren't harnessing the power of both/and.


Tim Arnold: Yeah, empowerment and accountability is interesting. And the research is pretty clear. If you want individuals on your team to be fully engaged, there's got to be empowerment. I enjoy Daniel Pink's work the most around (this). If you want engagement, it comes from empowerment and mastery, and that's where a sense of purpose comes. And that means that I'm not just looking to give you things that I don't have time for, or things that I don't necessarily love doing. I'm looking to give you things that you can slowly own, that you're good at, that's life-giving for you, that gives you a sense of purpose.


But empowerment only works with accountability. Now, accountability certainly means that you're responsible — you’ve got to own this. But accountability is actually a relationship. There's a great story I heard years ago that said, if you're puppy training your dog, and you come home from work, and they've had an accident on the carpet, you should roll up a newspaper and proceed to hit yourself on the head three or four times. Because it's not the dog's fault. It's your fault. You're responsible for the success of that pet.


And what I would say in organizations is empowerment and accountability mean that this is an ongoing relationship that's always changing. As a leader, if I'm empowering you, I'm learning, “Hey, what's your learning style? Are you an observer, which means you need to see it done? Are you an action learner where you just need to be thrown in and given a little bit of space? What's the best timing for you?” And this is where I'm giving you both tons of encouragement and praise and some constructive criticism.


So, empowerment (is) amazing, and accountability means, again, it's not just that you're responsible. It's that accountability is a relationship that we have. And when that goes well, I'm able to scale what we do. We can actually do more through empowerment. But we also have employees, staff team members that are fully engaged because they have a sense of purpose and mastery and autonomy. So, it's a relationship that you really want to work on.


And the other thing I would say about accountability is, a lot of times, if people are yearning for empowerment, (but) if you're providing accountability, the pushback is, “Well, you're micromanaging me.” Training and development are not micromanaging. So, walking with someone so that they are set up for success isn't micromanaging them; learning to do things your company's unique way is not micromanaging. It's called being responsible.


So, I think one thing that helps is even explaining what empowerment looks like and what accountability looks like, so that we go in with clear expectations.


Trent Ricker: That is fantastic. So amazing, on the arc, and the fifth being so critical. So, as we kind of wrap for the day, Tim, specifically to our nonprofit leaders and listeners today: Are there some key takeaways or some things that they can apply immediately as they begin to think through these areas and tensions?


Tim Arnold: Yeah, I go back, Trent, to where we started, in that I am telling you, based on my experience: no one has totally figured this out. Your team experiencing true teamwork and synergy is always a work in progress. But even if people put some of these plays that we talked about into practice right away, you will be able to move in the right direction. And that's the goal. It's interesting.


What really pushed me to write this as the first volume of this three-volume writing series is, my wife was in a profession, in a job that she loved for many, many years, and was moved to a different team. And it was the first time in her career where she was in a really dysfunctional team and worked hard to do everything within her power to change it. But there isn't a lot of change that was happening, and sadly, I could see that passion and spirit in her go down. And it was interesting because she's in education. And I have a daughter — at the time she was

8 or 9 — and she was all about, “I'm going to be a teacher, I'm going to be an educator.” But a year into this role, one day my daughter just said, “I don't think I'm going to be a teacher anymore.” And we both were like, “Why?” And she said, “Because it makes mommy sad.” And wow, it was this reality that we spend most of our waking hours at work during the week, and life's too short to waste those hours on dysfunctional teams when it doesn't have to be that way.


No team’s perfect. There's always work to be done. But you know, even in our family, that was the moment where my wife was like, “I’ve got to make some changes.” Then again, you make some changes, and you get into a more functional environment. And you realize that when the team works, you have that sense of belonging. You feel like you can bring your best. You feel like you're getting the best from each other, and it just makes all the difference.


So, I would just encourage everyone that's listening to think about, what is the level of health of the team that you're in, whether it's two or 200 people. And what would be some simple but deliberate things that you could do, moving forward, to make sure that you're going in the right direction? That you're more aligned, not less aligned. That team members feel safer with each other, not less safe. That, ultimately, you're allowing yourselves not just to be productive, but to have fun together and enjoy your work. And that's the hope. And you know, Next-Level Teamwork is all about supporting people as they do that.


Trent Ricker: I love that. And I also think it's important for our listeners to think about — to your last tension — how can you feel empowered and accountable to take action on that? I hear far too often “If only.” And there can be some inadvertent finger pointing — it may be our CEO or that leader. How can we be empowered to be like, “We can make a difference beginning now to be a part of a team that makes us feel good about what we're doing, contributing to success, making a difference in the world,” which I believe that many of our listeners are in the vocation that they're in for that.


So, how can you feel empowered that the contribution that you can make and the accountability that you have, that it does start with you. And I would suggest to our listeners, the first thing you need to do is check out Tim's work. This guy’s amazing, I'm going to give you a big plug because I am a huge fan. Leadersforleaders.ca, I believe. Tim will lead workshops, keynote speaker.


But Tim's leadership with you in partnership with you, listeners, is empowering, and it's very digestible. I've worked with a lot of folks who are teachers, coaches, consultants, speakers, whatever you might call it. I believe that Tim collaborates in a way that is very, very easy, and the effectiveness is immediate.


So, I first encourage you — get his new book, go to leadersforleaders.ca. Tim, what else can I do to promote you? Please tell the listeners what else they can do to sign up for your work, and where they can find your book today.


Tim Arnold: No, I appreciate that very much, and it's been a privilege to be able to work with you and a lot of nonprofits that are listening. Yeah, leadersforleaders.ca, or tim arnold.ca will both take you to my work. The new book, if you look “Next-Level Teamwork, Tim Arnold,” Amazon's the easiest place to get it. And there's information on the websites in the book on how I can support you and your organization. And again, tapping into this power of both/and thinking and more effective leadership and teams.


And for those of you on social media, I seem to hang out the most on Instagram and LinkedIn. Just look up “Tim Arnold Leadership,” and you'll probably find me there. But yeah, reach out on anything that I've said today. You want some more info, reach out to me. I'd love to have a chat with anybody but Trent, again, inviting me back, giving me the chance to talk about the work that I've been doing is an honor, and it's fun. Thank you so much.


Trent Ricker: I appreciate it. You're so impactful. And it's been a privilege to get to know you over the last few years. Anything we can do to continue to support you, we are always welcome to do.


And listeners, do yourself a favor — at minimum, follow him on Instagram, because when you start getting a little drip with Tim Arnold, you'll start to play a lot in the effectiveness of your organization day by day. And if you’re so inclined or feel the need to give him a hire and have him come in, he will make an undeniable impact on your organization.


So, Tim, thanks again for joining us. Appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you again soon, my friend.