Last week I put up my Christmas Tree. As I was preparing to put it up, and during the process of erecting and decorating it, I found myself thinking how similar the whole process is to teams and leadership. Yep - I just managed to connect leadership and Christmas in a blog post! (I know right! My timing is impeccable!)

It normally takes me a good 3 days (at least!) to put up my tree. The first half day is usually spent driving round all the Christmas tree spots to find the perfect tree that ticks all the boxes (size and shape do matter you know!). Is it going to fit in my space? Is it nicely trimmed, is it full and bushy, and does it meet all the characteristics I look for in a Christmas tree?

The next half day (or longer) is always about the lights. For me, they are the most important element on the tree. How am I going to light this tree up in a way that it can sparkle? I spend time working out how many bundles of lights I need (8 this year, as it turns out) based on the size of the tree. Which ones I'll put up the centre of the tree to give it depth, the bigger ones, and which little lights will go round the outside for the tiny sparkle. Then (once my wonderful patient husband has untangled the lights from last years pack down, because I have lost my shit and just threw them back in the box...) I carefully light up the tree.

The second and often third day is all about adding the decorations. Positioning my baubles, making sure it’s balanced, and that I’ve got a variety of different decorations around the tree. Complementing each other, groupings of three, complimentary colours, you know, just the usual stuff that goes into tree decorating. (You should also know that I'm one of those parents that 'faux lets' my child decorate the tree. When he goes to bed, I redecorate the tree because the baubles aren't in the right place, or there are two of the same next to each other...Yep - my kid will most definitely require therapy as an adult).

Finally, the string of silver beads that tie it all together go on, and lastly the star on the top. Done. Tree finished. I’m also normally blasting out Christmas Carols, singing like no-ones listening (and no-one is listening!) and drinking wine. It’s an extremely satisfying process, and is very much about the journey, AND the destination when I step back, flick the switch on my two multi box power points and light that bad boy up!

It then stands in the corner, looking beautiful, lighting up my lounge, slowly gathering presents underneath. Until Christmas day, the presents are gone and it’s looking a little bare at the base. We start to forget about the tree. We go away camping, come back in January and the tree is looking a bit brown, and slowly dying in the corner of my lounge. With that, down it comes. Which generally takes about an eighth of the time that it takes to put up. In reverse order the tree is deconstructed, beads off, baubles packed away, lights off, and down the side of the house to continue to die. It’s about April when we get around to taking it to the dump.

What does this have to do with leadership you ask? The effort we put in to shaping our teams, and to how we build our teams is similar to decorating Christmas trees. We tend to put in a lot of effort into our teams at the start, to get things right, and then we sometimes step back, and don't really give the growth and development of the team much more thought. Until it starts dying, and by then, it's a little too late. (Whoa! Settle down Pip, where's the Christmas spirit?......)

‘Tree Selection’ is like on-boarding new staff. We take a lot of time to choose the ‘right’ people, making sure they are the right ‘fit’ and have the right credentials to be part of the team.

‘The lights’ take time too - What are the core skills, beliefs and behaviours we need to cultivate in our teams so they can sparkle in our organisation? We then give them training, invest in their growth, while they are fresh and new to make sure they have the capability to do the job well.

‘The baubles’ are added over time and they settle in, grow and learn new skills, on the job, and from training programs. After a while, the ‘string of beads’ ties it all together through the stories we tell about how we work and what we do. We then reward them with ‘presents’ each year, by way of a performance review, and were done. Tick.

We forget that we need to water the tree, keep turning the lights on every day and make sure the baubles aren't getting dusty. That way, we are helping our stars shine and get to the top of the tree.

Some of the teams that I work with don't even decorate the tree, it's dull and bare, exposed, and just looks like all the other trees with no point of difference. Others have baubles that don't match the tree, and it's all a bit confusing, not really feeling like they fit. Other teams have lights that have gone out because we've neglected to replace the bulbs during regular check-ins.

For the really great teams, it's Christmas all year round. The lights are always sparkling, new baubles are being added all the time, they don't let the dust form, the gifts of reward and recognition come freely, and they shine brightly, bringing delight and cheer to everyone all year round. It's magical.

My Christmas wish for you is that whatever your role, wherever you fit in your organisation and outside of work, you water your tree, keep learning, growing, dealing with the dust, polish the skills and tools you need to get you through a great 2021. And, when you are ready to put on a 'string of beads' that connects it all together, and tell the story of your team, how you all work together, what connects you, what lights you up and the impact that your 'tree' has, I'd love to help.

My new program for 2021 is called 'Once upon a team' and it's all about how to tell your team story, to engage, excite and leave people in no doubt about what you do, why you do it and what impact you have. Meaning is found in the story's we tell, and your teams narrative creates meaning in the work that you and your team do.

If you would like to talk more about this program, please do get in touch.

Until then, have a happy and laughter filled holiday season, and a more meaning-full start to 2021.

Meri Kirihimete,