Reflecting forward

12 months ago today started like a normal Monday morning.

My wife and I were running around getting the kids ready for school.

Due to the extreme levels of anxiety that one of our kids has, it was a stressful, difficult morning getting him out the door and into the car. Once they had gone I left the house to rush for train.

Being January it was cold and a little icy, but I had a train to catch.

So I rushed down the lane in our village and then boom, just like that, I slipped on a patch of ice, a snap and sharp pain later, I broke my leg and ankle.

Well, that changed my whole outlook for the year.

I ended up having to have 3 months away from work.

During that time there was significant changes to my team and the leadership team around me. My challenge of making the most of some changes to our leadership team went out the window.

But I didn’t dwell on the negative – I focused on improving me.

I set up my own company to follow my passion of helping people and organisations transform.

I shared more of my photography.

I created a personal improvement plan to be a better me.

And I created an improvement plan for my team with their direct input (collated virtually via my tools).


During the last 12 months I have made progress on implementing all of these parts.

  • Burning Leaf Creatives has successfully helped more than 8 companies to grow and develop, including 5 new companies set up by an inspirational founder.
  • My photography has gone down well – and I published a book of photos from my village.
  • I feel that I have become a better me – although that’s a harder one to judge myself!

But the team development plan hasn’t really developed.

We had three members of the team leave during the last 12 months for personal reasons. This has made it difficult to implement the changes that I, and the team, identified.

However, today that all changed.

A new beginning

On the anniversary of the break, I have spent most of today onboarding two new members of the team.

And I have been able to recruit them myself – only the third time I have been able to do that.

I have also been solely in charge of their onboarding process, which I have done in my own style.

Onboarding, Michael-style

Both started this morning at 9am.

Both were then taken straight to get their ID badges and security passes.

Both were then shown to their desks which had been cleaned and checked to make sure they work.

Welcome pack cover

And then both were given personalised welcome packs.

The packs, which had a cover similar to this, contained the following essential information:

  • Briefing about who we are and what we do
  • An introduction to the team
  • Structure charts
  • Map of the building
  • ‘You are allowed’ poster
  • Passwords and login details for their accounts
  • Initial priorities and tasks

All of which was customised to them.

Understanding them

About me template

I also enclosed an ‘About me’ sheet to capture details about them to populate our new design manual, which I have recently developed.

Following an hour or two of allowing them to log in to the system, read through their packs and the design manual, I then met with each of them individually to:

  • Get to know them better
  • Talk through their priorities
  • Talk about our culture and working style

And then I asked them to identify their Superpower using the SYPartners tool, which, amazingly, is now available as an app for free via the App Store and Google Play!

I use this information to identify the key strength that they bring into the team so that:

  1. I can ensure that they can use this strength in their day-to-day work so that they feel valued
  2. I can ensure that the team benefits from this strength

Amazingly I was able to guess one of their superpowers and the other one I was very close to guessing. More evidence that I had appointed the right people.

Moving forward

In the afternoon we finished with a new team briefing where we completed our teamsteps tool to help us keep the team aligned, informed and help us measure our progress.

I’ve also re-committed to my leadership intention for 2017 which was to –

“Inspire the soul of each individual in my team”

In 2018 I will.png

Here’s to progress.

unsplash-logoDavid Werbrouck
Continue reading “Reflecting forward”

Building the right team

Today starts with an exciting development – I’m finally interviewing for a vacancy that I can fill permanently within my team.

This is only the second time I have been able to decide if someone is the right person for my team.

The first time went really well – you can read through some of my posts from that time – sadly, that employee resigned earlier this week.

They will be missed greatly. They were a huge asset to the team and added so much.

But, I completely understand why they have resigned and wish them all the best for their future.

I am proud to be part of their career and personal development – and I am proud that they were part of my own.

Which brings me back to today.

Today is my opportunity to appoint another person who is the right person for my team.

Fingers crossed it goes as successfully as the last time!

P.S. To the person who has resigned, thank you for everything during the last few years – keep in touch.

Recruiting using the Cathedral test

A couple of years ago I made my first ever appointment in my team – see Building the right team with the right people – and this week, I’ve had my latest new employee start within my team as an intern.

Going through this recruitment process has got me thinking about what kind of person I look for when I’m employing someone, what characteristics do they have, and what am I looking for from them in the interview.

And this thought took me back to what I have learnt from two key people who inspire me – Carl Taylor and Simon Sinek.

When I was on several leadership development courses run by Carl – and as I have read his book and used his app – he uses his storytelling ability to tell his story of ‘Zen and the Art of Cathedral Building’ which is based around the building of the Sagrada Familia, or Gaudi Cathedral, in Barcelona. Within the story, Carl identifies four main employee types –

  1. The wall builder – they see their role as the tasks they do. In Carl’s example, Wayne shapes the bricks, puts them together and builds the wall. He does that because that is what you pay him to do.
  2. The expert – they see their role as being the most skilled expert in the team. In Carl’s example, Payne provides the best quality brick work – and he is proud of it.
  3. The team player – they see their role as a team member who are helping the team to deliver their priorities & targets for the year. In Carl’s example, Sayne is willing to accept change once he understands the options & reasons for it, and how this will benefit the team.
  4. The cathedral builder – they see their role of creating a better future and driven by their internal purpose. In Carl’s example, Jayne is driven by her personal commitment to this cathedral being her family church for the future.

I was always intrigued by this.

As a ‘cathedral builder’ myself, I could always see the other types in my colleagues that I have worked with through my career. I have realised that some fit better with me and my style than others. At the time I went on Carl’s courses I wasn’t in a leadership role within my team, so I was soaking up the information and applying to the team I was part of. This gave me a really useful grounding of understanding people before I had responsibility for them, their development and for helping them grow as individuals.

More recently I’ve been reading and studying Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ philosophy. This has added a further level of my understanding on the type of colleagues I work best with and who add the needed elements to my teams.

Start With Why is all about understanding why people come to work, the way they think and how they communicate. Start With Why resonates so much with me because everything I do and how I do it is driven by my purpose, or, my Why – to help people do life, better.

And this had always attracted me to seek people that are similar – or ‘cathedral builders’, using Carl’s example.

But, I’ve come to realise that actually just having ‘cathedral builders’ gives an unhealthy balance for my team. So, I’ve been seeking a mix of ‘team players’ and ‘experts’ to bring in as well.

Bringing a balance of employee types means that we can bring together people who can see the bigger picture with those who see the day-to-day tasks and those who are committed to proving excellent, high quality services. I’ve learnt that too many ‘cathedral builders’ means that we never reach the end point. Having too many ‘team players’ means we lose the bigger picture. And having too many ‘experts’ means we never move forward as we are constantly seeking perfection. 

I’ve realised that for my team to be come a ‘great team’ we need a bit of all three.

But what I still don’t see fitting within my team is the ‘wall builder’. I can resonate with someone who just comes into work to do the job just because they are being paid to. I struggle to understand them. I can’t understand what makes them tick. And then because of that, I can’t identify what I need to do to help them develop, improve and be part of our journey to being a ‘great team’. Historically I have had ‘wall builders’ moved into my team; but it doesn’t work. So, I tend to leave ‘wall builders’ out of the team – or move them out if they are forced on me.

So this got me thinking about what I look for when I recruit new people.

I know that I’m actively seeking a mix of ‘cathedral builders’, ‘team players’ and ‘experts’, and when I do recruit, I’m looking at the balance of the current team and identifying what’s missing. In other words, I use the ‘cathedral test’.

Let me know if this resonates with you – or if you agree. I’d love for your help and advice about how I can work better with the ‘wall builder’ and how they can add something to my team.

Add your comments & thoughts below or drop me an e-mail – iammichaelwatts at gmail dot com.

If you want to find out more about Carl visit,, or his blog,

For more on Simon visit or read through my Start With Why blog posts.

Interviewing for the right person

A few weeks ago I published a post about how I am Building the right team with the right people (and also read Can you add the missing ingredients to my team?).

This post forms the next step to that.


So, the advert has been out and closing date has gone. We had 5 applicants in all – and there appear to be some real gems in there.

To make sure that I do appoint the right person, I’ve included a small test and preparation activity for the 3 shortlisted candidates to do.

Firstly, to cover the writing and publishing information for members of the public part of the role, I have asked the shortlisted candidates to bring 2 examples of previously published public communication materials that they have developed – which they will leave with the panel after the interview. This was I can do a bit of checking in to the examples provided.

And then to make sure that they really do “have the experience to show that they can analyse and make sense of complex, and sometimes contradictory, intelligence – including hard facts like data as well as soft facts like general comments and feedback” I have asked them to prepare to talk for 5 minutes as set out below –

“In preparation for the interview, please can you read through the attached information* and provide a 5 minute summary of what the information is telling you”

[* There are 14 A4 sides of information as a mix of data and feedback comments]

But, to take it to the next level, and to really make sure that that they do “have the personality that allows them to actively engage with, listen to and learn from people who are using our services – and then to be able to share that knowledge and intelligence with other people across the team and the department so we can do something with it”, I added a second part to that activity –

“– and then work with us to identify what we need to do with that intelligence” 

That means that as part of the interview we will spend around about 10 minutes working together to plan the “so what” part of it.

This way I’m hoping that I can identify who really understands what the information is telling them, who really can work with me as part of us becoming a great team, and who is really up for helping “the team to live, breathe and be our purpose – to inform, listen to and learn from users of services to help them influence and drive change in services, knowledge and behaviour.”

Here’s to progress.

Can you add the missing ingredients to my team?

Do you have the right confidence, the right personality and the right experience to join my team?

If you do, you just need to:

1 – See how I’m working on building the right team with the right people by reading my LinkedIn post at

2 – Then look at the Public Information Officer post that I’m currently recruiting for (its for 18 hours a week for 6 months) based in the heart of Bromley

3 – And then if it sounds like its up your street and you can add that missing ingredient, apply.

If you want to reach out first, you can tweet me (@iammichaelwatts), send me a message via LinkedIn, or e-mail

Building the right team with the right people

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a brilliant book by Khoi Tu called Superteams: How to Take Your Team to the Top. In Superteams, Khoi uses the examples of seven great teams to reveal the secrets to taking a team to the top.

And, one of the key secrets is the need to build the right team with the right people.

Not necessarily the best people but the best team of people. And although each of these does not need to be the best in their field, they should be near the top.  For this to work, the leader of the team should be able to choose the right people that they need in their team.

But, one of the real-life complexities that many managers faces is that quite often they do not get to pick the people that make up their team.

On a very few occasions, I have met someone who was able to build their team from scratch with the people that they wanted.  And this is something that I have never had the opportunity to do. In fact, I’ve just realised that during the 4 years that I have had managerial responsibility for staff, I have never actually employed a new person. Everybody that has been in my teams were already there or they were moved into my team following a wider restructure. I have never been able to recruit the right person for my team.

Until today that is.

Today I have kicked off the recruitment process for a new member of staff to join my team on a part-time, temporary basis. Although I was tied to using an existing job description for the recruitment process , I was also able to write the advert how I wanted to write it. I was able to say who I wanted, what behaviours they need, and what I need them to be able to do.  I was also able to convey what my team is about – what we do and why we do it. And here’s an except from the advert: “…looking for the right person to join their small team for 6 months. The right person will spend their time supporting the team to live, breathe and be its purpose – to inform, listen to and learn from users of services to help them influence and drive change in services, knowledge and behaviour. …. To do this, the right person will: 1) Have the confidence to put the user of the service at the heart of all their decisions – and by the user we mean members of the public and professionals 2) Have the personality that allows them to actively engage with, listen to and learn from people who are using our services – and then to be able to share that knowledge and intelligence with other people across the team and the department so we can do something with it 3) Have the experience to show that they can analyse and make sense of complex, and sometimes contradictory, intelligence – including hard facts like data as well as soft facts like general comments and feedback” As this is my first recruitment process I sit here with a mixture of excitement, nervousness and a little bit of trepidation. But, overall, I sit here with pride that I’ve been able to put an advert that says what my team needs so that we can build the right team with the right people. Now I need to see if anybody is ready to answer my calling. Here’s to progress!