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The secret weapon to high-performing event project teams

When Mark Leruste, founder and host of The Unconventionalists and chief purpose officer at the ministry of purpose, began his speech with: “Then they had to decide which of their teammates to eat first,” it got everyone’s attention.

Mark, who was speaking at a Hire Space event at Smith’s of Smithfields in London, retold the story of a plane that crashed in the Andes in 1972 while carrying 19 members of an Argentinian rugby team: “It’s a story I love about a guy called Roberto Canessa and his buddies who decided to rent a 45 seater aircraft,” Mark said.

The inexperienced pilot at the helm misjudged the plane’s location and descended into the side of 3,000 ft glacier. Among the 45 on board, 28 survived the initial crash, but that was the easy bit.

Stuck in freezing conditions with little food, the survivors began to die. As they succumbed to the harsh elements and starvation, their teammates had to consider the unthinkable – who to eat first. The cold temperatures provided preservation for the bodies so the survivors would have enough fats and proteins to keep them going for a while.

Along with a source of food, the survivors also had a transistor radio which they used to hear updates of their rescue – until one day, Roberto discovered it has been called off. Instead of giving up, Roberto and his pal, Narrado Panado, set off across the bleak terrain to find help. For 10 days they trekked 38 miles to find help and finally ran into a Chilean farmer who alerted rescue teams.

“Why am I sharing with you a story of cannibalism and survival, on a Wednesday – it’s humpday not gruesome day right,” Mark said. “The reason I’m telling you this is because this story holds the most vital keys to any high performing team, and I’m going to share them with you.”

Cannibalism aside, here are Mark’s tips to unleashing a high performing events project team.

Find a purpose

Every high functioning team has a clear purpose. Purpose is simple, it is something that drives you that is bigger than yourself, it’s something that compels you to wake up in the morning and makes you passionate about the work that you do,” Mark explained.

According to Mark, finding your purpose isn’t difficult you just need to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you have a sense of belonging, do you feel like you belong in your team and have a connection with the people you work with?
  2. Is your mission bigger than yourself, are you having an impact?
  3. Are you growing individually?

Understanding everyone’s a leader

“If you look at the example of the survivors in the Andes, they knew no matter what their experience or ranking in the team, everybody had to step up to leadership.”

Mark refers to this as “leaders at every level”.

“A trend in high performing teams is the ability for every member of the group to step up to this leadership that dictates members of teams should not say ‘but it’s not my fault’ and instead ‘this is my problem'”.

Adopting a legacy mindset

“This effectively means that your time in the organisation, the time within this team is finite. There will come a time where it’s time for you to move on.”

Mark explains that while you’re at the organisation, your one mission should be to leave it better than you found it.

“If you’re leading a team, your mission should be to make sure, that no matter what happened, the people who left your team, leave it a better version of what they walked into.

“That is adopting a legacy mindset.”

Trust each other deeply and fully

“Sometimes it can be really annoying to work with people, but you can’t put up an event on your own. You need a team that you can trust.”

Mark uses the example of Google’s Project Aristotle which sought to answer the question: “What makes an effective team?”

The project surveyed 180 teams it considered high and low performing and asked them what they thought made a good team.

“What they found was that out of the 180 teams, leaders and executives tend to define success as results driven, whereas employees and team members found that the culture within the team, was the most important factor to put forward,” Mark explained.

“So, the conclusion is that when it comes down to high-performing teams, it’s not so much about who is in the team but how the team works.”

Understanding existential flexibility

Mark explains this as: “The ability to dramatically change your strategy to advance your course.”

Still confused? So was I. Thankfully Mark used a story to explain his final point, the story of Netflix vs Blockbuster.

“In 2000 the CEO of Netflix flew to Dallas to meet with the CEO of Blockbuster, to propose a partnership. The CEO of Netflix effectively said: ‘We’re going to look after your online business and you’re going to take care of our brick and mortar business, and they were laughed out of the room.”

And we all know where Blockbusters is now – a faint blue and yellow memory.

Mark continues: “It takes massive courage, massive conviction to trust your gut and believing what you see to say ‘this may have been what we’re doing so far, but we’re having to change and do this, because what got us here, certainly won’t get us there'”.

To recap: purpose, leadership, mindset, trust and flexibility are the key ingredients to what Mark believes will produce a high-performing event project team.