Emirates LitFest 2021: In conversation with Andy Fieldhouse
Now Reading
Emirates LitFest 2021: In conversation with Andy Fieldhouse

Emirates LitFest 2021: In conversation with Andy Fieldhouse

The author of Getting Teamwork Right: The Key to Happy, Successful and Resilient Teams will conduct a workshop at 10am on Saturday, February 6, at the upcoming Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature

Andy Fieldhouse

What prompted you to write the book?
Writing a book had always been an ambition for a long time, and the opportunity presented itself when I had some time to do so. But I would say the prompt was my children. I have a 4- and 6-year-old and as any parent will know, you become acutely aware of wanting them to have the best life possible. I remember thinking that the world is going to face some pretty big challenges and could end up being a fairly difficult place for them, and I am responsible (along with my wife, of course) for bringing them into it.

Part of the answer to fixing the world’s problems for them (and everyone) is having the ability for us to work well together in teams to get things done, but when do we ever get taught that? So I wrote the book with them in mind. I imagined sitting them down when they are young adults going out into the world to do whatever they want to do, and saying ‘Okay guys, you are going to be working in teams all your life – this is how to get it right.’

With remote and hybrid working becoming the norm, are the dynamics and rules of what teamwork means changing?
The answer is yes and no. Teamwork is teamwork, wherever and however you do it, and there are behaviours and practices you need to get right regardless of where you are in relation to each other. Things like creating a culture of trust and openness, where everyone is able to say what they feel without fear of judgement or ridicule. That should be a non-negotiable wherever you are.

But there are specific things remote or hybrid teams need to do differently. My first question for these teams is: Have you actually had a conversation about how everyone is feeling about the new way of working? Many teams are just bulldozing ahead with their work without consciously designing new rules of engagement. Things like is it okay to have your camera off or on? Remote teams miss those organic, unplanned but really important opportunities to build relationships and support each other that happens in workplaces whilst you are waiting for the kettle to boil in the canteen or in the corridor between meetings. You need to create time for these vital things to happen because you miss them working virtually.

Based here in Dubai, and actively working as a coach for several companies, what are some of the peculiarities you’ve noticed about the way teams work here in the region as opposed to other parts of the world?
I think that teamwork could be seen as being harder to get right in the UAE for a few reasons. We have so many different nationalities, all with their own cultural expectations and ways of doing things. We have a transient population which means teams are more unsettled than they might be elsewhere in the world as people come and go fairly frequently. And you have language differences where most people are not communicating in their native language, which can create misunderstanding.

This unfortunately manifests in teamwork issues like low trust, toxic communication or a lack of clarity – hence why they are turning to me for help. But it is also a tremendous opportunity to have such diversity within your team. Imagine what’s possible if you can harness the power of all these diverse people and get them pulling in the right direction. That’s when the magic can happen.

How responsible are team managers for driving a sense of team? Or do you advocate that the onus is really on employees to ensure the right team spirit?
It is both. Yes, the leader has responsibility for what happens in the team, but we know that gardener leaders who allow the team to grow around them is far more effective than the old-style hero leader who was meant to have all the answers. I think anyone in the team has not only the right, but also the expectation to contribute to the culture, ethos, values and behavioural norms of the team. Great teams allow all the voices in the them to have value and be heard, and contribute to team’s make up.

Is creating resilient teams down to just psychology or is it a science too?
There is increasing scientific research into how the brain works to show that you can literally change the wiring of your brain – neuroplasticity – through developing a habitual practice. (This is what mindfulness practitioners and meditators will tell you). Resilience in teams is partly about habit and practice, but it is also about creating the right kind of team in the first place which I guess falls into the psychology part of your question.

Resilient teams overcome the bumps in the road because they have strong relationships between people on the team. And you have to consciously work at these. Plenty of teams have been found out by the pandemic because they didn’t bother to work on their team relationships, left things unsaid or a few small cracks were not dealt with. When you apply pressure, you effectively drive wedges into these cracks. Morale dips, blame starts happening and the walls go up between people who are out to protect themselves. That’s all down to the psychology of their team make up and what they did beforehand to create a strong, supportive environment where everyone has got each other’s backs.

Was there anything that you personally had to unlearn and relearn about teamwork over the course of researching and writing this book?
I don’t think I had to unlearn anything; I certainly learned things, but teamwork is not rocket science, it is innate to the human animal. We all know the answers to the question ‘what is good teamwork’ because we are natural collaborators. But often we have to think about it for a while because we don’t ever really focus our attention on it, and we allow our egos to take over far too often. A lot of research I found (for example Sandy Pentland’s work measuring communication in teams) proved what we suspected was happening, so that was great evidence and validation.

What are your plans for the upcoming Emirates Literature Festival and what do you think do reading and author engagement festivals like this bring to the table for the region?
I am extremely excited to be part of the festival. I feel deeply called to do the work I do to help people improve their teamwork skills because I know that this is going to help the human race overcome the big problems I am sure we are going to face in the years to come. So I see this as a fabulous opportunity for me to reach more people in this endeavour and to help them understand teamwork is a defined skill that you can improve.

I am also looking forward to taking my kids to some of the sessions aimed at children. Reading books has been such a great part of my life and given me so much knowledge and escapist joy! Creating that sense of wonder and satisfaction is one of the vital outcomes of festivals like this one for me, and I really am looking forward to contributing as an author and enjoying it as a visitor too.

If there’s one key takeaway that you want people to take away from your new book, what would it be?
I hope there’s so much that they can take away. But if I was to choose one thing, it would be don’t feel powerless if your team is stuck. There’s always something you can do to move things in a better direction. Don’t settle for feeling isolated, marginalised, stuck or clueless as to why you are there and what you are doing. You can change things. I hope the book is a starting point to work out what to do next.

You might also like


Scroll To Top