Confidence Is All

Excerpt from “Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders” by Graham Binks (Post Hill press, 2019).

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.

—Mark Twain

Being comfortable with uncertainty does not come naturally to most of us. If you’re one of the few, take note that the majority of your colleagues will probably need some convincing.

Most take comfort in predictability, yet in the business world we’re expected to guess the future—what will our customers value in five years? What might our competitors do to leapfrog the market? Where are the economic, political, and technological trends headed? We don’t have any choice but to deal in uncertainty. Success follows when we get it right.

Fortunately, we can be confident in some predictions. For the rest, we have to keep doors open to opportunity, get good at hedging, and do what we can to increase our odds.

We gain confidence through achievement, and the very best way to adapt your business to change is to build a team with confidence. Confidence that they will make the best choices with the information available to them—confidence that they can pivot when a better path is revealed.

Building Confident Teams

Teambuilding has become associated with social events, framed as an opportunity to hang with your colleagues outside of work. For instance, bowling night or tough mudding. Sometimes such events create genuine camaraderie, but more often they feel forced.

But take on a shared challenge together and win—that’s teambuilding. There is no better way to build camaraderie than overcoming a difficult challenge together. It’s the reason war veterans get together decades after the battle and sports teams play together for longer than their bodies would like.

We’re going to look at the lifecycle of a winning team. But before that, I’d like you to set the stage by taking the Vote of Confidence Test. Grab a pen and paper...

Your Innovation Squad

I don’t hold with talk of “dream teams.” I’ve seen too many embryonic teams roll their eyes at the notion they could sign Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky. Much better to build a team with humility and confidence. A team with self-esteem.

Maybe another sporting analogy will help us think about this stuff. Any good (or great) sports team has clear attributes:

  • Balance: Every soccer team has 11 specialists. They all know how to kick a ball with at least (mostly) one foot. But stopping, creating plays, and finishing are specialties that dictate each player’s role in defense, midfield, and attack. If you put the top 11 all-time goal scorers on the same team, they’d lose every game.
  • Experience and youth: Young players run faster; experienced players know where to run. Every great squad has the right blend.
  • Coaching: The best coaches are rarely great players themselves, but they know how to get the best out of the team they have. They do that by guiding them on the path to confidence.
  • Visibility: When we watch a match, we see the constituent parts, the specialist roles, and where teams are weak and strong. Visibility makes it easier to improve.

The process of soccer is, essentially, to stop the other team from scoring, move the ball within range of the goal, and score more times than your opponents. The better the team works, the more games they win, and the more confident they become.

Consider, then, the process of change. We find a need to focus on, design a solution that addresses the priority concerns, build it, prove that it works, and launch. That’s how we put the ball in the net.

Simple stuff, right? But here’s the thing. It’s all too easy to focus on the inputs and outputs—the needs and the launch—and forget the part in the middle—the design, the learning, and proving that it works. Yet that’s where the quality is determined. Can you get this right the first time, or do you have to reset the project? Will your roadmap deliver additional value, or will you be playing catch-up to make good on the failings of your first attempt?

Returning to our soccer analogy: Think of the team that keeps possession of the ball—reducing the other team’s chances of scoring—but never gets close enough to put the ball in the net. Best outcome is a snore draw. Often, one late slip can cost the game.

Balancing Experience

Every strong team has the right blend of experience and learning. That is to say, if you’re charging your team with achieving something beyond any of their collective experiences, that’s a great pep talk but destined for disappointment. You need the right level of “been there, done that” on your team.

Let’s dispel a myth here—no initiative is totally original. Unless you’re planning to land humans on Mars, somebody somewhere has done something like this before. The harder it is to find those people, the more you need them if you’re to manage your risk. If you’re bringing a novel new product to market, find someone who’s brought a novel new product to market before—anywhere. If you’re creating something with high technical risk (meaning you’ve no idea if the project is even possible) find someone who’s worked in basic research before.

Ideally, your experienced associates will be great teachers—excited to share of their expertise and see your team develop.

If you cannot find this experience within your organization, you have three options:

  1. Seek partners to de-risk your current assignment and coach your team to become self-sufficient in these areas.
  2. Hire the skills full time—if you’re going to need the core competence.
  3. Roll the dice and load up on trial and error.

For what it’s worth, I have never seen option three lead to universal happiness.

A Coaching Culture

Take the example of a change management company. Like all growing consulting businesses, they face the challenge of cycling new blood through the ranks. Consultants move on, especially the best ones—fact of life. To build a great consulting organization, you have to hire well, ramp new folks up as quickly and effectively as you can, and maintain the highest quality for the client. Our change management company’s creative approach to the challenge is to assign a coach to every new hire. Someone who will not only show them where the washrooms are but also guide their onboarding and act as counsel for any client challenge.

It appears that everyone and their dog is a coach today. Shingles have been hung and advice dispensed. Results are mixed, and the reputation of coaching has taken a hit.

Fact is, coaching is a great way to strengthen the skills of teams and individuals. A skilled coach imparts expertise through asking, not telling.

The art of coaching is underestimated. And under-appreciated.

You have all kinds of experts in your organization. Odds are, they learned most of what they know through the school of hard knocks over a long period of time.

But I’ll put $5 on your having only one real expert in some of the critical areas of your business. One woman who knows that part of the code. One guy who remembers why that thing works the way it does. If that rings true, you’re running a one-bus business.

Obviously, we all hope these folks stay healthy and don’t accept a better offer from some other company. But even then, having single-expert bottlenecks in your business won’t cut it down the line when your competition speeds up.

Sure, experts sometimes hoard the information. Much more likely, they’ve under-shared because they were never granted the time to share their knowledge.

Teams are dynamic. Everything changes. Projects come and go. Teams form, make their marks, and disband.

You may start by building one great team, but it’s not enough to end there. A successful change initiative will create a buzz. The team members will be looked up to like champions. Others will want to sign up for the next challenge.

Your pioneer teams can go forth and multiply. Each can carry their early lessons into other initiatives and other teams. It pays to invest in their coaching skills—it’s the fastest way to turn a championship team into a squad.

How much better would your business tick if your experts and pioneers were also great coaches? Propagating their expertise to anyone who will listen. Transitioning others in to fill their shoes. Taking on bigger and better challenges.

Excerpt from “Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders” by Graham Binks (Post Hill press, 2019). For more information, visit:

>Graham Binks is an expert in helping businesses get the best out of their technology investments. Over the course of more than 500 career projects conducted in a wide range of industries, he has helped countless small, medium, and large organizations to quickly achieve their technology goals under budget and with low risk. Binks is the CEO of primeFusion Inc and has more than 30 years of technology leadership experience in Europe, North America, and Asia with clients including Nike, Procter & Gamble, Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Eurotunnel. He is the author of “Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders.”

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