The word gets thrown around in every part of life – personal, work, sport, politics. We all have that person (or people) in our life that we just trust. We trust them with secrets. We trust them with our kids. We trust them with out true selves.

Over the past 30 years I’ve been lucky enough to work with teams at all levels in organisations on how important trust is within a team and among individuals. It is usually the single thing that undermines performance in a team. And having worked with senior executive teams, and sporting teams, the issue is always the same “we don’t trust each other”.

And trust, or the lack of it, impacts every part of how teams work well. You can’t have healthy conflict without trust. You can’t have clear accountabilities without trust. You can’t give or receive honest and constructive feedback without trust. It underpins everything, and in the words of a good friend, it’s the thing that will stop a good team from being a “fucking awesome team”!

There’s an equation!

One thing that has become clear is that you need a way to talk about it. There is lot’s of research on what trust means, and what its component parts are. And as with most things that I deal with I like simplicity. So there’s an equation that has served me well over my career. And while it may not stack up to the rigours of a peer review, it certainly helps as a basis for a discussion about trust.

Trust is a product of capability and intimacy. And is inversely proportional to risk.

Let’s take each of these in turn.

Capability – how good are you (or do I think you are) at the thing that I am expecting you to do – your job, your performance on the field, driving my car.

Intimacy Quite simply how well do I know you

Risk – What’s at stake

An example always helps – I ask you to look after my pencil.

Lets assume I know you reasonably well. For the sake of the example let’s give it a number. I know you 7/10. I don’t know everything about you. But I know you well enough. You’re definitely not a stranger and probably more than an acquaintance.

And I know you are able to look after things. You are diligent. You pay attention to what’s going on around you. You’re careful with your own things and so I think you’d be pretty careful with mine. So you’re pretty capable.

And what about the risk? Well it’s just a pencil. I can replace it. As a result I trust you enough to look after my pencil.

Now if all that stays the same but I’m asking you to look after my fountain pen that my father left me. I know you the same. You’re capable of looking after writing instruments. The fountain pen means way more to me than the pencil. The risk is much higher. If I lose the fountain pen I will be devastated.

Risk goes up. Trust goes down.

How do you improve it?

Which of the three things do you work on to improve trust. No surprises it’s all three. Risk is hard because the risk is what the risk is in a particular situation. I can put some things around you to make it less risky. For example, keep you in sight while you’re looking after my fountain pen. But many of these defeat the purpose. I need to trust you to do the thing you are expected to do.

Capability can definitely be improved. Training. Practice with less meaningful tasks to get experience. But takes time and patience. And you still might not get it.

But intimacy is a standout. Some of you will hate this example but it’s the reason sports teams have end of season trips. And why the spend so much time together. It’s often the cornerstone of some team building programs that invariably end up with individuals sharing dreams, fears, and concerns. Not things about process or revenue. Personal things. Intimate things.

The better you know someone the greater the trust you will have. The more trust you have the better conversations you will have. The better conversations you have the better outcomes you will get. It’s always time well spent.

Purpose – why?

We’ve all read Simon Sinek’s work on purpose – if you haven’t then you should. In short, people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it. And it has been the flavour of the month with some organisations – especially in these days of showing that we care for the environment, staff, and community. The whole idea is that a purpose stitches together all the stakeholders in a business – not just shareholders, and staff, but shareholders, staff, suppliers, partners, community, regulators, and articulates why we do what we do. It can be used as force to protect what matters, or as a driving force for change.

And from what I’ve seen over probably 8 or 9 years of working on the topic with different businesses, sporting teams, and individuals, there are two distinct reasons they wither work or don’t – ownership, and accountability.


I’m not convinced that a purpose statement needs to be all fanfare and promotion when it’s launched and then used. It can be much more subtle than that. I’ve seen organisations put the words on mouse-mats and mugs (not a fan!) and I’ve seen others figuratively lock them in a drawer and use them when issues, or decisions are unclear. A true statement of purpose should help guide in these moments. I heard a CEO talk about their organisation’s purpose recently and a phrase he used stuck with me, “this belongs to us”. he made it quite clear that the words on the page were special and that they were unique to that organisation. It created an emotional connection for people that were hearing it for the first time. It stressed what the words mean and how they carried weight.

This helped create the sense of ownership. Not completely but it set a super solid foundation. Then it is up to the leaders in the business to talk about and refer to with regularity. Aristotle said, “We are what we do repeatedly.” If we talk about purpose, refer to it as a north star, and make decisions aligned to it – repeatedly – then we will be purpose led. Otherwise we are just a bunch of schmucks that have some words on paper.


There is no point developing a purpose for yourself or your organisation if you aren’t willing to hold yourself and the people you work with accountable to it. Successful sportspeople do this really well. There is clarity of what’s acceptable and when that level isn’t being met the feedback is swift and sharp.

In working with organisations trying to develop their purpose I often see people be emotionally engaged in the discussion but fall away at the last minute because they know that if they go out with this, then they better live up to it. And that is often the sticking point. Not that the purpose is wrong, or lacks clarity, but that there is a need to be accountable to it in every decision, every action, every day. That scares people. It’s a big ask – and exactly why purpose matters.

Time is running out

This will only get bigger. Purpose as a force isn’t going away. It’s not going away because our people will demand it, shareholders will demand it, our communities will expect it, and it’s good business. Larry Fink CEO of Blackrock the largest money-management firm in the world with more than $9 trillion in assets under management, famously said, “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.” We can’t get away from understanding and taking the time to articulate what our purpose is. And when we do the plan has to include steps to develop and drive ownership, and accountability every single day.

Sometimes things line up…

As for everybody the last 18 months have been the weirdest I have been through. I could not have imagined that one day I would look back and say “remember the pandemic of 2020 – 5 million people died”. But I will – and I am not sure how I’ll remember it. But what I do know is that through the last 18 months a raft of things has presented itself to me and in the most part those things have been opportunities to give order to things that I have ranted about, tried to explain, thought about, and never quite been able to pin down. The philosophies of the Stoics has given me the anchor I have been looking for.

The Nobility of the Grind

I had this conversation with a friend recently. There is something noble, good, strong, about getting up everyday and doing what you have to do. For your family, for the people you love, for yourself. Tired, sore, angry – just get up and do it. Not because you want thanks or praise (as good as that feels) but because it’s what you do. Care for the people that matter – love them – because the more you put it out there the happier you will be. You will gain strength from seeing them enjoy what you do, or be better because of something you did. So just do what you have to do. Don’t complain (I complain. I’m working on it!)

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’” — Marcus Aurelius

Don’t waste your fucking time.

Opinions and Behaviour

For a long time I held this belief that other people’s poor behaviour wasn’t my problem and I wasn’t going to make it my problem. That was something they had to deal with – not me. And so the easy thing for me was to ignore it. Acknowledge it – yes. But then let it go and leave them to deal with their own behaviour.

Over the past few weeks I’ve learnt that it has to be more than that.

“The only thing that is not worthless in life is to do what’s right. Is to be good. And, to be patient with those that aren’t” — Marcus Aurelius

The last bit, “be patient with those that aren’t”. These situations demand more from me. It’s not enough to leave people with that behaviour. You have to find a way to show them empathy and kindness in the hope that your behaviour sets the example for them when they think about how they behave or live their life. You just have to do it. And not choose – you always do it – back to the grind bit.

That which isn’t good for the hive, isn’t good for the bee

Think about your decisions – yes I am using the vaccination example. Why did I get vaccinated ? I’m healthy and in all likelihood would survive the sickness. But it’s not about me. My wife has asthma. My daughter is 6 years old. My brother and sister are ten or eleven years older than me as are their partners. We have 30 people at our place every Christmas eve. I am part of a community. I would not be able to forgive myself if I brought the virus home or passed it on to someone I love. Or if I had to deny Christmas eve with our family for my daughter. Me – one person out of over 6 million in the state, or 26 million in the country – pretty insignificant. But as a single worker bee you do it for the hive.

Just Be Good


In the end it’s all pretty simple. Just be a good person. You know what’s right. You know what your principles are. You know what matters.

Be true to all of it. Always. Grind.

Sketchnotes – a richer and stronger memory

Anyone who has followed me on social media or in real life for that matter knows that I am quite passionate about Sketchnoting as a way of taking notes. Sketchnoting combines visuals and text together to create more impactful and and more powerful memories of a topic. Not to mention being much more fun.

They are a great way to engage your own mind as well as others on a topic. By way of example I am sure that Mike Rohde – one of the great Sketchnoters – won’t mind me sharing some of his work on making a great espresso. Here Mike balances clear text with sketches of key points and ideas on the topic.


View this post on Instagram

Espresso 101 Class at @stonecreekcoffee Page 3

A post shared by Mike Rohde (@rohdesign) on

You can find a whole lot more of Mike’s great work here.

There is a world of Sketchnoters out there that do great work. For example Mauro Toselli collaborates with Mike on a number of things including the Sketchnote Army which is a  great collection of Sketchnote submissions from around the world. Makayla Lewis does some amazing things with colour and highlighting. An there are hundreds of others. My suggestion is you have a look at these three and see who they follow to find other great Sketchnoters.

January 11, 2016 was the first ever World Sketchnote Day – and to celebrate the fact we launched season to of Unpacked with an episode dedicated to sketchnoting. So listen to @deanpribetic and I talk about this fun topic.

Here’s a link straight to Episode 08: Sketchnoting.

Lessons from a day in an AFL Coaches’ box

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon in the St Kilda coaches’ box. Here’s what I learnt.

A day in the coaches’ box.

Sunday afternoon. The week’s preparation all comes to a point. Two and a half hours of moving parts. Action. Reaction. Decisions. Consequences. A room of specialists drive a team for performance. A room that requires focus and immediacy. What follows is what I learnt during my day in the St Kilda coaches box.

The day has been more meaningful for me in the few days since I have had a chance to reflect and think about the day. And as a management consultant, I’m always interested in the lessons I can take to clients and apply my own professional life. In my line of work I am often asked for advice on how teams and leaders could and should work. What works? What doesn’t? The cauldron that is the coaches’ box was a great example.

No chit chat

The first thing that struck me was that there was no chit-chat, no small talk, no jokes, no wasted time. From the moment the coaching staff walked into the box it was nothing but business. All the conversation was about the task at hand. Even as the coaches got settled the conversation was very targeted. Not having seen the coaches in the lead up my assumption is that they got all the pleasantries out of their system early. When they get to their “office” – it’s time to work.

Lesson: Intensity. Everything that is and nothing that isn’t. When there is a job to be done – do it with intent. Be present for the job at hand. There’s a time and place for chit chat – choose it wisely.

Clarity of role and accountability

One thing that was immediately clear was the trust that Alan Richardson had in his assistants. He trusts them to fulfil their role and manage their part of the team. The midfield, back-line and forward-line coaches manage their troops and make the decisions that they need to make. Their accountability is crystal clear.

Lesson: You hire people to do a job, let them do it. Set the boundaries and expectations then let them get on with it. Without a doubt you need to review performance but if your hiring regime is thorough and your expectations and values are clear, then let them do their job.

The importance of information

During the game there was information constantly being thrown around the box. Line coaches would call out their observations. Player movements, changes in position and match-ups, time left in the quarter. And most of the time the information called out was never directed at anyone in particular nor was it ever acknowledged unless there was a very specific follow up. Otherwise there seemed to be snippets of information “in the cloud” and people were expected to know what was important, grab it and do something with it.

Lesson: Know what matters and focus on it. Ignore the noise. Take what’s useful, do something with it, and leave the rest.

Once a decision is made – it’s made

There was often debate between the line coaches themselves or between the senior coach and a line coach. The debate was always specific and from memory never left unresolved. That resolution took a couple of different forms. The senior coach and the line coach agreed and the action was taken, or when there was a difference of opinion the senior coach made the final decision. This isn’t ground breaking but what followed was, once the decision was made there was no further debate or questioning. The senior coach decided on a direction and that was the way the team went.

Lesson: Leaders have to lead. It’s better for a leader to make ten decisions and get eight right then only make six of ten decisions, get them all right but leave four unmade. Debate which decision to take but once decided – get on it.

From game to team to line to individual

The senior coach watches the whole game but his attention always seems to be on a list of things. He sees his own team’s strategy play out against that of the opposition. He will speak of his team and the opposition. When necessary he will drop his attention down a level to discuss and review a specific thing that his team or the opposition is doing and he will use his IT/stats person to inform his point of view. He will question or discuss something with a line coach – and they better be ready to answer. The senior coach will also give specific feedback on an individual with very targeted comments for their development. The conversation also turns to specific things that the line coaches needed to take note of and work on in upcoming training.

LessonKnow the field you are playing in – your market. Know your organisation. Know your staff and always look and plan for development opportunities.

Feedback to players

The senior coach never missed a chance to speak to players that had rotated off. Sometimes it was just to reinforce the good work they were doing and other times it was to deliver a specific message. One thing that stood out was the tone of every single message. It was direct so that the player was very clear about what was required. And it was always positive. The message was always about what the coach needed more of or what needed to be done. It was never about what not to do. This left no space for ambiguity and reinforced lessons and principles.

LessonPeople respond to positive reinforcement. If you tell someone not to do something that can leave uncertainty. If you tell them to do one thing then there is clarity. 

The day didn’t end with the result that the team was after. But it’s obvious that the positives and development opportunities from the game will be taken and used to extend St Kilda’s journey. There are no hysterics. No tantrums. Just a focus on what needs to happen to improving.

This was an amazing opportunity and I was happy to be able to support Maddie Riewoldts’s vision at the same time. The hospitality shown to me by the St Kilda team and in particular by my chaperone Luke O’Brien, was outstanding. The day reinforced the two things I suspected all along. First, after 48 years of supporting the Saints and following football I still know very little about the game, and second, and more importantly, we are in good hands.

Performance Management – why is it so hard?

Every big company uses a system of ‘Performance Management’. It’s an increasingly complex way to assess employees and decide promotions and bonuses. In the latest episode of our podcast Dean and I turn our attention to  the merits of this system of assessment and the patterns we’ve seen emerging before asking, how could it be better?

We look at some examples of what we’ve seen through our working life and some examples of who might be doing it better. We hope you enjoy Episode 7 of Unpacked – Performance Management.

Remember to subscribe and rate us on iTunes and of course we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a message at or you can always contact Dean and I on twitter (@deanpribetic and @jamessaretta).

While we are on the topic here is an interesting take from Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme – which seems to align with some of the thoughts in our podcast.

For many companies – being on social media is a waste of time and money

It’s implied right there in the name – social media. Not anti-social media. Social media. The point and benefit of social media for individuals and businesses is the opportunity to interact with other people.

For individuals there are amazing sources of insight, information and inspiration available. Even at its most basic it is a brilliant way to stay in touch with family and friends as well as find people with similar interests – and often opposing views.

For businesses the real value comes from the ability to interact personally with current and potential customers. We’ve all heard the great stories of a brand taking the time to interact and have fun with their customers (Tesco, Yorkshire Tea, Jaffa cakes – being a great example – link). These are extreme examples – as great as they are – but there are lots of companies doing simple things that really make a difference to their customers.

The problem is that there are loads more that are doing it poorly. Having the presence is only a small part of the battle. Actually being able to respond to an interaction from a customer is where the action is. Same goes for individuals – if you’re not going to engage why be there?

The insights you can get as well as the good will you can build with customer are outstanding. While many will argue that it is very difficult to tie social media activity to real business outcomes I would apply a very simple test. Imagine two scenarios.

1. You tweet a question to a company on Twitter – no response.

2. You tweet a company on Twitter and get a response.

You don’t need to be a genius to know which one you would prefer or which one makes you feel positive about the brand. Of course we can argue about the quality and timeliness of the response – these are givens. And yes it will take some investment. No different to an experience at a counter or over the phone.

Personally, I would rather a company wasn’t on social media rather than be on there and be anti-social.

Unpacked Episode 3 – Consulting and Operating model

The latest episode (Ep 3) of Dean Pribetic’s and my podcast – Unpacked – is up  and ready for downloading. In Episode 3, we explore one of the most nebulous terms in the language of business – ‘Operating Model’. We discuss the seemingly interchangeable definitions and we also discuss the real matter at hand – what is Consulting? How do we define this work? And what is it that we actually do? The episode can be downloaded here – Episode 3 or on iTunes – just search for “unpacked”. Dean also mentions a book titled “How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built” – by Stewart Brand – which is a great read.  The book can purchased here through Amazon.

We would love your feedback through the website – and we would love you to rate it on iTunes. You can also get to us on twitter at @unpackedfm. You can find Dean at @deanpribetic and I am at @jamessaretta. We hope you enjoy it!


Unpacked – a new podcast demystifying the language of business

Anyone who has read any of the post on here will now that I’m a big fan of simplifying things. Those who have worked with me will say that I sometimes go too far.

Language is a big favourite which I wrote about in an earlier post (“Perhaps if we change the language” – Sep 2012). To try and pursue the topic of language even further a dear friend of mine – Dean Pribetic – and I have launched a new podcast. UNPACKED is our attempt at trying to unravel some of the terms that we all throw around in business. Sometimes without really understanding them, and often not using them correctly. It’s also our chance to have a bit of fun and talk about some of the things that interest us and make us laugh.

Dean is one of the best thinkers and facilitators I know. We worked together for a number of years and to this day can often be found debating some random topic from the business of language or how Sons of Anarchy went quickly downhill after season 5.

We are two episodes in and would welcome your feedback as we hopefully learn and improve how to podcast! You can find the podcasts at, or search for “unpacked” on iTunes. You can also follow us on twitter @unpackedFM. We would love to hear from you on topics that you might like covered or just feedback on the podcast. Enjoy!