Campfire stories to light up your teams

Living Teams welcomes you

Take a seat with us around the campfire – let’s lift our spirits in these uncertain times and share stories about how to bring life to teams.

There is much talk of our ‘hybrid’ work future – it’s not here yet but it’s certainly stimulating some great conversations about consciously designing our whole lives including work, as we move into the next stage of this massive global reset.

In this second edition of ‘Campfire’ Andy Denne, our in house muse, looks at how ‘deliberate practice‘ of anything is the best way to practice: we remind ourselves just how important it is to laugh at work: we hear how becoming a potter helped shape Kathy’s Heroic Journey and we reveal the playlist that accompanied our first ever Zoom campfire!

Thanks for being here in this community of like minded souls.

1liberate Practice

Andy’s Insights – the art of deliberate practice 

When Andy was told by a client that she didn’t feel he was really listening to her,

he took this challenging feedback on board and set out to deliberately practice getting better at listening. This is his story of how the art of deliberate practice and getting better 1% every day makes a huge difference.

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This is a 10-minute read ahead of a lifetime of practice.  Don’t read it if you only want to stay “regular/normal” like everybody else.  If you read on – I as the author, take the optimistic assumption that you want to excel, that you desire for yourself, and the teams you work on to be extraordinary in levels of performance.

If you don’t want this – don’t read on.  Do something else with your time.  Okay – you’ve been warned!

The Art of Deliberate Practice

Here is a true – living -story from my path in life – hopefully it might inspire you to find your “next edge” on the path of mastery.

Not so long ago – March 2021– I got feedback from a very important client of mine that I had given her the impression that I was not listening…!

It was like a bone chillingly shocking bucket of iced cold water being thrown over my head and shoulders:

“Aaaarghhh! Holy moly!!! What!” I was screaming to myself, as I tried to receive the feedback. “Bloody hell! How far have I, in my attempts to be helpful, actually drifted off the path of helpfulness!?!?”

I was confused, shocked and disorientated. Time to get back to basics!  Listening.  Jeepers-creepers! I mean I have been practicing the art of coaching for 21 years – and yet here I am!

Because of the feedback – I shared my concerns with my teammates.  I asked for specific feedback whenever they could notice my practice of active listening.

It was time for DELIBERATE PRACTICE.  Not regular practice – that just helps you maintain a certain level of performance.  It is ONLY through deliberate practice that you can actually get better at anything.  Here is what I mean:

DELIBERATE PRACTICE is a term coined by Karl Anders Ericsson, recognised as one of the most influential figures of all time in the field of performance psychology. There is a world of difference between “regular” practice and “deliberate” practice. To keep getting better at something as fast as possible or reach an expert level, deliberate practice is vital.

To quote Ericsson in his book “Peak”:

This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.” The interesting part is the more time you spend deliberately practicing, the more comfortable you’ll become with being uncomfortable.

Daniel Coyle in “The little book of Talent” writes:

There is a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest. It’s called the sweet spot.…The underlying pattern is the same: Seek out ways to stretch yourself. Play on the edges of your competence. As Albert Einstein said, “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

The key word is ‘barely.’

To develop a practice of “deliberate practice” this is what I have done:

1)   Have a plan

2)   Push myself.

3)   Compound Interest

1)  Have a Plan – What do I mean?

Let’s say you’ve just had some feedback – you could improve your listening (Really – wow ! Your just like me!) Now you need to break this down into deliberate steps/components.  If you want to reach an expert level of performance, you must:

  • Begin practice sessions with a plan in mind.

o   I use my journal to keep notes

o   Before each meeting I ask myself “what am I going to consciously practice here?”

o   What will I notice?

·       Know what you’re working on, why, and how you intend to improve it.

o   For me – does the other person feel respected and seen by their conversation with me?

o   Feedback so far includes “the meeting was more spacious”, my colleagues had “time to think”. Teams are sharing how much they are appreciating. The sessions. It is honestly a work in progress for me.

·       Measure if your improvement efforts aren’t working and if you need to try a new tactic.

o   I try to ensure 80% of the time I am listening and digging deeper with curiosity “what’s the thought behind that thought?” type of digging.

·       Once you reach your goal for that particular component of the skill, it’s time to identify a new area of weakness to work on next.

o   The “next” for me is to speak up and challenge an idea if I do not believe it is intelligent enough/complex enough/simple enough as a decision.

How to implement this: Take the skill you’re aiming to improve (In my case: “Making sure the other person feels seen and respected”) and break it down into the smallest possible component parts.

For me this includes:

·       Am I warm and sending a friendly “vibe”?

·       How often am I saying “say more about x or y” because I am genuinely curious.

·       Am I appreciating and sharing what I like about what they are saying?

·       Do I try to get to “what’s between the lines and behind the words?”

·       Am I open to being changed by the conversation?

·       Have I “let go of control” and am available?

·       Am I synthesizing well?

·       Am I offering my own thoughts at the right level?

·       Does the other person feel “seen and respected”?

·       Has this conversation been helpful to the other person?

As you can see – I try to break it down into component parts.  Whatever skill you want to practice – break it down.

“Make a Plan”

·       Make a plan for working through the parts in a logical order, beginning with the fundamentals, then building upon them.

·       Decide which parts you’d like to master over the next month. (This month – April – I am trying to master “synthesizing”)

·       Put your practice sessions in your calendar, then plan precisely which parts of the skill you’re going to work on during each session.

“Permission to fail”

Don’t expect your plan to be perfect. You’ll likely need to keep modifying it as you discover new elements or unexpected weaknesses. The most important thing is to always go into practice with a plan for what you’re working on and how. Knowing what you’re doing next is the best way to stay on track and avoid aimless time-wasting. That means seeking to keep figuring out what separates you from the next level of performance so you can concentrate on that.

Learn a thing or two from babies. Deliberate practice isn’t necessarily fun while we’re doing it. In fact, most of the time it’s a process of repeated frustration and failure. We have to fall down a dozen times for every step we take. That’s the whole point. Yet do you ever see a baby give up?

2)   Push yourself – “oh really – Do I have to!”

Pushing ourselves just beyond the limits of our abilities is uncomfortable, yet it’s how we do our best—and indeed, it can be the source of some of our greatest moments of satisfaction. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we often experience happiness as a result of entering a “flow” state, which occurs when we intensely focus on an activity that is challenging yet achievable. During moments of flow, we become so immersed in the activity that we lose any sense of time or of ourselves.

Repetition inside the comfort zone does not equal deliberate practice. Deliberate practice requires that you operate in the learning zone and you repeat the activity a lot with feedback.

Back to my story:

Because of this – I have been able to practice afresh.

WAIT – “Why Am I Talking” became once again a trusted structure.  I practice checking myself “live” before words are coming out of my mouth – Helping me to keep my mouth shut and my ears open.

How to implement this: Each time you practice a component of a skill, aim to make it harder than the level you find comfortable.

Once per month, have a practice session where you set yourself an incredibly ambitious stretch goal—not impossible, just well above your current level. Challenge yourself to see how close you can get to it. You might surprise yourself and find you perform far better than expected.

3)  Compound Interest.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, ‘Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it’ This piece of mathematical magic applies to everything.  It certainly applies to getting better at any skill in the field of human interactions and leadership.

Back to my story: I am now in the second month of daily practice of listening.  I have had to confront the resistance dragon who screamed “don’t be silly you know how to do this“ And – the reality is – I am keeping my practice alive. One day at a time.

The result is I am more consciously awake and aware of am I truly listening.  It’s tricky.  It’s an art.  Its messy.  I make lots of mistakes. And I’m pushing myself.

What am I listening to – my own ideas? Or the words and sentiment underneath the words of the team I am coaching?  How do I listen to the “space” between the people, between the words, listening to feel of the “field” of relationships on the team?

And the moral of my story is that I know my conscious DELIBERATE practice is taking me to the next level.  I am hopeful that the next time my client talks she will feel listened to.  And now I notice that my practice naturally “pulls” me towards the next field of study.  How to “read the room”.

Here a quick summary of the tips I have used to help myself – perhaps they can help you help yourself on your own path towards mastery.

·       Aim to get better consistently, persistently over time.

·       Take a key skill and try to get 1% better at it today than you did yesterday.

·       Practice half an hour per day – every day. Do it for a year.

·       Keep going – you reap the rewards towards the end.

·       Don’t forget it takes 50 years for an acorn to become an oak tree.

·       The day you plant the seed is not the day you reap the fruit.

·       Keep at it.

·       Every day.

·       Baby steps.

·       1% better today than yesterday.

·       Never give up.

·       Never give up.

·       Never give up.



We loved this…laughter is like exercising, meditating and having sex all at the same time!

Hahaha! The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day. By contrast, it takes more than two months for the average 40-year-old adult to laugh that many times. This week, we talk with behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University about why so many of us fall off a “humor cliff” as we become adults. Plus, how we can inject more laughter into our lives, even during the most difficult of times.


When you’re in the middle of a pandemic and stuck on zoom calls all day long – goodness knows we could all do with some more laughter in our lives!

One of our values at Living Teams is play – we actually call it ‘playing on purpose’ because there is a purpose to play.

Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.

We take our work very seriously AND we insist on having a lot of fun doing it. If you’re not having much fun in your zoom meetings, you might like to try something new and a bit different to change things up a bit.  The bottom line is that if you have an influence on the quality of your virtual meetings then you need to prepare yourself – here’s some tips for you

1. Set a clear intention to have more lightness in your next meeting

If it’s your meeting – i.e. you are primarily responsible for making the meeting engaging, give yourself a good talking to before you start. Get in the right mindset – if you’re super serious about everything then that will set the tone. Go into the meeting with a clear intention to have some fun – sure there’s some serious stuff on the agenda but that shouldn’t stop you all sharing some lighter moments.

2. Take risks – humour is a funny business – there are no guarantees you’re going to get it right so don’t take yourself too seriously. Tell your people you’re going out on a. limb for the sake of some more fun in these meetings. Be vulnerable – ask for ideas, who knows what they will come up with.

3. Commit to doing something different even if your saboteurs are screaming at you that it is going to fail spectacularly.

Here’s 3 things we’ve tried and had fun with…

  • Name and gesture – ask one person at a time to say their name and then create a spontaneous gesture – then everyone else repeats that name and then performs that gesture – all at the same time. Then move to the next person and repeat until everyone has been. Best if you go first and role model – do it confidently and have some fun with it – they WILL follow.
  • One word story – a great improv game that always gets a laugh – when it goes wrong, or right. Decide on the order that they will speak and then think of a topic for the story – you could always help them by giving them the first 4 words “Once upon a time…” and then see where they take it. Again ,your job is to commit to having some fun and give some simple instructions. Be amazed at the creativity in the stories that emerge.
  • Rename yourself – quick and easy. It is easy to rename your zoom window. Choose a theme – it could be “My nickname at school” or “My partner’s special name for me” or “The name I’d love to be called”. Once everyone has worked out how to rename themselves you can go around the room inviting people to share their new name – guaranteed to raise a few laughs.

Do whatever it takes to bring more creative laughter energy into your workplace – it really can make a world of difference. Let us know how you get on – we can all learn and laugh together.


Meet Kathy Iffla – My hero’s journey

Each month we learn about one of our team’s heroic journeys. Meet Kathy Iffla and find out how a chance invitation to ‘try some pottery’ changed her life.

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“Leaving the known world and meeting my mentor.”

My life was quite ordinary. The status quo was lots of physical activity, mainly in the outdoors. It had a richness of work in experiential learning and team development using many projects set in an outdoor context. I was facilitating and coaching in a wide variety of contexts and was busy.

Then, one day, I discovered I was 3 months pregnant and realised why I had been feeling so tired and drained of energy.

The Call: I had to leave my known world of activity and travel, and slow down. In slowing down a friend suggested I try pottery. I said the usual – easily said thing… “I am not in the least creative…no its not for me thanks!” I turned down the call to adventure. My friend Clare persisted, and eventually persuaded me to answer the call. “It’s not about the pottery, she said, it’s the person that I really want you to meet!” So I went. My life changed forever.

I left the known world and entered another world. I expect like me you know people who have created special environments where they live and work. The pottery was indeed such a place. Magic really happened there, from the dentist, the grumpy postman, the local millionaire, the farmer’s wife, and a physio and many more – they all became absorbed into a world “of making.” Losing a sense of time and beating to another tune.

It was based in a converted milking shed, with a raised floor, stalls, a pot belly stove, and large French windows looking out across the valley towards a distant Irish Sea. There was a quiet humming of people concentrating, working, the odd outburst of laughter. It smelt of earth, wood smoke, wet dogs and candlewax. The light was bright with little dust motes floating gently around. A vivid picture which touched all my senses, a kind of magnetic atmosphere at once luring and enticing.

My mentor to-be, “Jill”, owned this extension of her own home which was across the yard. She was in her late 60s, slim due to the endless energy she seemed to possess. She filled the air with welcome and delight at each person’s presence. She offered a strong push to “have a go”, which I did! It was very hands on, nothing formally taught. Everyone was charged with keeping an eye out for those who needed help, advice, tips tricks or a cup of tea when disasters struck their creation. The opening of the kiln after firing was a ceremony of worship – oooh’s and aaaah’s – a clasping of hands, a hug, or a leap for joy.

From the moment I entered this world and began to work with clay – something in me was opened. In hindsight the fact that I was having my first child and at the same time finding my creativity seems far too much of a coincidence.

Jill became my fairy godmother and dearest friend. She taught me many things – too many to share in this short writing but below are some of the learnings that I took from that magical world. For me, they are learnings for life, and especially for working with others.

·      Care about the details, the look, feel, and smell of the environment you create for others to work in. Make it something special and remembered. If you care enough… magic will happen

·      Hold your preconceived ideas about what is going to happen and what you are going to make/create lightly – then the process will be allowed to be free, you will see what is needed as it emerges in the moment.

·      Join it, do not work at it, or on it, join it and be with it and in it – this is where creativity lives.

·      Do not judge too quickly, when failures happen, walk away and give it time and space before coming back and looking once more with fresh eyes.  I had ultimately several very successful pieces which in the process of making had disasters (I remember my 1st hare I had proudly made, it collapsed in two pieces overnight – upon completion it became far more interesting and creative as a consequence of its collapse!

·      Trust your intuition and instincts – give them some space to fly, trust things will emerge if you but give the space to do so.

·      Look first for what has worked, name it, and celebrate it. Know why it has worked in detail. Write it down. Learn and apply.

·      Look again and understand in detail, why things failed. Name it. Write it down. Learn and apply.

·      Accept, laugh, let go, and then onward for the next lesson…and if you take care of the process the results look after themselves.

From clay to leadership and much further, these lessons I am still learning and then re-learning, and then learning yet again. I guess I am a slow learner!

Kathy is one of our wonderful “Living Teams” coaches.



Living Teams Rock Moments –  zoom campfire songs!

We love a campfire here at “Living Teams” – and we have been trying our best to recreate that special campfire magic in a zoom room! We adopted the acronym P.I.S.S. to focus our first get together Playfulness. Inspiration. Stillness. Service.

We had our first zoom campfire on 24th March and we were delighted to host a small gathering of clients from many different companies and parts of the world to simply sit around the fire and share some stories and music. Here’s what we learned.

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First of all – it IS possible – we all had a great time and managed to create a chilled, fun, relaxed evening.

My favourite bit was NOT having any introductions – such a relief to not have to be anyone important!

And of course it was great to really listen to some of the favourite soundtracks of the people around the fire. It was kind of weird, just holding the space to listen to music without any distractions (and there was some spontaneous dancing as well) – again, a little strange on zoom but then we adopted the ‘dance like no one’s watching you’ approach and if you turned your camera off, that was true!

A big thanks to everyone who joined us on our inaugural campfire – couldn’t have done it without you and your willingness to give it a go.

And I know you want to know what was on the playlist so here it is…no judgment.

  • Hotel California – Eagles
  • Bad Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce
  • Sky blue and Black – Jackson Browne
  • Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
  • Feels Like Home – Diana Krall, Bryan Adams
  • One – U2
  • Africa – Toto

The music made it – thank you for the music.


“No one can whistle a symphony.

It takes an orchestra to play it”

Halford E. Luccock
American minister, professor, and author. As quoted in The Big Book of Business Quotations (2016), by Johnnie Roberts

Thanks for joining us – we hope you found a gift in the flames of the fire – something that will help you and your team grow.

These are challenging and exciting times – we need to help each other find our growth edges as we seek a more purposeful path through the uncertain future – and try to have as much fun as possible in the process!

Please forward this to anyone you know would like to join us around the campfire – we’re stronger together.

From your hosts at Living Teams

Tony, Andy and Pip