Travis Marsh – Building Teams and Embracing Tension | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

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Travis Marsh | Conversations with Coaches | Boxer Media

Travis is the co-founder at Human First Works. This organization helps purpose-driven founders and their teams overcome challenges, create fulfilling workplaces, and make the world a better place as they scale their businesses. With a people-centered approach, he supports leaders by helping them develop their interpersonal and decision-making skills, discover new perspectives and practices, and build more engaged, resourceful, and successful teams.

He’s also a facilitator of the Interpersonal Dynamics class (affectionately called Touchey Feely) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, focusing on the relationship-building side of organizational coaching and specializing in co-founder conflict.

On top of all that, Travis is the co-author of “Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business.” This book explores what it means to be a leader, the emergence of more dynamic organizational paradigms, and the benefits of choosing peer-based relationships and meaningful work over profit and rapid growth.

I had an excellent time chatting with Travis, who gave me the gift of one of my new favorite analogies for team-building: If you build a pyramid, you end up with mummies. 🙂

To learn more about Travis:

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[00:00:00] Kevin Stafford: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Conversations with Coaches podcast. I’m your host, Kevin, and today I’ve had the pleasure already of making the acquaintance of Travis Marsh, and I’m excited to talk to him about, well, as much as we can fit into about 15 minutes of conversation. You know this podcast.

It’s my hardest job to make sure I keep it brief, and I can already tell I’m going to want to ask Travis a bunch of follow up questions. So bear with me as I introduce him to you, and then we we do our best to keep it brief and impactful, which is always our aim here. Travis is the author of a book called lead together.

He’s a facilitator for MBA students at Stanford in a class, and I love this, affectionately called touchy feely. You’re in the right place, Travis. He’s also founded human first works, which focuses on helping purpose driven organizations that want to create more agility, resilience, and accountability. By leveraging the talent they already have in place.

Travis, thank you for sharing some time with me today. I’m excited to, I’m excited to dart my eyes at the zoom clock and realize that I’ve already let it go too long. I’m excited. I’m excited to travel down some tangent roads with you today. Oh, I can’t wait. I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Well, let’s, let’s go back to the beginning, not the beginning, beginning. I like to sometimes Joe, let’s not go back to, I was born on a sunny day and whatever. But you’re beginning as a coach. Now, a lot of times that particular word as it’s, as it’s definitely advanced in the, in the vocabulary of people, a lot more people today understand what a coach is or what a coach can do than they did even just a year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago.

But how did you realize that you could make the kind of impact you wanted to have as. A coach. How did you first discover that coaching was really a way for you to both kind of grow and add to your impact and influence in the world? By

[00:01:43] Travis Marsh: absolutely screwing it up as royally as possible. So I got promoted into a management position and like I was like Hard charging, like technical sales, want to go win capitalism, make as much money as I can try and be the the smartest person as many rooms as I could be.

And I was a real dick of a boss just a slave driver. I’m like, okay, great. You all want the same thing I do, right? Like no concern about where they’re coming from or what their perspective is. And it’s like, you want to go. Make a bunch of money go try and do this and I will help you achieve that.

And completely missed the signals. I was, I was inches away from firing the entire team and my boss in a wonderful, very coaching sort of moment. He’s like, there is another common denominator here and it is not that they are all stupid, right? That was my, my come to Jesus moment on like, Oh my gosh, I’ve been treating people as.

As a ends and not means right? Like not thinking about out where they were. And it was like, like I worked through that and why that was coming up for me. I’ve got a coach of my own and started to unpack some pieces of the other puzzle and said, okay, I’m going to make a change. I’m going to let them make the other strategy that they want to to make empower them.

You know, I’ll be helpful and I’ll bring a lot of data, right? Which I was like now looking back at it, I was still trying to control the situation. And so I brought the data. It was really clear. The best way to to change the the courses, like the top 30 customers were where all the revenue was.

And so they came and they’re like, great. We’ve got a plan. We’re going to go after everybody. That’s not the top 30. It was like clearly testing me. Like, like, are you really gonna let us have our way or not? And, and they, they pulled it off, right? Like they, they hustled and. You know, eventually they figured out it was not the strongest strategy.

And that they changed as soon as they could 6 months later. But the next strategy that they came up with was far better than anything I could have ever dreamed of. It was like leveraging partners and that’s. Really, when I started to understand, Oh, you know what? Like it doesn’t matter how smart anybody is.

The collective intelligence is going to be far greater than what any one person brings and letting and making space for that to naturally arise, especially when things really matter is one really challenging and two, even more useful than it is challenging.

[00:04:26] Kevin Stafford: I love that brings to mind. One of my very favorite throughout most of my life.

One of my very favorite sayings. Or at least a partial saying when talking about a team working, working super duper well together and having great success and identifying their chemistry, their team chemistry as what’s actually like sparking them to like new levels, that phrase greater than the sum of its parts or greater than the sum of their parts.

I was, I’ve always fascinated by the, by the poetry of that phrase from a very young age, long before I had any understanding of it. And I’m still growing in my understanding of it today. But there’s just something about that. About a well constructed, I don’t want to say machine because that gives it sort of a mechanical bend, but like almost like a formula, like an equation that when you’ve got all the right elements in place and everything is balanced and you’ve got the right variables and you’ve got all the right elements in place, what you can add up to can be so much greater than you could even imagine or even hope for and translating that understanding and awareness Translating that to the team environment, to the human environment, and putting that into action, like, just like, just like your team did, you also had to learn some hard lessons.

You had to try some stuff, and have that fail spectacularly, which, I mean, no better teacher, quite frankly, if you’re willing, if you’re, if you’re willing and able to, shall we say, bounce back from that and learn those lessons. But that’s just beautiful, how that, how that happens, and it’s. It takes a while sometimes, longer for some than for others.

I must admit to some, some failures on my part there as well. But eventually you realize that that is the best way forward. There’s just, there’s just, there’s no better way to accomplish what you want to accomplish and to get to where you want to go than to equip and empower your team, equip and empower your people, whoever you’re working with and for, and move forward together, including maybe making some bad choices.

Maybe having some poor strategic decisions here and there because what you’ll gain from that quote unquote failure Will be so much greater than any short term success you might have been able to white knuckle your way to

[00:06:27] Travis Marsh: and like I find it fascinating that so many of us have Like two very opposite experiences, right? Like one, we’ve all been on teams that really are amazing. And two, most of the teams and groups that we’re in, like are mediocre at best, some truly suck. And so. How do we rectify the fact that like, there’s greatness that’s here, but mostly there’s like, like this feeling like what’s that little meme that’s going around right now?

It’s like, oh, when I, when I die, I want everybody I worked on a group project with to to lower me into the ground so they can let me down one more time. Right? And like, how do we, how do we balance those two dichotomies that show up? And that’s a really hard question that I don’t think many people have a strong answer to.

[00:07:16] Kevin Stafford: Yeah, and not enough people are are answering the call like that’s that’s a question that requires it requires some attention some skills and talent some time some patience because that’s I mean that question unlocks it unlocks so much it unlocks real alignment when you actually have not just the metaphor of everyone in a boat rowing in the same direction, which is what we’re shooting for, but you actually feel that it’s like, oh, wait, we are.

rowing in the same direction and every individual member’s actions is contributing to the forward momentum of the entire boat. It’s like, that’s, it’s a great metaphor. It’s a great analogy, but it takes some real work. And I love that. I mean, forgive me, this is the I’m gonna blow smoke up your butt portion of the podcast, it might happen again too, but I love when people like you dedicate themselves to, to that question, because it really, like you said, there’s just not enough of an awareness of that question and a seeking of answers to that question of how to get it.

How to get people going in the same direction, how to get alignment in both in your team and across teams, especially when you’re operating in like a bigger organization where you’ve got, you know, where you wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. So to speak, another one of my favorite phrases, it’s like not just knows what they’re doing, but sometimes those hands have to work together to, you know, maybe row the boat or swing the bat or, you know, cook the meal or whatever analogy you want to throw out there.

Yeah, I just, I, we need more attention on that question and on all of the answers and the implications of that answers. And so, yes, speak on it. Continue. And

[00:08:38] Travis Marsh: I just, I just love the people like building on the ones that dedicate themselves, right? Like, like, I like the The research of like, Dr. Ruth Wegman and Richard Hackman, who did the 16 conditions, right?

Where they figured out what makes a team. And it’s like, like, Oh, do we know who’s on the other team? Do we have a compelling purpose? Do we actually have the right people that can get this done? Do we have the right structure and context to do these things? And then. Other ones like New York that I don’t think nearly enough people know is Vanessa dress cats work on team emotional intelligence, where she found like the the three big buckets, like the fundamentals, the social capital and the emotional intelligence norms that help like truly great teams move from that good to great.

So I’ll plant that little seed. Cause I, I know your your podcast listeners are avid learners. So some things for them to go check out along the way.

[00:09:34] Kevin Stafford: I love that familiar names and names. I had not heard before. I’m like, interesting. And the way you get, the way you set that up, I have some, I have some Googling to do on my, on my, on my lunch break later today, brilliant.

Let’s, let’s bring things as, as much as I could stay in the conceptual realm with you, I could tell for, for a very long time, let’s, let’s, let’s bring things to the present and let’s get down boots on the ground. Let’s talk about human first works. Let’s talk about your work there. And I’ll ask this as a personal question and you can answer it.

However you’d like. Who I always, I always feel like I’m interrogating my, my guests when I ask this question, because it sounds like, you know, I’ve got you in a room and I’m like, who you coach and how you coach them, but really like who you focus on, who you focus your work on and how you coach them being what your methodologies are and what your frameworks might be, whether you’re one to one or group coaching masterminds.

Coursework books, you know, obviously some in some cases, in many cases, all of the above. But yeah, who do you coach and how do you coach them in your work, both individually and through human first works? So

[00:10:36] Travis Marsh: our fundamental belief is that and the reason I was talking so much about teams is that teams are the building block for the 21st century, right?

You could you used to be able to build an organization on a high performing person and you bring them all the decisions, right? And you, you build a pyramid structure towards that right nowadays, if you build pyramids, you end up getting mummies, right? And everybody except that top person is the other one that is making all the other critical decisions.

So we believe if you switch that, especially starting with the executive team. So we work with executive teams of 20 to 200 person organizations normally. thE there’s some leader on there, often the CEO, but occasionally it’s actually somebody from the next rung down from the C suite on like, like the CTO or CMO or somebody like that that’s trying to make change in the organization can see some possibility and creating not just change for them, but also change on the the team that they’re on.

And now we’re also kind of kicking off, like you mentioned a mastermind group for. CEOs that are actually out there on the more bleeding edge on, they’ve already gone through the work and transforming their organizations towards something that’s more self managed, distributed authority. And they’ve already done that for a couple of years and they want to connect with other CEOs that are out there on the bleeding edge.

So those are kind of the two fundamental groups that we like to to work with

[00:12:02] Kevin Stafford: most. I like that. I like that, that, that exemplifies a certain, in my opinion, necessary commitment. To you don’t just get to figure out, it’s like, Oh, I identified the changes I needed to make in the organization and then we executed those and now I’m done.

It’s like, it’s, it’s sort of actually very much an ongoing process, whether you’re on the bleeding edge or like smack dab in the middle, there’s a commitment to change and growth that really is required if you want, if you want to see the kind of impact you, you want to see out of your business, out of your organization and it’s, man, it is so tempting.

I don’t want to say to rest on your laurels, because that makes it seem like you’re proud of yourself, but just to like, to go through a major change, and even to have great success in that change, and then just to relax. Which, and I’m not to say that you can’t relax sometimes, take your, take your breaks where you can.

But there’s just, there’s something about that commitment to change. That commitment to ongoing change and evolution that I feel like separates, it separates the real leaders from the ones who are, shall we say, still in development. Or still in early stage development, I should say. Yeah, there’s

[00:13:07] Travis Marsh: always this weird tension between, okay, I can be proud of all the things I’ve done, and I also, when I’m in that quiet place where, where I can look at things, I know I’m probably holding the organization back because of something I haven’t learned.

And so how do I have both of those at the same time, and, and be honest with myself, instead of just one or the other, is Really hard. It’s useful to have somebody outside yourself to be that mirror and that reflection.

[00:13:38] Kevin Stafford: That’s it. That’s it right there. That’s, that’s one of the things that first drew me to coaching in general, just as something to look into.

And the thing that gets the reason why I’m so passionate, the reason why I hand talk and I find that my podcast episodes go long because I get to talking about it. And I just find there to be such a value in a coach I’ve referred to, I’ve referred to. Maybe not inappropriately, but a little bit tongue and cheekily referred to coaches as sort of like the intimate stranger, because there’s this degree of commitment and investment from a coach in their, in their clients that is really like a close trusted friend or a confidant.

And yet they have that distance of a stranger where it’s just like, Hey, I’m. I’m invested in you, but I don’t have any baggage with you. We haven’t been friends since college, and I know about the thing you did that one night and yada yada. There’s none of that, none of that extra stuff that comes with some of those deeper intimate relationships that are so valuable.

And there’s also, with that, the skill and experience of being in that position. To where it’s like, I know the questions to ask you. Even though I’m just now getting to know you, I know what to ask to start the conversation going in the right direction, and I know what to get you to ask yourself, and I’ve got exercises, and I’ve got techniques and tips and whole frameworks for you to start working on, and it’s just, there’s something so, to me, so powerful about these, I hate to use this word because it’s so, it’s so cheeky, but the synergy in that particular relationship that a coach can provide, it’s just, there’s really nothing quite like it.

And I feel like for leadership development, it’s just, if you’re serious at all about it, you’ve got to coach every, every

[00:15:10] Travis Marsh: great leader. Right. It used to be 20 years ago, it was kind of a hidden secret, but now the other cats out of the other bag everybody from from Bill Gates to Elon Musk is somebody that they rely on and great.

Right. Like we all need support and and then sometimes challenge at the right moment and somebody to balance the two.

[00:15:32] Kevin Stafford: Yeah, distance and proximity at the same time. It’s like, I almost find it, it’s easiest to almost speak to it in the, in the language of paradox. Which is funny because it makes so much sense.

And again, a coach is both very, very close enough to see and act on everything that needs to be seen and acted on and far enough away to do it with clarity. And that’s just, it seems like it’s impossible, but it is precisely what a coach brings to the table. And I just, I can never get over how, how much sense a coach makes.

So here I am blowing smoke up your butt again, being grateful that you and people like you are dedicated to that space and in particular to to leadership development. I just think it’s it’s so necessary and so powerful and I’m doing the thing where I’m wrapping up because I’m looking at the clock and I’m realizing that I’ve got.

Like 17 follow up questions for you, both like boots on the ground and conceptual. And I’m going to go ahead and give you a chance now to talk a little bit more about about where people can find out not just more about you, but about human first works and where people can connect with you if they’re looking to do that as well.

Just like, you know, kind of start a conversation, maybe, you know, see about starting a professional relationship with you.

So if people is my another one of my interrogatory questions where I’ve got you in the room behind the chair. It’s like, what did you know? And when did you know it? How can people. Just learn more about you if they just want to learn more about your story, your journey, what you did then, what you’re doing now, what you’re doing going forward, etc, etc.

And if it’s different, where can people best connect with you? If they wanted to start a conversation, a friendship, go out and have coffee with you, begin a professional relationship, anything in between. So yeah, where can people, if that’s different, where can people find out more and connect with you? So if people want to know more about the the backstory I would totally recommend Ed Fraunheim’s book, Reinventing Masculinity.

My story ended up on there and it’s just a great book, highly recommended for men and women alike. We’re connecting, chatting more definitely LinkedIn is the place that I am most active and it’s, you know, the, travis Marsh, T R A V I S M A R S H as my handle on LinkedIn, or you can find me at humanfirstworks.

com. Perfect. I’ll make sure the links to everything’s in the show notes. And if I can find a link to that book, I’ll put that in there as well. Just so that people have, have one click for their next step on their, on their journey to Travis Marsh, whatever that might look like. So thank you. And I know for the third time, for the third and final time, I’ll blow some smoke up your butt.

Thank you so much for both sharing some time with me today. And And for the focus of the work that you do, I just, I think it’s in the name. Also human first works, I feel like is a very appropriate name for not just everything that you do, but all the values you represent. And I know, thanks for sharing a little bit of time today and thanks for doing what you do.

I really appreciate it. And I’d love to have you back on. I feel like, like I said, I feel like we could go for a lengthy bit of time. On the high concept stuff, the medium concept stuff, the boots on the ground stuff, everything in between. I feel like we could definitely, there’s, there’s always more meat on this bone, so I’d love to have you back on.

This was super fun. Right back at you. Really appreciate the the work you do and how you do it. So thanks for, for being here, for doing all the organization piece of the puzzle. And this was a lot of fun. I’d be happy to come back anytime. Awesome. Okay. And for the audience, if that’s not enough of a tease for you, we’ll always be back on this podcast feed with you very soon with another coach.

And also one of the things I know you’ve come to love is when we have coaches back on for a second or a third or a fourth. I don’t want to make any promises on your behalf that you might not want to keep, but I love checking in, seeing how things are going. The audience loves it too. So thank you, Travis.

Thank you, audience. Thank you for everything that all of you do. And we will talk to you again very soon. Thank you all.

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