We need superteams to change the climate

This is a series of articles about a Thinking Ahead Institute climate beliefs working group which produced a challenging set of beliefs that, if adopted and applied, would transform institutional investing behaviours. The beliefs were produced over 16 weeks by a team of nine and here Tim Hodgson, of WTW’s Thinking Ahead Group, starts the series by describing the importance of investment beliefs, how the group was formed and their operation as a superteam.

The need for climate beliefs

Climate change mitigation is about reducing carbon emissions; with the interim milestone of halving emissions by 2030. For the investment industry, this is not just about managing the scale and pace of the required transformation, but also acknowledging that the transition will be costly, and likely messy. Along with this come a host of other considerations: the environmental and social repercussions of the transition; manoeuvring the evolving legal landscape; and an increased role for ethics, particularly as they relate to a just transition. These factors bring additional complexity to an already challenging journey. We suggest that a well-thought-through set of climate beliefs will help an organisation manage the inevitable uncertainty ahead. Beliefs form the foundation for successful climate action. As you settle your beliefs, you will engage in honest dialogue on what the climate change challenge means for your organisation. Biases will surface and will be corrected. You will evolve your own thinking as well as influence your colleague’s views. This richer understanding will enable you to align your strategies more closely to your climate ambitions. Establishing climate beliefs will create the right mindset and set up guardrails for effective decision-making.

The process is as powerful as the result. The extensive negotiations we witnessed at COP26 made one thing pretty clear, that process and politics are deeply intertwined. If the process set up to facilitate negotiations is inclusive, democratic and respectful, then the politics will be conducive in reaching a desired agreement. However, if there is little trust in the process, then the political dynamics will work against you. There is little point in establishing climate beliefs which don’t have a buy-in from all key stakeholders. Investment is fundamentally a human-talent endeavour. The right processes champion both the humanistic and cognitive qualities of the group. We mention humanistic qualities here because beliefs can be deeply personal and heavily influenced by one’s values. Which is why navigating a discussion on beliefs can be a delicate affair. But beliefs are also adaptive – they can evolve through active discussions, rational thinking and fresh perspectives. The right processes create safe spaces where these discussions can thrive.

Process guidelines

There are numerous ways to build a good process for settling climate beliefs. In this series we offer a compelling case study, from an institute climate beliefs working group, of one way to go about it – as well as contributions from some of the individuals who expound on the beliefs.

The institute’s climate beliefs working group comprised nine self-selected individuals who signed up for a demanding weekly cadence of meetings at unsociable hours for the Pacific coast (10pm) and UK (6am). The individuals also agreed to operate as a superteam, in the light of the institute’s current research and power of teams project.

The quality and quantity of the group’s output in only 16 weeks was remarkable and should become apparent as this series of articles unfolds. But what is most remarkable, in my opinion, is how the work was produced. And I think I know one of the main reasons why.

Each call had five minutes dedicated to check-ins, and the same for check-outs. In other words, we deliberately allocated over 15% of our time budget to engage with each other’s humanity, and not their work potential. By initiating this practice we learned about individuals’ hopes and fears, concerns over sick pets and children, challenges and joys. We learned to trust each other and, for me at least, we grew to love (philia) each other, which also probably accounts for a remarkable productivity bonus. Being in the zone with a trusted and collaborative team was a career highlight, and a real advert for how superteams can produce exceptional results. Incidentally, of all the superteam behaviour changes we signed up to, it was the check-ins and outs that this, and other group members, chose to implement in their own organisations.

The experience was also confirmatory that we must bring our hearts to the climate crisis, as there is a distinct difference between heart knowledge and head knowledge, which is expounded on in a previous top1000funds article What’s love got to do with it?.

While there are many other climate beliefs and ways of getting them settled, this group believes that this set of beliefs is necessary if we want to save the liveability of our planet. I commend them to you and the superteams approach which helped form them and hope both will inspire you to take an essential and positive step towards meeting our very challenging emissions reduction targets.

Tim Hodgson is co-head of the Thinking Ahead Group, an independent research team at WTW and executive to the Thinking Ahead Institute (TAI). The document describing the climate beliefs is available here. Click to read the second post in the series, Consider a beautiful island… by Herschel Pant, Senior Consultant Solutions at AXA Investment Managers.