David Gracey-Keogh’s role as Associate Director of Market Surveillance Project Management with pharma industry giant Takeda sees him building and leading projects for the team that are responsible for investigating issues raised in relation to Takeda products by patients and healthcare professionals. That work led him to take the UCD Smurfit teams course - Executive Development Building and Leading High Performing Teams - run in partnership with Leinster Rugby.

“We started building the market surveillance team from scratch back in 2019,” he says. “The vast majority of team members have been here for around two years now. UCD’s Building and Leading High Performing Teams course was a great chance for me to acquire the skills needed to lead the team through the next phase of its journey and to achieve our goals.”

He has spent his entire career in the pharma industry and joined Shire, which subsequently became Takeda in March 2016. “I have a degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a Masters in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Process Technology from TU Dublin,” he adds.

He explains that the nature of the teams he leads adds to the challenges of leadership. The teams are not made up of direct reports. Instead, they are formed of different people from different areas of the organisation from time to time. Team members are selected on the basis of the project being worked on at time.

“I am responsible for leading teams on projects,” he adds. “I wanted to know more about leading people in a team where it is not their main job or primary focus. I need them to be as invested in that as they are in their day-to-day roles.”

The Building and Leading High Performing Teams course came to his attention through a post he saw on LinkedIn. “I’m a rugby fan as well so that caught my eye,” he points out. “That led me to research it a bit more. I was interested in learning about sports team management and how that could be imported into the business world. How do I get a group of high performing individuals to act as a team? How does a sports team do it? And how do you transfer that to business. I find that really interesting.”

He found the course very enjoyable. “There was almost a back-to-school feeling to it,” he says. “I spent three days on site with a room full of people from very diverse backgrounds. I was quite surprised. Everyone was super engaged. There was a very nice, friendly, atmosphere created by the team in the school. Everyone in the class was quite vocal but not overly so. There was a nice balance. Everyone’s voice was heard. It’s very inclusive and there was a good balance between listening and contributing.”

There was also a good mix of theory and practice. “You’re not just learning skills for eight hours a day. There is a good balance between class learning and putting it into action.”

Among the many highlights of the course for him was the interaction with the Leinster Rugby management team. “They spoke to us about how they talk to players who are at the beginning of their careers as elite athletes. They speak to them about planning for when it’s all over. That brings things back down to earth.”

Life lessons were a key element of the course. “What caught my attention is the need to look at what really makes you happy and how you shouldn’t always focus on work. We were shown the wheel of life and how that breaks it up into sections like friendships, ambitions, health, and work. It helps you to step back and look around to see where you are. Self-reflection like that is very good. That’s just one aspect that I brought back to the team in work. The need to stop and take a look at what you are doing. Instead of go, go, go, we need to ask if we should make changes to get where we want.”

He brought that same thinking into his approach to team leadership. “It’s not about getting the team to do things. It’s about leading the team. There is no point in getting people to do things they don’t want to do. It’s about helping them be the best version of themselves.”

Another particularly impressive element of the course was the visit to the Leinster Rugby training facility in UCD. “We did a drill with the Leinster coaching team. It was a simple passing drill, but it was all about communications. They played crowd noise at a very high volume in the hall. You have to communicate with the team with all those disruptions. When you try to communicate with others in those conditions, they may not understand you. People do interpret things differently. You need to learn how they listen and communicate in different environments.”

He says the course definitely exceeded his expectations. “I kind of shifted my expectations as it went on. I thought I was going to learn about teams, but I came out with a lot of self-reflection, and I learned a lot about me. I really, really enjoyed it. The connections I made with the other people on the course are also very important. We are all still connected on LinkedIn. We come from a lot of different backgrounds but there is a lot in common in terms of the questions and areas we have to talk about. The industry we come from really doesn’t matter. Teams are the same and everyone wants to bring the best out of their teams.”

The course has had an impact both personally and professionally. “I feel a difference in the way I think about some things. I definitely picked up some skills that I use in my daily role. I have a broader skillset to utilise in my job. They have made a difference to how I do my job.

“I would absolutely recommend to others,” he continues. “Leinster Rugby brought a great way to look at it. But you don’t need to be a rugby fan to get a lot out of it. It’s worthwhile for anyone from any industry. When we talked about it at the end, everyone took something different from it. Everyone found different benefits to take back to their workplace.”

Click here for more information on the next intake of UCD’s Building & Leading High Performing Teams

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