You will find that the first two scenarios focus on our one-to-one assessment and coaching processes, while the third describes a typical team building session.
Situations are modified from the original scenarios in order to fully protect our clients’ confidentiality:
Come Together or Come Apart – holding company learns to collaborate after 80 years of competition
Silence Wasn’t So Golden — individual management coaching to improve communication.
Enduring a Rude Welcome — difficulties with executive transition
Cross Functional Team Dysfunction — senior management communication issues
Silence Wasn’t So Golden
Ray (not his real name) was the head of a distribution unit for a growing supplier of retail products. We were called in to try to work with him to improve his everyday communication with staff. As is our practice, we first conducted an organizational climate assessment and spoke to a wide range of Ray’s internal customers throughout the organization.
We very quickly learned that his communication problems were not limited to those with his staff. He was seen as increasingly withdrawing from executive interaction, finding excuses for not attending senior management planning sessions and skipping company social events. Consequently, his organization was losing visibility as well as credibility and Ray, despite his technical expertise, was facing derailment and possibly even termination.
We began weekly meetings with Ray to get his side of the story. We found out that he felt awkward continually fighting against other executives for the company’s resources and felt that the large contribution his operation made to the bottom line should have been all the argument needed. We did an extensive executive assessment of Ray’s interests, goals, management and interpersonal style and communication and leadership skills using highly reliable instruments and interviews. We then held several feedback sessions with Ray, sharing our data and pointing out, to his surprise, several obvious blind spots. We gave him concrete recommendations on how he could alter some of his management behaviors, and he began to try out these new ways of working with people.
Shortly after our feedback sessions, we were called in to see the company human resources head and Ray’s boss. They reported that he was making unexpected progress, and was able to retain a key member of his management team who previously planned to leave the company.
We continued our work with Ray, working on the assessment recommendations point-by-point. He began to do substantial reading in leadership and management practices and he began to apply many of the coaching techniques with his staff that we had used in our work together. At times, the work was very painful, but Ray persevered.
Today–three years later– he is regarded as one of the finest managers in the company, with that rare combination of technical expertise and low-key, but effective and genuine people skills. He frequently volunteers to head up cross-functional executive teams and has brought in a strong manager under him to run many of the key day-to-day aspects of his plant. To even his surprise, he is regarded as the executive team’s “thought leader” on issues of employee development and training.
Enduring a Rude Welcome
Kim was a recent recruit from an east coast health care firm, and moved to Silicon Valley to head up the Marketing operations for a medical instruments development firm. She had impeccable Ivy league credentials, and her track record at the prior employer was that of a high-level contributor whose staff adored her. To put it simply, Kim possessed tons of charisma and success was written all over every activity she initiated.
Kim was taken aback when she began to witness before her eyes “palace intrigue”, with peers and even members of her staff sabotaging her early projects in her new company. Staff members became so hostile that they would continually berate her behind closed doors, directly questioning her skills and ability to transition to Silicon Valley’s “workaholic” culture. She had never encountered this type of office politics before, having come from a work culture that seemed to embrace the principles of executive community to a great degree.
We were called in to assess her “fit” for her current role. Although she was initially reluctant to participate, we won her trust and began to understand her situation clearly. She agreed to a management assessment, which we conducted, and she seriously considered the recommendations in our feedback report.
Working on a weekly basis, we collaborated to tackle her work problems one-by-one, all the while teaching her to employ positive political skills to advance her agenda in the face of constant antagonism. With the support of her boss, we helped her design effective working relationships with all key players.
We ultimately conducted team-building with her staff, creating an atmosphere for her to lay out her vision without the interference of her political opponents. The team-building process resulted in one of her managers transferring to another division while the remaining staff members gradually coalesced into a true, cohesive, working team.
Kim still faces challenges in this turbulent organizational environment, but she has found a way to be effective while remaining true to her core values of integrity, innovation, creative engagement during times of conflict and high work standards. She is now coaching and developing a young manager who, prior to our work, had been one of her most skeptical staff.
Functional Team Dysfunction
We were contacted by a client to provide help to two cross-functional project teams, both of which were responsible for re-engineering the company’s information systems, one in Finance and the other in Human Resources. The presenting problems in both cases were a lack of trust on the two project teams. Project leaders were the target of hostile “whispering campaigns”, with the accompanying poor cooperation from project team members. Usually this was expressed in a passive-aggressive way, with members not consistently attending team meetings or when meetings were well-attended, discussions were characterized by the project leaders doing all the talking and members sitting quietly. Outside meetings, rumors and intrigue filled the company corridors.
After conducting one-on-one interviews with all project team members, we decided to spend a day with each project team off-site, using David Bohm’s Dialogue technique. Simply, put, we structured an off-site day where all participants were to suspend their assumptions about the team, its members and their own expectations about how successful the team could be.
We offered to facilitate using the Dialogue technique, focusing on getting group members to consider four key questions related to the project team’s mission, resources, obstacles and opportunities. We created an environment where people could speak and be heard, where they could listen and really hear the kinds of messages that the everyday organizational climate froze out.
Although we were not at all concerned with getting agreement on concrete action planning on that day–our objective was the more modest one of merely opening up the lines of communication–it turned out that merely putting people in a safe environment unleashed a tidal wave of creativity. During both sessions, we were able to all agree on ground rules for project teamwork that our clients in retrospect say marked the turning point for success. The project teams began to change the ways they conducted business. Notably, they expanded opportunities for participation and worked harder to communicate during critical decision points.
Today the client has a new HRIS and FIS, but more importantly, the company made this happen through a high level of cross-functional teamwork –and genuine executive community–that has helped to change how project teams function from now on.
If you’re looking for consulting support on your organization’s executive issues that is both “down-to-earth” and “leading-edge,” contact us or give us a call at 800-513-8759 . We’ll schedule a no-cost, no-pressure meeting at a convenient time in your office. We look forward to hearing from you!