In my line of work I often meet organisations and teams where things are not working well. I met with a senior executive from a public sector agency to talk about the issues he had with his team. I had been recommended to him by a private sector manager from a local networking group. After describing how his team were acting and reacting to one another, how some of the issues were to do with specific individuals, he then explained how difficult it was to change their behaviour. Typically these issues were the surface reactions and through some further discussion I discovered that some team members avoided each other, some set each other up to fail and some competed over everything or simply did their own thing and generally acted very unlike a team.
I suggested it would be useful for me to meet each team member and talk through the situation and how it was affecting them. During these discussions we talked about what it was like to work for that company, what they got out of it, what they enjoyed, what frustrated them and how they saw themselves. A common problem in situations like this is that everyone sees others faults and problems, and the need for change, but few are willing to make the change themselves. This proved to be the true in this situation. To get things started I did some individual profiles, this allowed them to have a common language to describe how they worked with one another, what their preferences were, and why they saw the world differently. These profiles were conducted privately so they could challenge and discuss freely.
Then I brought the team together to display the results (anonymously) and talk through, where they were now and where they wanted to be. During this process it became apparent that the team was very used to playing ‘the away day’ game; where everyone was nice to each on the day, but once back in the office reverted to their previous behaviour.
What they hadn’t realised was that other parts of the workshops would be about them having paired discussions and that these discussions would form the basis of their action plans. I think for the first time in a training session they were required to commit to change and this would be followed up by mentoring from their boss with some coaching from me.
Everyone understood that they could speak without fear of recrimination. At times emotions and concerns were highly charged and often very vocal. The focus was on moving forward, not reconstituting the past. It proved to be a liberating experience for them all. At the end of the workshops (held over several days) the team created a ‘team charter’ detailing how they would work with each other, how they would behave during their group meetings and how they would be mindful of each others feelings. They also agreed that they would exchange information and teach each other about their diverse roles and how these interrelated.
This process released the trapped potential of the team, with team members and the team leader now being energized and committed to a common and shared future. The way they worked with one other changed dramatically. In terms of results they went from being mid-table and on a downward trajectory for their type of agency, to being in the top five in the country.