In our ‘Real Leadership Stories’ blog we plan to share snapshots of questions and challenges we, as coaches, have attempted to solve over the years. We will change the names of the people and organizations involved but keep all other information accurate.
Our first blog focuses on team building. The question we were asked was:
“How do I turnaround a team that lacks trust and collaboration?”
John was a talented researcher working in Japan at a Global NPO. He was a valuable member of a very successful team. As a result of his success, John was promoted to project leader. His team’s role was to publish scientific research papers and get external funding for their studies from government and financial institutions. His team consisted of 2 senior researchers, and 2 researchers.
Bill was the most senior team member with 15 years of experience. He was a good researcher. He also had a solid understanding of Japanese governmental behaviors, which had enabled him to build strong relationships with these institutes. Bill demanded respect and recognition for his achievements. When he didn’t get this respect, he could be petulant. Bill was also prone to only do the absolute minimum required to complete a task.
Ted, the other senior researcher, was a hard worker with 7 years experience in this field. Like Bill, he was fluent in Japanese and a good communicator. However, Ted tended to keep progress to himself so that he could gain greater recognition in the organization.
Disharmony increased when a third senior researcher joined the team. Linda was motivated and approachable. What she lacked in experience (only 3 years in this field), she made up for in effort and willingness to learn. She didn’t have the required language skills or cultural awareness, but was improving all of the time.
However, in Bill’s eyes, Linda’s lack of experience weakened the team. Due to Linda’s lack of Japanese language skills, Bill had to cover more of the external work with Japanese establishments. Matters were made worse by the fact that all senior researchers had the same job titles and salaries, irrespective of workload and experience.
John’s approach was to ignore the situation in the hope that the three could resolve their differences on their own. Unfortunately this did not happen and eventually communications broke down. Linda avoided communicating with Bill, and Ted felt aggrieved by Bill’s lack of effort and poor attitude. Linda and Ted started to form a clique, which further impacted team cohesion. As a result, Bill became more defensive and eventually escalated issues to the organization’s President without John’s knowledge.
John was called into the President’s office and asked to explain the situation. The President told John that his team’s output had started to suffer and they were falling behind. As the project leader, he needed John to find a solution quickly.
Team Turnaround Strategy
It was at this point that John contacted Platinum Training Consultants for support. In our first session we found John to be very open and self-aware. At his own admission he lacked corporate experience. He was also aware that his passive conflict avoidance approach and lack of positive decision-making had contributed to the situation. It was time for John to grow as a leader and, with our support, start by solving this problem. We recommended a 3-step approach:
Step 1: Start with the end in mind
John needed to redefine what the team’s core objective was and align this with organizational goals. We stressed that this must be the focus of all actions. To develop this, we presented John with 4 questions:
- What is your vision for this team?
- What are the long-term goals of this team?
- What values and behaviors do you want to embed?
- What are your organization’s key business objectives? (are the answers to question 1-3 aligned with question 4?)
Step 2: Re-evaluate team strengths and redefine roles
This was important, as it would enable John, to clarify responsibilities and better allocate workload.
Step 3: Team inclusion – redefine future vision, goals & milestones
Team inclusion was essential, as was the need for John to assertively set a new direction and levels of expectation. We suggested an extended offsite team meeting. (Doing these kind of meetings offsite can help break the shackles of work, energize participants and break down barriers)
In this meeting John:
- Started with clear expectations.
- Introduced a ‘living’ vision with all the benefits of success.
- Created a ‘sense of urgency’ by also stating the team and individual consequences of not achieving success.
- Got his team involved in fine-tuning his vision.
- Built a team road-map strategy with SMART goals.
- Identified team-based short-term milestones.
- Set new team values and got agreement on associated behaviors.
To give structure to these discussions we suggested using the SOAR analysis tool. If interested, see the attached SOAR template, at the end of this blog.
The meeting was a solid start, which enabled John to set a new tone in his leadership style. There was some apprehension but as the day proceeded the atmosphere thawed and all members gave input on visions, goals and values. John also managed to reallocate work based on individual strengths, which encouraged members. Most importantly, John created a team code based on clear values and behaviors. One action in regards to this was a new bi-weekly team update meeting, where progress, challenges, and team support options are discussed. In the first couple of meetings since the offsite session, there have been signs of improvement. There is a fragile truce – this may not sound like much, but it is giving John a sold foundation to build on.
On a final side note, John’s President quietly told him that he was impressed with his new proactive attitude and hoped it would lead to success. The pressure is on, but John now feels better equipped to cope.
How would you have dealt with the situation? Would you have taken a different approach? We’d love to get your thoughts and opinions.