Working with ‘In tact teams’

The language of sport is infused with collaboration, sharing and the team being more important than any single individual. Increasingly, this seems to resonate just as strongly in the area of business. Yet, leadership development remains largely an individualistic exercise. Are we missing a trick?

Many organisations that we work with are striving to accelerate their growth and success and often a limiting factor to achieving this is the lack of collaboration, courageous conversation and innovation in senior teams. Often many individuals take time out to develop through MBAs or coaching qualifications but because they are working in isolation the impact of this development is at best limited as they struggle to galvanise their very busy peers and teams. Full senior team development, for example board away days are often too high level and sporadic to really get under the surface of the team dynamic.

So in this article we are advocating a more practical and relevant approach; one that enables organisations in all areas and sectors to make a step change and realise their untapped potential.

A Different Approach

We are proposing that development happens in ‘intact organisational teams’ as they undertake the challenge of organisational change or transformation. It is important that external facilitators working with these teams have taken the time to fully understand the individuals in the teams, the dynamics of the team and their relationships at all levels and critically the organisation’s Purpose, Vision, culture, strategy and plans and the biggest obstacles to them achieving their desired growth, including behaviours.

The reason for this is that research has proven time and time again that high performing teams that have high levels of trust and robust dialogue outperform teams with individuals who are overly polite but trust is low, they don’t overtly surface conflict and talk about each other behind peoples backs. By working closely with intact teams as they interact with each other, their colleagues, and other key stakeholders and helping them explore their team dynamics, decisions and behaviour and the impact they are having on the wider organisation, change and improved performance is quickly noticeable, tangible and impacts the key parameters that enable organisations to be sustainably successful. It also increases their ability to successfully implement change. The relevance to the here and now, to their own and the organisation’s future and the personal insights they get about themselves and their colleagues is incredibly powerful. This creates deep trust, challenge and sustainably improves team performance.

The Magic Ingredients

Often for this work to have a sustainable result the work needs to take place over a 12 to 18 month month period or for the duration of a significant transformation programme. This means the external coaches/facilitator don’t just see the team and individuals putting on their best performance ‘I will let you see me on a good day’; they experience the team and individuals ‘warts and all’ and can hold the mirror up to the team so they can consider and reflect on the impact they are having as a result of their style, approach and decision making focus over a prolonged period of time. When this happens the insights and feedback are relevant, specific and respectful of all the stresses and strains the team and organisation are experiencing during that period of time.

It is important that the focus during this period is on the whole person as an individual, the role they place in the team and the impact the team is having on the wider organisation, their customers and the industry over three time horizons. This multi layered approach causes teams and individuals to think much more broadly and over longer time horizons. As a result people grow and develop as leaders and people. They develop their emotional intelligence, reflective practice and mindfulness and build their ability to coach as a leader! It is vital to surface long standing relationship issues, misunderstandings and conflicts that need to be addressed for the team to work in a more strategic and collaborative way. At an organisation level, this approach enables teams to have a much deeper and more meaningful dialogue about their purpose, vision, culture and strategy and how they can more effectively coach and develop the people in the organisation to understand, buy-in and become advocates for the change the organisation needs to undertake to achieve sustainable growth and success.

Feedback from leaders and teams who have chosen this approach has been both challenging and positive. Challenging because people describe this as an emotionally challenging and sometimes difficult approach. It is not comfortable surfacing long standing conflicts, disagreeing with colleagues, having repeatedly practice inquiry and curiosity so it becomes an ingrained approach and new style of leadership. Positive because things change and change for the better. Teams start working better together, problems that have been long standing get resolved, changes that are difficult but important get surfaced and progress. Leaders change and become better listeners, ask more questions and challengers of the status quo. The impact on the organisations sustainable success is also both tangible and compelling.

So what is involved in this type of programme and approach? Usually the coach/facilitator team of one or more people (depending on the size and scale of the programme being undertaken) work with the team on site for two or more days a week undertaking a range of activities. In the first instance this is focused on one to one’s with all of the team they will be working with and their direct reports. They will also meet wider stakeholders including key investors, customers and suppliers so they can get a good picture and feel for what the organisation and people within it are and aren’t doing and what needs to be focused on to enable its accelerated success. Other activities in this initial stage include an organisation wide survey (if there isn’t one in place that will provide the necessary information required, document reviews and observation of key leaders as they undertake their routine tasks and engagements. It is important for the facilitator team to have a thorough and detailed understanding of the wider system the team is operating in before the change and development work with the team begins. The approach is most powerful when it is underpinned with appreciative inquiry and coaching methodology.

Once this information has been obtained the team can then develop a themed report of their findings which is socialised with key individuals from all stakeholder groups to check for any gaps or over emphasis. The themed report helps to identify and agree the Purpose, outcomes and processes for the ‘intact team development programme’.

When this stage has completed the work with the team and the wider system begins. This can take many forms depending on what is identified in the initial themes report and will typically include

1. one to one coaching

2. facilitated team meetings

3. observation in role over a period of time with regular debriefs

4. development workshops

5. regular reviews and deep dives into what is progressing and what is taking more time to move forward

6. wider team conferences and working sessions

7. change champion programmes and development sessions

8. updating of relevant systems, processes and communications to ensure they are aligned to changes that are taking place in the wider organisation

9. on-going design work

10. peer coaching sessions where smaller working groups from the team meet to progress projects and goals that have been identified as important to the transformation work being undertaken

11. conflict resolution sessions

The benefit of working with an external facilitator / coach is that they will have a different perspective to people who are working within the organisation and can hold the team to account on promises and commitments they have made. They also have no vested interest in any one person in the team being more successful than another so can stay dispassionate and hold the team to account on doing the right thing for the organisation and wider stakeholders over the short, medium and longer term.

If you would like to understand more about how Grant Thornton works with ‘intact teams’ who are embarking on important change programmes in their organisation please contact Mel Wombwell, a Partner in Grant Thornton’s Business Consulting team on 078966 624008 or mel.a.wombwell@uk.gt.com for more details.