An event to help an Executive Team become aware of the extent that they had a problem in terms of team working, and the impact that was having on their results. This was a very challenging assignment with a strong political angle to it, and the first step in a much longer piece of work with the client. It created a shared awareness of what needed improving, and created a road map for ongoing developmental work with the team.
Name of the facilitator : Alastair Olby
IAF Member since: 2006
Type of client: entreprises_privées
Client’s motivation in using a facilitator?: The client had been facing fines due to poor performance. The Executive Team needed to prove quickly that they would be able to turn the company's performance around.
Type of facilitation: en_salle
Subject matter, problem and context: Private company, performance had been below acceptable levels, the very large Exec Team was fragmented, and this had been further compounded by having to work remotely due to Covid-19. A CEO whose focus is on what needs doing, with a blind spot around the how.
Number of participants: 18
Duration of the facilitation: One day
Background of participants: Executive team members
Central question addressed with the participants: How do we stack up against the key disciplines of high performing teams?
What one behaviour can I (each and every one of us) change that would help improve the way we work?
Where is our biggest opportunity to put this learning into action?
What do we need to do to improve the chosen situation?
What are our next steps?
Results achieved: An action plan for ongoing steps for improvement. This situation needs around 1 year of ongoing support, in conjunction with a change of leadership/very significant changes in leadership behaviours.
A sense of 'we need to and want to work on this' from the team.
Increased capacity to deliver capital (they were CHF10 million per month behind schedule, they closed that gap to CHF3 million by the end of the following month).
Suggested recommendations to other facilitators for this type of assignment: Assess the political ramifications are of doing what the client wants, including finding out who the real client is. I know it sounds stupid, but in this case, I was approached by the HRD and then in due course another Director working with the HRD, and given the brief, with very tight timescales for delivery due to the urgency of the situation. We agreed outcomes, then process, but 6 days before the event it turned out what the CEO wanted was completely different, and that he would block anything in line with what the HRD and Customers Director wanted. Lots of company politics playing out, with, I expect, an attempt to change leadership at play.
Learn as much as you can about the situation from a wide range of people up front. Knowledge of the key patterns in the group gleaned from 10 hours of calls with team members helped inform choice of process. In particular this was important in terms of choosing the mix of verbal and visual processes.
Learn as much of the sector and company jargon as you can up front. This event was chock full of acronyms, and for all that my focus was on process, at times it was important to understand key elements of the conversation. At one point I suggested the next area to explore but they said they'd just agreed on this 5 mins earlier. Because they'd used an acronym, I'd missed that completely. First time in a new sector, it's like speaking a foreign language.
Be very aware of individual's language patterns, and the impact this has on team interactions. We can add huge value when we're able to 'translate' what one person is saying to match another's preferences so they can hear and understand. Without this there's an impasse or blockage.
Time invested in preparation: 24 hours including briefing and contracting with co-facilitator
Steps of the preparation: Clarify outcomes, context, engage with broad range of stakeholders, create survey for input from all on desirable outcomes. Design the emotional states to elicit at stages of the day in order to achieve the outcomes, and how to do this. For this day I chose a largely visual process for the first key chunk of the day to avoid the CEO taking over verbally, whilst creating an environment in which all could contribute anonymously so that the CEO would start to understand the size of the team challenge. This was a team where although the key power holders say they want to hear from everyone, it's clear to others in the team that this isn't always necessarily true.
Venue and room: An external venue with nice grounds. The room hired by the client was too cramped, which affected some people negatively. We made use of the outdoors for 1 hour for one of the activities.
Thinking about facilitation: Moving to visual processes, and giving this team processes to follow was key to the success of the event. For an executive team full of extremely intelligent, well-educated and well-meaning people, their lack of awareness around process was quite an eye opener.
The most difficult part of the day was giving them space to explore what they most wanted to focus on for the afternoon without the CEO over-dominating. This wasn't something that was possible to agree on before the day: it needed an emergent process with the team all together because individually their areas of focus were so fragmented that no one could really glean the whole.
feedback from stakeholders / participants: "The best conversation we've ever had as a team."
"The CEO was well behaved with you in the room, which helped us enormously."
"We need to continue to work on this together."
Sources of inspiration for this facilitation: Prof Peter Hawkins disciplines of high performing teams, further adapted by me to give a strong operational performance link.
Other comment: I am more and more drawn to the political implications of working as a facilitator. As a profession we aim to be objective, but there are points where, in my opinion, we really need to have our eyes open around the ways in which we are employed to help organisations. I can no longer be totally neutral these days as I won't play the political games that *some* would have us unwittingly play for them. Transparency is an important value for me, and there are still some situations where it's in short supply!