Food for thought

From offside to goal-champion

by Solveigh Tausch

Program for Leadership Development and Employee Retention

“Seriously... Again?! What on earth is going on here?” The division manager sinks powerless into her office chair. This is already the third employee in the last four months that just handed in the resignation. And those were always the really good ones! So also this week the division manager is not spared from a resignation. Soon she would have to take responsibility for this in front of her supervisor - that was certain. And all this with an incredible market outlook in the industry. It did not really make sense…

Her company being one of the biggest in the industry - regarding size, clients and investment volume. Also globally, the firm is one of the leading players in the industry. The front shines brightly: High returns, notable mandates and prestigious investment objects. But behind the surface – everything is slowly cracking apart – at least in her business line. Many high achievers have already left the team, the decreasing concentration of employees, missing cooperation between the locations and increasing complaints. These developments have been well noted on the market as well: Although the returns are increasing, some important clients have resigned their mandates recently. This goes beyond being an acceptable situation. The division manager knows how severely her division and her whole career would be effected by the consequences, if this state continues any longer. 

Suddenly she remembers how just recently a former colleague of hers had told her about the remarkable results of a team development, moderated by a seasoned business coach. A team had recovered itself within a two day workshop. After the transformation, the team apparently felt invincible and was working now with joy and engagement on their tasks. The story sounded too perfect to be true – a miracle. But on the other hand, that was exactly what she needed – a miracle. Unusual circumstances require unusual measures. She was ready to go the extra mile. 

No sooner said than done. Less than a week later the division manager is sitting together with the recommended Executive Coach and exposing the current challenges within her organization and especially her department. The Coach encourages her to also talk about the vision for her business line. How would she notice that the coaching will bring about change and success for the team’s development?

The division manager is in her element when she envisions how her business line should continue to be a leading power on the German market competitive, ambitious, empowered. A business line guided by an engaged team of managers closely linked to the market as well as their employees. A business line with engaged, loyal and motivated employees. High visibility and widely known with a successful reputation. An actively operating team with high and consistent quality standards. So far so good – what comes to the vision. But the reality could not have been further away from that dream. A bunch of unmotivated and completely overloaded employees, some ready to leave the sinking ship any minute… Dullness overcomes the division manager again.  

Due to the extensive challenges at hand, the Coach suggests an intensive analysis phase based on structured individual interviews with the team leaders of the six participating locations.  The interviews help to identify the pain points of employees and team leaders of the different sites. Cooperation is at times quite challenging between locations. Also with other business lines. A routine in process management is lacking as well as quality standards to measure employees’ and managers’ performance. Some of the team leaders question their own leadership capabilities while others keep looking for flaws in the team. One team leader describes the ongoing situation as “Valley of tears”, a situation everyone in the division wishes to leave behind.

The misery has silenced teams and team leaders, played off the trust and paralyzed part of the staff. In order to set off the dialogue between leaders and teams, a line-up of workshops is supposed to offer the right platform. These workshops serve as basis configuration for the coaching program. The team leaders will further engage in an extensive 360-degree feedback in which their self-assessment meets the external assessment of colleagues, superiors and employees offering a basis for further analysis of development potential. 

4 months later. The coaching program - with more than 60 participating employees, 8 team leaders and 6 departments from 5 different city locations – is in full swing. Today’s coaching workshop is taking place in Hamburg. Before the Coaching itself, an online survey was conducted with all team members in order to capture staff’s perceptions about current market developments, cooperation and communication within the team and to detect trust and evaluate the existing error and consequence culture. 

The first part of the coaching will take place without the team manager. Within these first hours the most relevant crises are revealed. Missing communication and respect. Team meetings that are always cancelled. Lacking involvement in relevant decision making affecting the whole team. Missing support from the team leader regarding client complaints. Support is furthermore missing from the interface of cooperation with other business lines. Before noon, flip charts are fast filled with pain points identified by the group. Before the team takes off for lunch at the Italian restaurant around the corner, the pain points are ranked by the team with colorful dots. 

After lunch break, the focus lies instead of the past on the future. With the focus on the most important pain points, the team formulates visions for internal communication, smooth cooperation and leadership behavior. One of the top themes of the day is how to deal with lacking communication between team and its leader. Thereafter the team works in break out groups on concrete measures on how to fulfill these visions with life. The second part of the afternoon is devoted to working together with the team leader who now joined the workshop on the results. 

First, the team presents the results of the vision work for their leader. In order to deliver the feedback in a constructive manner, the team exercised this task with the coach in advance. Finally, the team and their manager are able to reach a state that allows a constructive dialogue. Not all suggestions find a consensus. Nevertheless, at the end of the day the team will proudly present their 10-point plan which is supported by all team members and leader and to which everyone feels committed now. The 10-point plan is later also communicated to the division manager and the implementation will be reviewed form now on, on a regular basis.

The division leader is astonished by the deep, concentrated and concrete measures that are developed during the several workshops. The review of further implementation plans presented workshop after workshop to the division manager, finally result in optimism. Finally - concrete plans how employees and team leaders can concentrate on improving the previous condition. Also the division leader receives a list of suggestions of measures that the team members have developed for her to engage closer and support better the teams in future.  

In total, the team coachings work like a mirror. When looking closer into it, team leaders and division manager see themselves and the effect of their actions - and can recognize own flaws in their leadership. Not quite easy but necessary in order to recognize finally what needs to change. Concrete problems that employees have with their leadership style (either too much or too little), problematic interfaces with other locations and the central department or challenging interfaces in their own work division are detected, discussed, redefined and planned.

And the positive signals from the Coaching program with tangible improvements also attract the attention of the higher management levels. In fact, the management board is dealing extensively with current developments on the job market. Hence, the board also observes with increased interest, how the established dialogue among employees and team leaders is orchestrated and how it will contribute to the company’s further development. On the work market 4.0 the company is already fighting to keep and please the talents that have found their way into the company. But, the coaching method offers new pathways and insights, in order to be an attractive employer in long-term. 

A main observation is the increasing heterogeneity concerning leadership styles, employee needs and regional problems. These in turn pose heavy demands for distinct structures and smooth processes in the management. The Coaching program highlights once again the fact that companies which know how to benefit from their diversity and strategically employ resources, skills and personality will be leaders in this century. Long-term, patient and empathic management grants wings for this task.

Also, the higher management levels need to invest time and resources and personal commitment into the introduction and implementation of such a process. If these preconditions are filled, a lot can be achieved. The complete turn-around from unmotivated, tired team which top players are acquired by other teams, to being an effective, supportive and successful team that returns on the field and scores one goal after the other.

Julia Weiss works with her executive clients to unleash their full potential in their varying roles, and/or of their work teams and organizations. Thus she enables the executive and his or her team to achieve a sophisticated and sustainable level of performance. Julia is a certified executive and team coach, moderator and speaker with a focus of sales performance and change management. She works as a Partner of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Julia’s experience is based on more than 15 years of work in different senior management settings – as a strategy consultant and as managing director - sales in the media industry.

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