Food for thought
Perspective is everything
by Julia Weiss
The fashion industry – a holy land?
At the beginning of their career, most young people would jump at the opportunity of working for a major international player in the fashion industry. There is hardly a company that has developed as rapidly or grown at a comparable pace – a platform for innumerable exciting jobs. A promising and hip working environment with exceptional career advancement opportunities, and all in the name of fashion. This, however, makes it easy to overlook that important structural and procedural issues have been sacrificed for the sake of growth, with a number of areas neglected in core issues, such as the individual divisions’ reason for being, task descriptions and interfaces. All of this might not pose a problem initially, but after a short orientation period, a new staff member is likely to ask about the job’s limits, about what is expected and what is admissible. Some employees need clear boundaries, some might be happier in exploring limitations on their own or even completely re-defining them, and some might be more comfortable in handing over responsibility to others rather than taking it on themselves.
In our case, three team leaders, like figureheads, took up the cause of finding and firmly establishing their respective team’s place within the company and gaining visibility in the process.
And that’s where we as coaches come into play.
Our challenge? Three teams, all with a different focus; they collaborate and face identical problems. The teams consist of young, ambitious people from across the globe, with CVs as different as their personalities. The setup: We have all gathered for an offsite workshop in an industrial loft in Berlin Kreuzberg to work together in finding a profile, definition and boundaries of their scope of responsibly. The participants’ high expectations are almost tangible. The teams kick off the day with croissants and coffee provided by the team leaders before heading into our session with an extremely ambitious agenda.
It takes two to tango – inner and external profiling
Today’s approach is new. We will be working on the teams’ profiles content-wise, but also on their external image: how to define and set up individual boundaries and how to do so through behavior and speech. A broad spectrum to cover, both from the angle of the participants and team leaders as well as from that of the coaches, who take in and analyze the situation from both vantage points.
The creative kick-off – with short promo clips created by the respective teams – quickly generates impressive and visible statements on self-perception. Based on these image-heavy and emotional testimonials of participants’ inner views, the teams analyze the results of a survey conducted prior to the workshop among internal customers. The survey focused on these questions: How satisfied are internal customers with the provided services? How do both sides’ expectations measure up? Are there specific issues that receive too much or too little attention from the clients’ perspective?
In the third block of our workshop, the teams use role play to reconstruct typical conflict situations with their partners from neighboring departments and take up the respective opposite perspective. Coming alive in the role play session, the insights gained on the teams’ own instruments and impact on their environment as well as the internal customers’ perception leave a lasting impression.
It’s not the end – it’s just a beginning
During the final block of the workshop, participants bring together the knowledge and understanding gained during the first three parts to jointly define a target image. What kind of a team do we want to be? How do we want to be perceived by others? What do we have to do to reach this objective? The teams realize that it is far from easy to answer these questions in one simple sentence. At the end of the day, however, the teams have established a clear guideline: the flipchart shows the collected key sentences that come closest to their previously defined target.
What we saw was three high-potential teams buzzing with creativity, whose members were given the opportunity and showed the willingness to work together with their team leaders on actively shaping their work situation. We also saw a company that refrains from burdening its staff with restrictions. Quite to the contrary, it offers them the opportunity of working together to find interfaces, boundaries, upsides and downsides. Through the workshop, a situation that more than anything seemed to hold potential for frustration and imponderability transformed into an opportunity of building and shaping the path into the future. This of course entails taking on responsibility and the possibility of error, but more importantly, it lays the foundation for team spirit and a firm commitment to the company. Employees are encouraged and empowered to actively shape its development rather than to merely follow orders. And for the entire day they spent with us, the teams met the challenge of taking on the perspectives of internal customers and colleagues, of visualizing and discussing them. Looking forward, the experience and knowledge thus gained will serve as a valuable asset in their everyday work.
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.