CASE STUDIES

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Executive Team Development

Client: Software and Services Business; Location: Europe, Middle East & Africa

Client Brief

The challenge was to take a fragmented executive leadership group and turn it into a cohesive high-performing team.

The group comprised executives from nine national backgrounds each of whom lived and worked in one of six different countries.

The team had responsibility for a multi-billion dollar business employing over four thousand people. The group reported to the area vice president.

The group had only recently formed but had quickly fragmented into two separate factions. These factions were in conflict with one another and this led to poor cooperation and reduced effectiveness.

Several members of the group worked within a matrix structure where they had to report directly to a managing director responsible for a sub area. This conflicted reporting structure put additional strain on the group and caused conflict.

The challenge this group faced will be familiar to many international business leaders who have to forge virtual leadership teams from executives that are widely dispersed.

Such groups have to rely heavily on web-based communication systems to supplement the few occasions that they are able to meet face to face.

 

Method

We used a combination of qualitative (interviews and open-ended questionnaires) and quantitative methods (customised surveys), to get an understanding of the attitudes and beliefs that influenced the way group members interacted with one another.

We followed this up with an Organizational network Analysis (ONA), a statistical and visualisation method that revealed the pattern of interactions among group members. This enabled us to understand the social structure of the group and the relationships between group members.

In virtual teams, relationship issues like trust, cooperation, unity of purpose, and a shared sense of identity become pressing problems that if not resolved, can pose considerable business risk.

Overall, the analysis revealed that influence was very unevenly distributed among individual members of the leadership team. This inequality led some members to form coalitions with others in order to control the flow of information and resource.

The team development work to address the issues took place in several workshops over the course of two years.

We repeated the analysis once a year for a further two years to show change over time.

 

Outcomes

The results were striking, as the area vice president commented:

‘Among other things, the analysis revealed that we weren’t really a team at all, just an administrative group. Members of the group just didn’t need to depend on each other in order to achieve their objectives. As a result they resisted my attempts to harness their contributions. This led several of them to form small mutually supportive coalitions that worked against the overall group objective’.

The team members came to realise that they really were dependent on each other in many different but hitherto unrecognised ways.

They realised that the team could perform a crucial function in promoting best practice across their territory, in critically evaluating ideas and in ensuring that local strategies complemented and did not conflict with each other.

Importantly, the group recognised that it had a shared responsibility to manage the development of its members.

At the end of the project, the team was cohesive, cooperative and all members were focussed on their shared objectives.

There was a demonstrable improvement in the team that was also reflected in financial performance and other indicators.

The repeat analysis confirmed these improvements. It also gave the team early warning of the re-emergence of problems in group relations.

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