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The bank had grown from a network of local retail branches in a European country to a fast-growing financial services group in key regions of the World, including Latin America, Asia and Europe.
The team was 15 people with ultimate responsibility for the profitability of regional markets and for key group-wide functions such as IT, Finance and HR. They ‘met’ several times a year virtually, and at least once, face to face. Some were on the Main Board but, effectively, this was the Executive Committee running the business day-to-day. They discussed a wide range of topics and recently included global talent management on the agenda…
Between them they spoke several Asian languages plus Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch and German; the common language was English. About half were expatriates and the rest locally recruited. The team was set up 5 years ago and had doubled in size. There was no ‘chair’ or leader: it relied on a collegiate approach.
Dominique, the head of HR, and Fons, VP Finance were having a working dinner with Nelson, the COO of Brazil-based in São Paulo. It wasn’t going well. “You take one of my key people and put a big chunk of my profit totally at risk”, exploded Nelson. “How does this make sense? How can I trust succession planning if you use it at HQ to steal my best talent?” The group succession plan that they had all signed off had identified the Brazilian COO Retail as a rising star. The plan was to second her to Frankfurt for 2-3 years to groom her for a key position at Group HQ. This was the first time Nelson had heard about the plan.
However, it wasn’t the first time Dominique had felt despair about the way the global team now operated: misunderstandings, concealing the truth and unpleasant arguments had become normal. Nobody seemed to trust anybody now. She decided it was time for radical action. Googling ‘team’ and ‘trust’ brought up lots of links but one caught her eye: WorldWork Ltd. She phoned them and quickly got a meeting. They explained how their TTI – Team Trust Indicator – worked. Dominique felt that this was an objective way to try to address what was going wrong – and put it right. She phoned each team member, explaining her proposal, and then WorldWork sent all 15 a confidential questionnaire to complete online. One of their face-to-face sessions was coming up – and this was the only item on the agenda.
The boardroom was at the top of the bank’s tower block, looking out across the home city and beyond to the sea and the distant horizon. One could have heard a pin drop. Phones were switched off and all eyes were on Dominique and the WorldWork consultant. They had listened patiently to the consultant explaining how the ITTI works:
“It uses 45 behavioural indicators to find out how important each of these trust criteria is to you as an individual i.e. which are your most important wants. It also works out a rating for what you think you get from your colleagues – the team. The differences between want and get scores on each of the 9 criteria are averaged for the whole team. We look for patterns in these overall gaps as an objective basis for discussing existing levels of trust – and how they might be improved. Obviously, the bigger the gaps, the more you as a team need to focus on them. Your top three – and they are very clear gaps – are Openness with Information, Aligned and Inclusive – in that order”. There was a long silence. Then Fons intervened, “OK, so what does this mean, in practice?”
Figure 1Extract from ITTI Feedback Report
“If you remember”, replied the consultant, “you each had the opportunity to write comments in the questionnaire. Here is a small, unattributed selection:
Dominique led the discussion that followed. At times, it was heated and threatened to spin out of control. Eventually, it cohered around potential action – and individual responsibilities and contributions. The whole process had been cathartic, but the team emerged re-focused and with fresh energy.
As Max from Djakarta said, “If Dominique hadn’t challenged us to take a long, cool look at ourselves we would have become even more dysfunctional and the team would likely have broken up. The TTI helped us be objective about ourselves. We have a profound change in our markets and we have to take tough decisions about the organization and our people. Yet, for the first time, I feel I can trust my senior colleagues – we are all pulling in the same direction. Now, despite all the hard stuff we have to do, mostly remotely, we can still find time to enjoy interacting with each other and value each others’ contributions.”
The TTI works in a wide range of situations to shine a powerful light on a team in order to improve its performance and effectiveness. International teams present the obvious challenges of differing languages and cultural assumptions. Consultants have found that WorldWork’s TTI is equally powerful for enhancing the performance of mono-cultural teams. This case also demonstrates how ‘virtual working’ can be enhanced
*This case study is based on a real organization but details have been substantially changed to preserve confidentiality.
– written by John Keary
APECS Accredited Executive Coach