In 2013 Felicity was invited by a senior HR Executive and the Senior Manager of a project team to facilitate a one-day workshop for a team working to a very tight deadline on a multi-million dollar project at a major financial institution. “It was a huge project and in order to meet their deliverables they needed a pretty high functioning team and they felt they didn’t have that,” says Felicity.
The issues the team were facing
The team of about 20 had a diverse range of skill sets; some were long-term employees and many were working together for the first time.
Their Manager, (a Senior Executive in the organisation) describes the situation: “It was bringing together a whole lot of people who were all jockeying for position in the pecking order and they had very strong views about how things were done. In amongst that there was some serious dysfunction.”
The aim was to help the team move through the conflict and dysfunction. “It was about repairing damage and building a strong footing to take us forward through what was already going to be a very difficult project let alone with the damage and dysfunction going on,” according to their Manager.
Tailoring the workshop to the team
To customise the workshop to the team Felicity conducted pre-workshop interviews with each of the team members. The conversations included asking them about their values, current issues they were facing at work as well as what needed to happen for the team to function successfully.
That preparation work meant people had already voiced a lot of issues ahead of the workshop and were ready to engage. As the Senior Executive says there were a lot of people with a lot of issues: “They were either hurt, or angry, or cross with how things were and I think for them it gave them a voice so that they didn’t have to go and stand in front of the group and have a big whinge about other people or what wasn’t working.
“It helped make the workshop even more powerful because it gave people buy-in and the confidence that they were being heard and taken seriously and their issues would be addressed by the workshop.”
The change process
Having listened to each of the team members Felicity describes what she set out to achieve on the day of the workshop: “My intention was for them to challenge their current beliefs – about themselves, about individuals within the team and about their attitude towards each other; and to have awareness of their impact on other people, at the same time as building safety to allow vulnerability. So it’s very much about building compassion for themselves and for others. I think coming from that place you can work effectively with almost anyone.”
On the day a DISC profiling exercise proved to be one of the most powerful game-changers for the team. “It was helpful in raising self-awareness, depersonalising all the dynamics that were going on and letting people have a bit of a laugh,” says the Senior Executive. “Then we considered how we could concretely address the dynamics and considered what can you do and what can I do to make it work better?”
Forging a team agreement
The workshop became a turning point for the team, culminating in the creation of a team agreement which defined the values they wished to work by: excellence, respect, positivity, clarity and openness; and the behaviours that were associated with those values.
Feedback on the workshop
In feedback on the workshop participants highlighted Felicity’s ‘warm, engaging and honest style’. Asked about how she approaches her role as facilitator Felicity said: “I think I give people a sense of safety. So in both the one-on-one interviews at the start and on the day of the workshop my approach is to be really open to what someone is saying so they feel comfortable; whatever they say is not going to be wrong or be judged.”
“I also genuinely like people. I’m always looking for what I like about people. Some people who appear just to be complaining or very close-minded I wonder what is going on for them.”
Her emphasis on evidence-based training was well regarded, with participants commenting on how much they enjoyed the day; that they learned new things and that Felicity had “excellent subject knowledge”.
As she explains: “I think the key to transformation is understanding our beliefs and being able to be authentic. Once we explain the logic behind these using leading edge thinking in neuroscience, quantum thinking and leadership, it can break down barriers for the sceptics. I’m quite curious. I love learning. Some people, particularly in a financial environment where you have a lot of people who are technically-based, can be sceptical of change. If I ground my training in research and science, and share a little bit of the theory behind what I’m telling people, it helps them to get it and then you’ve got the buy-in straightaway.”
How the team incorporated what they learned
The team agreement became a reference point, not only for how the team worked on a day-to-day basis, but also for the values that they looked for when they were bringing new people onto the team.
They also made a conscious practise of using some of the techniques Felicity had suggested for making team interactions more positive.
For instance, every Monday morning the team held a stand-up meeting where each person had to share how they were feeling; a win from the previous week; and what was coming up in the week ahead that was worrying them.
“It started out very contrived but in the end it really did give you a window on where people were at and their headspace and it did make us celebrate the little wins,” says the Senior Executive. “In the end people really enjoyed it and valued it.”
About a year later when some new people joined the team, Felicity was asked to facilitate a second half-day workshop to ensure that the team agreement continued to reflect the values of the entire team.
The overall impact of the workshops
The project was completed successfully, with the workshops playing a pivotal role in helping the team work more effectively. “I would say dollar for dollar it was the best money we spent on the entire project,” says the Senior Executive. “It was quite phenomenal the environment we ended up building. The bigger the challenges got the more people drew together and the happier they got.
“Later, people sent me the most amazing emails saying: I have never felt this sense of oneness in any team that I have ever worked with in my whole career.”
“It ended up being a high functioning, happy, effective team, a resilient team.”