Case Study #1: Increasing team output in a large company ecosystem
One day we received a call from a client who works in technology. His team had been delivering at an intense pace for at least two years, and now, with bigger investments coming to his area of the business, the demands on his team were not going to let up. In fact, it appeared they were going to have to increase their output.
In order to effectively manage this transition, we knew right away that their workflow would have to become more streamlined, agile, and proactive so that his team could feel in control of their work. Working longer and harder was no longer an option. They’d already been tapping that resource with regular frequency. People were tired. They couldn’t continue with the status quo. They needed a paradigm shift and a strategy to help them implement these large-scale changes.
From our early conversations, it was clear that he needed guidance and strategy from someone he trusted, someone who had guided others through similar transitions before, and someone who could be objective and see the situation clearly. He needed someone who could dig deep and get to the root of the problems.
When we came in, he thought he might need to re-org but he wasn’t sure. Before we jumped in and started changing things haphazardly, we recommended that we start with an assessment of the team to gain a sense of their key issues. We also recommended that we build a plan that would allow for periodic, ongoing, accountability with team leadership so that our solutions would continue to have momentum. In our experience, it’s far too easy to have an offsite, make a list of priority outcomes, and then slip right back into business as usual without ever implementing the desired changes. An accountability plan is what turns abstract lists into concrete and lasting changes.
So we surveyed the team and found that a lot of things were going well but that there were was a lack of understanding about how certain work should move through the team and what the key hand-offs were supposed to be. Next, we came up with a plan to address role clarity and hand-offs. The first part of the plan included strengthening the team’s communication skills using Insights(R) Discovery. We frequently use Insights Discovery® with teams as a way to “grease the skids” of communication. When teams know how to communicate effectively with each other, later changes go more smoothly.
Next we conducted a 2-day workshop designed to streamline and systematize work-flow issues such as intake, prioritization, and project handoffs within the team. It became clear that the most important need bubbling to the surface was to redefine the team’s operating model. In essence, how could they move from a waterfall model to a more agile approach to delivery? How could they get clearer on who does what, when, and where, most of them time? As a result of that workshop, we put together a plan to start moving the team in a more agile direction, getting them some of the training and resources they would need to be successful, and putting a 90-day plan in place to ensure successful long-term change.
This project had some intense moments and demonstrated that as leaders of change, it’s important to be flexible. We went into the first workshop with what we and the leadership believed to be a clear understanding of the issues. However, because we listened carefully, we discovered that the true issue was a deeply held need to change the way work was getting done at a fundamental level.
The benefits of this project included helping the team reach a decision about adopting a more agile approach to their work. This was an idea they had been circling around, without decision, for some time. As a result of our work together, they were able to make a decision and move forward. They developed a regular cadence for release planning that improved their estimation ability and allowed them to capture data on how well they were doing for future refinements. They contracted a trainer for agile development training that helped grow their skills and ease some of the concerns about this transition. They also started to improve their ability to see the actual impact different projects might have as they considered taking on new work, and as a result of this clarity they were able to be more proactive.
Case Study #2: Managing leadership change in the public sector
We really enjoy working with teams that are eager and willing to take on change. We recently worked with a newly formed leadership team that asked for some help with team building, leadership development, and possibly some strategic planning. When we first started talking, it seemed like they wanted to do something quick, perhaps a few sessions to help the team gel. They were also interested in possibly doing some visioning work.
The more we talked, it seemed that while they would probably get some simple wins from a few team-building sessions, what they really needed was to clarify and outline their organization’s strategic plan for the next 3-5 years. Our recommendation was to bundle teamwork training, strategy work, and methods for facilitating vision, strategy, and other challenging topics that arise for them, into one program. That way, they would have tangible outcomes throughout the initiative, create stronger leadership bonds, and the team would be able to repeat each of these processes with their extended team in the future.
Midway through the early stages of strategic planning, one of the leadership team members left the organization for a new position. More change! Working with the leadership team to help ensure the future of their team through the hiring process was not something we had considered from the outset. But that’s what my strengths are, helping people through change no matter where it comes from. We partnered with the clients and we put together a robust and efficient competency-based selection process. They quickly filled the position and were able to create a high level of engagement with several different stakeholder groups during the process that made the transition very smooth.
Finding the best candidate for this key role slowed the strategic planning work a bit, but it also enabled the leadership team to work together in ways they hadn’t considered before. As we moved ahead, we also had the opportunity to bring the extended management team into the strategic planning process and offer them some training on communication and leading change.
Even though the scope of the project changed mid-way through, and there is still some strategic planning work to be continued, the team has already reaped the benefits of using the processes and methods of change within the organization. They have greater self-awareness and tools for taking their organization to the next level, allowing them to make better decisions, move more quickly, and manage the many changes and transitions that come their way as shifts in funding, policy, and community occur.