This highly competitive and successful global company was establishing a new multi-disciplinary team to drive through the finalising of manufacturing and service contracts in the Saudi Arabian market. This was a high risk project with a lot riding on it in terms of the company’s reputation and profit. A team was being brought together specifically to complete and win this multi-billion dollar contract and consisted of some of the company’s most high powered talent. It was recognised that getting these strong willed and experienced individuals to rapidly come together as one high performing team was essential to their plans.
Bill Phillips Consulting Ltd. was previously known to the global company and was brought in due to their successful track record in rapidly facilitating new teams around common purpose and clear outcomes. Bill Phillips joined the project group at their second meeting during the formulation of their terms of reference. The project team consisted of 15 individuals working to an extremely complex and diverse programme. Bill was scheduled to arrive towards the end of the day and it was clear that some people were feeling tense and tired. Bill quickly recognised the group was in its ‘storming’ stage from a variety of comments like “the problem with X is…” With some individuals having worked in the company for around 25 years, there were also other unresolved histories evident in the room. Bill was able quickly to establish rapport with this powerful group, some of whom he had worked successfully with before. This reassured them of Bill’s credentials and capability and allowed them to relax their defences somewhat. Over dinner, Bill informally gave people space to safely off-load their concerns about the project, their feelings about others on the project team and how they felt about other people’s high expectations of them. Completing this ‘storming phase’ was viewed by Bill as an essential part of the group moving quickly forward to the ‘norming phase’, and as the project team regrouped the following morning, it was clear that this investment had paid off. Bill helped the group to move beyond seeing issues as ‘other people’s fault’. Splitting the group into smaller ‘natural’ factions allowed them to highlight all the concerns they had with the other groups. This was an extremely challenging session with some quite difficult and honest feedback being presented to each other. However, Bill very skilfully maintained an environment of safety and common purpose and kept the exchange productive by reminding participants of their agreement of ‘respect for the individual’ etc. At the same time, he encouraged an open and honest dialogue between participants and showed individuals how they could usefully acknowledge their hurt without having to react to it. Once this feedback was out in the open, the group was able to focus on Future-basing their success as a high performing project team three months ahead once they had delivered the contract. A few weeks later, however, in recognition of the need to continue to deal with some of the unresolved hurt still being carried around by some individuals, a further short session was run with the group. This concentrated on equipping the individuals with more effective strategies for really hearing and addressing what was sometimes painful feedback from colleagues. Individuals then committed to taking on board this feedback and actioning the change required. This activity was the culmination of some of their personal journeys toward more maturity in their emotional intelligence; something that separates the ‘average’ from the ‘high performing’ team.
Three months later, as envisioned, the contract with Saudi Arabia was signed. The project team had developed a strong team cohesiveness that had freed them up to focus on the real challenges ahead of them rather than focus on what was getting in the way of achieving success. Their better-developed emotional intelligence and respectful honesty with each other allowed them to short circuit previously unhelpful and unproductive conversations to create a richer, more resourceful dialogue to great effect.