Case study - High performing teams

Food manufacturer and distributor

What they said

We’re an inexperienced board and we need to get up to speed in a hurry. We’re all very good in our own functional roles but we don’t know (or trust) each other very well.   The challenges facing our business and the demands of our shareholders mean we’re going to have to become excellent at working together. We need to become a genuine high performing team.

Our client is the UK and Ireland subsidiary of a global food producer and distributor, with household name brands in a number of categories. It has had a troubled relationship with global headquarters and has experienced a high degree of staff turnover at every level up to - and including - board level. Politics and territorialism were undermining productivity across the company.

A new CEO, arriving from McKinsey, recognised the need to accelerate the development of team behaviours in the boardroom, as part of his strategy to stabilise the business and return it to profitable growth. He set out to encourage this small group of functional experts to become leaders, to work together, support each other, and develop a common strategy to bring the organisation out of a challenging trading period.

What we did

High performance teamwork does not happen by chance but through a well organised and structured approach.

Over a period of three months we conducted 12 sessions with board members together and a further three sessions with each of them alone; this required a level of commitment which was an interesting lesson in itself: teamwork requires effort and practice, just like any other skill.

The first item on our agenda was to help board members craft their own Strategic Narrative - the journey on which they were leading their business, written as a story. The team adopted this as their working model for leadership.

Then we helped them reveal to themselves and to each other their default behavioural preferences - the natural, embedded reactions that enhance or inhibit true performance. We used the excellent Tetramap™ tool for this (we are certified Master TetraMap Facilitators) which helps leaders flex their styles in order to get the best from each other. 

This helped us generate a climate of collaboration and cohesiveness, and we began to see the trusting interpersonal relationships necessary for true high performing teamwork. 

From here we helped them refine their own individual and collective strategies and in doing so we witnessed the transformation that comes from honest co-creation. They began to self-facilitate, which is the sign we had been looking for. They began to develop their own solutions to their own and each others’ challenges. The team kissed the badge and became one.

What happened next

We did not abandon them. We took one hour at each monthly board meeting for the following 12 months to review their teamwork practices, initially offering remedial advice, subsequently encouraging them to set their sight higher and achieve more.

During this period we saw improvements in hard, medium and soft measures.

An overall sales decline was reversed to 2.2% CAGR supported by record shares in key markets; EBIT decline was reversed to 9.3% CAGR. This is a fine performance in a mature market like food distribution.

Employee turnover declined to less than 5% and employee surveys showed greatly improved levels of employee engagement which traced directly to the improved confidence and team behaviours of the business leaders. 

And the company just felt like a more exciting place to work. Innovation initiatives were followed through. Bonuses were paid, promotions earned. The culture evolved relatively quickly to become positive, supportive and rewarding. 

What we learned

We set out to transform a group of sparring individuals into a high performing team, which we achieved by trusting our process. This did not surprise us. However we were not prepared for the extent to which the behaviour of the leaders transformed the organisation as a whole.

We also learned the value of taking time to focus on ways of working as a team; examining the communications and working practices and questioning everything: what can we do better? Let’s try it! Teamwork takes experimentation and practice.

We helped this happen by driving down into individual motivations so that every team member knew why every other team member was there, what he/she wanted from their role, and what it would take to help them achieve it. This process was painful for some, but worth it, which is why it now forms part of every high performance programme we deliver.