Something’s just not right….


Something’s just not right….

And a total re-set

I was contacted by a CEO because a team session run by a manager – to address poor behaviour – had gone really wrong. Employees felt they were being bullied by their manager, the relationship had broken down, it was starting to have some brand damage and nothing could get done as no-one wanted to work with each other, or felt safe to discuss what was going on.

The word ‘bullying’ is a really interesting one – an important issue to take very seriously – but a word that can be flung about as a weapon too.

Through working with this team, and subsequently the whole organisation, I facilitated a total re-set. Employees themselves worked together to define their purpose, agree the values they needed to work to, to serve their customers and treat each other well, and defined a set of behaviours they wanted to live by – and hold each other to account for.

The staff survey that had been taken before I started work showed low morale, anonymous reports of bullying, low brand advocacy, poor engagement a lack of communication and dissatisfaction with pay and leadership treatment.

On completion of my work – within a year – employees were saying they knew where to take their concerns, they felt well supported in their roles, they had enough information to do their jobs well, they felt cared for by the organisation, they felt proud to work there and felt they could influence decisions.   

There were new management roles and structures, brand advocacy was high, both with employees and customers, and there were mechanisms such as an Employee Forum to help 2-way communication. The work was completed by the time Covid-19 hit and the CEO and HRD both agreed the impact of the pandemic was lessened because the team were cohesive, collaborative and had a mutual understanding of both what their job roles required of them, and what they required of one another.

This not only cut down the noise, distraction and upset caused by poor relationships, but it allowed people to grow in their roles, take responsibility, work more productively and contribute to a successful organisation.

How we did it

I started, as I usually do, with finding out what was really going on. The team in question felt unsafe and trust was low, so I started with popping along to a team meeting and introducing myself. I made it clear that leadership knew there was a problem and they wanted to solve it. Part of this commitment was bringing me in; leadership had agreed the approach we would take and wanted to listen. I offered some slots when I would be available within the team environment for people to come along and tell me what was going on for them. I assured confidentiality and said nothing would be played back as “X said this” – in these situations, I roll up the key themes and play these back confidentially.

In my meetings like this, my aim is to ensure people feel heard and understood, and – crucially – that we actually find out what’s going on so we can take appropriate action. This is so much more meaningful and valuable as solutions fit what’s needed – they are not based on assumptions or directorship level dictate.

Through this process, people from other teams began to approach me and, with agreement from the CEO, I began to hold meetings with other employees. All the themes were similar with everyone I spoke to – and that included the Executive Team whom I was also asked to meet with.

Silo’d working, low trust, no clear direction / vision, no set way of being expected to behave that everyone understood, a blame culture, an ‘us and them’ approach to everything, poor communication.

It was clear this was bigger than a problem within a specific team, and while I could try some team / manager mediation, I had to be honest (and risk losing the contract) and say “this is bigger, work just within that team will be pointless and waste your money – this is an organisation-wide issue”.

Through consultation with the CEO and HR Director, I designed a programme in which I ran sessions with up to 50 employees at a time and took them through a day where we hit pause and re-set. Employees from all teams mixed together and I began by playing back what they had all told me; this approach builds consensus and understanding as in reality most people want exactly the same things.

I facilitated some conversations about WHY their organisation existed (what they were all there to ultimately achieve), and HOW they needed to be to reach that achievement – both in terms of how they do their work, but also how they interact with one another.

These sessions were powerful and in and of themselves led to consensus, understanding, respect and collaboration. Together, the organisation set a Purpose statement, Values and Behaviours that they were all invested in.

Building on this work, I could then work with teams to help them re-set and refocus. Half day sessions consisted of us talking through WHY does your function exist then, in support of that wider organisational purpose? What do the values and behaviours mean for you as a team? What do you need from other departments and what do they need from you?

Some teams needed support with conflict. I worked with some teams together – those who were required to work well together for joint projects / deliverables.

Interventions were bespoke, impactful and started from the real problems employees had told us existed.

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