A Coaching Case Study: The importance of trust in high performing teams

When trust is absent

“Michael”, a Managing Director and Global Head of a key IT function within an international investment bank, approached Moyra for help with his team.  Moyra had facilitated team meetings with his boss and his peers and he had seen how she had coaxed out previously hidden “issues” the team had, leading to greater openness and trust.

Michael wanted the same process to happen with his direct reports.  Nine months previously, there had been a series of explosive and damaging disputes among the team about the awarding of a major contract and the strategic direction of the organisation.  The underlying reasons for the disputes were never addressed and the issue was “pushed under the carpet.”  Trust was now low and the lack of communication and collaboration had seeped down into the wider teams.

Surfacing hidden conflict is essential

Michael freely admitted he was “conflict averse” and wanted Moyra to plan and implement an intervention program for him and his team that would uncover and resolve the simmering issues and re-build team trust and cooperation.  He was feeling pressure from his boss and some of his peers to improve the situation, as the unresolved conflicts were having a wider impact.

Teams need to trust the process

In early 2010, Moyra facilitated the first three day meeting with Michael and his team.  It became clear within the first thirty minutes that the team were eager to talk so Moyra decided that she would focus the group’s engagement and analytical strengths on a series of team building exercises and simulations, whilst deliberately steering away from direct discussion of the underlying conflict.  She needed to build the team’s trust in her and give the group experience of working together constructively (albeit in a training environment) before delving deeper.

When Moyra arrived on the second morning to find Michael and the team in animated discussions, she wondered if they were dealing with the conflict.   Instead she found that they wanted her to work with them to develop and facilitate an interactive off-site with them and about 40 of their reports.  Now that Moyra knew she had the group’s trust, she asked all of them to commit to a one-to-one session with her so they could discuss their own personal perspectives on the team dynamics and challenge them to apply what they had learnt in the workshop to their own personal situation.

Individual and team coaching built team trust

Following those coaching sessions the group reconvened and, with the help of a Communications and Conflict Style Survey, the group started to discuss how to work better together in the future and how to take advantage of their diverse views and skills.  The final step in the process was to have another set of one-day coaching sessions where Moyra brought in one of her team, a professional actor and trainer, to role play the “difficult conversations” that each team member now knew they would have to have with each other to fully resolve their differences.  By having an actor “inhabit” the position of their counterparts, they could also replay the original contentious situation.  They quickly learnt that “It’s not just their fault, it’s also mine.”  The role playing allowed them to try out many different approaches in a risk-free environment.

Investing in teams has measurable ROI

At the end of 2010, the team spoke positively about each other in their 360º appraisals and about the process they had been through.  Moyra received a phone call from Michael’s boss thanking her and telling her that the improved relationships had already been noticed in the wider organisation.  Work with the team continued into 2011, including a larger Leadership and Collaboration training program.

Michael and many of his directs have now scheduled quarterly coaching sessions with Moyra to keep up the momentum.  Michael’s organisation is now benefiting from the team’s courage to take a risk, ask for help and to accept responsibility for making improvements.