Case Study: How individual coaching can help executive teams play to their strengths

When a leadership team is not working, a good place to start is with self

We were called in to support an executive team in a large financial services organisation. The group head tasked us to design an away-day to establish group objectives for the following year. It turns out we needed to start somewhere else… by entering a coaching relationship with him.

Context

As with many senior and executive teams, the workload was high and evaluating how effectively the team was working was low on the list of priorities. The trouble was it wasn’t working. Individuals were operating in their silos and often at cross-purposes; there was no over-arching strategy to engage employees; tempers were frayed; individuals were dealing with overwhelm and becoming resentful of their colleagues.

Approach

The group head knew something wasn’t right, he just didn’t know what needed to change. With the aid of some key coaching questions, we worked with him to probe his leadership style and work preferences. It soon became apparent that, with such a heavy workload, he had lost sight of his natural strengths and defaulted to operating on autopilot.

Coaching is a tool that aids self-awareness. Because he was operating out of the subconscious, he quickly came to the realisation he had been giving mixed messages to his team. As such, he had allowed them to operate within their individual functions – at times, almost playing them off against each other ‘to generate some energy and competition’. On reflection, this had clearly backfired.

So, instead of an away-day to set group objectives, we were tasked with pulling together a coaching intervention for the entire executive team.

Outcome

There were many breakthrough moments of realisation. To be clear, however, it was challenging. The level of honesty in the room, whilst necessary, was harsh. It was emotional, too. People had to speak and hear some cut-to-the-quick truths. As an independent third party, with no agenda, our role was to ensure these outputs were used positively.

All members of the team committed to spending more time on themselves and their ways of working as a group. The leader of the team invited more feedback for himself – and was able to set an example by talking openly and honestly about his challenges and ‘failings’. This generated a foundation of trust and cooperation.

Feedback was extremely positive. All valued the fact that time had been invested in them, as individuals and as a team. Simply being heard and understanding where one fits in the team is liberating and an extraordinarily powerful motivator.

Next Steps

We have been building on the self-awareness generated at the away-day by embarking on individual coaching journeys for each member of the team. Whilst challenges still occur, the key difference is that these are now raised in an open and honest way. The team are getting better at tackling these as a group, instead of leaving individuals to flounder. It is an ongoing journey that requires conscious effort – effort that they all now seem prepared to make.

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