The Fall and Rise of a Team: a Case Study
Stefan Meylansky is a team leader who has worked for a number of travel companies around the world. He specialises in turning round the fortunes of failing teams. This is one example from his recent experience.
The Signs of Failure“A well-known travel and leisure group asked me to spend a season with a sales team based in the Mediterranean. The group had spotted the obvious signs of team failure – a sharp drop in sales and a rise in customer complaints. It wanted me to reverse these trends, and discover any other failings and correct them.
“A few days later, I joined the team as a temporary team leader. Without delay, I held a meeting and asked for people’s feelings about current team performance. Even allowing for a natural reluctance to speak in front of someone from head office, I was surprised at everyone’s reticence. Most of them had significant work experience, but they lacked any ‘get-up-and-go’. They were a team without direction.
An Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses“At this first meeting, I was at pains not to lay down the law but to listen. To avoid long periods of silence, I came prepared with various questions to stimulate discussion.
“These soon ran out, so I passed out a self-assessment questionnaire to each team member. This consisted of a series of questions aimed at finding strengths and weaknesses.
“The exercise went surprisingly well because I received back comprehensive answers from everyone within an hour. I then closed the meeting and asked everyone to return the following morning.
Team Building“That afternoon and evening, I collated and analysed the results of the strengths and weaknesses questionnaire. I then drew up a chart that contained the names of the team and their particular abilities. I left out the weaknesses, but made a separate note of them.
“The next morning, I showed the chart to the team. The team members were surprised at just how strong their combined abilities were. I then asked them why, in view of these obvious skills, the team was failing. This set them thinking, and a very lively discussion ensued.
“I wrote down the main points that came from this discussion. I wasn’t surprised to find that the team members felt demotivated; lacked clear direction; and were uninterested in their work.
Team Outing“My job was now to resolve this situation, and thereby improve the team’s performance. The first thing I did was organise a night out for the team at a local restaurant, followed by a trip to the local casino. To help, I convinced head office to pay for the meal.
“The outing was a success because it brought the team members together in a relaxed and informal way. They particularly enjoyed the casino: two of them had a successful night on the roulette table with the rest of the team cheering them on.
Playing to Strengths“After this, I arranged regular weekly meetings with the team. Before each one, I invited suggestions for the agenda. I then ensured that everyone knew what we were to discuss.
“I also delegated various tasks, using the strengths and weaknesses analysis from earlier on. For example, I asked one team member who was good at statistics to present the sales figures to the team each week, and another to keep a record of these in graphical form using her computer skills.
Communication and Motivation“By giving team members specific responsibilities, I obliged them to take an active part in every meeting. This improved communication no end.
“The other major issue I wanted to address was motivation. Emphasising sales targets helped a little, but these had already been in place anyway. More importantly, I made a point of speaking to each team member outside the meetings, and listening to what they had to say.
“When the team members realised I was considering their ideas - and in some instances putting them on the agenda of meetings and implementing them – motivation improved.
“I am pleased to say that by the end of the season, the team had met its sales target. The team members were also pulling together in a purposeful way. In other words, they were engaging in positive communication with each other, and enjoying their work.”