Disclaimer - Names, geographies, and businesses have been altered to maintain confidentiality.
Large Cap, High Tech
Transforming Competing Organizations
Into A Cooperative Entity While Increasing
Internal Customer Support
The Corporation was large cap, well-known, and high tech. They were making the transition from selling boxes filled with electronics to supplying enterprise systems integrating a myriad of boxes.
Two next critical milestones belonged to R&D, and were assigned to Chip. He had to build an operating system that integrated the product lines of the three biggest business units. Then he had to get the units to adopt his system.
Each business unit had its own systems lab. The labs were in New England, northern California, and southern California. They had always competed, sometimes bitterly. Each did the same thing using a different technology. All three were assigned to Chip, forming a new center within R&D.
The lab managers for New England and southern California had a history of personal animosity and professional competition. New England was led by Gail, who was charismatic, very smart, fast on her feet, politically savvy, and always gave as good as she got and defended her people to the end. Clint led southern California. He was Old South, with stately manners, an attractive drawl, and high nervous energy. He was very smart and a male chauvinist. Gail and Clint were not yet talking to each other.
What Our Survey Uncovered
Inside Chip's Center
Six months after Chip inaugurated his new center, we did our first survey.
Morale was high in two labs, New England and Southern California. Northern California's morale was a liability, harmed by their anger and frustration at the lack of interest in their expertise and technology.
Across all three labs, support for Chip's leadership and strategy was strong. Chip was loved by many, admired by all.
Across all three labs, frustration with the business units' lack of cooperation was rising.
Between labs, competition and hostility had ended. But the absence of useful communication and cooperation remained.
The Business Units
Six months after Chip inaugurated the center, most thought it was excellent technically. But most said that Chip and his people did not listen to the business units. "They talk at us. They tell us we are stupid." Most said that Chip's putdowns and insults were way out of line. Many wished that he would go away. Some said they hated Chip.
The performance of all three systems labs, on deliveries, was unacceptable. There was too much schedule slippage, too often.
Too often, Chipís labs failed altogether to deliver the functions that were asked for.
Many said that Chip and his people did not understand the mission or markets of the business units.
What We Did
Chip and his staff met face to face every other week for a day and a half, for four months, and then monthly for eight months. The meeting site was rotated among the three locations. Chip and his senior team -- Gail, Clint, and Bo, who was temporarily heading northern California as a favor to Chip -- committed themselves to summarizing and asking clarifying questions before communicating their own points of view.
At every meeting, Chip addressed his bullying. He met with all key business unit executives and managers, in small groups. He prepared for these meetings by articulating, with his team, what he wanted to say, and ask, each group of customers. He role-played this with his team and me.
He shared with each group the findings that said he was insulting, dismissive, abusive, and a bully. He apologized. He said he was committed to change this. Then he described what he thought he did when he was being a bully and asked his customers about their experience of him. They described specific instances. Chip listened, summarized, asked questions. He reported experiencing waves of surprise, recognition, guilt, shame, sadness, and deepening inner commitment to face and master his bully.
During discussions with his team and me, Chip uncovered his belief that success went to the winner of the argument. This had worked well in graduate school and the research labs. He assumed it would succeed here. It never occurred to him that he might have to do something different. He saw that what had worked up to now in his career was not working now. At every staff meeting, Chip asked his team if they had heard anything from customers about his behavior.
After twelve months, I re-interviewed Chip's internal customers. All gave him kudos for changing his behavior, for listening well, for understanding their business, and for giving sound advice. All said that they trusted Chip and his people to not put their own interests first.
We built Chip's executive team. Issues at the interface between Gail and Clint were addressed at every staff meeting.
Each executive did her or his best to summarize and inquire before sharing her or his own point of view. At first, I coached and intervened in every exchange, helping them form these new habits. Over time, I intervened less, as the team habituated itself to the new skills. After nine months of practice, I intervened rarely.
At first, Clint and Gail needed four or five summaries before the sender of a communication would say, "That is what I intended you to hear." By the end of the third month, Gail and Clint needed one and sometimes two summaries to hear the other correctly
During working discussions, everyone on Chipís team maintained a disciplined focus on using the new skills. No insults, even cloaked in humor or double entendre, were exchanged. They appeared more relaxed and less defensive. All reported high satisfaction with the work they were doing and the progress they were making. All were surprised that applying the new skills took less energy than they were used to spending in their encounters. They began discovering shared values and common concerns. Their mutual respect grew.
When we were not working, insults returned. Improvements in non-working exchanges lagged behind improvements in work exchanges.
All was leavened by Chip's unsinkable, hilarious humor. With only one exception,
during the most stressful times, we laughed out loud together. This executive
team was exceptional in
it† its ability to use humor as release and
After five months of this work, we began observing improved communication and cooperation across lab boundaries, one and two levels below Chipís direct reports.
I recommended that Chip and his team build a formal customer outreach program. This was a foreign concept to them. Customers they needed to understand and influence were identified, assigned to an executive or manager, and put on a regular outreach schedule. I encouraged them to practice their outreach conversations with each other, before talking to customers. At first, I coached and critiqued their practice, and encouraged them to do the same for each other.
The business units were now cooperating with Chipís labs, who hey experienced as much more in touch with their markets and needs. At the next annual budget cycle, the business units gave Chip's center 25% more money than he asked for. Three years later, all three business units had adopted Chipís common standards, while using Chip's operating system in all products.At the beginning, there had been lack of cooperation and understanding of each others' roles among the labs and the units, and between Chip and the units.
Project management emerged as a problem during the process of working on the schedule slippage on deliveries. We surveyed each project with deliverables in the next 18 months. I generated survey questions and protocols, which they modified, role-played, and then used to collect data about the projects. During analysis, I offered templates and models to organize the data, and facilitated discussion.
I also offered templates and protocols when the team turned to the problem of supervising each project, and I facilitated their supervision. Over the next 18 months, they made every delivery and left their customers satisfied.
Don's Interventions During Discussions
When anyone inquired, summarized, or responded to disagreement with humor, inquiry or summary, I acknowledged it. When Chip appeared to use humor in a hurtful way, I stopped the conversation and led a discussion on what had just happened.
When someone did not summarize before offering her or his own point of view, I interrupted and reminded them to summarize. When someone was interrupted, I interrupted the interruption, and encouraged others to do the same. Sometimes I had participants share what they were thinking about the interruption, and what would have happened if they had interrupted it.
When it appeared that a misunderstanding or disagreement was in play and unrecognized, I interrupted, articulated conflicting points of view, and encouraged others to respond.
I encouraged all to speak. I cheered, congratulated, celebrated, shared observations and sometimes gave advice. I encouraged them to take responsibility for their processes by making the same process interventions I was. Chip took the lead in this and the others followed.
My process interventions were applied, first, in the bi-weekly staff meetings, then in all center meetings I attended, and, finally, at Chip's request, in meetings with business units. At the end of a year, my role as facilitator had become obsolete.
The Emotional Challenge
During the first two months, by the end of each meeting, Chip, Gail, Clint, and Bo all reported leaving these meetings exhausted and going to bed early. By the end of month two, all reported no longer needing extra sleep. By the end of month four, all reported leaving meetings exhilarated, and not tired. After twelve months, all agreed that this had been hard work and all were glad they had done it.
At our very first meeting, Clint was offended that I told Chip, in front of his team, that some in the business units hated him.
For the rest of the year, Clint followed my instructions while we worked and gave me the cold shoulder when we weren't working. Relating to Clint was painful, challenging, and very hard.
At the last staff meeting of the year, Clint looked me in the eye and said, "I hate to admit this. But this was well worth the effort and I want you to come work with me and my staff next year. I am sorry I gave you the cold shoulder. I was really angry."
Copyright © 2004-2012 Don Rossmoore