A brief Flow Teambuilding intervention was requested for a multi-country Customer Services (CS) Division of a European global information technology company. We implemented this program during a period of profound market changes. The CS customer base was fragmenting from a few large customers toward a much greater number of smaller ones. There was increasing competition, pressure on profit margins and the share price was falling.
Historically, this customer services group had consistently contributed to company profitability. By doing so, it had supported corporate investments in starting up new divisions, in developing new products, and in pioneering new distribution systems. We were asked to work with the CS teams during a year of fierce cost-cutting. There was therefore a relentless emphasis on using Flow only to achieve 'bottom-line' business results in the shortest period of time.
Within one year, CS had become one of the company's most profitable division. Although the business results became clear and obvious over time, the HR department had initial concerns over the nontraditional focus in Flow Teambuilding. Accordingly, several HR professionals conducted an ongoing climate with the CS group. This was done in an effort to monitor whether the task-related emphasis of FlowTeam-Design would have a negative effect on work climate. It was feared that if people focussed too much on achieving success, they might fail to focus on sound principles of human relations and this could undermine successful teamwork.
These following paragraphs were produced by HR professionals in company itself for internal uses. We have been given permission to reproduce them without identifying the company in writing and without disclosing some of the innovation business strategies the teams themselves developed.
FLOWTEAM-PERFORMANCE: THE EFFECT ON WORK CLIMATE IN CUSTOMER SERVICES
Two approaches were used to assess changes in working environment after the initial Flow Team launch process:
Feedback from the teams, as detailed below, can only be described as remarkable! Flow Team building appears to have dramatically improved several key aspects of the team working environment, and the results of this are much higher levels of productivity, effectiveness and creativity.
- Firstly, a questionnaire that is designed to obtain feedback on various aspects of the team environment was administered.
- And, secondly, individual qualitative input was requested.
These results show the very positive impact that Flow Team building has had. Several key business improvement projects are in hand and moving ahead at rates far faster than has been the case in the past. Teams in other parts of the business are also engaged in the pre-launch and launch stages of Flow Team building and the results to date are equally encouraging.
I. QUESTIONNAIRE FEEDBACK:
Nine aspects of the management teams' working environment were targeted by the questionnaire, with shifts of 10 points viewed as significant. The 9 aspects of team and organisational climate that are measured by this instrument are listed below:
- CHALLENGE/INVOLVEMENT: The degree to which team members are involved in daily operations and long-term goals.
- FREEDOM: The independence in behaviour exerted by the people in the teams.
- TRUST/OPENNESS: The emotional safety in relationships.
- IDEA TIME: The amount of time people can use (and do use) for elaborating new ideas.
- PLAYFULNESS/HUMOUR: The spontaneity and ease displayed in the workplace.
- CONFLICTS: The presence of personal and emotional tensions in the team.
- IDEA SUPPORT: The way new ideas are treated.
- DEBATES: The occurrence of positive, productive encounters and disagreements between viewpoints, ideas, and differing experiences and knowledge.
- RISK-TAKING: The tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity exposed in the workplace.
|ASPECT OF WORK ENVIRONMENT
|1) Challenge and Involvement
||+97 = +69%
||+68 = +51%
||+10 = +07%
|4) Idea Time
||+88 = +117%
||+96 = +78%
||-73 = -41%
|7) Idea Support
||+118 = +115%
||+97 = +74%
||+92 = +92%
This representation of the teams' responses about the impact of Flow Teambuilding on their working environment is dramatic, while the area that has improved least is that of ' Trust and Openness.' In practice, trust and openness take time to build and we anticipate continued positive shifts when the working environment is re-evaluated. However, the overall average was certainly affected by the lack of change in a single team (which reduced the overall averages), and this feature had already been identified as a team issue for the next follow-up session.
II. INDIVIDUAL QUALITATIVE INPUT:
The teams also were asked to give brief written input in response to the open-ended question: "What benefits have you seen as a result of the Flow Team training?"
Typical examples of the teams' actual feedback have been grouped under four conceptual headings. Quotation marks were omitted because the comments have been taken from verbatim written responses except for substituting corrected word spellings:
1. ENERGETIC TEAMWORK:
2. BENEFITS FROM USING FLOW TEAM CONCEPTS AND TOOLS:
- Greater Teamwork
- Co-operation that has impact on the business
- The team seems to feel more empowered
- Team approach
- An acceptance of a non-rigid, non-hierarchical, non-judgmental, open, exciting, energetic, team
- It has turned everyone on to learning, and creative energy, resulting in improved performance.
- Working in dynamic cross functional teams
- Produced mega improvements in Team work
- A healthier environment for team working - less traditional rules apply
- A "can do" attitude
- High energy in all team members
- A sense of community around all the customer services teams. A high sense of personal resource and responsibility
3. PRODUCTIVITY, SPEED AND ENERGY:
- Learnt some new techniques & tools
- Better, more productive meetings
- Focused meetings
- Our teams seem to work
- Flow team working has presented us with the opportunity to harness creative talents to solving issues. The challenge to prioritise activities remains.
- Developed a prototyping mentality
- Plan meetings to focus on output
- De-personalise topics in discussions
- Changing from linear to systemic thinking
4. TRUST AND SHARING OF IDEAS:
- Increased output from group (more energy, & enthusiasm)
- Improved productivity
- We come to a conclusion very quickly (work is nicer)
- Productive open meetings
- Dramatic increase in team productivity
- Improved rate of output
- Quantum leap in terms of moving initiatives forward
- Increased energy flow in the teams
- Increased level of output and faster
- Faster solutions for Customers
- (Greater) Speed and getting things moving
- More sharing of ideas
- Better thought out ideas
- Greater openness and trust
- Able to resolve conflict
- Increased trust
- Trust demonstrated
- Trust and openness
- Understand more about the people in the groups involved
- Obtaining commitment without everyone wanting it in their words.
FlowTeam-Design: Concrete Results
BEFORE AND AFTER 1-YEAR TEAMBUILDING PROJECT COMPRISING A 3-DAY LAUNCH AND 7 FOLLOW-ON DAYS
(AS MEASURED BY THE TEAM ITSELF, ITS MANAGERS AND THE OVERSEEING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR)
||AFTER FLOW TEAMBUILDING
With product deliverables
|50% due dates altered
70% of product releases late
|100% on-time deliverables
0% delayed or postponed
|Loss of time due to conflicts within the software team
||20% of working time
||10% of working time (and still decreasing)
|Loss of time because we didn't exchange our knowledge or provide support
||1/2 day per week per person
||Sometimes 1-2 hours per week, but no more
|Production of "waste" - programmes because of poor internal communication
||"We throw away whole programme sequences." Waste=40% of working time
||"We throw away only parts." Waste=20% of working time and is moving toward zero (but it is probably impossible to avoid waste entirely in the production of software)
|Performance per person
|Expenses for user-training
|Expenses for user-support after software introductions
|Degree of perfection reported by product users (based on customer ratings of utility and user-friendliness of software products produced by the team)
||90% (no plans to go higher)
1."We know now what our users really need." 2."Our products are self-teaching." 3."Our users have fewer conflicts with their bosses."
|Total Team Payroll
|Distribution of bonuses
||Based on contribution to the team (as judged by the team)
|Recruitment expenses for replacing highly qualified people who had left
||0% (No personnel turnover)
|Employee Turnover(Loss of Experienced Software Engineers and Trainers)
||High turnover (as is typical in this industry…there are more jobs than software engineers and programmers)
||- An active, planned rotation program to improve quality- Internal people are now on a waiting list to join this high performance work team