Taking the pulse of an international team

 

 “This is outrageous. Different people all proposing significant changes to the layout at this very late stage in the project – it’s nonsense. We agreed the Pressing Plant plan in every detail only last week: see my email 12 January. We are getting too much of this sort of messing around. Guiseppe, I call on you to sort out Engineering fast!” The UK site director’s email was copied in to the Italian engineering team and his frustration couldn’t be plainer…

The response from the Milan engineering team showed equal frustration:  “Please be advised that we only discovered conflicts with the high voltage power supply and ducting when you showed us your detailed project plan last week. If you had shared these details earlier we would not have run into the latest issues. We try to do our job but we depend on you to give us all relevant information at the right time”.

Giuseppe L., the Group Project Manager, read this exchange with dismay and knew that things were getting out of hand.  He was based in Milan, with other engineering experts based in the USA and Romania. The manufacturing operations were situated in Italy, the UK and Romania. They kept in touch mainly by email; phone calls and visits were infrequent.

Recently a colleague in Learning & Development had been talking to him about WorldWork’s International Team Trust Indicator (ITTI), so he called in the specialist consultant. A questionnaire went out to the team members globally, and then a virtual session was set up to examine the results. The ITTI works on 9 criteria for trust in a team: Competent; Aligned; Supportive; Honest; Committed, Safe; Inclusive; Open with Information; Empowerment.

The diagnostic uses 45 behavioural indicators to find out how important each of these trust criteria is to each team member i.e. which are their most important wants. It also obtains a rating of what they each perceive they get from the team. The difference between want and get scores on each of the 9 criteria can be seen graphically as a set of gaps for the whole team. The consultant looks for patterns in these gaps as an objective basis for discussing the existing levels of trust – and how they might be improved. Obviously, the bigger the gap, the more it needs attention…

Guiseppe’s global project team had a very clear gap around Openness with Information.

The questionnaire they answered had a section for free text comments about what was not working well – and what might be done to improve things. The comments provided a lot of rich, contextual background information.  These inputs, and other factors including national cultural differences, went into the working session. Specific difficulties of team working were captured graphically as virtual ‘stickers’; those mentioned most frequently were selected for action.

 

Out of this work, and guided by the WorldWork consultant, Guiseppe’s team created its own behavioural charter to try to resolve the main issues about working together:

  1. Keep explaining the big picture and focus on the final goal of the project
  2. Be crystal-clear about who hands over to whom – and when
  3. Create space to exchange needs: “what’s important to you?”
  4. Think win-win: how can we best meet your needs – and mine?
  5. Talk instead of writing: phone instead of emailing
  6. Build relationships via constructive feedback and transparent working.

The charter helped to bring about behavioural change quite rapidly. But Guiseppe felt that the virtual session that led to the charter cleared the air between everyone and built a foundation of real trust in each other.  As the UK site director said:

“Without the structured approach of the ITTI we would never have confronted the issues between us objectively and honestly. It took all the emotion and heat out of things and switched us into being constructive with each other”.

Near the end of the project Guiseppe ordered a re-run of the ITTI: all the significant gaps had been reduced. And, the project was on time and on budget.

 

The ITTI can be used in wide range of situations where there is an opportunity to take the pulse of a team in order to improve its performance and effectiveness. International teams present the obvious challenges of differing languages and cultural assumptions. This case also demonstrates how ‘virtual working’ can be addressed. Consultants have found that the ITTI is equally powerful for enhancing the performance of mono-cultural teams.

written by John Keary (APECS Accredited Executive Coach)

john@kearyharper.co.uk

 *This case study is based on a real organisation but names and locations have been changed to preserve confidentiality.