Coaching a Leadership Team through Turbulent Change

The challenge

Lucinda, the chief commercial officer at a global pharmaceutical company, sensed that some underlying relationship issues might be preventing her team from working effectively. The team had a rocky history preceding Lucinda’s arrival, and several key events had had a devastating impact on the team. Though civil during formal team meetings, the environment outside the meeting room was another story. Rumors about Lucinda’s “favorites,” changes to reporting relationships, and possible layoffs circulated through the halls, breeding an environment of fear, mistrust, disengagement, and risk aversion.

Of particular concern to Lucinda were the two major product launches that her team was responsible for in the coming year, which would require effective collaboration and cross-functional coordination. Lucinda’s leadership team would need to perform at an exceedingly high level to meet its aggressive targets, and she believed the team was far from ready to meet these challenges.

The Boda approach

Lucinda reached out to The Boda Group for an objective review of her team, and for guidance on how she could help the team navigate the tangled organizational history, get aligned, and work together collaboratively and productively.

Boda coaches began by shadowing the team for a half day, interviewing each leader on the team individually, and conducting a Boda team assessment, a short, anonymous, quantitative and qualitative evaluation instrument. What emerged was a clear picture of a team that was demoralized, engaged in unproductive conflict, prone to mistrust, and unwilling to collaborate with each other.

The first time the full team met with their two Boda coaches was for a two-day offsite. The objectives were to create a shared understanding of what was happening in the team, identify existing strengths, surface unproductive behaviors and development areas, and agree on a path forward to become more effective. The offsite consisted of structured conversations and exercises that raised the most critical team issues in a way that fostered productive discussion and alignment on next steps.

After the first offsite, the team met with their Boda coaches monthly for the next eleven months, for a half day each time. These coaching meetings focused on understanding how the team had been functioning since the last session, raising issues and challenges that were left unaddressed when the coaches weren’t present, building new team effectiveness skills, and agreeing on commitments to experiments and changes that would take place after each meeting. The skill building addressed areas such as leveraging style differences, navigating difficult conversations, building trust, and responsibility and accountability. The coaching meetings were typically intense, at times uncomfortable, and sometimes actually fun, as team members worked on the skills and behaviors that were getting in the way of becoming an effective team.

In addition to coaching for the whole team, all of the team members, including Lucinda, worked individually with an executive coach to help them process what was happening on the team and work on their own leadership development areas. This coaching included a 360 review for each leader, and discussions with the leader, their coach, and Lucinda to align areas of focus.

The results

During the course of the year, the team built new levels of trust, developed more effective communication, and began collaborating with each another. Team members reported higher levels of engagement and commitment, and said that they had reached a point where each team member felt like their teammates “had their back.”

The team’s progress was undeniable when it successfully launched the two new products on time. Their parent company recognized the team’s stellar performance, and one team leader, who was (and remains) an outspoken champion of team coaching, received a significant promotion.

Building on this success, one year after beginning team coaching, Lucinda’s leadership team led the rollout of an organization-wide cultural change initiative to implement improved team effectiveness with every team in the commercial division.