Team Coaching: Case study 1

Sandler Consulting were approached by the HR Director who was concerned that members of the Board were not working effectively together. This was due partly to historical tensions between different parts of the company which were reflected in the top team and partly to the CEO's rather repressive leadership style. Any real discussion tended to take place 'off-line'; it seemed that it was very difficult for strategic and operational issues to be genuinely and openly explored at the Board meetings themselves.

The coach quickly observed that two or three longstanding Board members tended to dominate discussion at every meeting and the team seemed to depend far too heavily on one or two directors to carry the thinking, whilst others appeared rather disengaged. Energy levels were low and tensions were palpable at times but any overt conflict or even disagreement was avoided.

The company was facing a time of rapid change in its external business environment and some difficult choices about how to respond to competitive pressures needed to be made. Yet the quality of the Board's decision-making was clearly being undermined by its poor interpersonal dynamics, which had worsened over the past months. To the coach, it seemed that, at an emotional level, the Board members' anxiety about the future had lead to a kind of 'fight-flight' behaviour which left them rather 'stuck' and unable effectively to address the challenges facing the business.

After observing the Board in action and identifying underlying patterns, the coach designed a series of short interventions, integrated into the team's regular meetings. These interventions combined:

The impact of this intervention on the team's dynamics and behaviour was very noticeable. There was clear acknowledgement from all members that they needed to do things differently in order to leverage all the skills and experience that existed within the team. As the CEO experienced open discussion as constructive and helpful, he became more relaxed and inclusive in his style. Other team members became re-energised as they developed their capacity to engage in candid and challenging discussions. The capacity of the Board to give the business the strong leadership it needed at a critical time in its history was significantly strengthened.