The following story was told by Mary Hladio, president of leadership and organizational development firm Ember Carriers.
Client: A 220-employee call center based in Charleston, South Carolina.
Problem: The call center's director attempted to coach her eight direct reports, who were department supervisors. Her efforts were unsuccessful, however—the supervisors grew dependent on her and began to fight for her attention and approval.
Cause: While the director was committed to driving employee engagement, her failed coaching efforts were derailing her role as manager. She staged an intervention with her employees, but this made matters worse. The supervisors felt that they had disappointed their leader, which caused greater dysfunction and division among them.
Methods: Hladio conducted one-on-one interviews with the supervisors to hear each one's version of the team's relational dynamics. Common themes included division between those who'd been working in the department for years and those who were more recent hires, as well as division between skill sets: Some team members were experts in specific systems, while some were well-versed in others. During the interviews, every employee rehashed two "old wounds"—interpersonal conflicts that occurred within the department nine months prior.
Hladio executed a two-and-a-half-day offsite teambuilding session for the supervisors. On the first day, employees discussed what an effective call center team looked like and whether or not their team fit that definition. During the session, the two "hot button situations" brought out during the interviews resurfaced, and the team was able to identify where its division and dysfunction had begun.
Day two consisted of teambuilding training on a ropes course. Hladio used this time to teach the supervisors about communication and trust. The team worked through its disunity, and by the end of the day, the dynamic changed. Communication opened up, the group became more flexible, and trust was gained.
On the final day, the group examined what had happened to transform them from a dysfunctional to a functional team. They established team rules for effective communication and behavior and created a team vision, to which they promised to hold each other accountable.
Results: After six months, Hladio returned to the call center. The team still operated at a highly effective level, used a common language to communicate with each other, and openly identified dysfunctional behaviors exhibited in the workplace. Today, after significant turnover and company reorganization, these employees still meet frequently and freely support each other.