Our Journey with Accelerated Team Transformation Part 1

During the past year, we were able to expand our thinking and cultural awareness both personally and professionally. On the personal front, my wife and I were able to spend a few great weeks in Australia. We had a fantastic time visiting Sydney, seeing friends in Melbourne and hiking Hamilton Island and the Blue Mountains. (I even managed to avoid two big sharks while diving on the Great Barrier Reef. For some reason, they came over to say hello two minutes after I had cut my hand on some coral!)

But it was a visit to the Red Center that really influenced my perspective for 2017. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a spectacular Unesco World Heritage site in Central Australia. While it’s known for its incredible 1000 foot plus sandstone monoliths, it’s also a sacred place for the Anangu who are the Aboriginal owners of the park..

Kata Tjuta, Australia at sunrise. Photo by G. Burns, 2016

The Anangu believe that their culture was created at the beginning of time by their ancestors. Archeology suggests they have been in this region for over 30,000 years. In many of the caves, they have created rock art for ceremonial and religious storytelling and teaching. The elders carry that culture though stories handed down through generations.

Uluru Cave Rock Art, Australia. Photos by G. Burns, 2016

We asked our guide about the concentric circles that seemed to be in most of the caves we were allowed to visit. We were told that they represented a waterhole or camping place. When strung together, they describe a journey. https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/people-place/amazing-facts.html

Looking back on 2016, we were inspired to share some of the professional journey we have been on in a two part post.

As we go into the ninth year of transformation work, we always look for trends to try to stay ahead of the curve on serving our client needs. In 2016, the opportunity our clients were most interested in was accelerated team transformation.

There may be a very simple explanation for this. According to a recent Corporate Executive Board study, typical organizations have undertaken “5 major firm-wide changes in the past three years, and the pace of change is set to continue, with nearly three quarters of organizations expecting to increase the types of major change initiatives they will undertake in the next three years.” https://www.cebglobal.com/insights/change-management/hr-change-management.html.

In 2016, our clients were experiencing a far more positive type of change (than when we first built our practice in 2009) due to global expansion and mergers. We experimented with many new techniques this year and had some truly great insights and results.


Two years ago, I was approached by a friend, Dr. Krister Lowe, who was building an excellent website and practice around what he called the Team Coaching Zone. The mission of the site is “to contribute to the development of the field of team coaching in companies and organizations.”

He believed that the field of Team Coaching was an area where a lot of good efforts were happening but that its evolution significantly lagged behind the rest of the executive coaching field. What he created is now one of the best website resources in the world for this field.

I felt very fortunate when he asked me in his podcast series to share some ideas on some of the lessons we had learned since founding GBA in 2009. That resulted in “EPISODE #008: February 19, 2015: Coaching Teams for High Performance: A 5 Step Approach with Greg Burns”:


http://www.teamcoachingzone.com/gregburns (podcast notes)

In that podcast, I shared our Team Transformation Model.


STEP 1 – Understand The Unique Context and Challenges

Our first step in any team coaching engagement is to understand deeply the context of what our clients are trying to do and the major headwinds they are facing. We listen and partner to understand their culture and unique challenges.

We conduct extensive, confidential internal interviews to get a good understanding of a team’s goals, strategy, history, perceived strengths and development areas and overall effectiveness. We also look for external research to get a broader perspective. We read annual reports, business articles and interviews and review individual career backgrounds and networks on LinkedIn and other sources.

STEP 2 - Define the Critical Problems Which Need to Be Solved

The second step is to partner with our clients to focus on solving a couple of critical problems that will build team capabilities and achieve the greatest strategic business impact. In the podcast, we tell the story of helping a struggling global Technology and Telecommunications manufacturer (part of a Global Fortune 100 company) undergo a major transformation in partnership with a private equity company. Working together, we identified three strategic priorities that we needed to do in short order to help the company return to profitability:

  1. Immediately build their senior team effectiveness to improve collaboration, innovation and execution..
  2. Begin building a new culture by accelerating the senior team’s ability to role model new values that they called Guiding Principles.
  3. Ensure that they had the right leaders in place for future growth by evaluating the top 100 execs – developing new tools and administering and facilitating a customized talent review process.

STEP 3 - Focus on Improving Individual and Team Leadership Self Awareness and Skills

In the third step, we usually do pre-session team interviews and use one of the top team leadership development assessment tools like the Neethling Brain Instrument, the Hogan or the Birkman. We conduct pre- program individual coaching sessions before facilitating the full team coaching sessions.

In 2016, we tested out some new team effectiveness modules and used the latest neuroscience based instructional design techniques. Our clients undergoing transformations found that there were significant skills gaps as a result of big changes in their organizations.

We worked with an expanded global plastics manufacturing HR team that had never met face to face before. They were working on leveraging best practices to help them improve their employee engagement organization support strategies. Their CHRO also identified Strategic Influencing as a major gap for his team in trying to transform to stronger business partners. We created a session that addressed that gap and the HR team got a chance to practice those influencing skills while agreeing on the 2016 Employee Engagement actions.

My partner Don Hamill and I also worked with the Senior Management team of a Healthcare Managed Service Organization in the US that wanted to work on “Building an Exceptional Team” after two recent mergers. We began with individual one on one coaching using the Birkman Assessment. This built the foundation for a great team effectiveness session. However, once again, the senior business head identified a significant skills gap that was holding them back - Coaching and Giving Effective Performance Feedback. We embedded it as part of building their skills for giving each other peer feedback and coaching as well as helping them improve the performance of their employees.

As a result, 100% of the senior team who responded to a post program survey, believed it was “likely” or “very likely” that they would follow up on their team effectiveness commitments and that one year from now the senior team would be exceptional.

STEP 4 - Gain and Embed Commitment

In the fourth step, we customize each solution based on practical experience as well as leveraging the latest research from the fields of change management, human resources, organization psychology, neuroscience, coaching and human performance.

As an example from the global Technology and Telecommunications manufacturer, we helped the senior team to refine their four Team Guiding Principles and conducted a confidential survey to see how well they thought the team and the organization were modeling these behaviors. We shared the data in a team session and facilitated a discussion to understand what was working well and where the opportunities were.

We then leveraged some of the techniques from Kegan and Lahey’s “Immunity to Change” process. We focused on “One Big Thing Commitments” and used the X Ray Map to understand their hidden competing commitments and assumptions and address their gaps to help them become better leaders and team members. We paired up the peers to ensure that the commitments they were going to publicly state were clear and would have an impact. The CEO was very pleased with the transparency and specific behavioral actions and thanked us for “accelerating the development of the team by 6 months in a few hours”.

Over the next year, I got the chance to observe the team each month in action. We developed a customized talent process (partnering with the CHRO and the CEO) and were able to build a lot of trust by coaching each senior executive on how to objectively rate and present their top execs (while keeping the Guiding Principles in mind.) This enabled the Leadership team to have collaborative, calibrated discussions which led to Critical Talent retention and development decisions.

STEP 5 – Measure Progress and Get Ongoing Feedback

In the fifth and final step, after working closely with the global Technology and Telecommunications manufacturer senior team and coaching them on a regular basis for seven months, we decided that it was time to survey them again to see if they felt they were making progress. (They significantly improved 2 out of 4 Guiding Principle behaviors after only 7 months). We also created a peer feedback session that was patterned after Speed Dating. They had ten minutes to give each other one on one feedback. It helped build a high enough level of trust to continue having honest, open sessions.

At the end of the year, the company made a significant return to profitability. The CEO said, “This is why we hire companies like Mc Kinsey and Greg’s.” (I whispered to the CHRO, “That’s probably the last time you’ll hear those two companies mentioned in the same sentence!”)

Our four key “Coaching Teams for High Performance” takeaways from the project mentioned in the podcast were to:

  1. Invest in building a great partnership and trust with your clients.
  2. Customize everything you do to fit with their level of sophistication and culture.
  3. Listen deeply, empathize and put yourself in their shoes.
  4. Take every opportunity to reinforce key behaviors focused on a specific strategic intent and plan. In this case, role model four guiding principles while making tough decisions and you will build the leadership required to help return the company to profitability in a year.

Too many team coaching situations become short term, “feel good” team building sessions with little impact or sustainability. In 2016, we continued to evolve our practice to help build future leadership capabilities and get a chance to practice those skills immediately in a supportive team coaching transformation environment.

In a world of increasing uncertainty and ever growing challenges, accelerated team transformation is more important than ever. As Hellen Keller said,

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller

For a confidential discussion about your transformation needs, please contact us at the address below or click the Contact Us button below.

G Burns & Associates | 40 Ingram Street | Forest Hills, NY 11375

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