Client’s concern “Integrating the external Team“
A global organisation is being restructured. This leads to completely new tasks and specifications, including in the dispatch department. Previously, they had only been responsible for Western Europe and had around 400 customers. With immediate effect, the local logistics section is expected to organise the flow of goods globally, and dispatch many different, small product units at high speed. The challenge is enormous: customs and dispatch conditions are subject to different legal regulations in the world; the number of clients has substantially increased and major data is missing. There is no money made available for new employees and the employment of more permanent staff is not foreseen.
The eight-man dispatch team feels overloaded, overtaxed and overreached. The atmosphere is poor. The complaints are presented to the management. The management sign a contract with a freight company, who make available an additional team (six persons plus two trainees). From now on, they are supposed to coordinate matters with the main team. All participants will be offered support through a ‘pleasant’, team- and character-building event, in order to ease the integration. As consultant, I am expected to turn two teams into one. Although the management is optimistic and I am assured that the employees are highly motivated, I prefer to form my own impression and decide to hold individual conversations with all the participants. They speak openly after I promise them confidentiality.
It turns out that things are about much more than just getting to know each other and coordinating well. The dispatch handling solution has also led to frustration on the relationship level. The original team feels that they are externally controlled and are treated disparagingly. The new employees consider themselves substantially better trained and are specialists for the tasks. The core team is paid according to the collective agreement for the industry, the newcomers are paid according to the collective agreement for “Freight”. Thus, the pay of the ‘newcomers’ lies a quarter below those of the core team. In addition, things like subsidies for the canteen, travelling costs, holiday allowance and even the number of contracted working hours are different. The ‘Freight’ company employees feel disadvantaged but believe they work more quickly and more precisely. Both groups carry out the same tasks, share an office and also warehouse staff. The department leader of the dispatch company is to ‘run the shop’ and, with the team manager of the freight company, form a kind of ‘dual’ head.
For the workshop, I would like to stimulate open conversations about the differences and, at the same time, enable as many commonalities as possible. I count on the fact that shared experiences, emotional contact and, last but not least, the clarification of shared tasks and goals will contribute to a sense of togetherness and will bring the team together to function as a whole. It is helpful that all participants are young and not too fixed on embedded working routines and habits. In the workshop, we start with the question: “Your company is a circus, in which role do you see yourself?” Selection possibilities include tamers, artists of all kinds, circus directors, tightrope walkers, bandleaders, stable boys etc.
This playful approach makes it easier to dissociate from the everyday problems and to build up emotional distance. As press secretary, I give feedback as to how I experience the team, the tasks and the ‘circus’ from outside. In mixed groups, we work out the tasks and the goals of the ‘egg-laying woolly milk sow’, which they are all supposed to be and want to be in future. This brings them into contact with each other. Things become loud, there is a lot of laughter and work with metaphors, and much ‘circus stuff’ is described. We work to reveal the ambivalence of the existing goals, gather many paradoxes regarding the tasks and write them down for all to see.
After a hike with enjoyable team exercises, the atmosphere is relaxed. We spend the evening at the bar together. On the second and third day, we discuss the interaction with paradoxes: what is solvable, what not? What can we change, what not? How do we feel about this, what feelings are triggered, what hurts, annoys and frustrates? We describe the environment as ‘weather‘, the participants, though, also work out what is ‘weather’ for the management team (thus unalterable) and where they see the areas for improvement in the situation. During this process, I repeatedly point out differences: “What do we all see the same, where do we differ?”
The participants discover that many things unite them, that they feel well together and like each other. They also discuss that they have the freedom to leave the company and are conscious that remaining is their own decision (guiding process Team Reflection).
One-and-a-half years after the workshop, the team is still working together. In the meantime, the atmosphere has become objective and friendly. However, the manager of the freight company has taken on new employment in another organisation. There are still two subgroups. The freight company employees, though, approach their work in a more relaxed manner and describe their activities in the industrial company as rather ‘laid back’. The circus metaphors are still hanging all around the offices. The employees describe themselves as ‘the circus team’. A ‘third entity’ seems to have emerged from the impulses within the workshop. Today, three years after the workshop, the company has been restructured once again and the haulage has been decentralised once more.
When someone new comes into a team, in this case even ‘strangers’ from outside, it has a massive effect upon the guiding process Team Parameters. This is even more the case, when this decision and the criteria for joining have not been dictated by the team itself and clear differences can be noticed within the newcomers’ terms (salary, qualifications, subsidies etc.). Therefore, special efforts are needed to develop new, shared communication routines and to work out a common worldview. The uncertainty, about which viewpoints are relevant, was very understandable under the special circumstances. Competition, or segregation of the subgroups could have been anticipated. The individual conversations in advance set a signal that every viewpoint is a part of the overview. This step, and the focused conversational behaviour of the consultant, were substantial factors for the success of the team development. The work on the shared image of ‘circus’ created a sustainable framework to make clear that the contributions of all team members had relevance. Thus, a new, broadened and shared parameter between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ was formed. In addition, through this, it was possible to see management as an actor who, in turn, is also dependent on something ‘outside’, i.e. the team. This avoids misinterpretations and the idea of ‘enemies‘.
To protect our clients and customers, and to preserve their privacy, no real names are used and all descriptions of organisations and areas of work are avoided. However, the cases are real and have played out as described.