Don’t Panic!….trust the process

Published on Wednesday 17 April 2013 by in News with 2 comments

A sub title for this could be ‘how to create a high performing team of differing nationalities, languages and cultures in 4 hours!?’

The Hague Academy for Local Governance (THALG) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that aims at strengthening good (local) governance, public service delivery and socio-economic development in developing and transitional countries by organising practice oriented training programmes. One such training initiative is the ‘Leadership in municipal management’  program for a group of international municipal managers from the Philipines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Albania, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Kenya.  A truly international gathering representing different cultures and ways of working.

These municipal managers are faced with a wide variety of problems and challenges such as making kathmandu a plastic free city; Dealing with the constant political clash between rival warring factions in Sri Lanka; Managing solid waste and blocked drainage systems in Bangladesh; Dealing with informal traders and flea markets in Zimbabwe; City waste problems caused by illegal activities by unemployed youths in Zanzibar….. problems impacting the lives of millions of citizens. Problems that can only be solved with powerful leadership and effective collaboration. 

The session on 16 April focused on ‘Leadership, effective team working and people management’. As part of this program Paul Wilkinson of GamingWorks facilitated an Apollo 13 business simulation.  The immediate question raised was ‘What on earth has Apollo 13 got to do with municipal management problems’? The team soon discovered.

Before the game started the team was asked to define the behavior that would be seen in the game that would demonstrate ‘Effective team working‘ and ‘Leadership‘, two of the key learning objectives.

Effective team working Leadership
Deliver results – Customer satisfaction Take charge
Listening to each other Influence other people
Feedback/Criticism Respect & practice the rule of law
Good horizontal and vertical communication Ability to communicate effectively
Knowing the results to be delivered Situational leadership (based on situation, AND on the abilities of the people)
Sharing ideas Clear responsibility and accountability
Helping each other

It was not a shared set of aims, ambitions or values. They were simply words recorded on paper. They were not lived

We pinned these flip-overs on the wall. The team then designed and implemented their agreed ways of working aimed at realizing the results of the Apollo mission. During the design the flip-overs were completely ignored. The rocket blasted off and the demands from the Astronauts and the Mission Director increased. Were the agreed ways of working fit for purpose? Would the team effectively work together? Would leadership ensure results were achieved? At the end of the first round the results were not achieved and the customer was not happy. We reflected on the reasons why. One was that nobody had ensured that the ‘desired behavior’ recorded in the lists for ‘effective team working’ and ‘leadership’ was performed.  It was not a shared set of aims, ambitions or values. They were simply words recorded on paper. They were not lived.  Everybody did their own ‘tasks’ and focused on ‘their’ work.

  • Results and objectives were poorly known
  • Roles were unclear – who is responsible for what
  • The detailed and accurate process flow and activities was ignored, everybody, when uncertain about what to do,  dumped their work on the Flight director
  • There was no insight or oversight
  • People were not confronted on ignoring the process or not fulfilling their responsibilities
  • The customers were not engaged during the design and were poorly notified
  •  The team did not listen to each other, or help each other.

The Flight Director wanted to quit…she offered her resignation

We looked at the impact of their behavior on results. Wasted costs, dissatisfied customers, ineffective and inefficient, poor use of resources, rework. Only 20% of the work was done, poor quality service delivery. The team agreed it was frustrating and they felt unhealthy stress. The Flight Director wanted to quit and offered her resignation. Her shoulders slumped, she had a feeling SHE had failed….it was the team that had failed!

In the next process design phase the team used the strengths within the team. Who could best facilitate the dialogue? Who needed help to understand what needed to be done? They made a clear process flow of activities and made clear ‘AGREEments’ about the work, who was responsible, who had authority, who would escalate and when. The Flight Director and managers would coach people and help people during execution, they would engage more with the customer. They would monitor, track and direct the work – demonstrating Governance. They would confront each other on not complying with agreed responsibilities and process.

The Flight Director learnt that she didn’t have to do eveything….she could delegate and apply situational leadership

After the second game round the customer was happy and the results had been achieved. Less wasted costs, 80% of the work had been delivered – on time. People were happy. The Flight director was under control. She was ‘happy’.  She complimented her team on their performance ‘We did this TOGETHER’. The flight director had learnt that she didn’t have to do everything, she could delegate and apply situational leadership, some people needed more coaching, more help, more instructions. She was now able to ‘trust’ that people would do the right things. Why? They now knew the results to be achieved and the impact on the customer when agreements were not being met, they had agreed together their own way of working and had agreed to give each other feedback, to confront each other on responsibilities and if needed to help each other.

At the end of the session the delegates were asked ‘What was YOUR key learning point from today? What do you want to take away and apply in YOUR work when you go back home?’

  • Use the expertise of all from the different field of expertise.
  • Team aspirations. Team work towards shared ambitions.
  • I want to take home a lot, but the 1 I really want to apply is getting organized through a practical process that is agreed by all involved.
  • Engage citizens, lay down workable procedures aimed at delivering results.
  • To consult (engage) the customer before doing a project so that the result matches their expectations – result.
  • Proper planning is very important when implementing  a project. Agreeing on a thorough, detailed process, understanding and implementing it.
  • My most important part of lesson today is ‘Time-management’. Within the agreed times, the managers pay attention to handle the case (call, question, complaint, request) and deliver the result on time.
  • The three important learning points I am going to take home and apply:
    • Agreed process (built by stakeholders)
    • Helping each other in the team
    • No need to panic! Be organized and follow the agreed process and escalation
  • I think it is important how a team works together, understanding each persons’ role, each persons’ strengths, help each other and strengthen the members of the team, and finally to implement an agreed process to deliver results.
  • Building team management, to get a good result, to achieve team target. Gain understanding, agree direction, correct behavior, be pro-active.
  • In order to be a good leader it is not necessary to have the loudest voice. Leaders need to have a good knowledge about team building and leadership skills. Leader should develop a good action plan with expected results, from the beginning (involving and engaging with stakeholders).
  • To get a good result there is a need for a clear  understanding of the process, of teamwork, clear responsibility. It will lead to the stakeholders being happy.

In 4 hours the team had transformed from an unstructured, undisciplined, task focused set of individuals who failed to deliver customer value, to a high performing team, with consistent ways of working, effective collaboration, engaged with and aligned to stakeholder needs, enabled by leadership. A team able to deliver customer value, a team able to demonstrate Governance. A team with new insights and skills to tackle problems that impact the lives of millions of citizens. 

The question now is will be take away and apply these new skills to make a difference? Will they be back at the Academy next year to share their success stories.

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