Client brief: This client is a company specialising in innovative waste management solutions in Europe. They were in an immense growth period, which needed to be underpinned by a robust HR approach. But this approach wasn’t in place and staff were being over-stretched to meet their goals. The HR Director contacted me with a sense of urgency and explained that the Finance Director was struggling. Since I knew her and how capable she was, I was surprised to hear this. On reflection with the client, it became clear the not only was the FD stressed and overwhelmed, there was a member in the team that seemed to be intent on creating a toxic environment and spreading gossip.  My colleague and I realised, on speaking with the client, that the change process necessary to the company’s recent growth hadn’t been implemented well, which meant the team weren’t buying into the process. The client, therefore, needed help to rebuild their team.      

What we did: Firstly, we found that no-one was talking to each other. We looked to restore healthy dialogue through team-building sessions specific to the team. The sessions were designed from one-on-one interviews my colleague and I held with each team member, finding out how they each saw their role’s purpose and what emotional space they were in. We began each interview by reassuring the team member that our discussions were confidential and they wouldn’t be judged for speaking the truth about what was going on for them; through this, we were able to establish trust, allowing them to be open and honest with us.      

Post interviews, we decided on 4 team building sessions, gradually taking them into a space where they felt comfortable with our approach, with each session built around an exploration of the change process. We were careful to simply facilitate during these sessions, so that we didn’t alienate them by appearing to be ‘teaching’ them, but instead creating an environment where they would find their own solutions. The sessions included role-playing, which meant that everybody was involved, and when a question came up, we encouraged them to work out the best answer amongst themselves.       

The process we used was an inversion of the classic classroom approach. At the end of each session we asked them to summarise their day (‘what’s on my mind...’) and we usually finished with storytelling.      

Outcome: The client found that there was a noticeable improvement after the sessions: the team were consistently talking to each other and engaged in keeping dialogue open. This allowed them to cope much better with growth and change, and when challenges arose, they could discuss them, which instantly reduced their stress levels. Interestingly, the person that had previously been focused on creating a toxic environment chose to resign from the company shortly after.       

Through encouraging the team to work more co-operatively through consistent dialogue, asking questions and regular reflection, the company was able to manage their growth period in a healthy way.