Strengthening Links

Our client, the Supply Chain Team for an international paint manufacturer, had been in existence for a little over a year when they asked us to come and help them with some internal frictions that were beginning to show. Relationships between several of the team were long standing and very strong, particularly between the heads of production and the Unit Director. They formed the ‘old team’ that existed before the supply chain concept widened the membership of the team. Other members especially at the far ends of the supply chain felt less included and understood. Each person was head of their own link in the chain and because of geographic and functional differences would often get together only when meetings were called. Workflows and improvement initiatives were interrupted and frustrated by misunderstandings, different priorities and personality clashes. Before calling the team together for a day and a half we began by finding out what was ‘best’ about the team rather than the more obvious what doesn’t work. Asking deficit questions such as ‘what doesn’t work’ begins a chain reaction of negative thought that usually leads to blame, defensiveness and the reinforcement of long held prejudices. Not a backdrop conducive to fostering better relationships and improving performance! Each of the members were interviewed using an ‘Appreciative’ approach that explored, in addition to what already worked, but specifically:

1. What people most valued about themselves and each other?

2. What core factors gave life to the team when it was at it’s most effective?

3. What they were being asked to become?

4. If they had 3 wishes for the team what would they be?

5. What they would most like to work on during the coming 24 hours?

Team members talked at length in response to these openly positive questions. Questions 1 and 2 evoked a wealth of fantastic stories, qualities and passions that were deeply held and a real openness that set the scene for the workshop. Questions 3 and 4 allowed people to describe how they saw the future, to voice doubts they had about the role the team was being asked to perform and any concerns they had about the way they worked together. Again, responses were open, honest and heartfelt. The final question asked them where their energy lay regarding the forthcoming workshop; what issues were burning, what outcomes they would like to achieve. These began to shape the format of the day but it was important that the team shape the agenda collectively, which was the purpose of our first session.

We met towards the end of a working day when members of the team were in the same location following a business meeting. After a framing of the day the team members were given anonomised summaries of the responses to the questions and asked to spend some time reading what they had collectively said. They were asked to write what they thought was interesting or significant onto ‘Post-it’ notes in 3 words or less for each note. Each person was invited to share and summarise what he or she had written and place the notes onto a large board. As each person summarised their thoughts they were asked to group their notes alongside any they thought represented similar issues. Once all members had shared their responses to the interviews they were invited to gather round the board and collectively

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