Case Study

Team Effectiveness Work Builds More Inclusive Culture and Workplace

Client

A 50-person administrative team at a California university.

What We Did

Partnered with the team to resolve ongoing, deep-rooted culture and team effectiveness issues, and helped lay the groundwork for a more inclusive culture with effective teamwork.

Outcome

80% of the team felt positive about the state of their team effectiveness at the end of our partnership, compared to  only 20% at the beginning.

Administrative Team Moves Towards Healthier Collaboration Through Deep Listening, Trust Building, and Shared Learning

 

SITUATION

The new president of a California university reached out for support with one of the school’s administrative teams, which was undergoing a tumultuous period. They had vacancies in numerous leadership roles, and were trying to heal from deep wounds to their culture that were exacerbated by former leadership. There was a negative team environment, and some employees reported experiencing sexism, racism, and bullying that hadn’t been acknowledged or addressed. People felt disrespected, on edge, and were fearful to truly engage in their work and with each other. We came in to assess these culture and team effectiveness issues, and lay the groundwork that would set the team and the new leaders up for success.

WHAT WE DID

Our first step was to conduct a culture assessment to understand the employees’ experiences. Employees shared reports of racial and gender discrimination and how this had impacted the ability of the full team to trust each other and work effectively together. Given the personal nature and sensitivity of these conversations, we conducted interviews individually with all 50 team members to ensure psychological safety for each team member sharing their experiences, enable candor to better understand the issues the team faced, and reinforce that every employee’s voice was heard and valued.

We developed a findings report from these interviews that identified the root causes of the dysfunctional team culture. We initially considered leading an Insights Discovery communications and team building exercise with the team but once we shared the culture findings, we realized that they simply weren’t ready to do any team building. They were hurting and needed time to heal first.

We recognized the importance of bringing in the right leadership and outlined the critical competencies for new department leaders and once identified, helped orient them on the team’s history. To establish trust and buy-in, we also strategized with the new leaders and the full team to get their input on the next steps to create a more harmonious and effective team culture. There was a clear need for shared understanding around how to be on a diverse team and campus, and how to demonstrate principles of anti-racism. This sparked an engagement with the university’s equity and community inclusion leaders and team, who subsequently hosted a series of trainings with the team on anti-racism, gender issues, and more.

We then collaborated with the team and leaders to develop a new set of values, operating norms, and a roadmap that would support the campus-wide expectations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and would create a healthier team culture. Through this work, we helped the team get on the same page and established shared accountability for a culture that would enable everyone to feel safe, that they belong, and can be effective.

OUTCOME 

In the early phases of work with the client, we conducted a poll after we shared our culture assessment findings. The question was “Do you feel more positive, less positive, or neutral about the state of team effectiveness and culture?” Only 20% of the team said “more positive.” When we did this poll again towards the latter phase of the work, the amount of people feeling “more positive” jumped to 80%. When asked how they were feeling, the most commonly shared word was “hopeful.”

KEYS TO SUCCESS

  • Be willing to take the work piece-by-piece — flexibility is key.
  • Deep listening, elevating underrepresented voices, and making each individual employee feel truly heard, seen, and valued is crucial.
  • At the core of successful diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is every employee’s experience — ensuring that it is truly as inclusive and equitable as the employer believes it to be.

Need support building inclusive company cultures?

Get in Touch!