Case studies

Evidence for the effectiveness of any training is difficult to gather and is often largely anecdotal. Some examples:

Team-Building. In designing a team building programme for a major public company all training methods were considered. The company had provided little or no development training for its staff up to this point. However, it was successful and expanding, although increasing competition, order books and customer demands were beginning to test its strengths. Some new personnel had been appointed from outside in influential positions and there was a need to integrate the new acquisitions. As a response to these considerable changes, it was decided to embark on a major training and development programme, with a strong early emphasis on team building.

The programme was designed to be flexible, realistic and enjoyable, using a variety of training media. Over a period of ten months, some 120 management and supervisory personnel – from the group chairman to senior machine minders – participated in classroom seminars, film shows and outdoor development courses.

At the end of a two-day programme in the Yorkshire Dales, delegates were invited to complete a questionnaire which would identify their preferred team role, as defined by Belbin and were introduced to the theory. All delegates were de-briefed individually and, with their agreement, the results published on a subsequent course. On this second course delegates tested Belbin’s concepts, by tackling a series of problem solving exercises in teams. The composition of the teams and balance of types was changed at intervals by the training staff. This gave the delegates the opportunity to recognise the problems of imbalance and to better understand how different types work.

The consequence was improved teamwork back at the factory and more careful selection of project teams in the future. As one notoriously uncompromising salesman put it later, commenting on a colleague from production “I still don’t like him, but I now know why and can work with him.

CHANGE

A well known and successful consultancy, specialising in Total Quality Management recognised a weakness in the training they provided to their clients. The TQM principles were encapsulated in a three pronged approach of Systems, Control and Teamwork and they had a wealth of experience and expertise in the first two.

They were concerned, however that they only had a superficial understanding of teamwork. They therefore asked us to design and facilitate a one day seminar with their senior consultants. The day was run from their offices, but the activities ranged into the neighbouring public park.

Combined with some psychometric analysis of potential team strengths, using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), we ran a number of short problem solving exercises and a carefully adapted version of a longer exercise.

The ensuing review was wide ranging, but also quite deep in certain aspects. The consultants found a number of areas where they felt a need to improve their own working relationships and structure, which in turn gave them a greater understanding of the importance of the teamwork part of their programmes and some fresh ideas on how to impart the message.

Some surveys in Europe have shown that as many as 80% of TQM initiatives fail. Part of the reason for this is neglect of the teamwork training process. (Total Quality: Time to take off the rose tinted spectacles, A.T.Kearney, London, 1991.)

 INNOVATION

A company that prided itself on quality and customer service recognised a change in customers’ expectations and requirements. The company was increasingly being asked to design innovative marketing ideas, rather than just manufacture products.

During a team building programme the delegates struggled with a series of problem solving exercises, which during review was blamed on a lack of innovative thought. This seemed to be backed up by the results of the Belbin Team Roles profiles, which identified only one “Plant” (creative thinker) in 88 middle to senior managers.

The initial reaction to this in the company was to advocate recruitment of more innovative types. However we recommended they spend some time considering their culture first. Their reputation was built on some successful, but fairly inflexible systems and a culture of compliance and tradition, which fostered intolerance of new ideas.

We ran a series of programmes to encourage more creativity and, more importantly to recognise and appreciate innovation and the need for it.

 LEADERSHIP

Some National Health Service managers were trying to come to terms with their new roles in the market environment introduced by the government. In particular they were concerned about the apparently conflicting functions of providing and purchasing health care for their clients – the patients. We designed and ran a large multi-task exercise where managers had to bid for contracts, buy tasks to fulfil those contracts and then complete the tasks. The tasks themselves varied from simple, repetitive operations with low value to longer problem solving exercises of high value to further reflect the conflicting priorities of their hospital environments. This proved to be an easily recognisable metaphor and the managers developed a number of strategies which they successfully adapted to their real situations and transferred to their new Health Trusts.