Building a high performing, strategic leadership team by playing to strengths.

La Trobe University’s Division of Marketing and Engagement wanted to develop a strong, cohesive and flexible leadership team that could achieve goals and manage large, diverse teams more effectively. The Executive Director also wanted to enable the team to grow as individuals, learn about themselves and their team-mates and ensure staff enjoyed coming to work. The team also needed to work flexibly, courageously and resiliently to implement new initiatives into a conservative work environment that does not easily embrace change.

We designed and delivered a strength-based strategic planning program, using the R2 Strengths tool to maximise momentum, engagement and mutual support. Emphasising performance strengths achieves far more successful business outcomes than focussing on gaps. Identifying each person’s strengths and making them available to be leveraged by all makes a team far stronger than the sum of its parts. Individual and team strengths were applied to design and deliver on the Division’s strategy.

Results exceeded expectations. Outcomes included:

  • Improved tolerance, mutual understanding and appreciation of each others’ roles, skills, strengths and vulnerabilities
  • A positive, creative and future focussed approach to problem solving
  • Reduced stress and more constructive use of time
  • Learning cascaded through business units
  • Self-driven initiatives to embed strengths in team planning and development.

The dramatic improvement in performance enabled the team to meet the year’s strategic goals within nine months!

Interview with the Executive Director, about her and her team’s experiences working with the Langley Group and our senior consultant, and how the leadership team are benefitting from the new tools and approaches.

What did you set out to achieve for your team?

As Executive Director of a large team, I felt it was essential for my direct managers and myself to form a strong, cohesive and sustainable leadership team. My key objectives were to upskill the management team to enable the Division to achieve its goals and improve managers’ effectiveness. I also wanted to enable team members to grow as individuals, learn about themselves and their team-mates – and ensure staff enjoyed coming to work!

How was our consultant’s approach helpful to your team?

The impact the Langley Group has had on the team and the Division throughout 2011 is far beyond my expectations.

The lead consultant used a variety of tools and methods to help us achieve our objective. Her extensive and in-depth knowledge of her areas of expertise impressed even the most questioning team member, and she was always willing to explain the methodology or research that informs her work, which was critical in a University environment.

She asks the hard questions, pursues interesting (and not always comfortable) lines of enquiry, is flexible in her approach, reads the mood of participants and responds accordingly. Her personality and obvious enthusiasm and belief in what she says and does instills confidence in participants.

What impact have you observed so far?

A wide range of improvements:

  • Greater tolerance and understanding within the team and an appreciation of the roles, skills, strengths and vulnerabilities of other team members
  • A more creative approach to problem solving
  • Stress reduction and more overt and constructive support for team members
  • More constructive time use
  • Greater empowerment of team members to own problems and find solutions
  • Cascading learning into units within the Division.

We are also starting to see evidence of other areas responding differently (positively) to team members as we take a new approach into the workplace.

What are the next steps for your team?

It’s a work in progress. The type of change we are seeking takes time to fully explore and embed in work (and personal) practice.

It takes courage to implement into a conservative work environment that does not easily embrace change. We will continue working with the Langley Group throughout the next year with team and individual sessions building on what we’ve achieved so far. I believe we will begin to see significant impact on the Division’s business operations and achievements.

Our consultant talks about the approach she took and the outcomes she observed that made the program so successful.

What were the challenges facing the team when they approached you?

The eight managers lead a large and diverse team within a federated environment with conflicting priorities and a risk-averse institutional mindset. I set out to assist the team to create a high performance mentality and environment within the existing culture.

What did the program you designed for La Trobe look like?

The development program was set up over three full day sessions.

Session 1: I brought the team together to establish a set of core values to which they would hold each other accountable moving forward. We focused on evaluating the quality of the relationships they have with each other as well as their key stakeholders within the university. We also developed an action plan around how to enhance each relationship.

Session 2: I brought strengths assessment into Session 2, basing it around debriefing and discussing the Realise 2 Strengths profiles of both individuals and the team as a whole. The group came up with a robust action plan around the application of their individual strengths to both individual and team goals and how they could use their team profile to enhance the way they did business as a group.

Session 3: This was a strategy day based around how to identify and remain focussed on the most wildly important things for the upcoming year. We then workshopped how the team and individual strengths could be applied to pursuing and achieving the year’s goals.

Why did you choose a strengths-based approach?

Emphasising performance strengths achieves far more successful business outcomes than focussing on performance weakness. Studies show a 36% performance improvement versus a 26% performance drop. Making team members’ strengths known and accessible to everyone makes a team far stronger than the sum of its parts.

How did the team engage with the approach?

As a result of the strong connection and speed at which concepts were embraced in the first two sessions, we decided to add individual coaching sessions for each team member before Session 3. This had a profoundly positive impact on the quality of the strategy developed in the final session.

A key factor in the progam’s success was the constant and genuine participation of Jacqui, the Executive Director, who travelled the journey with the team. Her frank and candid contributions during each session really opened up a trusting and valued working environment for us all.

What outcomes were achieved?

A lot of tangible outputs came out of the program:

  • The team created a set of core values and further developed strategic goals against each of the values.
  • The team introduced self-driven initiatives to bring team strengths to life in their work every day.
  • The yearly strategy and individual performance plans were built around individual and team strengths.

Many of the managers went on to further develop their individual teams to broaden the application of the concepts delivered in the three sessions. The language of the whole team has become more positive and future focussed. Higher levels of engagement and support for each other are clearly observed during their interactions.

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