Case Study: Re-Wiring Communication and Getting Back to Work
A conversation with RB – Vice President, consumer reporting agency, Seattle
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this job anymore.”
RB had two decades of experience at a Seattle consumer reporting agency when she was tapped to be Vice President and General Manager. She’d already noticed some communication problems with the leadership team, but she figured they were inevitable given the many personalities and communication styles.
The team was put to the test when it took on a major operating system upgrade. It was ‘all hands on deck,’ and everything came to a boiling point. The fissures could no longer be avoided.
“It had gotten to where trust was completely eroded,” said RB. “And I realized I didn’t have the right tools to handle such complex issues. I needed help.”
Interpersonal Problems are Work Problems
Problems became apparent in many ways, threatening the productivity of the small office. An over-reliance on email contributed to miscommunication and a sense of disconnection. Emails were often interpreted through a lens of suspicion, causing anger and hurt feelings. Some people didn’t want to communicate at all because they feared others might take offense. The leadership team held weekly conference calls, but there was scant participation because people were so guarded – or downright mad.
“I was constantly on alert,” said RB. “I felt like I had to be on the lookout for something to erupt. One email might set someone off and they’d be so upset they would call in sick the next day.”
To their credit, the leadership team recognized there were problems. They also knew they weren’t going to fix them alone. Out of their frustration and anxiety came a resolve to find a solution.
Coming to The Table
“When I found Nora, it was a lifesaver…She has the most amazing way of approaching communication challenges with professionalism, inquisitiveness, and caring. She became our communication consultant as well as an executive coach for me and my team.” —RB
After interviewing each person in a confidential phone call, Nora helped the team learn about their personal communication styles through individual assessments and a series of group exercises. The aim was to better understand each other and practice new ways of interacting that would help repair trust and create a work environment everyone would want to be a part of.
RB describes it as a transformative experience; “It was uncomfortable. It was emotional for all of us. It was not easy, but we learned a lot about each other during the process.”
With Nora by their side, the team discovered what it meant to truly communicate and support each other. RB discovered something as well. She’s finding the leader she wants to be; a confident coach and mentor.
“I knew I had it in me. I just had to find it,” said RB. Sometimes she feels amazed at how far the team has come. “I never thought I’d feel such a sense of calm.”
Practicing New Skills; Using New Tools
The team understands it’s all still a work in progress. As they began working remotely due to COVID-19, RB made a point to check in frequently with each of them. Everyone began seeing more measured communication, more forgiveness, and a return to collaboration. Team members are now helping each other and engaging productively during meetings. As an added benefit, their new communication tools have improved interactions with clients, too.
“Nora has become an important member of my team. She’s there as a resource for all of us. In the future we may bring her in for a refresher and go through some of the exercises again. It will be exciting to see how far we’ve come.” — RB
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