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Many leaders today are struggling. They are feeling overwhelmed and stressed and eager to lead teams that are engaged and performing. Given the current global context, it is more important than ever to find ways to create and maintain a team and organizational culture of connection, clear communication, collaborative respect, and resilience. We all need strong and cohesive teams, and staff members who are capable of handling challenges and complexity.
Since 2007, KonTerra has helped hundreds of teams improve their resilience and increase their overall effectiveness. We provide advice and coaching, and we facilitate group engagements that address challenge areas and improve communication, relationships, and performance. We work with leaders and teams to:
Data collected from more than 1000 staff members participating in Organizational Resilience engagements* showed significant improvement in multiple areas, including:
Data collected from 57 leaders engaged in Organizational Resilience services** showed the following:
Leadership Turnover: Managing Change and Transition
Rashid, the Director of a mid-size Field Office, inquired about The KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) services because three-fourths of his leadership team had turned over in recent months. In addition to the number of new team members on board, he was concerned the existing members were somewhat stuck in their ways, and he sensed a divide between the old and new guard. If he could get the leadership team in sync, Rashid saw the turnover as an opportunity to focus the office on new priorities.
Two OR advisors worked with Rashid and his team for five months. First, they talked individually and confidentially with each leadership team member. Through these conversations, they got a good sense of what was getting in the way of the team being cohesive and in alignment. The OR advisors shared the key themes with Rashid, and then with the leadership team. They consulted with Rashid throughout the process about how he could support his leadership team and ensure accountability. Together, the team tackled tough issues during meetings designed by the OR Advisors to elicit specific outcomes, decisions and actions.
Over the course of the OR engagement, the leadership team:
Poor Team Engagement and Supervisory Performance
Steve managed oversight of a large, diverse, US-based organization that experienced cohesion and satisfaction within some units, and lacked engagement and strong performance in others. He noticed that trust and communication had eroded over the past months under one relatively new supervisor, John, who had been with the team a year. Staff came to Steve about John’s supervision, which they perceived to be biased and threaded with favoritism. Meanwhile, John expressed to Steve that the team was doing fine, poised to take on more responsibilities, if only they reassigned a few poor performers. Concerned about the lack of cohesion, inconsistent messages, and fear that the team’s overall performance could decline, Steve contacted the KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) team for help.
Two OR advisors worked with Steve and the team for several months. Each team member was interviewed, anonymously, to get a better understanding about what was working well with the team and what was preventing them from performing at their best. The advisors asked questions about team trust and dynamics, communication, equity and inclusion, and leadership, and they also conducted focus groups with Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) staff. The advisors shared with Steve and the team the key themes from the interviews and focus groups, which uncovered staff concerns about John’s possible racial bias and competence. Team members felt John’s approach was resulting in poor team trust, communication, and direction. The advisors consulted with Steve about a number of ways to address the issues. They also designed meetings where the team had important conversations about their team dynamics, which resulted in a better appreciation of each other’s styles and differences.
Over time, Steve and the team developed norms for how to behave and communicate with each other. Steve set a new overall direction for the team and reassigned John to a non-supervisory role, playing to his technical strengths. Steve also promoted a BIPOC staff member who was an informal, high-performing leader among the team, and the advisors coached the new supervisor. The team took time to understand each other’s differences, and they found a new stride, with increased ease and engagement among them.
Burnout and Low Morale
A Program Director, Laura, contacted the KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) team requesting help for her team of seven. More than half of her team was hired during the pandemic, and some are located in other countries. While some individuals have met socially, not once has the team all been in the same room. Laura noted lower participation in staff meetings, responses to emails were slowing down, and staff were increasingly unaware of what other team members were doing. She seemed to have to play the role of a traffic cop, even as her own focus and energy were waning.
Two OR advisors conducted interviews with all team members. Data across the board focused on two themes: burnout and low morale. Quantifiably team members’ morale was low and they all self-identified as having decreasing energy for the volume of work they were given. Additionally each noted that, while they liked their colleagues, they didn’t know them well, and so couldn’t fully trust them.
After the team talked about the data with the OR advisors, the advisors worked with the team to identify ways for them to increase their engagement. For instance, team members gathered in one-on-one settings to learn about their colleagues as both human beings and professionals. OR advisors worked with Laura to effectively manage team meetings to elicit maximum employee engagement. A process was established for team members to propose ways the team could work better together, while also building time to continue to get to know each other. Several months later all team members, when surveyed again, identified higher morale scores, improved energy and focus at work, and appreciation for the banter they were engaging in as colleagues before and after their formal meetings.
Conflict within the Team
A Human Resource Director contacted The KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) team about the relationship between two key Office Directors. Although Lucia and Samual were quite different, they had worked together well in the past. In the last few years they had experienced regular breakdowns in communication, and their trust in each other had dropped. Lucia expressed interest in a facilitated conversation. Although Samuel was skeptical that anything could make a difference, he agreed to give it a try.
In confidential conversations with Lucia and Samuel, two OR advisors learned that virtual-only communication (during COVID), work overloads, and high levels of stress had made it difficult for them to sustain a positive connection. Without regular coffee breaks and chats about life, they lost their appreciation for each other as people, and began to see only their differences.
As a part of the facilitated conversation, they both took a workplace style assessment. The results helped them better understand their priorities, and what motivated and stressed them. Lucia operated at a fast pace and drove to results. When issues came up, she preferred addressing them right away, head-on. Samuel was cautious in his work, valued harmony and did his best to avoid conflict. Under pressure, their tendencies were exacerbated and they had less energy to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences.
Lucia and Samuel knew it would take time to restore trust and both committed to making the effort. They agreed to meet for 15 minutes every week to talk, not about work, but rather how things were going between them. They scheduled a check-in meeting with the OR advisors in two months. The advisors let them know that they could reach out if they needed support in the meantime. In the final meeting, Lucia and Samuel shared that being intentional about rebuilding their relationship, and setting aside time to reflect on how it was going, had helped them make progress. They were still quite different and it often took energy to adjust to each other. What changed was their understanding of each other’s intentions. Since they knew both were invested in the relationship, they were able to give each other the benefit of the doubt and see the good in each other.
Functioning in a Hybrid Work Environment
Derek, a Division Director, contacted the KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) team to help build his team’s resilience. His staff was transitioning back into the office, and most team members would be expected to be in the office a few days each week. Derek had a high functioning division and knew that he didn’t want this transition to upset the effective working dynamic his team had created and maintained during the past two years.
OR advisors worked with Derek and his leadership team to identify their goals for a hybrid work environment, and thereafter, the OR advisors designed a process to gather information from all staff. They administered a survey for all staff, and also conducted a number of individual interviews. Results from these efforts demonstrated staff concerns, as well as hopes for this transition. Concerns were expressed about losing the boundaries the team had set for how they worked together, especially those concerning how they communicated.
After all division staff received a summary of the data collected by the OR advisors, a volunteer group from across the division worked with the advisors to create effective norms and boundaries for optimal employee engagement. The group also highlighted the types of work important for in-person collaboration. With the support of the OR advisors, the volunteer group and the division leadership developed shared agreements and norms for maintaining healthy boundaries to support the team’s resilience. Derek and the leadership team instituted the norms and agreements across the division and planned a quarterly check-in to discuss any needed adjustments in the future.
Leading when Feeling Overwhelmed
Linda, a new manager, requested coaching from the KonTerra Group’s Organizational Resilience (OR) team because she was feeling completely overwhelmed. When describing her situation, she said her team of eight was understaffed and complained of high levels of stress. Work was fast-paced with what seemed like endless meetings and taskers consuming the team’s time. Linda had not received any formal leadership training for her higher level role, and she explored with the coach what she could do to show leadership and to remedy her situation. She was particularly interested in what other leaders and teams were doing in similar straits.
Through coaching, Linda looked at various dimensions of the team’s daily work life. Linda and the OR advisor stopped to reflect on what was in Linda’s, and the team’s, control. What new choices could be made that would address some of the stress? Linda thought out loud about how she could help the team take a closer look at their meetings (frequency, length and determining who really needs to be present), improve the team’s work-life balance (no emails after office hours or on weekends), and set aside time on a weekly basis for uninterrupted work. Linda realized she also needed to take steps to further clarify specific roles and responsibilities of team members.
Linda and the Coach further discussed the necessity of prioritizing the team’s work and workloads on an on-going basis and examining when the team can say no to work, delay it, negotiate the deliverables, or redirect the request elsewhere. In an hour of coaching, Linda had a plan of action.
KonTerra’s approach is based on open, honest dialogue geared toward understanding the individual, team, and organizational underlying needs. The combined experience and sensitivity of our advisors and coaches helps leaders and staff feel comfortable and confident talking about complex and difficult issues, working closely together to solve problems, and collaboratively building a productive way forward.
KonTerra’s OR Advisors and Coaches all share two attributes which equip them well to deliver excellent support: all are veteran practitioners with at least 10 years of experience working with leaders and teams; and all have experience working with staff in high-stress environments. Many of them have lived abroad and served as leaders in high-stress environments themselves.
“The OR engagement provided focused support to the Mission and allowed the senior management team to spend time reflecting and communicating. The result was increased synergy across the various teams, expanding leadership capacity and team cohesion.”
– USAID Mission Leader
“The OR staff are skilled consultants that know how to get employees to open up about difficult issues. The OR staff then provide insights into pragmatic solutions that lead to improved performance in the real world.”
– USAID HQ Leader
“The OR Advisors’ had a great ability to get employees to be open to discussing their issues and get to the root of the problematic situation affecting the performance of the organization.”
– USAID HQ Leader
“The session the OR Advisors facilitated allowed our leadership group to carefully think about what processes to implement / change / discard going forward into the new bureau merger, which truly helped us ensure a cohesive, responsive leadership approach to the merger.”
– USAID HQ Leader
“From these sessions we understood the areas we needed to work as a team:peer to peer accountability; clear communication; communication styles, etc. It was extremely useful in understanding all the dynamics and allowed all of us to build the trust we needed to function as a productive team.”
– USAID Mission Leader
“The OR team helped me to identify sources of discontent and morale-busters among my staff, which I suspected were there but didn’t really understand. They also helped us to look at possible solutions before I acted. This surely improved the way my team perceived my willingness to take on long-standing problems.”
– USAID HQ Leader
“The advisors carefully prepared before they came to the Mission, seeking to first understand the Mission, its personalities, its priorities, and its unique concerns. That was very helpful. They tailored sessions to reflect these needs, which provided a safe venue for staff to be very candid.”
– USAID Mission Leader
“The OR Advisors helped develop a shared set of norms for cross team collaboration that have endured for over two years.”
– USAID HQ Leader
“The OR Advisors quickly understood the context and challenges we face and offered viable, implementable solutions that worked!!”
– USAID Mission Leader
“The OR Advisors provide perspective and apply ideas that we don’t see ourselves because we are in the midst of it all.”
– USAID HQ Leader
*Survey conducted of participants in organizational resilience engagements at a large international humanitarian and development organization between 2017-2021.
**Survey of leaders at a large international humanitarian and development organization that engaged in organizational resilience services between 2019-2022.