Under the skin of teams

For the last decade, Symbia has worked with leaders and their teams in countries on every continent. We've worked in industries from FMCG and aviation, to finance, telecommunications and entertainment, as well as across marketing, legal, supply chain, and R&D functions. We've worked up and down the food chain from interns to CEOs – irrespective of these variables we have observed the same set of universal truths.

Leaders come to us with a multitude of goals and challenges ranging from:

  • Enhancing team performance
  • 'Fixing' a dysfunctional team
  • Increasing wellbeing and resilience
  • Dealing with a restructure
  • Managing mergers of companies or departments (from a culture and people perspective)
  • Cultivating a shared sense of purpose
  • Galvanising a dispersed team

But regardless of what they come for; they always leave with something different. 


Why? Because inevitably their focus tends to be on the 'tangible'. They say things like:


  • 'We need to increase productivity'
  • 'We need to refresh our strategy'
  • 'We need to define roles and responsibilities'
  • 'We have to create a 'ways of working' manifesto'


...and the list goes on.  


Indeed, these may be the outcomes they seek, and they are possible to achieve, but this isn't enough. If we were to take every brief at face value, we could deliver exactly to expectations, the clients would be happy, but their challenges wouldn't be resolved. 




Because of four fundamental reasons:


  1. The person briefing us is usually the team or function leader, and by that very nature, they don't fully know what is going on. Just like parents of teenagers don't have the full picture (not saying execs are teenagers!), it's human nature to shield details from those in authority.
  2. By focusing on a solution (new strategy, org chart, roles and responsibilities), there is an underlying assumption that the 'problem' presented is the right one to be solving.
  3. The brief is usually aimed at the 'symptom' level and rarely seeks to uncover the 'cause', because the symptoms are often confused as the cause.
  4. In the fast-paced world we work in, 'results and outcomes' are favoured over the process. As a result, the journey time is crunched to accelerate to the outcomes; because of this, the outcomes are diluted and often superficial. We find that more energy and focus invested in the 'HOW' (the journey) gets you much better, more impactful and longer-lasting results.


We get around all of these challenges by adding one simple step into the beginning of the process – a Diagnosis stage for every team we work with. It's through this inquiry and investigation the real insight comes.

Diagnosis – a simple, effective first step

We take the leader’s brief but consider it as just one input of data. We then have one-on-one anonymous and confidential sessions with each key stakeholder, leadership team members or wider team depending on who we are working with. However, these sessions are not only informative, we've had our clients tell us they are therapeutic and cathartic too. It means a lot to them to have a safe space where they can speak the truth without judgment or repercussions.


It's through these conversations and cross analysis that we can identify the root cause (or causes) of any challenges or locked potential within a team. We can then separate symptoms from cause and know where to focus our energy. 


This all happens BEFORE any planning takes place. What's the point in working on the solution if you don't know whether you have identified the right problem?

The challenge is always human

What do we uncover? The challenge is rarely what we've been briefed on, and that's ok – we believe it's our job to do the detective work. Because we’re looking at the challenge objectively rather than being in it, we’re actually in the best place to help. It's this, along with our years of experience, that tells us the work we need to do isn't tangible, even though the solution sought is.


Because the challenge is always human. 


Companies, organisations, businesses, teams, what are they? They are just a collection of humans, with all of our emotions, thoughts, doubts, insecurities and biases. 


Because of this, we also don't want to point fingers at others or expose our vulnerabilities. We tolerate situations, and we all point at the strategy, at inefficient budgets, at resource issues and poor business results instead – because they can be seen and because they are not personal. 


But we need to get personal if we want to be effective in business. That's true now more than ever. The reality is that the most important work we ever do within companies is deeply personal and involves working on our 'inner game' – the emotions, thoughts and mindsets of the people making the decisions.


Running our Diagnosis stage delivers five benefits:


  1. We now know exactly what is going on, which gives us authority and an edge when facilitating a team session. This is particularly useful when we meet resistance, denial or excuses – it’s a natural human tendency to defend ourselves.
  2. We’re able to design a deeper session that will get to the root cause of the problem, getting teams and their leaders the results they want. 
  3. We give voice to the unexpressed challenges and frustrations that have been creating drag in the team by kicking off each session with 'saying the unsaid'. By doing this, we put everyone on the same page and give each team member a safe space to say what's on their mind.
  4. We’re a neutral objective partner raising the issues (not exposing people, but rather problems) – it creates a combined sense of relief, safety and motivation when solving them.
  5. We can finally begin to work on the real problems once we’ve identified the ‘elephant’ (or elephants) in the room objectively 


In the hundreds of workshops we have run across the world, 80% of what we do is spent working on the mental game of business. It's spent helping teams understand what makes each of the individuals within them tick. We look at how they problem solve, respond to setbacks, manage stress, handle emotion, navigate their thinking and deal with conflict. 


It's this deeper work that always makes the difference.

Team vs Individual

The temptation when working with teams is to do just that, work on teams. Generally, our clients want a jam-packed agenda where lots of 'work' is done as a collective to 'move the needle' or 'create momentum'. 


But if you do not work at the individual level first, the team efforts will be futile. We call this working on the 'me' before the 'we'. 


That doesn't mean we spend months doing one-on-one coaching, not at all. We work at the individual level while simultaneously working on the group. This is where the greatest shifts amongst our clients come from. If we ignore the complexities of what it means to be human, we will never be able to get a team functioning effectively. 


Often, this work begins when teams have come to us already facing challenges. Rarely does a team come to us 'firing on all cylinders' and that's fine - it's human nature to wait for a certain level of pain before taking action.

Prevention over cure

But what if we didn't wait for challenges and issues to appear before we 'did the work'. What if we could get ahead of ourselves and have a prevention and enhancement approach rather than cure? What would that unlock amongst your people?


Some of our more progressive clients have started to realise the importance of 'enhancement and prevention' over cure, Unilever is one of these core companies who are trailblazing the way forward. 


They have heavily invested in training and education around the idea of the ‘inner game' because they are fully aware of the importance of empowering their staff to understand and navigate their own minds. 


When you have mentally fit people, you have resilient and agile teams. When you have resilient and agile teams, you have a healthy company; and when you have a healthy company, it positively affects the bottom line. 


If you have any comments to make about dealing with workplace pressures and disruptions, we’d love to hear from you! Feel free to drop a comment in the box below or send us an email to find out more about how you can build up yours and your team members’ adaptability. 

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