“As I see it, you don’t have a strong organization without a strong and cohesive leadership team. A group that is ever-improving through understanding both the business and the group dynamic itself,” says Zøllner, a business manager at ABB. A business unit that was formed a little over a year and a half ago, when three divisions merged into one, throwing both staff and management into a new configuration once again.
“ABB operates in an ever-changing market and we’re constantly being bombarded with different agendas and changes. A year and a half ago we merged three businesses, last week one of our sister organizations was sold off and a couple of months ago yet another one of our departments became centralized,” Zøllner says, stressing that he has learned to live with the fluctuating environment, and now looks back fondly on his journey of both developing and team building for the company’s leadership team.
“To begin with, we were a fairly diverse group of people working individually in different parts of the business, on different management levels and with different agendas. Some of us were experienced leaders – others were rookies in terms of leadership, he explains, remembering a time where these colleagues, new to one another, were still trying to find their legs as a team in a new environment.
The group’s unique and varied viewpoints prompted Zøllner to contact business psychologist Susanne Slotsager. He wanted her to help the group gel together – focus on teambuilding, developing personal and practical leadership tools for day-to-day challenges. This was an approach that had never before been used by the management in ABB Denmark – therefore a fair amount of skepticism where present.
“Initially all of us definitely were not on board with the idea of leadership development and additional time spent on coaching and teambuilding. But it only took half a day with Susanne Slotsager to change people’s attitudes. It was remarkable how alleviated we felt. How much each and everyone of us got out of it and how happy we ended up feeling about these sessions,” he says.
As Zøllner sees it, the leadership team realized that if they didn’t learn to work better together and improve their understanding and support for one another, other companies in the market would leave them in the dust. In such a hectic and highly competitive environment, it’s extremely important to know who you are, what you want and who always has your back.
“The investment became evident. Each and every one felt that their role in the team was sharpened. The weekly meetings became more productive and everybody gained a better understanding of themselves as leaders. It wasn’t always easy – and I don’t think it should be. To begin with, we were all a bit weary and watchful of each other – we felt vulnerable sharing our thoughts and feelings. But we were also professionals,” he says.
Zøllner notes how everybody both witnessed and felt the quality of the group-dynamic and its valuable discussions improve. The group grew closer, its individuals gradually reaching a much more personal and organic way of communicating and behaving with one another.
In close cooporation with Tom Zøllner and HR Business Partner Ann-Dorthe Lind we developed a taylormade leadership development program, which was implemented over a period of 18 month.
Once the leadership development training was underway, it became more and more obvious how much the group was actually dealing with; personal stress, occasional work overload, the so-called ‘difficult conversations’ with employees, and the realization that you unwittingly might be too absent as a leader.
“The pitfall of not investing in leadership development and a strengthening of the team spirit is silo thinking, departments divided and an environment of ‘tending to your own’ and not the business as a whole. Down the road it will be more luck than sense that makes a company like that survive,” says Zøllner, adding that the process of working with Susanne Slotsager has been a catalyst of so much good.
“Susanne Slotsager has built self-confidence and team spirit into our leadership team. She’s made sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder, assisting one another through the process. We’ve learned that the guy next to us is not our competitor and that the woman in the corner actually has a unique perspective and relevant suggestions for moving forward with success,” he says, adding a final comment:
“Susanne Slotsager has created an atmosphere of safety and trust for us, where there is a willingness to work together on our day-to-day challenges. With simple and accessible tools, she has successfully created a solid foundation. Her feedback on our daily routines and dilemmas has been both honest and valuable. We’ve been able to self-assess and are now able to expand our personal development into our respective areas – which might be the most crucial result of all.”