Case:  High-Performance Teams

Case Studies

Case: High-Performance Teams

A managing director of consumer health care for Russia, Ukraine, and the other former Soviet Republics has held this position for only a year, and has already implemented high-performance teams at all levels of the four business units that he leads: consumer health care, beauty aids, and over-the-counter medicines. 

How soon after taking over did you begin to implement high-performance teams?

I began the process after my third month here. I first felt the need to adopt the HPT model back in 2000, in my first regional role. I’ve been setting up HPTs ever since, in every area for which I have had responsibility. I know the results that can be achieved by following the model.

You didn’t waste much time!

I soon realized that there was limited communication and information flow among the different departments. And there was no common approach to setting business priorities, managing projects, and executing the business-unit plans. As a result, there was insufficient alignment and significant complexity in running several aspects of the business. There was no clear ownership and accountability, although business partners were doing their best to achieve the business targets. When I talked separately to the members of the senior team to try to figure out what we could improve on, there were varying views about common issues and the way to move forward.

How did you begin the high-performance trek?

We started with the seven-member senior management team, which we call our management board.  Once we fully aligned the senior team around the strategy, business goals, roles and responsibilities, how we make decisions, manage conflict, and relate to one another, we moved the process to our four global business units. The unit leadership teams became mini boards of directors, responsible for their P&Ls and developing and executing the annual marketing plan.

And how did you link your senior team to the unit teams?

We assigned “sponsors” from the management board to each of the four business-unit teams. This made for two-way, noise-free communication

What about communicating the high-performance message to the rest of your organization?

We established quarterly “Town Hall” meetings. Russia is a vast country that cuts across 11 time zones, where we cannot communicate face to face. As a result, we video the Town Hall meetings and distribute them widely. The aim is to engage everyone in the process; receive feedback; and cascade vision, objectives, and strategies.

How do you keep track of each team’s progress, given Russia’s sheer size?

We measure the progress of each team every month, during the early stages of development. We have developed an anonymous Internet-based survey; every team completes an anonymous questionnaire and evaluates the results. This way, team members can self-manage their performance. The anonymous results are also presented by the leader of the business-unit team to the management-board team. We, on the management board, even follow the same process ourselves.

What results can you point to?

We have achieved 25 percent greater growth than a year ago. There have also been big improvements in the flow of information and communication and in the alignment of the business. People at every level are more willing to step up and contribute because they feel supported by the members of the management board and their unit’s teams. There is also a much greater awareness of our strategic vision and, as a result, higher motivation and involvement on all levels.

Any unique challenge in bringing the high-performing culture to Russia?

The culture tends to be rather conservative. For example, it’s not unusual to attend a meeting where there is limited discussion, no conflict, and the major issues are not surfaced. Setting up high-performing teams, which operate on agreed “ground rules of engagement,” has created an atmosphere where it’s acceptable to voice an opinion and to disagree with one another or with me, provided it’s done in a depersonalized way and comes from what’s good for the team and company, rather than functional self-interest.

What difference has the high-performance approach meant to you as a leader?

Overall, moving to high-performance teams has increased the percentage of time I spend handling strategic issues, rather than micromanaging and extinguishing fires.

And for the rest of your organization?

Decision making has become much quicker and more effective. We’ve provided teams with a clear decision-making process and with decision-making accountability. Team members are moving from coming up with questions about what to do, to offering options and clear recommendations about the best option.

If you were to address a roomful of senior leaders about moving to a high-performance model, what would you say?

If you’re not operating in a high-performance environment, you don’t know what you’re missing. I’d also tell them that they can expect a significant reduction in the time and effort it takes to get things done, while seeing an increase in the quality and level of results. They will also be able to devote more time to company strategy and move from being a reactive manager to being a more proactive and strategic leader.

Designed & developed by Greenfield/Belser Ltd.