Close Brothers: Executive Leadership Team Development
Mayvin designed and delivered a series of workshops for Close Brothers Motor Finance C-suite leaders to help them develop their working practices and prepare to be challenged in a crisis (which soon arrived in the form of the significant transformation and the global covid-19 pandemic).
One of the programme’s design principles was to hold the sessions lightly which HR Business Partner Mandy Smith credits as being ‘so useful, in terms of leaving space for organic conversations… the team appreciated the depth of conversation it led to.’
Rebecca McNeil CEO said: ‘The business benefited from a more open and trusting Executive Committee, and from my perspective it drove the team development forward at a faster pace, but also to a far deeper level and created a more lasting connection.’
Close Brothers Motor Finance is a subsidiary of Close Brothers Group Plc, a leading UK merchant banking group providing lending, deposit taking, wealth management services and securities trading. In July 2018 Rebecca McNeil was 10 weeks into her new role as CEO Close Brothers Motor Finance. She was fortunate to have inherited a capable and confident executive team. They were competent in their areas of technical expertise. Some had previous executive level experience. For some this was their first C-suite role.
Rebecca felt the team hadn’t had the chance to bond. At times she felt there was a little too much theorising at the expense of decision-making, but overall was happy they were managing the business well in a difficult market. Her main concern was that the team had yet to be challenged in a crisis and was sure this test would come sooner rather than later. Rebecca’s ask of Mayvin was to help the team develop their ways of working so that they were prepared for the inevitable rocky patches ahead. These tests came in the form of a significant transformation programme, regulatory change to deliver, and, of course, the covid-19 pandemic.
Working with Tony Nicholls, Mayvin Principal Consultant, Rebecca and her HR Business Partner, Mandy Smith, undertook a series of workshops. Held every 3 to 6 months, seven workshops were run between August 2018 and April 2020. A list of principles was created to inform the design and facilitation of the workshops:
- Hold the session structure lightly: allow for an emergent design on the day depending on insights generated, energy and flow
- They were to be conversational, exploratory, light, fun - but focused on the business and real work
- Be appreciative utilising strengths-based exploration: talk about ‘over-played strengths’ as opposed to ‘weaknesses’
- Use data, where available, as opposed to opinions and assumptions
- Insights would be more important than commitments and action planning
- Create opportunities for physical movement
- Be low tech with no slides or audio-visual
Informed by these design principles, each workshop was then informed by the context the team found themselves in at the time, patterns emerging in the team’s dynamics and the overall progress made in their ways of working. Specific interventions were introduced in support of individual and collective awareness and sense-making. Space was also left for dialogue, exploration and feedback. This feedback included an appreciative speed-dating process at the end of each workshop where each team member would offer an appreciation of their working relationship with the other.
Critical to each workshop design was the inclusion of real work. Tony was able to observe the team working on a real business issue. This proved invaluable in raising the team’s awareness to their working patterns in practice, in real time. Tony was able to facilitate sense-making and exploratory conversations around new ways of working. During these exploratory conversations Tony introduced new frameworks, where appropriate, which the team could experiment with live.
Mandy summarises her experience of the workshops themselves:
“Holding the sessions lightly was so useful in terms of leaving space for organic conversations. It also gave us the flexibility to build the agenda as the day progressed. Some of the team initially found the lack of conventional structure frustrating but on reflection appreciated the depth of conversation it led to. Moving out of the usual transactional exchanges created a deeper understanding of each other’s agendas and experiences. The sessions were safe so unfinished business could be surfaced and shared. The appreciative feedback at the end of each session meant no matter how demanding or awkward the session had been at times, we all left feeling engaged and a unified team. The use of more engaging interventions and the insights they created gave a different dimension to our explorations and offered another way of surfacing perspectives and preferences.”
She goes on to describe the impact in the wider business:
“There was a steadily growing sense of alignment and cohesion across the team. Due to the nature of the large investment and transformational change agenda, in between sessions I noticed a tendency for the team to became less reflective and different tensions arose as the real work got harder and the tests Rebecca spoke of emerged. We used our sessions to reset the team dynamic and to explore how we needed to work together in the context we found ourselves in there and then. As a result, we headed back into our various subject matter areas and separate project meetings, with a boost to our growing alignment and cohesion.”
Rebecca, Close Brothers Motor Finance CEO, offered these reflections on the effectiveness of the interventions:
“The open process with space and room to reflect, and light touch facilitation, ensured the team did all engage. Not having sessions filled with exercise after exercise reaped benefits as colleagues opened up and deeper relationships and tensions were explored. The business benefited from a more open and trusting Executive Committee, and from my perspective it drove the team development forward at a faster pace, but also to a far deeper level and created a more lasting connection.”