Team Turnaround

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A social service agency had an out of sync team who spoke seven different native languages among them. They used politeness and compliance to get along with everyone outside of their own silo of language and culture, and an informal company “happy face” etiquette in the presence of authority. The team members lacked common life experience and languages, and this resulted in people not speaking up and not feeling understood.

This dynamic kept problems out-of-view and unaddressed. The tension and conflict beneath the surface undermined the team’s performance on the contract, and they risked having their contract terminated. This challenge was transformed into genuine team spirit, collaboration, and a culture of excellence and enthusiasm. The first steps we took to get there were:

  • Listening carefully in private conversations and during meetings for glaring and subtle signs of team member misalignment with the business mission
  • Ensuring that every activity of the staff was directly related to the delivery of a contract specification
  • Holding discussions with all program managers and directors to generate ideas for how we could better leverage the different offerings we had, which increased the value we could offer clients and helped each department fulfill its contract

Our findings were shared with the team, management, and contract stakeholders. All parties contributed to redesigning ideas and providing feedback on the efficacy of the new process.

The process was cyclical, necessarily, so that team members could develop competencies on the new methods while providing insight gained from their direct experience. We also identified individuals who did not “belong on the bus” and winnowed down personnel to the dedicated and aligned.

As a result of our work together, the cross-cultural friction that had previously constrained teamwork shifted to exhilarating triumph. Successful management of diversity emerged because each person was empowered to speak up and offer solutions. The diversity became the greatest asset, rather than the greatest obstacle; the languages and cultures represented on the team reflected the world of their diverse clients.

Once the team was aligned, the challenge of diversity became an asset that allowed the team to better communicate with clients from a wide range of cultures. The team was also able to gain insight and create solutions once open, creative dialog was established as the norm. The variety of perspectives and experiences allowed the team to better understand the unique needs of their clients.

The greatest success in the competitive marketplace goes to those who engage the mosaic of buyers and stakeholders AND who leverage the genius that thrives in our diverse communities. Diversity is a common ingredient in companies with financial returns above the national medians for their industry (, January 30, 2015), they are:

  • 35 percent more likely to be in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity, and
  • 15 percent more likely to be in the top quartile for gender diversity.

In this track record highlight, our client was on the verge of a contract termination. Within two years, the company surpassed its competitors’ average success rate of 60% on the contract specifications — it doubled its success rate from 40% to 80%. The organization also had a 65% increase in Medi-Cal revenues in first 4 months of redesign. The program was led out of termination risk and earned gold standard achievement and ongoing contract renewal by the County.


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