In a nutshell...

A senior team in this organisation had become fraught with conflict and hostility which was having a negative impact on their work. There were countless challenges including resistance to engage in any resolution process as well as complete denial of responsibility for the situation. We established early on that while the managers were no longer committed to working with each other, they were still committed to the vision of the organisation, a vision which involves bringing peace and justice to the world. With this in mind we designed a development process that brought the managers face to face with the fundamental issues raised by the following question: “Can a group of people who are at war with each other bring peace and justice to anyone?” Engaging with this question eliminated any resistance towards resolution and shifted the focus away from each individual’s resentment and grievances and back onto the purpose of their work. During the process each manager came to appreciate the need to take responsibility for their own behaviour as well as for their contribution to the difficulties, however small. After just 5 monthly sessions the difficulties had largely been resolved and the team was once more working well together and enjoying it.

Improving Team Performance

Restoring the working relationships between 5 senior managers responsible for the overseas development of a global charitable organisation.


A long established charitable organisation with a global presence.


The overseas development team of this organisation had been working together for a number of years. What had initially started as a clash of personalities had evolved into something very dysfunctional. The strained relationships and poor communication were taking a serious toll on the group and the effectiveness of their work. The brief was to harmonise the fractured relationships and restore the team to full operational health.


There were several challenges. Firstly, there was great resistance from the team towards engaging in a resolution process. Secondly, the two main protagonists of the conflict were absolutely convinced that neither of them was responsible for the difficulties. In fact, initial discussions revealed that each individual saw themselves as a victim of the other. The third difficulty was that one of the two individuals in question had a striking lack of insight into their own behaviour which was most harmful. It resulted in resistance, low participation and general unruly behaviour both at the initial individual meetings and at the first group meeting. Finally, the head of the department at the time was newly appointed and so lacked insight and clarity around the situation and how it had escalated to such a level of dysfunction.


While there appeared to be two main protagonists, the three remaining team members were contributing to the difficulties, albeit unknowingly. From the outset we felt that getting each team member to take responsibility was going to be crucial as without this there would be no way forward. In addition, experience shows that in order to begin resolving any conflict, you have to find common ground as quickly as possible, even if it is related to the smallest things. In this case, we felt that the issues of taking responsibility and finding common ground would be best addressed by referring to the vision of the organisation which was particularly inspirational. The vision included the ideal of bringing peace and justice to the poor and starving people of the world. All five individuals were quickly jolted into solution mode by being faced with one simple question which appealed to both their common purpose and individual sense of responsibility: “Can a group of people who are at war with each other bring peace and justice to anyone?”

What we did

The whole process was conducted over a series of 6 group meetings which took place over a 3-month period.

Individual Meetings

We started by meeting with the team members on an individual basis. The purpose of these meetings was to secure confirmation from each that they realised the severity of the situation and were willing to engage in a resolution process. In addition, these meetings allowed us to gain insights into how each person was seeing the situation as well as the ultimate causes of the difficulties. It was clear that each individual was blaming everyone else and some were very reluctant to proceed with the group meetings.

Group Meetings

Given the emotional state of the team members, the first group meeting was very delicate. It was at this meeting that the group was faced with the question (referred to above) of how a team riddled with conflict could ever succeed in bringing peace and justice to anyone. This question, though it made people feel uncomfortable, did force each individual to see the impossibility of the current situation. Once it became clear that the team’s behaviour was totally incompatible with their responsibilities, we were able to proceed step-by-step towards the objective which was to become ‘a united and effective team’. We proceeded with a series of 5 further group meetings over a period of three months. During this time the team was brought through a process which encouraged each individual to reflect on their own behaviour and discover how they themselves were contributing to the situation. Together we clarified exactly how the team would need to operate in order to be truly effective at delivering the vision of the organisation.


During the process team members came to appreciate the need for individual responsibility and more importantly the need for individual action in relation to themselves. Each individual realised that they had to change their attitude and behaviour and remain vigilant in order to ensure there would be no falling back to old ways. Below is what the head of overseas development had to say some time after the completion of the process.

“We are doing well here - very conscious that it's an ongoing process - but doing well nonetheless. Team meetings have been very pleasant and productive and for the first time we had a great Christmas night out that everyone wanted to be at. In addition, I completed annual appraisals with all team members before Christmas and everyone raised the matter of the work we did with you in a very positive light. The general consensus was that it had been a really excellent and positive experience in spite of the doubts and concerns that people had beforehand. For me this was a real indicator of our progress particularly given some of the resistance we had. Thanks again for all your help - I can't believe the difference it has made. I have been recommending you at any opportunity I get.”

In addition to the above, the client expressed surprise and gratitude that positive results had been secured within a relatively short time and within budget.


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