Coaching & Leadership

When Your Team Falls Apart

Orphé Matthys

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. A very first job can be tough, and that’s exactly what I found out. As a 25-year old, I am the first person to take on the role of Customer Success Manager at intuo. It is my job to make sure that our customers are happy, and stay happy. This also entails that I’m responsible for organising workshops for our customers to make sure they’re familiar with our software. We do not only guide everyone through our online tool. We also dedicate a significant amount of time to talking about the importance of coaching and everything intuo stands for.

A while back, I had another one of these workshops at the offices of one of our customers. As my colleague and I do for every workshop, we kick it off with a small introduction round. Everyone gets to outline their current role in the company and bring up things that could be better at their workplace.

The Opening of The Floodgates

What then happened, is probably hard to imagine as an outsider. The negativity that arose among this team was enormous. The discussion started with a serious declaration of their discontent and unhappiness about their current work situation. This, in itself, is of course perfectly fine. It's is exactly why we ask these types of questions, to identify a certain pain point lingering within the team.

But this level of hostility was unprecedented. "Frustration", "intolerance" and "fundamental distrust", are the terms I would use to summarise my experience that day. People didn’t have any confidence in their team leaders. Talking about their situation was near to impossible for some members. The whole room was filled with a sense of despair. It was very clear that the atmosphere in this team was at an all-time low.

The tricky part was because of that, our presence (and the introduction of our tool) was equally deceitful to them. Everything we presented to them and tried to discuss was perceived as foolish and unworkable. Every attempt to cooperate or get on the same page failed terribly. No matter how hard we tried, they kept on turning us down.

The Realisation of Failure and Burden

After I came home that day, I felt completely defeated. That workshop felt like a very, very bad date to me. I was there to make the best out of it and see if there was a match between us. Instead, I was mocked and rejected, despite my good intentions. Of course, I realise that all the resentment wasn’t aimed at me personally. But, very much like a date, not having a click with someone who you had high hopes for is upsetting.

The next day, I woke up with the same thing on my mind; "What went wrong yesterday?" I couldn’t stop wondering about that mood during the workshop. All those people complaining and clearly being upset with their current situation, yet there was no eagerness to do anything about it and reach out to us. Ironically enough, this is exactly what intuo is all about: Helping to implement a new mindset and culture with a focus on transparency. This seemed to be exactly what they were looking for. Then why did they reject us so hard? Not so much the platform, but the idea?

They didn't need help, they needed saving.

I started to imagine how it must be like in that situation. What it must feel like to resent my job, to deal with bad vibes, and drag myself to work every day. Not feeling good or excited about anything work-related and worried about what my team leader will lay on me today.

Then, instead of wondering, I started to feel sorry. Not only because of those people's situation but the realisation that this is probably the case at a good number of companies. It overwhelmed me because never before had I realised that my main job is not only about supporting, but also about saving.

Lucky Me

You could say I'm the lucky one. I’m working at a startup where people are eager to learn and improve, where people constantly are in sync with each other and feel confident to say everything about anything to one another. Don’t get me wrong; not everything is picture perfect here at intuo. We have our fair share of clashing personalities and contrasting views. Missed opportunities and wrong decisions sometimes get the better of any of us. But every single person in our team feels confident enough to speak up when something is seriously bothering them. It wasn’t until now that I realised how valuable that actually is.

But the reality is, luck hasn't got much to do with it. Before I started here, intuo's team was already working heavily towards this kind of culture. It was (and still is) a process of a lot of listening, trial, error, and determination to let that culture grow. People have left our company because of it, and people have been asked to leave the company because of it. It isn't always pretty. But at the end of the day, we know where we want to be and we hope every single person is where he or she wants to be as well. Whether it's still at intuo or somewhere else.

Bouncing Back From a Struggle

And that's why I very much believe that the company I was giving the workshop at, can still succeed and flourish. Despite the fact that we got off on the wrong foot after the workshop, I feel more eager than ever to make this project work. It will not happen in a few weeks time or even months. People will have to take a good look at themselves and be very honest about what they want. It may not be things you'd like to hear, but things that you'll need to hear. Steps have already been taken to get this ship back on course, which can only be applauded.

And eventually, I'm certain that every single person in that team will be able to feel about their job and team leaders the same way as I do at mine. Sometimes you need that kind of struggle to come out stronger. Rome wasn't built in a day, neither was intuo, neither was any successful company ever. The struggle has definitely made me stronger as a person and fortified my aspiration to let all the teams and organisations we work with succeed.

So to those struggles ahead, I say: "Challenge accepted."

IMPORTANT This is a personal experience of one of our team members. While we will never disclose the identity of the customer, we do feel it's vital to share these events. More teams may find themselves in a similar scenario but may not realise that they aren't an exception and that it can be fixed. Issues like these can come in many different forms. The sooner they are identified, the better they can be dealt with.