Case Study for Leadership Development and Team Collaboration

Summary: Here’s how to tell the truth at work; encourage openness and collaboration rather than defensiveness for successful team development.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

We are now back in the office three days a week and working from home for two days. It certainly is changing the dynamic of how people behave with each other.

Sadly, we were more polite on Zoom calls.

As a result, talking with others is almost a contact sport. While standing around the proverbial coffee machine, talk is cheap! There is now constant backbiting and gossip.

When even small changes occur, it is like starting over again.

It’s like starting from scratch (what an odd statement this is.) Yet, we have forgotten our manners and what it means to work together.

In any case, I would appreciate suggestions on how the teams at work can be more efficient and cooperative.



Truth and trust are twin concepts that make all the difference in leadership and team collaboration.

Dear Curious,

Let’s start at the most fundamental aspect of leadership development and collaboration. It’s about how to develop trust in the work setting.

Think of it this way, trust, like love, is an abstraction. It means many things to different people.

For example, like love, you can only know it when you have it.

Every company I work with puts the desire for more trust on its wish list. So, what does it take to develop a culture of trust at work?

The “how-to” demands a complex, multifaceted strategy with a foundation based on telling the truth.

For example, while telling the truth sounds like a no-brainer, it is shocking how hard it is to do.

It is also disappointing how ill-prepared even the most sophisticated executive is to create a work climate where it is safe enough to tell hard truths that ultimately lead to a workplace culture of trust.

The world is demanding more truth and honesty from leadership development programs.

Let’s start with the givens:

Team interaction and collaboration constantly clash with the older hierarchy and silo mentality model.

If only there were a playbook!

Consequently, there is still uncertainty for leaders to know what to do and the exact parameters of teaming.

We are still marching out of generations of my way or the highway thinking. Looking out for #1 is still embedded in our perspectives as we strive to be part of a team.

Newer research on leadership development requires leaders to be more self-aware.

Research on team development helps put things into perspective.

Here at Creative Energy Options, Inc. (CEO), we have observed that high-functioning teams can optimize performance and sustain cohesiveness through difficult periods. This optimized performance includes this specific team development model. It is destined to be successful.

Leadership development programs that include self-awareness are best for team development.

For example, as in the original model, forming is, of course, the first step. Gathering the members of the team and creating a vision is critical. It is also crucial that you include everyone in designing the concept.

That is to say, when you get buy-in from the team, they are more than likely to do whatever it takes to bring the vision to life.

Then it is time to get “down and dirty” to hash out the details. That occurs in the storming phase.

The storming phase, if rushed, gives everyone high anxiety.

The second phase of storming in our model gets priority focus. We monitor this stage very carefully. Give this stage lots of room.

As an illustration, this stage is where individual behavior patterns clash. Unless there is room to observe and understand why we push each other’s buttons, talk about communication styles, and gain insights into better ways of relating, deeper trust won’t evolve.

While in the storming phase, we also agree to norms so that conflict does not destroy the vision or relationships. We all adjust for a smoother functioning, more extensive system in the storming stage.

Norming is when to make agreements on appropriate ways of communicating.

The third stage, for us, is norming. This stage is where people find their stride and can accept their roles and the role of others on the team.

This stage is where we hone our listening skills and practice the art of honest feedback and acknowledgment.

The fourth stage, performing, completes all the powerful and positive work.

Indeed, once a team can learn the best way forward by holding the vision, struggling through conflict, and creating agreeable norms, they can work as a highly functioning team.

Hence, this model of team development works for large corporations, family firms, and entrepreneurial organizations,

Accordingly, it is also an essential model for start-ups to learn so they don’t fall into dysfunctional traps.

The fifth stage, transformation, is when change happens in the blink of an eye, and the team must adapt quickly and effectively.

We have added to the team development model the fifth area, transformation. This area is critical to the team-building model.

Please note that performance is not the endpoint. What matters more is how the team handles difficult times or when there is a sudden change.

All be it, that is when the rubber meets the road.

That is to say; when the best of times becomes the worst, there can be a quick turnaround into the best of times.

Change is happening at an incredible speed these days. Think of it this way—only the fit will survive.

A case study from our leadership program proves the importance of stepping from one development phase to the next.

In this case study, an American VP of Engineering in the cement and minerals industry, part of a global conglomerate based in Denmark, caught the vision of how his team could become state of the art in collaboration, productivity, and profitability.

His vision meant beating out the competition through cost-effectiveness and fast turnaround from the point of sale to the completed project.

Here are the challenges:

  • Engineers who designed the equipment have silo-mentality. They did not communicate with each other or the sales department.
  • Performance measurement did not align around the final product; instead, it was related to individual tasks and did not accurately reflect overall effectiveness.
  • There were concerns about not being able to meet the customer needs in a cost-effective and timely fashion.
  • Various engineers from electrical, mechanical, and the project did not communicate needs and concerns with each other while the projects were in the design phase.
  • Competitors were more cost-effective.
  • The VP of engineering was sure his vision was correct. However, he lacked the buy-in from his team.

Leadership development means looking past problems for solutions.

A solution for the key issues:

VP of Engineering completed the CEO executive education course, Total Leadership Connections™ (TLC). He used his understanding of systems thinking to learn about human connections.

In other words, he gained skills in team development, relationship building, identification of patterns in the workplace, and conflict mastery.

Hence, he learned how to build trust by telling the truth. The honesty led to a productive culture of accountability.

Leading means putting a plan into place that includes everyone. This thinking is at the core of understanding how systems work.,

Systems thinking leads to higher-level success.

The executives planned a two-day retreat. Here, the VP could gain the support he needed to move from silo thinking to collaborative.

The lead facilitator conducted pre-calls with the nine members of the senior team and the VP of engineering to explore current challenges and outcomes they desired from the off-site.

Here are the objectives:

  • Develop an environment of openness, understanding, and healthy communication
  • Explore organizational, team, and personal challenges
  • Create new ways of solving problems
  • Learn to observe patterns of behavior in yourself and others.
  • Develop a clear strategy to implement the vision

Pre-off-site calls help move issues along at a faster and more effective speed.

At the off-site, the team revisited the objectives and streamlined objectives for what they wanted to accomplish during the retreat:

  • Clarity and alignment of vision and deliver the vision successfully
  • Be happier coming to work
  • Reframing negativity
  • Improve team communications
  • Understanding of inclusion/exclusion
  • Strategy for implementing the vision
  • Create trust in an environment which encourages truth

Team members quickly came forth with previously unspoken issues holding the company back.

They willingly explored conflict and gained skills to face competition openly to improve work relationships and communication, thus creating an environment of accountability and trust.

Indeed, in this initial forming stage, the leadership team discussed the realignment of roles. This group had to give up long-held beliefs about winners and losers. They had to pivot ideas about speaking out or avoiding conflict. They had to consider what was best for the team, the company, or themselves.

The stages of team development move back and forth; it’s never a straight line.

Accordingly, they all agreed to consider job realignment.

At the same time, differences of opinion surfaced.

However, as with most teams, there is a natural desire to move to the decision quickly and alleviate discomfort.

In the same vein, telling the truth is never easy, and when power or perceived power is at stake, we play our cards close to the chest. Again, this storming stage is key to a strong foundation for performance.

Finally, Steve, a well-respected manager, spoke his truth. He wanted to step down from his position. He was willing to take a more hands-on role and leave the task of leading others.

Without many details, Steve spoke of pressures at home and a desire to spend more time with his family. He finally shared, “I would never have taken this risk if the discussion in the room were not so open and honest. I didn’t come here consciously ready to change my job, yet I know it will be better for me and better for the team.”

Leadership and team-building mean taking the risk of being vulnerable.

He talked about his concerns, letting his boss, team members, and the company down. Steve did not speak from anger or fear; he told with relief, letting the truth out.

Different from the past., the room was silent. Some knew Steve would not change his perspective, others remained silent, and some wanted him to change his mind.

The doors to the truth opened, and progress occurred on many strategic levels. By the end of the retreat, the group had a succession plan in place. And the agreement was to give Steve time to make sure this was his long-term decision.

Results of the two-day retreat

By the end of the retreat, team members were much clearer about their roles. They had learned to ask for support.

Likewise, communication improved, and members could handle conflict in the team and quickly move to conflict mastery.

The doors to the truth opened, and progress occurred on many strategic levels. Steve received coaching and gained even more confidence that his choice was right. He began to feel better physically, and his family relationships improved.

A month after the retreat, Steve handed his responsibilities to Sean. While Steve is no longer on the leadership team, he is an active supporter of the group process and continued help to Sean.

Results at the Six-month mark would remain optimistic because of the initial exemplary work.

Now, more people can be in the right roles for team effectiveness. The team saw Steve, no longer on the senior squad, still making a meaningful contribution, and they saw he was please with the change.

Team members were clear on their roles and felt secure in their jobs. Team members accepted the idea of outsourcing globally, which was cost-effective and time-effective, allowing for more volume and higher profit for the company.

They had been resistant to this out of fear of losing their jobs until now. There was no longer fear of being downsized.

Cross-training of functions occurred, decreasing the silo-mentality. The team began working at a performing stage of team development.

Results at the one-year mark can be spectacular.

This team has moved to a transformed stage of team development.

Many executives have attended the CEO leadership development program, Total Leadership Connections™ (TLC). Team members have developed deep relationships and can now communicate effectively and work in a culture of inclusion, trust, and accountability with solid communication and conflict resolution skills.

Coaching with team members occurs and has supported the team in handling crises, change and conflict.

They have weathered and adapted to a change in leadership at the level above the VP of Engineering.

This team is clear on its vision of “mobilizing our resources to benefit the customer more efficiently.”

Conclusion: Team building begins with the truth that can turn to trust.

When a team works at a transformed stage, they can resolve crises, and conflicts can be r quickly. This knowledge impacts a robust bottom line.

Through becoming pattern-aware leaders, a culture of truth and trust becomes the environment of practical teamwork.

Please consider using this model with your team.

Here’s to your success,


P.S. Take the leadership development quiz to see where you need to improve your skills. And then give us a call or email at or 570-233-1042 in California.

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options