Executive Summary

What started out as a short-term coaching relationship led to a year-long engagement focused on helping the Indianapolis Art Center’s leadership team build a culture of productive conflict.

Challenge

Bad blood and poor communication between department heads was getting in the way of accomplishing the organization’s mission.

Our Solution

The engagement started with one-on-one executive coaching for the Indianapolis Art Center’s CEO, Carter Wolf. Carter engaged Chip Neidigh from Kairos to help him improve communication and collaboration within his team. During coaching, Carter committed to having a candid conversation with the Chairman of his Board of Directors about some things that had been on his mind. Carter prepared with a BIMA Template, stoked his courage, and initiated a discussion. He was surprised by the favorable results of this conversation, and he suggested we expand the engagement to directly include the members of his leadership team, so they could also learn to initiate productive and healthy conflict.

The team-level engagement kicked off with a Birkman personality assessment for every member of the leadership team. In the group debrief of results, participants learned about their own personality quirks, the quirks of their colleagues, and how to use this knowledge to strengthen relationships.

We used a Relationship Spiderweb to map the level of trust between members of the team. The team voted on which relationships required the most attention. For those high priority relationships, Chip facilitated “Run to the Fire” conversations. In those meetings, participants identified the Real Issues impeding success, provided feedback to each other, offered apologies, asked for forgiveness, and made commitments to new behaviors.

Several months into the engagement, Carter retired as CEO, and Patrick Flaherty (then Director of Exhibitions) succeeded him. Chip started one-on-one executive coaching with Patrick as he assumed the reins of the Art Center. The objectives of this coaching were to help Patrick step into his new role, and to preserve momentum in the growth of his leadership team.

The leadership team built a Team Covenant, which defined their shared purpose and the behaviors expected of those on the leadership team. Patrick insisted that the team continue to gain proficiency at “running to the fire.” He led this effort by example and ensured conflicts were surfaced and productively resolved, using the Run to the Fire toolkit. 

Results

At the engagement close-out meeting, the team captured responses from the Art Center’s leaders to the question, “What has been your key learning from our journey together?” Some responses:

  1. I feel more confident approaching others without timidity, even when our personalities are so different. I now think about why people do things, and I realize I can consider their motivations and ask them. I don’t have to just make up stories.
  2. There is a process and structure for learning. Use the tools and trust them.
  3. Knowing and being known reduces the discomfort of vulnerability and reduces mistrust.
  4. Open and honest communication in the group – we’re now proactive in running to the fire, without ulterior motives, because we want to and see the benefit.
  5. We are all accountable for ensuring our peers have the right Real Issues conversations. We can help them use the tools. We can provide help.
  6. Learning that trust is important to the team. Important to be vulnerable. Addressing issues instead of letting them fester because I am too scared, defensive, or protective of self and my area of responsibility
  7. Learned more about my colleagues – their backgrounds and perspectives and why they approach things the way they do.

These leaders also answered the question, “How has the team tone / culture / leadership shifted?”:

  1. We value and invest in interpersonal relationships.
  2. We address each other’s intentions and tendencies.
  3. We are on the same bus and we trust Patrick is driving in the right direction. We trust Patrick.
  4. We are more transparent with our intentions. We casually communicate more about priorities and activities.
  5. We are creating a welcoming and nourishing environment.
  6. New employees can see the big picture and the collaboration.
  7. The (new) covenant is a physical manifestation of how trust has shifted.
  8. Cross-department conversations just happen. We bring in others into conversations in the moment, when we need more perspective.
  9. More openness to engage to help other departments.
  10. Staff is being engaged more in decision processes.
  11. Clear agendas and objectives and accountability and consistency (driven by Patrick).
  12. Feels more authentic and genuine. Our genuine work allows genuine play.
  13. More honest with each other.
  14. We appreciate each other’s personality quirks.
  15. Forgiving towards each other. No grudges. Grace.