An SF SWAT team
Fast interventions in Vodafone Hungary
May 16, 2021
Introduced by John Brooker
In early 2019, I was a speaker at the International Coaching Federation Conference in Budapest. At lunch I started chatting to the people I was sharing a table with. They told me a story of how they use SF in fast paced training interventions with staff and often have those staff try out their new skills immediately in live experiences back at work. I thought this was a story worth sharing with InterAction readers, and with the huge thanks to Eniko Tegyi, that article is here for you now. You will experience the enthusiasm of the team, learn some of their ‘microtools’ and find their ‘Golden SWAT rules’ to help you apply what you read about.
HR training manager in Vodafone Hungary, Dora Solymar (D) fell in love with the flexibility of simple, powerful solution focus tools during the ‘Brief Coaching in Organisations’ programme conducted by Eniko Tegyi (E).
She sent her two senior OD consultants, Gyorgy Kovacs (G) and Viktor Magyaros (V) to the brief coaching programme, and together, the three of them formed a special OD unit that Vodafone uses as a SWAT team.
Wherever there is trouble in the organisation, they get a couple of hours for a fast intervention – so they had better be fast and effective. After a while they noticed that their participants wanted to come back, saying, “we want more of this”. This interview is about finding the secrets of their SF based “hit and run” OD workshops.
E: Can you tell me a bit about the joy and passion that appeared in your faces the minute we sat down to talk about your SF work in Vodafone?
G: We have the feeling we have put together something special we cannot clearly define yet: we have come up with micro-interventions under a lot of pressure (conflicts, lack of time) and we find we have created a lot of joy, ease and immediate energy wherever we have tried them. It is a complete win-win result: we enjoy it, participants enjoy it, every day.
D: It is definitely NOT traditional OD, it is NOT a method, it is definitely not a mechanistic blueprint ready for new content….It is a loose framework, a good example of how you can integrate the brief approach naturally, organically, with natural ease in the mindset, and in fact, the day-to-day operation of a company, through a series of small interventions, without preaching about company culture and stuff.
V: We take the brief approach: no theory, hands-on pragmatism and the approach gets copied. The most important thing is, we co-create the process with our participants and invite their brains to play. Regardless of where they come from, whether senior management or middle management, regardless of what experience they bring in; we are on the same terms with them. We probably work as a role model; they start connecting to one another in the same way, with no labelling or judgement.
D: Yes, but things start happening before our workshops. We work in a business environment. We have deadlines, we have learned to be fast and resourceful, to work from almost nothing. Also, we make sure we have a clear vision about what is wanted.
We do interviews with the managers first, we go for goals, ask questions like “What is it like when your people are present in their unique competencies and appreciated for them?”
We get them to shape their preferred future, and that is where joy appears. Also, instead of the evidence of their people’s “disfunction” that is a diagnosis, we go for resources that support the change. We want these managers to leave with a new eye, and more focus on their people. We have their Future Perfect – then we set the playground.
G: When designing the programme, we go for the “magma”, the minimum substance that is likely to bring maximum result –this is very SF. For instance, there are three core focuses for a 3-4 hour programme. We don’t do full days, there is no time for that. We do one, two, and four hour “nuggets”, that is how we call them. We focus on what we want them to start playing with after they leave – and build our framework accordingly, so that they get there. Break down theories and knowledge into useful chunks of what you might choose to do, so that you make an impact on your team.
G: We had our “Leadership nuggets”, for example. There were coordinators, team leaders, managers in the Talent Team. Once you invite their brain to play, labels disappear, they start asking, challenging one another, go for best practices. There is no hierarchy, they can brilliantly connect to one another. It was interesting to see; once they identified what someone was doing right, it started spreading as an epidemic. Participants picked it up and started doing it in their own teams.
D: The “Superpower card” also worked very well: everyone got a card showing their “superpower”, a special strength we identified based on the Development Centre results. We made sure it became their sign, a well-known form of recognition.
G: Because of the non-judgemental, trustful space, they do want to cooperate, and they enjoy it! It is new! Whatever they find, or find out, it is OK! They start looking for capabilities, instead of “what is missing”.
E: Beyond the creative games and SF “tools”, you seem to be suggesting the importance of the underlying attitude of acceptance and childlike curiosity you are role models for. What else is part of your secret?
V: The nuggets are fun. Participants do not leave with a manual, or hand-out, and an exhausted brain. They leave saying “Oooops, I had a good time, and really, can I do this and that? Oh, have I already done it? Would I like to try it more? We create a buffet table and, in the end, they can take what they like to experiment with.
D: We do love these people, that is the trick. Passionately dig with them for things they are already doing very well so that we can appreciate them and they can start learning from one another. “What can grow from all this? What can you image in your future? What is already happening, a little bit? “ There is a strong alliance between us and them in searching for things that work. After the Leadership Academy, we went back to the management to gain approval for their future vision, for acceptance by the business.
G: We are quizmasters; we ask questions, and do not make statements. We are not smartasses, there is no hierarchy between them and us. We are one of them, we have a great topic, let us talk about it, that is our approach. And, we are curious! We keep provoking, asking, confronting. Also, we give them colour cards, gadgets, pictures, to keep them stimulated.
The workshops have to be fun, otherwise participants do not get committed to action. For instance, one of the topics was feedback. We kept digging into how exactly they did well, what worked successfully. “How did you learn it? From whom?”
Others joined in the questioning round, they wanted to understand, too. We have the guts to keep asking the right questions with persistence – and good conversations emerge. In the end we have a “buffet table” including: Bela does this, Joe does that… Everyone can pick one or two best solutions, in the form of cards, post-its, paper plates, videos, magic boxes…all kind of creative forms. Our workshops are really “bring-a-bottle-parties”. We also add our own “nuggets”, like everybody else.
V: Thank God we never know what we will do in a month. We cannot over – plan or over – formalise things, so we keep our spontaneity, the magic, the fun. If you are close to the moment, the workshops flow.
G: And they want to come back! They want more! We come up with the new ideas together: we ask them for their own perception, tell them ours. It is always joint work. So, we empower our participants.
E: Due to time constraints, you seem to often skip the Future Perfect, concentrate on working solutions, sharing them in fun and inspiring participants to try some of them – a minimalistic turbo version of solution focused team coaching, to trigger positive change.
V: Also, there is power in sticking to participants’ real, honest, existing experience, and start sharing it. When they arrive, they look forward to some magic, clever know-how, from us – instead, they are invited to playful exchange and experiments. They are invited to partnership, which is also new for them.
E: Can you name your favourite “nuggets” and what you liked about them?
D: I loved our leadership assimilation follow-up programme the most. We introduced a resource based interview with managers, before they are finalised in their leadership position.
It was exciting, how a structured Solution Focused interview could provide clear evidence of even shortcomings: the interviews could only reflect what was working, also revealing what was not talked about, what was missing. However, instead of the usual, very stressful conversations, these interviews were conducted in a very safe, affirmative space, an achievement in a hard problem focused culture. There was no pain, no humiliation, everything was inspiring and real and transparent.
V: My favourite programme was our “Leadership Nuggets”. We wanted to bring managers to top shape before a major organisational change. We announced that we were training for a “leadership beach body”, based on a selection of 7 topics. The workshops were short intervention, ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours. We wanted to create a golden standard of leadership skills – we created a community, and all participants just loved it.
Managers from various units started mingling, store managers with senior leaders. The usual thing, we got them to talk about was what worked for them. We created a space, introduced our “nugget” topics, and were curious. The workshop actually became a forum for sharing successes, where a lot of new personal connections emerged, with no hierarchy. Participants were happy to find people were interested in what they had been doing well.
G: The Cube Talent programme is my number one, a very exciting story. At the first meeting nothing worked, participants were actively uninterested. We dropped our plan and asked them to create their own programme plan. It was beautiful to see them work and leave satisfied and happy. The huge success of the shared programme design taught us some more humility, I must say.
D: My impression is we manage to create lasting value. My goal is now to turn OD work into a cool activity in this company, become the No 1 OD “lab” in Hungary so that people can come and learn.
Microtools used in SWAT interventions
When someone (A) wants to give a team member (B) feedback, A and B sit in the middle of a circle of team members while A offers observed strengths. When there are no more ideas, the circle of team members continues.
All team members are awarded a card representing their “superpower”, a unique strength, identified based on Development Centre results. We make sure the card becomes their sign, a well-known form of recognition.
All participants of our Talent programs are asked to define a success factor, put it in a box, to be opened by the next Talent group.
“What is your best hope?”
At our Talent program, we asked this question at the beginning of the workshops. The question proved contagious, it spread throughout the organization as a virus, became like a DNA part of our organisation interactions.
Paper plates juggling
In our workshops , to illustrate time pressure, we used paper plates to represent all the topics participants have to “keep in the air” as jugglers. They could write their resources, their scales in their plates. Finally, they could pick the most important plate, with their next steps.
First used in our workshops, the Roly-Poly has become a well-known symbol of change representing how much energy is needed to make a move, to trigger change – things tend to go back to original, as a Roly-Poly.
Outreach field experiment
Real time intervention in our feedback workshop: after summarizing the best practices, team members were immediately sent to ”the fields” to give live feedback to their colleagues. They came back fully energised, experiencing the positive energy of appreciation.
Golden SWAT rules
- Create your “magma” of what is wanted, your core focuses, with thorough research beforehand! Have a clear vision for desired output, focus, goal!
- In your preliminary management interviews go for resources and use SF to “train” the managers!
- Break down “knowledge” and “theory” into “nuggets”, simple instant solution possibilities!
- Create happy excitement before, when inviting them!
- Make it fun: have a plan AND leave space for spontaneity!
- Be quizmasters: ask questions and never tell! Invite their brain to play!
- Create /offer also a buffet lunch of potential good solutions: offer useful “nuggets”!
- Co-create the process: give empowerment to intervene, explain, design their own solutions and accept them!
- Create a safe place; make sure there is no collecting of negative evidence, no finger pointing, no pain, no humiliation!
- Be truly, deeply, immensely curious about what they are getting right, doing well!
- Don’t try to give them a nice massage: have the guts to ask tough, confrontative questions; with real curiosity though!
- Be brave and straightforward about what you notice: what is working and what isn’t!
Build your personal credibility showing your own vulnerability admitting: “We are in the same boots”!
- Be a role model in your non-judgemental, strength orientation, curiosity and courage!
- Make sure participants leave with 1-3 tangible little actions they can try the next day!
- Let them come back for more!
- Keep the magic of creative freedom for yourselves: never unit pack your programmes and always leave space for retailoring, change, development and surprise!