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How BELBIN turns around Snappy Foods

What is the instrument of sustainable and enduring success in the workplace? Is it the individual or the team?

Over decades, the search for successful management has meant the search for the right individual - qualifications, experience, achievement, strengths and weaknesses. And we know the 'ideal' individual for a given job cannot be found. Take a look at the qualities listed for any good manager and you will see why this is so.. many of the qualities we expect are mutually exclusive. Example: Highly intelligent and practical, forceful and sensitive to people's feelings, fluent communicator and a good listener, decisive and reflective. And if you do find someone that fits the bill, he or she must indeed be a rare diamond.

While no individual can combine all these qualities, a team of individuals certainly can, and often does. And, the whole team is not likely to get run over or leave simultaneously. This is why teams and not individuals are instruments of sustainable and enduring success in the workplace.

As individual members move on, teams can renew and rejuvenate themselves by induction of new members. A team can find within itself all those conflicting characteristics that an individual will find impossible to hold within oneself. Teams can be repositories of shared and collectively owned experience. And as incumbents leave and new people come in, this repository continues to evolve.

What's more.. Effective teams respond to change faster, are more agile, and they make for a flatter Organization structure.

Nobody is perfect but a team can be. There is ample testimony to the virtue of teams in all walks of life.

Selecting a team, building a team and nurturing a team is serious work. How to make it happen? Is there a method to it? If these questions interest you, you are in the right place

1 - The beginning

“We are down on every single metric, Veena” said Narayan, her usually unflappable boss. “As Head of Talent, assemble a turnaround team that can pull off what individuals haven’t been able to manage. Let’s get Snappy Foods back to growth, real quick. All the best, keep me posted”

“Ideas! Fresh ideas are what we desperately need,” mused Veena. That’s when she spotted Aditya. “Hey, I need to talk to you. NOW”

Ever the ideas man in the Product Design team, Aditya was seen as a dreamer with wool in his head. A lateral thinker, he maintained that good ideas always sound crazy at first and without continuous innovation there is no survival

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“I can see your challenge Veena. I have lots of ideas. Delighted to share them. Just that, many of them get dumped because someone doesn’t like them. You remember what happened to my herbal noodles idea?” “Yes”, you are right Aditya, we have one now in the market and eating into our market share – wish we had listened to you“

Veena started texting Narayan “My first nominee to the Project Team: Aditya. Strengths: Creative, imaginative, free thinking. Generates ideas and solves difficult problems. Caveats: Ignores incidentals. Too preoccupied to communicate effectively. A classic Belbin Plant. Very much necessary to get this project off the ground and keep it going. We need breakthrough work” Pulling her note pad out, she drew a graphic ‘Team Snappy Do’

Minutes went by and her phone blinked. It was a text from Narayan. “Great to start with a Plant on the Team. The team needs to know what to work on. Who will evaluate the ideas that come up? So who next?”

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The search continues…

2 - The Ice maiden comes onboard

So far: Narayanan CEO Snappy Foods has asked his Head of Talent Veena to set up a turnaround team. Veena picked on Aditya the classic Belbin Plant. Plants are good to come up with a lot of ideas. Who will evaluate them?

Ice Maiden. That’s what they called Margaret, the Chief of Operations. Yet, for the senior management, her’s was the last word for all feasibility validations.

Peeping in, Veena enquired “Are you busy?”. Margaret greeted her with a tired smile “It is okay, just these little fires that we keep fighting every day. And the endless list of new marketing initiatives needing evaluation. What can I do?”

Quickly, Veena gave Margaret a brief on Narayan’s mandate. Margaret’s response was wary. “It is a good idea Veena, this turnaround team. But are you sure my presence would help? To be specific (A) I doubt if my candor would go down well (B) People tend to take my dispassionate evaluation of alternatives as a rejection”

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“We definitely need you Margaret” said Veena, “this is a very different team and a crisis situation where your analysis and evaluation would be extremely valuable. Your judgments have rarely been wrong”

“Fine then” said Margaret, “please count me in. Who else is on board?”

“You are my second catch” said Veena, “Aditya from Product Design was the first. Would you like to have a word with him?”

“Sure” said Margaret. Veena dialed Aditya from Margaret’s desk and said “Hi Aditya, some good news. Our COO Margaret is joining the turnaround team. Please say Hi to her” “Hey Aditya” pitched in Margaret “are you the same Aditya with a head full of wool?” “And you will weigh the wool in my ideas?” Aditya responded. All three laughed

Stepping out, Veena shot off her next text to Narayan – “Managed to get Margaret on board. Typical Belbin Monitor Evaluator”

Veena’s phone rang and it was Narayan. “Great. But remember too much intellect starts arguments. How are you going to deal with it?”

Veena added Margaret’s name to her graphic and pondered over Narayan’s question..

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3 - Here comes ‘Tabu the Zubie’

So far: Veena is putting together a turnaround team at Snappy Foods. She has roped in Adithya for his head full of ideas, and Margaret for her ability to evaluate and pick ideas that can scale. Narayan the CEO cautioned Veena that too much intellect on the team can create problems.

Veena checked her watch, Narayan’s words echoing in her mind. 30 minutes for closing time. “Too much intellect in turnaround team? Who can fix that?”

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Thinking of unproductive arguments, she remembered last year’s Monsoon Masti. The eagerly awaited annual fest of the company almost fell through. The organizing committee from diverse groups got bogged down in issues. Then someone suggested bringing in Tabassum, Assistant Director, Process Control to steer it

And in a matter of days, the Committee was working like a well-oiled machine. ‘Tabu the Zubie’ to her admiring colleagues, Tabassum had the gifts of a symphony director. Mature, trusting and confident, she could delegate readily and get people to work towards shared goals. To her, silence never meant approval. She drew out the shy and kept a smiling check on the exuberant. Her credo was ‘Consultation with control’

Veena took the elevator to the second floor to find Tabu in an end of day team huddle. The turnaround team initiative excited Tabu. “Sure, sign me on. Of course it will be no easy ride. But we can do it if we keep calm and stick at it” she said to Veena.

Veena quickly called up Narayan to tell him that she had netted one more prized catch. “Three in a day is great going Veena” said Narayan “Tabassum is the epitome of a Belbin coordinator. Your next pit stop must be some place where you can pick up someone who can organize the team efforts”

Adding Tabu into her graphic, Veena closed her notepad. “Tomorrow is another day” she said to herself “I hope my run of luck continues”

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4 - Meet 'The Wall' Ramesh

Veena’s mobile beeped. It was CEO Narayan. “Hi Veena. Just want to take stock of where we are on the Turnaround Team. Have a minute?” “Sure” said Veena. Narayan continued.. “So, you’ve signed up Aditya for his imaginative ideas, Margaret for her ability to evaluate and pick scalable plans and Tabassum to get people to work together. Are we on the same page?” “Yes, we are” said Veena, “I need your attention to formalize these sign-ups.” “Certainly” said Narayan “Your next find should be someone who can organize the team’s efforts. You’re doing well”

It was 10.00 in the morning, Veena made her way through the crowded cafeteria looking for Margaret again. It was only now she could get a few minutes of her time. “Hi Margaret” greeted Veena “need another favor. Can you help me locate a Mr. Efficiency who can organize the team’s efforts?” “That’s a no brainer!” laughed Margaret, “will get you just the person”. She picked up her phone and called Ramesh, Senior Production Manager. “Hey Ramesh, I am sending somebody who needs your help”

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Ramesh was bent over a paste mixer with a shop floor worker when Veena located him on the shop floor. “What a surprise!” greeted Ramesh “Anything broke down anywhere?” he enquired earnestly.

Ramesh led a loyal team of shop floor managers and factory workers. They believed that if it’s difficult, Ramesh will do it immediately. Impossible just takes a while longer. Ramesh was “The Wall” – the Rahul Dravid of Snappy Foods. Linear in thinking and dogged in application, Ramesh could chunk complex problems into manageable pieces. Getting the team to tackle them systematically was easy, after that. “You should put your new hires under Ramesh for a spell” Veena had been told many times. “It will teach the youngsters that hard work never killed anybody”.

Veena explained Narayan’s turnaround team initiative to Ramesh “If you are in for it, Ramesh I will talk to your Boss and start the formalities”. His response was typical “Let’s get cracking. When we do we start?”

Veena went to brief Narayan. “Chief, Ramesh will be the key to execution of turnaround ideas. He is a true blue Belbin Implementer. He has a fine sense of what is feasible and relevant” “Agree Veena, your next catch should be someone who can guarantee execution standards. Find a quality fanatic” joked Narayan.

Veena entered Ramesh’s name in her graphic

Her search was getting wider now..

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5 - Sathya - The Perfectionist comes in

So far: Veena, the Head of Talent is putting together a turnaround team at Snappy Foods.

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Veena’s morning started with a call from CEO Narayan. “I suppose you are looking for someone who can guarantee execution standards on the turnaround team. By the way, over dinner yesterday, the Chairman was all ears as he listened to how we are leveraging Belbin, to set up the turnaround team. He was curious to see a sample Belbin Teamrole report. Can you send me one right away?”

Veena was excited about the Chairman evincing interest in Belbin. She shot off a mail to Narayan, attaching a sample Belbin Teamrole Report.

It was then that she remembered the package. She had forgotten all about the pack of brand collateral that had to reach Mumbai the next day. It was late evening. Unsure if the courier may have left, she turned to Mala. “Any ideas?” “You can try with Sathya in Logistics” said Mala. “If she accepts your package, you can take it as delivered”

Sathya, Manager Logistics, sounded worried on seeing Veena’s package. “Our deliveries to Mumbai are about to go and we can push this in. But we need a typed out declaration of contents. Writing ‘Printed Matter Only’ on the package is not enough”. Veena was baffled. She had of course heard whispers that no one had seen Sathya spill a drop of coffee in years. A six-sigma black belt, Sathya had ensured Snappy had a proud record of less than 0.1% wrong deliveries and nil stock outs.

“A stitch in time saves nine!” Sathya declared as she gave out a pre-printed declaration for Veena to fill in. Satisfied, she forced a smile. “Now we will send it”.

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“Such fuss over a simple dispatch of some posters and brand stuff?” Veena wondered, when Narayan’s advice came back to her. Guarantee execution standards!

“Search no more”, Veena decided. Briefing Sathya about the turnaround team, she asked, “Can you join us?” “I am ok” responded Sathya cautiously, “but let’s not start anything that we can’t finish”

Veena called Narayan. “Sathya joining the team takes care of execution standards. I better warn others that they can’t be casual when Sathya is around”. Narayan complimented Veena “Is there anybody on the team who can tell us what the rest of the world is up to? That’s home work for you”.

She then put Sathya’s name on her graphic and wondered - Who next? ……..

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6 - Enter Network John

So far: Veena, the Head of Talent is putting together a turnaround team at Snappy Foods. 5 people are on board.

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Enthusiasm ran high in the first informal meeting of Team Snappy Do. Veena felt the discussions were too Snappy centric. “Do we have some idea what’s up in the world outside.. competitor plans? industry developments?” There was an uneasy silence. Tabu spoke.. “Don’t we need someone with an outside-in view?” All agreed.

Post meeting, Veena polled a number of colleagues for the most networked person at Snappy. The vote was unanimous – John, Quality Head. Veena got him on the first ring.

John: Hi Veena! Long time! Is this about the turnaround team?

Veena: How did you know?

John: I have my ways. Tell me, how did inexperienced people get on this important team? Are you sure they are eligible?”

Veena: Great question, John. They are most suitable.

John: I don’t see the difference between eligibility & suitability. Is this another new HR funda?

Veena: Am glad you asked. Yes, the two words may sound similar, but they are a world apart. Am inboxing you a link that explains the difference. Can we talk more when we meet this afternoon?

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When Veena reached his cabin later, John was speaking on the landline, closing another call on his mobile.

John: That was the Minister for Food Processing. He will be here next month for an industry interaction we host. I have read your link and like the approach. Should I smuggle some ideas on what our rivals are upto?

Veena: Sure, John! I am so happy that you are coming onboard.

Veena ran into CEO Narayan in the elevator. “Oh yes, am happy the team identified John for being its eyes and ears. I heard about your first informal team meeting. It is time the team gets a clear sense of direction. Who can bring that?”

Veena started thinking. Her graphic had 6 names now..

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7 - Neutron Usha cracks the whip!

So far: Veena, the Head of Talent has been tasked to assemble a turnaround team. 6 people are onboard.

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The excitement in the Board Room at Snappy was palpable. CEO Narayan walked in with Usha, Head of Projects. “Sorry for being late. Usha and I were on a conference call on some industry developments. We have another call in ten minutes. So, I said let’s walk in together”. “Who can bring us up to speed?”

Tabassum gave a quick summary:

  • Aditya came up with 4 new ideas for turnaround
  • Margaret felt, 2 were implementable. On the third an expert assessment will be necessary
  • John shared some grapevine on market plans of Snappy’s competitors.
  • Ramesh offered his thoughts on how Snappy can crash ‘go-to-market’ time

Tabassum paused for Margaret who said, “We have ideas here to work on. One too many in fact. It has been a week, and the journey hasn’t begun. We don’t know where to start”. The team looked at Narayan.

Narayan in turn glanced at Usha who said: “I think now is the time to get going. The projected 5 year CAGR for the Industry is 11%. Our Competitors are talking to investors about aggressive expansion. We have been static for 2 years now. We will be overrun very soon if we don’t grow at 15%. I am sure this team can cut to the chase. We will need at least 2 new products in next 6 months. Adithya’s Organic Foods idea could be a good place to start. And we need the one more such idea in two weeks. I think, these are good for starters”

Some slouches straightened, charged up by the call to action. Veena asked, “Can you be on this team, Usha?” John looked expectantly at Usha. Adithya murmured to himself “This room will become a pressure cooker. Neutron Usha will turn on the heat!”

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Usha looked at Narayan and continued “Am excited to jump on Veena’s offer.. Eager to get Snappy back to 15% growth”.

Veena chipped in “It’s great to have Usha volunteer. In Belbin parlance, Usha is a Shaper who is highly motivated with a great need for achievement”.

Veena responded “Belbin Team Role Methodology helps organizations build high performance teams. It helps appreciate the behavior of individuals in teams and leverage their strengths. I will send you all a link detailing some case studies”.

“Thanks, Usha” said Narayan. “We’ll benefit from your energy & drive”

That afternoon, Narayan called Veena. “With Neutron Usha on board, you can expect traction and friction. How will you manage that heat?” “You mean this engine now needs a lubricant? Of course it does. I will come back to you soon”..

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8 - Here comes 'Harmony

So far: Veena, the Head of Talent has been asked to assemble a turnaround team. 7 people are onboard.

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For Mohan, Snappy’s Head of Industrial Relations handling conflicts was all in a day’s work. But it was a tense Mohan that ran into Veena in the lobby.

Veena: “What are you upto in the Marketing block?” Mohan was trying to hide his stress

Mohan: “Am hunting down Ranjit”

Veena: “Who, the Marketing Officer? What on earth would you want him for?”

Mohan: “I have a situation Veena. We have a critical pre-final negotiation with the unions at 12 noon today. If the earlier meetings are any indication, we could have a strike on hand if we don’t breakthrough today. I need Ranjit to defuse the heat” .. By the way,.. How is your turnaround team doing? I hear people are feeling like they are in a pressure cooker.. Are you doing something about that?

Veena: I appreciate the feedback, Mohan. I just posted a recorded webinar link on our Learningnet.. on how BELBIN helps build high performance teams, which leverage diversity to advantage. Take a look!

For most in Snappy, it looked like Ranjit as Marketing Officer was selling free helpings of harmony along with ready to eat foods. Perceptive, sociable and supportive, Ranjit was known for his deep concern for all around him. People all across the company had stories of how his genuine warmth and diplomacy had helped avert many a friction.

Mohan was a different man by lunch when Veena saw him again at the cafeteria.

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Veena: “So the apocalypse did not happen after all?” Mohan looked relaxed and happy

Mohan: “Ranjit to the rescue! With Ranjit around, there cannot be any heat in a meeting. His listening skills and his abiding belief that everyone has a good side worth appealing to, helped us stave off an imminent labor issue today.”

In an aha moment, one more piece of the jigsaw came in place for Veena. “Why, Ranjit is the classic Belbin Teamworker needed to lubricate the traction and friction of the turnaround team” she thought.

Two hours later, including Ranjit’s name in her graphic, she texted Narayan “Ranjit agreed to come in to facilitate good atmosphere and harmony in the turnaround team.” “Awesome” came back Narayan, “Schedule a meeting of the Snappy Do team tomorrow”

Looking forward to the meeting Veena thought “Hopefully my search is over”

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9 - It's time for the 'Specialist'

So far: Veena, the Head of Talent is putting together a turnaround team at Snappy Foods. 8 people are onboard

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Looking at the graphic on her notepad, Veena marveled at the brilliant collection of diverse strengths that the 8 names brought. Just that none of them had been introduced formally to BELBIN like she was. And a BELBIN overview could answer their questions around the frequent references to BELBIN of late. Veena resolved that the first formal meeting of Snappy Do should kick off with a 2 minute BELBIN intro

The phone rang. Veena could sense urgency in Usha's voice. The go-getting Head of Projects was already off the block with the turnaround initiative. "Tabu has sent me 3 proposals. 2 of them have Margaret's okay. But the 3rd one is on use of a new extrusion technology. This calls for a study of technical feasibility, investment outlays and the whole works. We need an expert to do due diligence in a week. We don't have time. We only have 6 months to show early signs of a turnaround".

The word 'extrusion' sounded familiar, but Veena couldn't place where she had heard it. Then it all came back. Prabhu had given a fascinating overview of extrusion technology when he was interviewed for the position of Product Assurance Officer.

Prabhu had been with Snappy for over a year now but few knew what he did all day poring over industry reports and browsing food technology sites. An authority on FSSAI regulations with extensive experience in the ready to eat and packaged foods, Prabhu was acknowledged as a specialist by industry peers

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When Veena invited Prabhu to be part of the turnaround team, he didn't seem excited. "Are you sure you need me?" asked Prabhu "I can contribute only if products or food technology is being discussed". "Sure, Prabhu", assured Veena "This is a handpicked turnaround team. Margaret and Aditya will appreciate having your expert views".

"Fine then" Prabhu agreed. "When is the next meeting? I would like to attend the next week's Wenger Seminar of Food Tech leaders before doing any meaningful evaluation"

Veena called Narayan "We are signing on Prabhu.. The Belbin Specialist, fiercely dedicated to learning and defending hard won expertise on a narrow front".

"A valuable resource but a boffin at times!" laughed Narayan "This team needs knowledgeable professionals in key areas and Prabhu's presence will inspire others to bring their expertise to the fore"

Veena looked at the updated graphic. "A well-balanced team. The sheer chemistry will make it a high performing one"

Usha's words echoed in her ears "We only have 6 months to show early signs of a turnaround"

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10 - Baby steps to green shoots

Listen to 'Team Snappy Do'

Listen to 'Team Snappy Do'Mission:

Turnaround Snappy Foods

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What makes Team Snappy Do effective?

Veena Mohan - Head of Talent - Snappy Foods

It has been a paradigm shift for me to select a Project Team based on suitability criteria., rather than eligibility. This was a hunch I always had but did not know how. When I came across the BELBIN Team Role Methodology, I just jumped at the opportunity. And it worked! Thanks to Narayan for his support!

My task was to ensure all 9 Team Roles were on the Team.. The rest was chemistry ! The BELBIN Team Role approach fostered mutual trust and that in turn led to greater synergy and speed of decisions and execution within the team.

As a people professional for more than 3 decades, I have often been asked "How do you transform people performance at work?" Am clear now.. "No one is perfect, but a team can be". And I know how.. Thanks to BELBIN. And of course, thanks to Team Snappy Do. Good luck to you Team! We expect the world of you! You can!.