How This Banking Behemoth Developed Trust Between Diverse Executives
Saskia Keeley’s Corporate Accompagnateur Workshops are meant to foster a new level of trust, understanding, and communication between executives of high-performance teams. Leadership teams benefit enormously from better connections and understanding because these values translate to more open and personal communication and therefore growth as a team.
For this client, Saskia’s workshop was part of a larger Leaders’ Quest workshop. Fourteen top executives at this banking institution (which must remain anonymous for legal reasons) took part in this workshop. 10 men and 4 women, between the ages of 35 and 55. Some have been working for the company for a long time, some were new. Each one was head of their own department.
One of the largest banking and financial services organizations in the world (with locations in 66 countries). Having an effective corporate culture is crucial to the firm’s ability to attract, hire, and train the best people in the industry.
One of their priorities is to have the “healthiest human system” as the center of their plans to reinvigorate the company. It is a concept the company has kept intentionally vague because they want managers to interpret the system themselves.
One manager said he understood it as a challenge for the bank to focus on its people, to be more open, transparent and meritocratic, and to create a sense of purpose and energy to drive strategy.
The new focus shouldn’t be only on the financial aspect but also on people sustainability.
Executives felt, that with a better sense of each other, they would all benefit from a healthier work environment where they could trust and rely on their coworkers, which would lead to even more effective and productive work.
The leadership team, although successful and prolific, felt disconnected from other leaders in the bank. Although they work side by side, there was a feeling that the context or the tools to work with one another best, to build trust, to have a sense of partnership and a feeling of connection, were missing.
In our initial survey before the workshop they all said the same thing. Although they enjoy an atmosphere that is nice and polite, they realize that they don’t know each other personally, they don’t connect at a deep level. The focus tends to be on each’s own area and not on the collective. If troubles or difficulties arise, there is no certainty that they will have each other’s back. They don’t have the context or the tools to work with to get to know each other and to build trust.
In this environment of decency and civility, difficult conversations are avoided.
One of the top executives, takes tough exchanges that happen within a group “offline” - meaning that these conversations need to be handled one on one.
The participants need to learn to engage with one another to find mutuality and commonality. To brainstorm together to revitalize both the company and the way they show up at work.
An important discussion around a shared understanding of values. How does the company want the people at the bank to function? There is an important discussion needed around a shared understanding of values:
“How do we show up?”
“What does showing up mean to you?”
“What does showing up mean to us?”
Most people felt ready for these conversations and a deep search. They were excited about how the culture is changing, and how people’s voices are being heard.
Our photo workshop was an opportunity to address a working environment suffering from social isolation by building community. Seeing each other with dignity, respect, and appreciation. I wanted to instill a sense of “Radical Mutuality” meaning, “We don’t do things for people. We don’t do things to people. We do things with people.”
Even though all these participants (executives) knew of each other, I wanted to bring a deeper seeing, understanding, and appreciation of one another. I wanted to allow each to show up in a personal and open manner.
Leaders’ Quest, my partner in this workshop, and I needed to create an environment that allowed for the discomfort of tough conversations and disagreements to be processed. This would help with breakthroughs and take the group to the next level.
As all these participants know one another, we move away from a sharing of name and background and we start with an icebreaker. The story of how they got their first name / middle name / last name.
It’s a way to explore family, culture, and traditions. We go around in a circle.
We follow with a framing question: “Who am I at my best?” One or two words. We allow a few minutes for pause and reflection for these words to emerge. We then share. People speak up when they are ready.
During the photo assignment we cover:
How do you see your partner?
What is it that you would like to capture? Think mindfully – don’t just click away.
Exploring composition, mood, personality. Allowing creative expression.
What is it you want to relay about this person? Are you comfortable getting close to your subject? Is your subject at ease with that proximity?
During Deep Sharing we cover:
What was this experience like?
How did it feel to share?
How did it feel to hear?
One has 20 minutes, then the other has 20 minutes. A time to be personal, to engage, and to be as candid and personal as possible in what is being told. It may be a short synopsis of life, a story that has marked you profoundly, a relationship, an anecdote. It has to be meaningful, important, something unique about you or your background. The person who hears the story is in listening mode. Not too many questions or interruptions.
As partners come back, I review their images with them and ask them to pick a portrait of themselves. They remain with their partner for the selection process. Each selected image is then printed for the next and most powerful part of the workshop.
While holding the printed image of one’s partner, we tell the partner’s story in one’s own words. Making sure to start by saying “I am…. (name of partner). We push for consistency to remain in the “I” modality when telling the whole story.
The conclusive results were clear in this final exercise of sharing each partner’s story.
As we are working with a highly intelligent and competent group, the stories told are deeply poignant as they are relayed in a sensitive and capable manner.
ALL are clearly moved and deeply appreciative of the way their story has been heard and how it is shared. There is such a sense of intimacy and even vulnerability at the end of our circle of sharing. One participant, the next day in a discussion titled “customer first”, relates back to the photo workshop by saying, “We should be able to speak in the voice of our customers, like we did yesterday with each other. How would that change the way we think about and interact with them?”
One of the participants wrote to me a few weeks later and she said: “I found the workshop fabulous and you need to know that it had a significant impact on breaking barriers in terms of how we interact as humans and as a team,” she said. She added: “I will keep your contact as I would like to work with you in the future for my own leadership team.”
What participants had to say…
1. What did your life or business look like before being introduced to SKP (Saskia Keeley Photography)?
Prior to Saskia Keeley’s photo workshop our team was primarily comprised of executives focused on the interests of the area of the business for which they have direct accountability, versus collective ownership of all areas of the business. Our team was quite dysfunctional, operating more like a working group, with no real trust amongst the participants.
2. What motivated you to invest in Saskia Keeley’s workshop?
We decided that we wanted to invest / embark on the journey of collective leadership and this starts with the foundation of they pyramid: building vulnerability-based trust. Saskia’s workshop was just the perfect tool we needed to find ourselves and each other through a whole different “lens”.
3. How is it different from other services you may have been involved in the past?
Most of our leadership team would say they never experienced a workshop quite like the one given by Saskia Keeley. What appeared to be a simple task masked the level of intimacy created through completing it. So much better and more powerful than your typical collective coaching exercises.
4. What surprised you the most about Saskia Keeley Photography?
The ability to really understand and “see” the other person from the camera lens. How vulnerable we had to become to each other. And, the positive impact of the workshop on our leadership team. It is often referred to in meetings many months after the workshop experience. Saskia really lead us through an amazing journey.
5. How has Saskia impacted you and/or your business?
It demonstrated the benefit of getting to know colleagues in a deeper way, for instance we learned what drove the communication style of a colleague, which until the workshop their style was perceived totally differently than what they intended. Of the full 3 days the team spent together, Saskia’s workshop was the one session that, if I had to point out, really changed our perspective of each other.
6. Having successfully accomplished a workshop, how do you see your business relationships developing in the next 6-12 months?
We are already seeing an impact since coming back to work from the offsite. In our exco meetings and one to one interactions, including how we manage conflict - directly and constructively, playing the issue not the person. We all have much closer ties and greater trust amongst the leadership team.
7. If someone is skeptical about Saskia Keeley Photography, or feels that the investment is a big stretch for them, what would you say to them?
The impact of Saskia Keeley’s workshop was without question worth our investment of time and money. It brought a fresh and unique experience to creating a collective leadership team. DO IT!
8. If you have any different thoughts or would like to add anything else, please feel free to add whatever you'd like.
The journey to collective leadership is not easy and Saskia Keeley’s photo workshop is a path along the journey worth taking.