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An accounting firm was going through a multi-year effort to replace its technology platform with a modern cloud-based infrastructure. The scale of the initiative was massive, with an aggressive timeline. The company knew the transformation would test its people and resources—before the COVID pandemic hit. Overall, there were three significant challenges the company was facing.

First was the battle of competing internal cultures. The new project the company was working on would be a massive undertaking and a large investment of resources, including over 30 new hires. The initiative competed with the Information Technology (IT) department’s low tolerance for risk, which set the Production department in competition with the IT department.

Second, teams across the organization reported a significant need for more collaboration. All teams felt their workload was overwhelming, unsustainable, and inefficient. Leaders attempted to meet aggressive timelines that were not adjusted based on the impact of COVID or the new work-from-home mandate. They were encouraged not to ask for resources and often had to work on the weekends to ensure projects were completed. And like many organizations, leaders at the highest level were left with no time to work on the organizational strategy; instead, they often reworked initiatives as strategic changes continued to be made after projects were already in motion.

Finally, leaders reported a lack of trust—leaders disclosed being shut down or reprimanded, sometimes in public settings. The Partners at the firm were scared to report problems to the C-suite because they would be blamed for “not managing the situation appropriately.” In addition, the company reinforced a “no mistakes allowed” mentality. This mentality led to an environment where individuals were reluctant to share ideas, warn of problems, and hide mistakes that the organization made, resulting in significant turnover across the organization.


A year into COVID-19, the company introduced the Birkman High-Performing Teams program to all Partner-level leadership teams included in the project. The program findings were consistent across the teams. There was no unified organizational purpose, clarity was absent, and while psychological safety was high within intact teams, there was little to no psychological safety across the departments or up to the C-suite. After six months, the feedback from the programs was consolidated and presented to the C-suite at the firm. Because of the information the Partners discovered, the firm expanded the High-Performing Teams program throughout the entire organization.


The mindset shift that resulted from the High-Performing Teams programs was that the leaders realized their “no mistakes” mentality was creating systemic cultural issues across the organization. Due to this shift in mindset, leaders have been able to have more honest conversations about what is reasonable and realistic. 

As a direct result, the launch of the new technology platform was pushed back two years because leaders could finally talk about what was feasible and reasonable based on resources and time. The High-Performing Teams program enable teams to improve outcomes by separating intention from perception and ensuring every team and employee understands their unique approach to work.

Additionally, because cross-functional teams work together frequently, they can now understand their differences and establish best practices for working together instead of facing destructive conflict. Now leaders are empowered to help their employees improve their relationships with other departments and confidently make decisions. Partners can voice their concerns to the C-suite as they gain psychological safety.

In addition, leaders can provide better support by working through other departments’ roadblocks. They delegate one person from their team to have conversations early on with other departments about technology developments. Further, a greater priority is being placed on creating personal connections, even across departments, to put the people at the heart of collaboration, not just the task at hand. These actions resulted in a much more collaborative work environment. Initiatives that resulted from the High-Performing Teams sessions for the accounting firm include:

  • The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council approved a psychological safety speaker in
    the workforce.
  • Employee Engagement Surveys, which measure psychological safety levels, have
    been increased from once every other year to every year.
  • Teams are incorporating strengths, needs, and interests data into the company’s
    Human Resources Information System for individual teams.
  • Requests from other intact teams to go through the session too, to better align their working relationships and improve communications.

The company has completed 35 High-Performing Teams programs for more than 240 employees and is continuing to roll out High-Performing Teams. The teams continue to reinforce the concepts learned in the program, such as uprooting team conflict, aligning departmental and company goals, and effectively communicating with their leadership team.

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