How do you encourage a creative team to unite behind new ideas when there are differences of opinion at the highest level?

This medium‐sized creative services company had been established for several years and had developed a specialization in the pharmaceuticals area. The two founder owners enjoyed equal shares in the business, and a number of senior designers made up the second tier of management, all of whom had been with the company for some time. They had recently moved to larger premises and were looking to expand further, but high‐level differences of opinion about the future direction of the company were beginning to cause friction, and employees were being seen to ‘take sides’. This was creating an uneasy atmosphere in the office, leading to an unsettled workforce with issues about their own future with the company and all the associated uncertainty that this brings.


A slight downturn in business brought all this uncertainty to a head. As many of the more senior members of their team had been with the company since its inception, there was a strong sense of loyalty from the directors who were loath to lose any dead wood, knowing, as they did, the precarious personal circumstances of some of their managers. We were called in to help as independent observers, charged with finding out exactly what the employees were thinking. The directors were confident that we would approach the task with the sensitivity and anonymity required.


This situation presented us with a clear case for our ‘Motivate’ practice. After an initial meeting with the two directors, we suggested that we should be introduced to the senior managers to explain our involvement. We then prepared a plan that involved devising a set of questionnaires specifically tailored to the circumstances we encountered within the company, based on our previous experience as design practitioners where such assessments were regularly used to gather information from our own employees. We made it clear from the outset that all our findings would be made available to the client in an anonymous format, including any private conversations that we arranged with their staff. Our intention was to meet with the staff in a neutral location of their choice, creating a relaxed environment in which they would happily open up.


From our initial meeting with the two directors, we quickly realized that they held widely differing views about the future direction of the company. We were able to formulate a plan that was acceptable to both of them, and we set about preparing the questionnaires and contacting each senior manager individually to arrange to meet. They were then given time to complete the questionnaires, and a second round of meetings was arranged to discuss their answers with them. It soon became clear, as we have found in many businesses of a similar size, that several of their number had been promoted beyond their experience or qualifications, and were now not only job blocking more suitable candidates but also costing the company in over‐inflated salary packages. Conscious of the longstanding relationships at stake, we prepared a very carefully worded final report for the directors.

A final meeting was arranged with the directors to discuss our findings, and they were given time to consider the implications for their business before deciding on a plan of action. As always, we encouraged our client to implement any changes as soon as possible, making the difficult decisions needed to secure a better future for the company.

The whole process took just over six months from initial meeting to final report.


Through our obvious advantage as unbiased observers in this situation, we were able to build a rapport with the senior staff in a very short space of time. Although they were working in a completely different discipline from that of our own past design experience, there were still more commonalities than differences, and our familiarity with the ‘creative mindset’ allowed us to engage in open, meaningful conversations that shed valuable light on the company’s structure and potential. Armed with this information, the directors were able to make objective decisions about the future of their company, leading to the departure of some senior members of the team on friendly, mutually acceptable terms.

Keeping in contact with the directors since our involvement, we find that the company has continued to grow and prosper despite the generally difficult trading conditions, and the particular challenges the creative industry faces in meeting the demands of rapidly changing technology.