M&C Saatchi is one of Australia’s largest most successful marketing agencies. It comprises more than 360 staff, seven companies, two offices in Sydney and Melbourne and a client roster laden with iconic brands. The agency abides ruthlessly to its founding philosophy ‘Brutal simplicity of thought’ to create great advertising that works. This, along with its people and in a thriving big family culture, means M&C Saatchi achieves consistently great work, happy clients and a multitude of awards.
In 2009, M&C Saatchi worldwide chairman, Tom Dery and creative driving force Tom McFarlane realised that to ensure the long-term performance of the agency, they needed to develop a plan to ensure its spirit would be retained in the future. As anAFL fan, Tom Dery was aware of Ray McLean and Leading Teams’ achievements with the Sydney Swans (culminating in their 2005 AFL premiership win) and after speaking to (former) Swans CEO Myles Baron-Hay, decided to engage Ray to help them achieve their objective.
Tom said they knew there needed to be some sense of cultural definition to assist with forward planning. “We knew there was an advantage in doing this work, but culture and teamwork are strange concepts in the advertising industry. Our people work closely in teams when they are doing a pitch or campaign, but at the higher level, there is not much of a collective mentality.”
“From my very first meeting with Ray (Leading Teams Director, Ray McLean), I knew we had to implement this program. When you talk to him about what can be achieved with Leading Teams you know it’s fair dinkum,” said Tom.
M&C Saatchi engaged Leading Teams to build the foundation for a high performing team with a clearly defined and understood culture that would lead the agency into the future.
Ray McLean said M&C Saatchi pulled together what was considered to be the leadership team and took them offsite for two days. “There were a few issues. Most importantly it was obvious that some of the attendees questioned whether they should have been there as bona fide members of the leadership team.”
The process bubbled along, but it did not achieve the defined business objectives established at program commencement. “There was not enough regular follow up and friction remained between the people I considered to be the main leadership team,” said Ray.
“For me, this was a good lesson about bringing together the right leadership team and so when we decided to give it another go, I took another angle. I asked Tom to name the key centres of influence in the agency. He named six people, we took them away and that’s when we became much more productive.”
The next session that was held featured some very open and honest conversation. Ray acknowledged that the follow up to date had not been as regular or rigorous as it should have been, and Tom explained that there were people who attended the previous retreat who were not of the level of influence required to sustain and drive the culture.
Ray said, “The group acknowledged they were not functioning across the boundaries and that there were problems in their relationships. We had a frank discussion, and they all agreed that they could see the benefitsof working on this. Since then, the leadership group has put time and effort into building themselves as a team. They are more open, and more likely to help one another rather than just worry about their own business.”
When companies undertake team development programs with their people there are a couple of important qualifiers they must consider.
1.Do these people need to be a team?
2.Who is actually on the team?
This is not about what is on the org chart, but who is really on the team.
Once we had addressed these questions, everything started to come together for the leadership team. They knew that if I felt we were not getting anywhere then I would challenge them and they felt comfortable knowing that if I wasn’t delivering as they needed they would challenge me”.
No matter where it goes from here, the important thing that was learned from this process was that you can do some constructive work with senior management teams if they can see the reward from it and understand its value.
Ray said, “This team jumped when they understood the power of having stronger professional relationships, and being able to have the genuine conversations with each other.”
“They themselves made the choice, and that was powerful. They could see that when they support each other, the benefits to each personally and to business can be quite powerful,” said Ray.
Tom said, “We’ve been through the tough times and come out much better than we went in. Our team was able to pull together in those tough times because of Ray and what he has taught us. He’s provided a set of tools that help us talk to each other directly, critically and supportively without getting personal – and above all he’s showed us how to have sensible and genuine conversations.”
Ray said, “I think it’s great that M&C Saatchi decided to look at this differently from the rest of the industry. They didn’t accept the norm as an excuse and we’ve been able to roll out a program that has evolved with the team which is a really nice outcome.”