Case Study Using action learning to deliver projects and build a team – Sandvik Coromant

Context

Sandvik Coromant is a Swedish based global engineering company of real standing in their market. The brand Sandvik Coromant is well respected across all engineering sectors and is seen as hallmark for quality. While the size of the market is hard to quantify, it is widely recognised that Sandvik Coromant is the global market leader.

The company manufactures a wide range of engineering tools for generalist and specialist use, covering sectors as varied as oil and gas, healthcare and transport. Its customer base ranges from smaller engineering tool shops which may only buy £5,000 worth of products a year to huge global companies who use Sandvik Coromant to design and build their engineering tools on large scale projects such as the Channel Tunnel. Sandvik Coromant is also respected and valued for its engineering applications, advice, design and consultancy at all levels of the market.

Traditionally, Sandvik Coromant has sold its products directly to the end user – whether a small engineering company, an intermediate manufacturer or for a global specialised application. However, the growth in the UK market has not come from direct sales, but from Technical Distributors. Technical Distributors has a regional focus yet carries competitors’ products as well as those of Sandvik Coromant. The action learning sets were therefore focused on the challenge of making this sales route more successful.

 Aims

  • Each participant was required to deliver a specific project related to selling through Technical Distributors. Action learning sets were the primary means of driving the project work
  • As the participants were UK based Regional Business Development Specialists a key objective was to change their isolated approach to work and encourage everyone to work together as members of one team
  • To integrate the internal sales team (Head Office based) with representatives in the regions who have face to face contact. To improve team cohesion and understanding and to maximise knowledge and synergy.

What worked?

While the participants initially found the reflective learning and open questioning approach very difficult – it was strongly counter culture for these pragmatic sales orientated people (not uncommon in large multi national organisations) – the practices of active listening, asking open questions to challenge and support and listening to reflective feedback were invaluable in gaining mutual understanding and respect.

It called on the varied skills, knowledge and expertise in the set and provided a really rich stream of questions in each presentation.

The sets lasted two consecutive days each and each participant had the opportunity to present at each meeting. They left each meeting with a considerable list of actions to carry out and which they were required to report back on. They also had to make progress on their projects between the set meetings, requiring them to work closely with the rest of the set to deliver their work. In so doing, real team working started to happen.

This exercise had a profound effect on the way that the team worked together. They developed a new level of personal learning, were able to reach out beyond their comfort zone in a trusting environment, and  analyse information in different ways. The whole project provided a rich shared learning experience.

Attendance was 100% throughout and commitment to the work grew.

What were the challenges?

The first significant challenge was to establish a shift in culture, to allow one person to speak at a time and to listen to each other.

Resisting the temptation to tell colleagues what to do was certainly very hard at the beginning of the process.

Developing skills to deliver feedback also took time. Separate exercises were used to practise this outside of the presentation space.

While the set was able to provide challenging feedback, it took time to develop real supportive feedback that didn’t simply collude with the prevailing culture.

Resisting the pull to behave how a global corporation has always done and to let the drive for change take over, was also hard.

Other benefits

The team scored itself as a 3.5 on an anonymised team performance tool and in comparison rated themselves at 7.5 by the end of the action learning programme. The change in team working influenced the UK based organisation to change working practices to benefit sales. Together they developed evidenced combined arguments and presented with one voice to the UK senior leadership team.

They also reported running all their internal meetings much more effectively because they now listen to each person and speak one at a time.