• Managing people

Encouraging Better Teamwork at Total

emlyon’s 100% online customized program for Total is a model for the future of executive education


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With nearly 100,000 employees, more than 150 nationalities and 500 professions represented in its workforce, Total is hugely rich in human capital – exemplified by the group’s tremendous technical and commercial expertise. However, while leading-edge technology and shrewd investing will be two uncontested pillars of its future growth, this third essential ‘human’ pillar, its workforce, is expected to contribute just as much towards its competitive advantage if given additional learning support.

Total, an oil and gas mega-corporation, looks forward to an exciting future as it realises its ambition to lead the way towards a better energy future. It has opportunities to create a less carbon intensive world, both by innovating to make its existing hydrocarbon fields greener and by leading diversification to renewable energy and electricity storage. Total also aims to help eliminate the energy poverty that is still prevalent in the developing world as its services become more accessible and cheaper.

To fulfil its ambition, the challenge the group now faces is to build the leadership and management capacity capable of embracing the changes implicit in delivering the significant benefits that its technological advances now offer. In an ever more complex and fast changing world, the group’s managers need to be more agile, to collaborate more effectively, to share information, and even to share decision making – allowing problem-solving responsibility further down the organization.

“Today’s digital world of industrial IoT also provides opportunities to improve our processes. Development of our managers and leaders of today, and more crucially our leaders of tomorrow, is therefore of strategic importance to lead the various changes as we drive ahead into the coming decades,” says Alan Lambert, Head of Global Management Programs, Total Learning Solutions SAS.

To meet this challenge, the need was not to undertake some major cultural change, but rather to create better ways of collaborative working at team level and across functions. The priority was to help managers strengthen their relational intelligence, to create a climate conducive to collective performance, and develop better dynamics within teams so they fulfil their potential effectiveness and creativity through collaboration.

In the past Total’s executive development has largely focused on senior leaders and people with high-potential for senior roles, and most of its L&D has been traditional, face-to-face, classroom based, knowledge transfer. It now needed to offer something across a much wider constituency, to thousands of managers present in the countries in which the group operates. Something built around online delivery, that was collaborative and experiential. It had never undertaken anything like this before.

“Embracing the challenge to train a greater number of our managers across 130 countries, in the context of digital transformation, we opted to offer a 100% online learning experience. It was clear though, to be in line with our values and objectives, that this needed to remain a collaborative experience, and not a classic online approach,” says Lambert.

Total chose emlyon business school as a partner to overhaul its entry level management development program and create the initiative now known as Smarter Teamwork. A choice no doubt prompted by emlyon’s high reputation as a developer of action learning programs and its innovative approach to executive education.

Describing the Smarter Teamwork main thrust Karine Savigny, Affiliated professor at emlyon, says “The idea was really to develop the teamwork skills that will help the organization become more agile, quicken the pace of decision making, increase the quality of decision making, and support a client-oriented culture, internal client/external client.”

The decision to swing the pendulum from Total’s prevailing face-to-face L&D to the extreme opposite – 100% digital distance learning – was radical. To reach the widest possible constituency in a cost-effective way this made good sense in theory, but as Savigny testifies “It was, and remains, a real challenge.” For participants to achieve the leadership capability asked for required the development of ‘soft’ skills – not something one immediately associates with online. Helping people develop emotional intelligence for example – online – this was a challenge, as was developing teamwork when the participants are not in the same room or country even.

Then, as well as the pedagogical and technical challenges, was the Total culture ready?   or multiple cultures ready? – because this was for people from all over the world. The key to answering this question positively lay in the learning principles – the engine behind the program.

In designing the program, these six key principles were followed:

  • Individualized learning – offering an experience where, content, instructional technology, and the pace of learning are based upon the needs and abilities of each individual participant.
  • Adaptive learning – adapting the learning path to be just-in-time and to mirror each cohort of learners’ changing needs. This facility was provided by emlyon’s technology partner Very Up, whose algorithms cleverly adjust the program in real time.
  • Social and group oriented learning – giving opportunities for participants to share and compare learning, ideas, and what they think about the experience, for example, going out and running five or six questions with their team members and then coming back with their results and comparing these with other participants and other cohorts.
  • Learning by doing – this is about getting people to do things differently and to try new approaches, with ‘on-the-job challenges’. It involves as little extra work as possible. For example, when a participant runs a meeting, using new skills to run it differently.
  • Learning set in context – developing skills in the context of the people the participants work with every day, and, in the context of an engineering company, where people are generally highly trained, ensuring the right balance of knowledge and know-how and its relevance.
  • Grounded content – using content that is fully-grounded in up-to-date research and in real-life experience, not only because this is engrained in emlyon’s DNA, but also because the educated scientific-minded Total executives would expect to be able to trace the veracity of what is recommended.

“So, the whole thing is very team-based, it's very much about practicing something in one’s real team context and getting feedback from team members, sharing it with program participants, trying to come up with new ways of doing something… certainly this is quite ambitious,” says Thomas Misslin, Corporate Solutions Manager at emlyon.

It goes without saying that for this ambitious program to succeed it had to be delivered through an exceptional and reliable technological platform. In this Misslin says he was very fortunate in the technology partners he collaborated with: Very Up, a firm based in Lyon, Paris and New York, which was instrumental in designing the online interface, and the UK firm Virtual Gurus, who supported the synchronous virtual classrooms, both provided invaluable support.

The Smarter Teamwork program is fundamentally about asking the question: how can we work differently? The ‘we’ being managers in a teamwork environment, whether project-based, or experts in contact with a lot of different people, or a standard team manager. To answer this question emlyon focused on nine core competencies arranged under three groups:

Developing relational intelligence – understanding oneself and others

  1. Recognizing and managing emotions for team effectiveness
  2. Recognizing and valuing your own and others’ contributions to teamwork
  3. Developing behavioural flexibility

Encouraging a collective performance environment

  1. Communicating effectively to deliver collective performance
  2. Actively including others and diverse viewpoints
  3. Promoting a climate of trust

 Contributing to the development of one’s team potential

  1. Fostering a win-win approach
  2. Gathering around common goals and shared processes
  3. Leveraging collective intelligence to find creative solutions

Savigny comments on the list: “It all starts with raising one’s awareness as to one’s way of functioning, the fact that we are all different and that this creates a potential of higher value creation, how to adjust one’s ways to better interact with others, how to create an environment conducive to teamwork, the importance of interdependencies and how to build bridges so that the team can achieve its full potential”

The program is designed to be delivered to cohorts of between 50-100 people at a time. The third cohort is about to start and there are four more planned for next year. The cohorts so far have been 50-strong, but will increase to 100 next year.

 “Working with emlyon we have therefore designed a SPOC [Small Private Online Course], ‘Smarter Teamwork’, that encourages our trainees to immediately put their learning into action with their own team and in a real-life context. This experiential learning journey therefore not only helps to develop the competencies of the trainee, but also reinforces these competencies within their team.” Alan Lambert.

Savigny is clear about the essentially practical nature of the: “Although ambitious, this initiative rests on the principle that learning is an integral part of every day in the workplace. Developing an awareness of one’s self and others in context and on the job seems like a good place to start. It is a first, foundational step towards continuous individual and team improvement.”

While the stated goal is not to change the culture of the organization, this initiative does foster an organizational culture that is open to innovation and learning and to acquiring the skills that will be necessary to flatten the organization, to share power, to share information, to trust, to work together – a progressive culture fit for the future. It is also about claiming one’s responsibilities and becoming engaged actors in the workplace.

As a model for executive education, this initiative opens up huge possibilities in the way it shows how sophisticated distance learning, customized to fit complex contexts, can be spread deep into large long-established organizations, stimulating the middle strata of managers too often overlooked by traditional executive education.

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