June 2020

Leading Your Teams Through Change

by Jay Pullins

2020 has shaped up to be a year of historic, unplanned change around the globe. Business models are having to adjust to new economic conditions. Organizations are creating new work environments and practices as the COVID-19 situation evolves. Businesses are in danger of collapsing if they don't quickly adjust to changing laws, new economic drivers and new cultural expectations. All the while, leaders must organize, train, equip and empower their most important, and sometimes most volatile resource–their people–to implement these changes.

Tana Troke Campana is the Senior Assistant Dean and Chief of Staff of the Jacobs School of Engineering (JSOE) at the San Diego campus of the University of California (UC San Diego). Even before the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, JSOE was in the midst of rapid change. These changes were resulting from unprecedented success, a very good kind of problem to have. Over the recent years, JSOE has moved up into the top ten rankings of best engineering schools in the nation. This unprecedented success necessitated unprecedented changes in strategy and procedures for sustaining that success across six academic departments.

Tana's administration team recognized that, if JSOE was to keep up with the growth and other changes their success was bringing, departments were going to have to learn to work more effectively and efficiently together as a cohesive team. Before Tana was introduced to Academy Leadership, department leaders were not "on the same page." They did not know each other well enough to develop trust, and their departments worked in siloes. Leaders were not engaged in strategies for setting common goals and priorities, improving communication and collaboration, and functioning as a unified team. JSOE had no internal, consistent leadership development program for its new or experienced leaders.

Tana was first exposed to Academy Leadership's Energize2Lead and Leader's Compass Workshops with the other Assistant Deans from all eight schools at UC San Diego and the office of the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. She was then given the opportunity to take the leadership of JSOE's six engineering departments through the 9-module Leadership Excellence Course. The camaraderie and teamwork that resulted from their intensive sessions together was so impactful, Tana and her department leaders decided to take all of their direct reports through the course the following year.

Over 200 employees participated in the Energize2Lead training, improving their understanding of themselves and their collaboration skills with their work team colleagues. Over 100 supervisors improved their leader communication by writing and communicating their Personal Leadership Philosophies with their colleagues and employees. Over 70 managers improved their leadership skills in communicating, managing time, navigating conflict, motivating employees, holding each other accountable, and managing productive meetings. Beyond the workshops, teams discussed their Energize2Lead Profiles and Personal Leadership Philosophies together to better understand how to work more collaboratively. They agreed on top priorities, expectations of each other's teams, and strategies for making better use of meetings, setting goals, resolving conflicts, and holding each other accountable for results. The investment in their professional development also improved morale, as employees felt more valued by their senior leaders. In Tana's words,

"The results have been spectacular! Staff thoroughly enjoyed learning more about themselves, colleagues and leadership through the Energize2Lead Workshops. The supervisors and managers were grateful for the development opportunity and feel empowered by the 9-module program. Many have commented on the tremendous bonding experience and are eager to continue exploring the topics addressed. All found it to be incredibly worthwhile, not only due to the knowledge gained but also by the connections we all made. It definitely brought us together and made us a true team."

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, Tana and JSOE were ready, because they had done the hard work of development leadership teams several layers deep. The present crisis and the future of work require more than just management. They require leaders of character who will develop their people and teams to achieve more than they thought they could. Tana's success story demonstrates that, if we are going to effectively lead high performance teams through changing or turbulent times, it will require time, energy and resources in order break down siloes and build trust, so that our teams can continue to deliver excellent results together.

Tana Troke Campana is the Senior Assistant Dean and Chief of Staff of Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego.