Durabilis is ready for the future
Durabilis is a social investment company specialising in agricultural projects and sustainable development in low-wage countries. What started a decade ago as a small-scale initiative by Engineers Without Borders has grown into a small multinational employing over 1,300 people worldwide. “Our organisation is now facing a new phase in its development,” explains Evert Wulfrank, Chief Operating Officer, “and we are aiming for a professional approach.” Vlerick Business School helped the company on its way.
The leap ahead
Durabilis is a pioneer in impact investments. “We managed on our own for years, without much external input, and without comparing ourselves with other organisations,” explains Bert Sercu, Chief Sustainability Officer, who is part of the 6-strong management team together with Evert. “Moreover, the organisation has offices in different countries. Our head office is in Belgium, but our CEO lives in Peru and all other members of the management team are busy travelling. As a result, our contacts are limited, and when we do meet, we need to discuss urgent operational issues.”
Evert nods in agreement and adds, “Each and every one of us has evolved in his own way, yet not always positively, unfortunately. We all have flaws we need to address. And although – or maybe because – we know each other through and through, it’s not always easy to have constructive discussions or give each other objective feedback. We were looking for a way to make a professional leap ahead with the entire management team.”
Tried and tested approach
Durabilis had very positive past experiences with the Vlerick Business School courses, and therefore decided to join forces with the school once again. Vlerick proposed to carry out a 360° assessment of all members of the management team, followed by a group coaching session. Bert and Evert had already benefited from this approach during their management degree course. “We liked the proposal, since we had already experienced how useful this type of assessment and coaching can be.”
The 360° assessment included a survey, which was sent to various Durabilis employees, who were asked to evaluate each member of the management team: staff who report directly to one of the managers, the other managers and the supervisor – the President of the Board for the CEO, and the CEO for the other managers. The completed surveys poured in and once Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir had processed them, the entire management team sat around the table for an information session on the impact of the assessment and the best way forward. “We took the results of the survey home with us, so that we could let it all sink in,” Bert remembers. “The next day, during the intensive group coaching, we discussed the results with one another. It was a very constructive discussion.”
“A 360° assessment is an eye opener, because it shows you your weaknesses, but it also lays the foundations for a relationship of trust,” Evert says. “Not once did any of us feel uncomfortable during the group coaching, and we owe that to Professor De Stobbeleir’s excellent assistance.”
Evert’s brother Carl, who is Chief Commercial Officer, is also a member of the management team, and the President of the Board of Directors, Marc Saverys, is the father of the CEO, Sebastiaan Saverys. “So it comes as no surprise that there is an informal, family-like atmosphere. When my brother and I disagree on something, we don’t mince our words, which is not always appreciated by everybody. However, from the feedback we learned that all managers should have such intense, to-the-point discussions every now and again. No one had seen that coming,” he smiles.
Personal action plan
At the end of the coaching session the participants were asked to draw up a personal action plan with individual points for attention and goals. “Some of us took longer than others – busy schedules and all that – but in the end we all managed. We gave the plans to Katleen and also discussed them as a group. Twice a year, the management team meets to follow up on these action plans. We all realise that in the past, we probably didn’t spend enough time reflecting on our way of working together,” Bert says.
The team is so happy with the results that it plans to organise a similar exercise for the other managers.
A stronger team
What was the impact of the assessment and the coaching? “You can tell that everyone really tackled his points of attention,” Bert explains. “We all perform better and have formed a stronger team. Our mutual trust has been given a serious boost and that has a positive impact on the rest of the organisation. I think as a management team we convey a more consistent message, which ultimately benefits the company as a whole.”
“The impact of this exercise will mainly become clear in the longer term,” Evert says. “We showed we are prepared to challenge ourselves and we strive to constantly improve our performance. I think now we are better equipped to take on the challenges that await us as a team,” he concludes.
How do you fight the ‘CEO disease’?
Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir led the 360° assessment and coached the Durabilis management team. She explains the reasoning behind this approach, “Managers often have no idea of how they are perceived by the rest of the company. I call it the ‘CEO disease’. The higher you rank in the organisation, the less you are aware of people’s opinions of you. In the long term, this can affect your efficiency, and that of the organisation too. A 360° assessment in which managers, peers and staff reporting directly to you give feedback on your performance can be very useful and even enlightening.
Since the strengths and weaknesses that emerge from this 360° assessment differ for every person, many organisations subsequently opt for individual coaching. However, we chose to coach the group as a whole, opting for a combination of individual learning and group learning, particularly since the persons involved are all members of the same team. An individual action plan was drawn up for every participant, but it was also discussed with the rest of the group, which allowed the other team members to give feedback. This is the key to building a successful team.
This approach also offers many other advantages. If one of the participants has a specific problem, the rest of the team can offer advice. It also allows the participants to gain an insight into possible organisational glitches. In a nutshell, group coaching is based on the principle of individual action plans, but it is often followed by actions at group or organisational level. But there’s more… Some organisations adopt a silo mentality, which may even lead to conflicts – tension, conflicting interests etc. Group coaching efficiently tackles these situations. Even when there are no conflicts in a well-functioning team this coaching method improves the team spirit by encouraging the participants to think about group dynamics. In such cases, group coaching can contribute to a good team becoming a great team. Moreover, group coaching is the ideal way to promote and maintain a good collaboration.”