Assisting a technology organisation through the COVID pandemic

Assisting a technology organisation through the COVID pandemic

For many businesses, COVID-19 has meant scaling back their operations and navigating their way through the challenges as a matter of survival. For others however, COVID has represented a time for rapid expansion and adaption through an unanticipated demand in their product or service.

For many organisational leaders, the realisation that their existing toolkit did not include the skills to deal with the uncertainty of 2020 has left them feeling somewhat exposed.

The Problem

There are many things that we can prepare for if we can anticipate them, however we can rarely anticipate the impact of an event such as the global pandemic.

Quintessential was approached by a technology organisation that was experiencing an escalating conflict between the leads of two well performing teams. Both teams were delivering high quality services through the various twists and turns of their business venture. However, it became noticeable over the course of 2020 that tension amongst the team leads had emerged, which created a flow-on disruptive impact on their respective team members. The cumulative effects of COVID had been that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and they were insightful enough to seek help.

A large part of the problem stemmed from their own inability to identify a root cause of the conflict. Both team leads were highly respected, qualified and experienced professionals, being highly skilled to lead teams. Goodwill was present, yet most roads to recovery led to an impasse.

The Quintessential Process

In situations of conflict there is always a temptation to find what is wrong. Yet the teams’ past performance was based on a solid foundation of cohesion that they had built over time, and a misplaced intervention could have potentially resulted in unintended consequences of undoing the good that had been established.

Therefore, Quintessential adopted an approach of ‘improving’ in preference to ‘fixing’. With COVID affecting many things about our client’s BAU practices, we leveraged the Cynefin framework to highlight ways in which they needed to do things differently – not because their existing practices were incorrect, but because they were simply unsuitable for the current challenges.

Our client realised that what they were doing was not wrong, it was just ineffective. At this point they saw that they were geared around doing things Cynefin ‘complicated’, and they need to approach things in a Cynefin ‘complex’ manner.

  1. Environmental scan & appreciation. The first stage of the process was to gain an appreciation of the teams’ working environment. Quintessential leveraged Cynefin to change the language, moving away from ‘good/bad’, ‘right/wrong’, and more towards ‘better/worse’, ‘pro/con’ etc. This enabled a different conversation to be shared in a manner less confrontational, which allow the conflict to be more productively discussed.
  2. Shifting mindsets. The recognition that a different approach was needed in these turbulent times opened up their minds to the possibility of doing things in different ways. There was already a sound basis to work from, so we managed to identify new approaches in accordance with the following principles:
  • It is ok not to know – we have confidence that we know how to find out
  • Use incremental improvements to progress to a solution – the pathway to the answer is not always linear
  • Embrace conflict – it is an effective way to identify and explore possibilities
  • Seek “best fit” rather “best” – our world is ‘relative’, not ‘absolute’
  1. Upskilling. A martial art master I trained with use to say, “…our mind is like a parachute; it works best when open.” Once the team leads and the team members recognised that they needed to enhance their skillset, new conversations were possible in context of ‘upskilling’ in new techniques and different approaches. Note that this was not instead of their existing skills, but rather in addition to their existing skills. Possibilities that were not previously considered were now firmly on the table, and the ideas were starting to flow.
  2. Coaching. Developing new knowledge and skills is not always best done through training. There are many ways in which was learn, so we adopted the 70:20:10 rule to build a professional development program for the team leads and members that they could undertake themselves. We created this program using a Quintessential model based on the principles of “Intentional Change”.

The Outcome

Quintessential’s process created a team that had upskilled themselves to be able to deal with complex issues. The team leads also realised that their conflict did not have to be avoided, but rather embraced. They learnt to work with conflict and leverage the different perspectives to open up new possibilities that had previously not been considered.

The team language had also change to one of enquiry. Not only were they doing more ‘asking’ rather than ‘telling’, but the questions they were raising ventured down pathways less travelled in order to see things in different ways. They were becoming comfortable in conflict. They learnt to accept the unknown and the anxiety that accompanied it, to be okay during times of discomfort.

Enabling more effective ways of working

Enabling more effective ways of working


An Oil & Gas client established the Integrated Operations Centre (IOC) that co-located a wide range of functional teams; encompassing technical engineering, control room with full remote capability, integrated planning and optimisation, network operations, energy trading and commercial, operational technology incorporating telecoms/data/infrastructure and the related field assets comprising wells and gas plants. These diverse, and by necessity closely integrated business areas, conduct and manage the clients’ operations throughout South East QLD. Equipped with a suite of cutting-edge visualisation technology, this environment provided real time interactive information to its operational personnel and brought teams together that were previously dispersed across multiple locations, into a single location.

The client needed to build a culture that balanced short-term operational needs with an ability to reflect, review and adapt with a more strategic mindset.


The client engaged us to design and build a High Performing Team (HPT) program, incorporating the Team Management Profile (TMP) and Linking Skills Profile (LSP) – designed to enable the client to realise the benefits of this environment through collaboration, knowledge sharing and, importantly, developing the capability to leverage the diverse range of skills and experience of the 150+ personnel within the team. The TMP and LSP were selected as an integral part of the HPT Program offering a safe, interactive and fun way to understand the teams’ preferences and the preferences of others.

Although members of the team had worked together previously, the newly formed environment provided the opportunity for them to improve their ways of working. Conducting the TMP for all team members offered a framework that enabled them to exchange information and ideas using a common language and shared understanding. Additionally, the TMP afforded every team member the opportunity to gain an enhanced level of awareness of themselves and their colleagues.

The LLP was designed to provide middle and upper level leaders with a deeper view of their abilities to undertake the ‘linking’ activities in the TMP; thereby providing the team, as a whole, with the greatest opportunity to leverage the benefits it was designed for.

The workshop approach was designed to be a mix of ‘teaching’ about the TMP, ‘doing’ activities around the four measures of work preference (RIDO scale), ‘discussing’ the implication of the TMP in the workplace and scenario gamification to demonstrate collaboration and diversity.


The TMS solution in the HPT program laid a foundation for the team to explore more innovative ways to solve problems. The program provided a holistic exploration of how the team members could better interact and employ the diversity of team members to explore a range of potential solution pathways using a variety of perspectives.

The team members were debriefed on their profiles results over a series of 10 workshops held over a 2-month period. The core themes that emerged from the workshops included:

  • There is no single right solution to any given problem
  • People have different preferences, and these differences enable the workplace to be viewed in different ways
  • Our differences are a strength, being able to leverage these differences is a competitive advantage

By framing the workshops as a process of inquiry, we worked with the client to openly challenge their current ways of working. We also enabled the team to ask more insightful questions about their environment, their colleagues and their purpose, in preference to seeking a final all-encompassing solution.  By incorporating a variety of games, challenges and discussions, the workshops enabled participants to correlate the TMS learning to the activities performed.

The Benefits

As a result of the program, the client increased their awareness of team diversity and gained an understanding of the value of leveraging these differences. Through an enhanced awareness of one’s self and an awareness of others, it is possible to conduct more effective “coloured” meetings that deliver purpose and outcome, the identification of potential blind spots within team operations and the development of collaborative relationships based on a better understanding of how others may prefer to work or communicate.

Creating employability skills for future leaders

Creating employability skills for future leaders


The disruptive effect of readily available and affordable technology has opened up numerous opportunities; ones that our current generation of leaders may never have imagined possible in their lifetimes.

Yet to a younger generation of leaders, these possibilities are merely the norm. The interconnectedness offered by technology is an intrinsic part of their lives. This enables them to view the world with fresh perspectives, allowing them to engage globally however, whenever, and for whatever reasons they want.

With an abundance of creative potential ahead of them, how can we prepare and equip the future generation of leaders to navigate this world of constant flux, uncertainty and opportunity?


Quintessential took on the challenge of equipping future leaders with the basic employability skills to navigate this world. We helped to design and deliver an innovative program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with support from Engineers Australia – College of Leadership & Management Queensland (EA-CLMQ).

Called Harnessing the Power of Teams, the program was designed to equip fourth-year construction engineers with leadership skills derived from solution-focused coaching methodology, which importantly sought to enhance their employability skills.

Through a combination of interactive workshop learning, task-based activities, and ongoing coaching and development support, the program provided them with realistic experiences in developing people and teams, fostering collaboration, and being adaptable as the environment around them changed. It prepared them for the challenges that they will face when entering the workforce for the first time.


To demonstrate the power of coaching, Quintessential had the engineers undertake a ‘design and build’ task. The task was based on the famous ‘Marshmallow Challenge’ where teams competed to build the tallest structure possible with nothing more than 20 spaghetti sticks, 1 metre of sticky tape, and 1 metre of string. The team with the tallest structure would be the winner, providing that it could support the weight of the marshmallow placed on the very top.

We pitted the engineers against the teaching team consisting of organisational psychologists and research officers. There was one distinction: we coached the teaching team in the true sense of coaching, i.e., we were not allowed to offer solutions and we could only ask questions related to their thinking around the design and build process.

After 20 minutes… success for the teaching team! As for the budding construction engineers… well, they gave it a good shot, but unfortunately their grand designs were unable to stand unaided and therefore failed the success criteria. It was, however, a profound way of demonstrating the power of coaching to the engineers.

Learning principles for future leaders

When designing the program, Quintessential coupled the solutions-focused coaching approach with some basic principles of complexity in order to leverage the inherent benefits of team diversity, natural ways of working, and the phenomenon of small changes resulting in large effects.

  1. Diverse approach. In order to properly address complex problems, a repertoire of responses is required that is at least as diverse as the problems being faced. The Leaders-as-Coach facilitated exploring and appreciating different points of view, thereby enabling the benefits of shared leadership to be realised. The students were taught that highly effective teams are rarely in unanimous agreement. They can however leverage the diversity of their views and construct pathways forward.
  2. Observe & Learn. This approach enables the formation and observation of evolving patterns with which to learn. Human systems such as teams are complex and, over time, develop ways of working from the cumulative effect of the individual contributors. The Leaders-as-Coach fostered emergence by sharing, integrating and mobilising the diverse contributions of their team members. This allowed them to learn, evaluate and adapt their way of working to the changing landscape. These outcomes are not attained through deliberate actions, but rather by creating an environment that cultivates a natural system of working.
  3. Small changes – big impacts. This is a powerful change lever. Small, well-placed changes can lead to large effects, creating ripples through the team and/or organisation (similar to the famous ‘butterfly effect’). The power of these small changes is often far more effective than large-scale change programs. Coaching works at the individual level. The Leaders-as-Coach challenged their team’s mindsets and belief systems. They discovered freedom from the assumptions that constrained them from fully utilising their talents, skills and experiences, and this opened up new possibilities and pathways that led to better opportunities.

Why use coaching?

We knew that the essence of solution-focused coaching is its power to identify and co-create a range of options to be explored with the coachee. We provided the fourth-year engineers with a leadership mindset of ‘encouraging others to create solutions’, which challenged the dominant engineering mindset of ‘creating solutions for others’.

By asking powerful questions, we encouraged the coaches to invite the coachee into a dialogue of clarifying, discovery and action at a whole new level, which revealed a range of potential pathways that had been previously unrecognised and/or unexplored.


Follow initial pilots of this approach, the program has now been running for over 4 years at the QUT Science & Engineering faculty. Mentors from Engineers Australia regularly participate in the program, offering their guidance, knowledge and wisdom in helping develop employability skills.


The constructive nature of solution-focused coaching is derived from positive psychology. We adopted this approach with a view to overcoming the personal and professional challenges the coachee faces in everyday life by leveraging their values, strengths, virtues, talents and skills.

Coaching enabled this by:

  • Exploring and appreciating the challenges we face from a variety of perspectives
  • Creating an environment that allows solutions to emerge through discussion and discovery
  • Appreciating when to take deliberate action and knowing when to allow a natural evolution of events to occur
  • Leveraging small changes for a big impact through a process of co-creation.

What is really exciting and hopeful about the solutions-focused approach is the affirmation that transformative change can emerge from very small shifts in behaviour.

Cultivating an Agile Culture for a Complex Project

Cultivating an Agile Culture for a Complex Project


Designing a fully integrated military telecommunications network is a highly complex undertaking, particularly when there is no established precedent or detailed blueprint. Beyond the technical challenges in the design activity, there existed the challenges associated with the stakeholder community and the need to manage their expectations and address their interests.

Quintessential was engaged by the client at project start-up to help them develop their team culture. The client wanted to build a team culture that was agile and creative, embrace the notion of serious play and experimentation, and have the resilience to leverage uncertainty to enable them to find ways of breaking new ground.


Our first task was to understand the Project’s culture by way of defining its actual state and projecting what its ideal state looks like. The resulting gap between actual and ideal, and corresponding desire to undertake the journey provided us with the necessary information to design appropriate initiatives. We subsequently designed a High Performing Team (HPT) program to build the capabilities of the Client’s team using the following principles:

  • Co-creation. Collaboratively building the culture and productivity with the existing team members, then adapting and renewing it with each new cohort of team members. This included an On-Boarding Program, a Bootcamp Induction and an Employee Survival Guide.
  • Cognitive Fitness. Equipping the project team with the self-awareness, skills and mindset to be agile and nimble in a dynamic environment. This included a Capability Maturity Model (CMM) analysis and a Ways of Working (WoW) tracker.
  • Co-existence. Enabling the project team to live its own culture, identity and ways of working, while remaining aligned with its stakeholders, including a Stakeholder Map and a Communications & Engagement Plan.


With this project having a large number of ‘moving parts’, our approach enabled the Client to work with the complexity of the environment. They subsequently adopted an ‘influence’ approach over the temptation to exert ‘control’ as the latter approach was ineffective in navigating the dynamic nature of the project. Furthermore, with technology progressing so fast, the design process needed to constantly adapt as blueprints were evolving and the end goal often could not be fully defined. Consequently, project leaders were unable to rely on predictability and full project control. Rather, we helped them to build faith in their team and the wider stakeholder community to allow solutions to emerge and to adapt accordingly through safe to fail experimentation. This led to the workforce embracing a fail often and learn fast culture.


The outcome of this project were highly successful.  The project was delivered ahead of time, within budget and with a satisfied customer who was engaged right throughout in a highly transparent environment.  The program also won various engineering awards and was recognised by the end-customer as a benchmark innovation project.