Silver Lines: Challenges in Team Communication
Exhausted by the day’s events, Sarah slumped into the chair at her desk. She was feeling very frustrated, and sensed things were starting to fall apart. Silver lines was such a successful business and they had such an effective team, but things were not looking as rosy as they had been even a year ago!
A decade ago, Sarah, along with her three friends Stephanie, Gloria and Helen started a small business to sell silver jewelry they had designed and made themselves. Sarah had always dreamed of owning her own business and had following some successful female entrepreneurs on the internet. Inspired by their stories, Sarah decided to quit her job to set up her own business. She loved silver as a medium and was passionate about jewelry. She had delved into designing and making jewelry mainly as a hobby and had ended up selling a few pieces to friends and acquaintances. This was a path that appealed to her.
Sarah gazed out of her office window remembering those days filled with excitement and a sense of camaraderie. She had often worked 14 hours a day setting up the shop, located in a busy shopping street in Melbourne, Australia. Although Stephanie and Gloria continued with their jobs, they worked at the shop in the evenings and on weekends. The business had taken off much faster than anyone anticipated and soon they were sourcing silver products from other artisans in Australia. Their product lines expanded from jewelry to homeware such as decorative pieces, boxes, candlesticks, plates, bowls, etc. Eighteen months later, they decided to open up another shop in Melbourne. A third shop followed soon after, and at this time Stephanie and Gloria left their jobs to join forces with Sarah and Helen.
Sarah and Helen were the creative team responsible for sourcing products and identifying suppliers. Stephanie was the management and IT expert, who managed their inventory system and supplier database. Gloria was responsible for advertising and promotion. Success came in leaps and bounds. Five years after it began, the business had expanded and the group owned eight shops in shopping street and centers across metropolitan Melbourne plus two shops in New South Wales. Additionally, some small boutique shops in rural areas of the state (Victoria) carried their merchandise.
The four partners were joined by Erica and Juliana to form the management team. Erica was the finance and accounts manager. Juliana managed relationships with shops in rural Victoria that carried their products and investigated expansion opportunities. Silver lines now employed about 55 staff, with each shop having a shop manager and four to six shift-based shop floor staff. The management team worked well together as they had developed a strong bond. Given the expansion of the business and their different roles, they tended to be out and about a lot. As the business had grown and as the founders had started families, they had made a commitment that they would all work flexibly in order to meet their family and parenting responsibilities.
Within this flexible work culture, a key to their effective management and business success was the fact that they had open and effective communication systems in place. For example, the management team met twice a month and rotated their meetings at each shop. This enabled them to stay touch with shop staff as well as running their management meeting. In addition, they used emails, text and phone calls to discuss any urgent matters. Besides that, Silver Lines has entrepreneurial and innovative culture. Its culture celebrates individuality, integrity and openness in the work environment. Employees have freedom to realize their aspirations. Built on four key pillars the Silver Lines culture embraces: personal growth opportunities, performance and reward, a challenging portfolio of work, experience and learning. In the past year, however, it had become increasingly difficult to hold these meetings at different venues, and the last two meetings in the nearby state of New South Wales shop had to be cancelled because four of the six members could not travel due to some personal family commitments.
They also held retreats twice a year for all staff, which enabled employees to meet each other and management to discuss their plans with everyone. This way they were able to keep everyone connected. They had also recently started holding an “expo-meet” once a year at which they brought all of their existing and potential suppliers, designers and artisans together to discuss their requirements, trends and see any exhibits that the participants brought with them. This they had found to be a very good way of developing and maintaining their ties with these important business associates. The expo-meet was a two-day event that started with a dinner the night before followed by two days of exhibition, talks, seminars and meetings. While Juliana spearheaded the management of these events, they took up quite a bit of the entire management team’s time. Around the time of the annual expo, they usually ended up meeting every week and sometimes twice a week. Last year, while planning the annual expo-meet, however, attendance of the management team at these meetings had started to lag and Juliana had found this extremely frustrating. A couple of things had gone wrong at that expo-meet because it hadn’t been as immaculately planned as usual by the team. Juliana had felt very let down and there had been a fair bit of tension at the next management meeting.
Given these issues, Stephanie suggested that they should try out video conferencing, using Skype, as a way to ensure attendance at meetings. Everyone liked the idea and once the initial teething and technical issues were resolve, virtual meetings using Skype became the norm. They found that they were able to get a lot more done and were saving travelling time and money as a result. Once they were comfortable with the system, they started including shop staff on a rotational basis. A few weeks later, though Helen began to notice that the shop staffs were not as forthcoming with their comments and feedback as they had been previously in the face-to-face meetings. This was particularly true of one of the Melbourne and one of the Melbourne and one of the Sydney shops, where they had recently recruited new staff. Helen reflected on this issue but decided it was probably due to the fact they were new to the team and would become more vocal as they become more comfortable in their jobs.
At one of the meeting with the Sydney staff, Helen asked whether the order they had discussed at the previous meeting had arrived and how the sales were going. Surprised at the question, the shop manager Tanya asked which order she was referring to. It soon become clear to everyone that Tanya had not known that she was meant to follow up on the order. She said she remembered the conversation, but had thought that Helen has talking to Gloria about the order and not to her. Helen was shocked to hear this and was worried that they may have lost some very good business as a result of this confusion. The management team discussed how to resolve the issue and went on to talk through other agenda items on the list.
In the coming months, the management team realized that they were beginning to lose business and that some valuable external relationships were being affected. Every time this was questioned, it turned out that something had been misunderstood or misinterpreted. Staff members appeared confused about who was doing what, who was being addressed and who was taking what responsibility. There were some irritability and frustration building up, and at times this spilled into anger. The staff’s contribution in meetings was also no longer as vibrant as it used to be. Ingrid, who was a long-standing shop manager, felt that the process of meetings had changed and that management often seemed to be in a hurry to discuss and disclose off agenda items. There was a growing sense of unrest in the team, and although many people had picked up on it, team issues were not being discussed as before.
As Sarah sat at her desk now, she wished that Helen had brought up the issue when she first sensed it. She wished they had all said something about the tension they were starting to feel. Perhaps this would have prevented the disaster they had experienced today. It had been the opening day of this year’s expo-meet, which was being held at a town hall in Melbourne. There, they discovered that no one had booked the smaller rooms needed for the concurrent morning seminars. Juliana panicked on learning this and Sarah out of the opening session to tell her what had happened. Sarah was equally shocked but kept her cool and started to consider what could be done. She asked Tanya to find out if they were any rooms available-this resulted in her booking the only available room.
Together, Juliana and Sarah decided to hold one seminar in the available room and the rest of the three seminars in different corners of the big hall where the opening session was held and the display stalls were laid out. While the seminars had taken place, the quality of discussions was compromised due to the colocation. They had received few complaints from participants, who had found it difficult to hear the discussions. Juliana was very upset and angry, as were the others, who felt that their reputation had been tarnished. They discovered that once again they had been miscommunication among them over who was going to book the seminar rooms. The planning for the event had been done primarily through Skype meetings and telephone communications. Sarah sat there thinking that they needed to get back to meeting face-to-face. “Clearly this new technology has worsened things for us!”
Referring above case study, critically access FIVE (5) importance of job satisfaction in Silver Lines. Support your answers with relevant facts.
Critically evaluate how the use of Skype impacts the communication effectiveness? Support your answer with the relevant facts.
Based on the case study, critically evaluate FIVE (5) factors which influence employee behavior in Silver Lines.
Compare FIVE (5) effectiveness of different leadership styles in Silver Lines. Support your answer with relevant facts.