Reasons for Team Dysfunction
After reading the Blake Sports Apparel case and Lencioni’s, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, share your perspective on what you think Jack might say are the reasons for the dysfunction in each of the teams in the case. Explain your response.
BLACK SPORTS APPAREL CASE
9-417-048REV: DECEMBER 11, 20 1 7Professor Boris Groysberg and Research Associate Katherine Connolly Baden prepared this case. This case was part of the YPO/OPM researchproject. It was reviewed and approved before publication by a company designate. Funding for the development of this case was provided byHarvard Business School and not by the company. Professor Groysberg has conducted paid consulting work for this company. Certain detailshave been disguised. HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources ofprimary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management.Copyright © 2016, 2017 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to www.hbsp.harvard.edu. This publication may not be digitized,photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.BORIS GROYSBERGKATHERINE CONNOLLY B ADENBlake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear:Bringing the Executive Team TogetherCameron (Cam) Barker, founder and CEO of Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear, cutacross the parking lot to his car after a long day at company headquarters in Birmingham, England. Hewas preoccupied by a phone call earlier that day from a member of his executive team: two membersof the team had failed to cooperate to resolve a simple issue, and the caller had asked him to intervene.Lately such incidents were all too frequent. Individually, the executives were competent—most hadbeen at the company for several years and contributed substantially to its growth—but the team’sdynamics were dysfunctional. Mistrust, lack of communication, and refusal to collaborate wererampant. Barker was ready to act, but what action should he take? Were the right people in the rightroles? Were the right people even on the team? Was the team appropriately structured and managed?What changes should Barker make to strengthen the company’s leadership and position it forcontinued growth? (See Exhibit 1 for an organizational chart; see Exhibit 2 for profiles of executiveteammembers.)Blake Sports ApparelBlake Sports Apparel, founded by Barker’s father, paid licensing fees to leagues and brands in orderto manufacture sports apparel and accessories using their logos, which they in turn sold to retailers inthe marketplace. A decade after its founding, Barker formally took over the family business as CEO.At the time, Blake Sports Apparel’s manufacturing licenses were with several small brands; shortlyafter Barker began his tenure as CEO, he met the founder of the mid-size brand Cartlock and beganmanufacturing goods for that company as well. “At the time Cartlock was at $25 million. Then Cartlockwent from basically zero to a billion,” Barker recalled. “We rode the wave through them going public.Ninety percent of our business was definitely Cartlock; we were 15–20 percent of their business.”Ten years later, despite the partnership’s success, Barker started to feel uneasy about Cartlock’slong-term direction. After contemplating his options, he decided to approach Howell, a large globalbrand. The initial meeting went well; shortly, Barker found that he had to negotiate his way out of hisdeal with Cartlock to take on a deal with Howell. He also had to quickly upgrade infrastructure toThis document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together2handle the Howell business. He described how the executive team had functioned during thatpressured period:We had one year when we were exiting the Cartlock business and introducing theHowell business. This management team was drinking from a firehose. We were dealingwith a lot of external and internal challenges that were very complex. Cartlock was a verydynamic, thought-provoking company. Howell was a very mature, well-establishedcompany. And then internally, as an entrepreneurial company in growth mode, we neverhad enough resources to get everything done, not enough hours in a day. But we wereperforming. We were doing something that would never likely happen in sporting goods,and that was literally shipping Howell and Cartlock in the same year. People werewearing multiple hats, meaning one morning they were selling Howell products and thenin the afternoon they were dealing with Cartlock products.Once the transition to Howell was complete, new challenges arose. Howell was pricing its productsso low that it had essentially eliminated the typical margin that a company in Blake Sports Apparel’sindustry would expect. Blake Sports Apparel was also shipping Howell products globally, which wasextremely expensive given the relatively small quantities involved. The executive team spent fivemonths trying to solve these problems: they traveled the world, surveyed the marketplace, examinedpricing, and familiarized themselves with customers. When these efforts largely failed, Barkerapproached Howell to renegotiate the terms of their deal. “Needless to say, the six months ofrenegotiation with Howell was another stress point for the executive team,” Barker said. “I had alreadygiven up the Cartlock business; I had signed the Howell deal, and I couldn’t execute it the way I initiallysigned it. The executive team was loyal as anything during a very, very difficult time.” Barkerultimately renegotiated terms with Howell that were mutually beneficial.The following year, Blake Sports Apparel built a global infrastructure and by five years later it hadtripled its Howell business. The company worked with more categories in the Howell portfolio than itscompetitors and was on track to become Howell’s largest-volume partner. It was also fully integratedwith all of Howell’s business units. “This company is still young, and it’s grown every year except one[the year it transitioned from Cartlock to Howell],” Barker pointed out. “If you look at the aggregategrowth, it’s about 28 percent a year.” Growth continued: Howell awarded Blake Sports Apparel a licensethat included new product categories and rights to use trademarks endorsed by popular professionalathletes and professional sports leagues. Blake Sports Apparel was about to sign what Barker called“one of the strongest licensed-sporting-goods contract in the history of licensed sports.”The Culture of the Executive TeamAs a young entrepreneurial company, Blake Sports Apparel had pursued its goals with unusualflexibility; initially, very few policies and procedures were in place to impose structure. As thecompany developed a stronger relationship with Howell, that profile began to change. The executiveteam had to be more methodical and detail-oriented to sustain the growth the company wasexperiencing. Andrew Cook, Chief Financial Officer, explained:Up until three years ago, this company was run by revenue; revenue was the king. Soas long as we could get revenue, we were fine. Then Cam said we were going to come upwith what we call a landed margin equation [the cost of goods, FOB,1 freight, and duty,1 FOB (free on board) is a trade term signifying that the seller has fulfilled its delivery obligations when the goods are on boarda vessel designated by the buyer.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together 417-0483compared to the net selling price]. And we won’t necessarily just look at the revenue; we’llalso look at margin. By doing that, we saw that some of our biggest-selling items that wewere high-fiving each other across the company for, as our number-one selling items,were either low from a profitability perspective or we margined at a loss.Another challenge that needed to be addressed was that individual departments built their ownreporting mechanisms. Sometimes a given department’s metrics looked favorable, but did not work inthe company’s favor when viewed in terms of the big picture. For example, Operations authorizedmanufacturing a particular product in large quantities during an off-peak season to create inventoryand reduce the product’s cost. The Sales department agreed to the plan and put the product on autoreplenishmentstatus; thus, a customer could request the product from inventory at any time, whichwould hopefully create or increase sales. But the quantities were not always accurate. Sometimes theproduct did not turn over at the expected rate and ended up sitting in warehouses for months,consuming cash. At other times, due to auto-replenishment, the company sometimes lacked theappropriate quantity on hand to meet a customer’s needs and had to pull the product from othercustomers to fill an order. Thus, though Operations was producing the product for a lower price andSales had inventory for its customers (pulling either from the warehouse or from other customers), thesituation was unfavorable overall. Zachary Fried, GM of North America Sales, described the impact ofa close look at the metrics:We went from a very lucrative company, where you couldn’t find any errors because ofits fast-paced growth, to a company that all of a sudden had to start looking at itself differently.We were still growing very fast, but we also had to worry about different areas within thebusiness model that required our concentration, like FOBs, margin, and discounts. Then, allof a sudden, the finger-pointing started: everyone wanted to blame someone else for anyperformance gaps we uncovered when we started to drill down into the numbers.Barker described the role he had played in imposing more structure on the business, particularlyafter renegotiating the Howell deal:We were in survival mode, and then we had to refocus. We put a ton more processes andprocedures in place. We went to a global bank; we upgraded our systems. We spent timelooking at our supply chains, our KPIs [key performance indicators], our FOBs. We spent a lotof time looking at growth and revenue and really understanding what was really happening.We eliminated discounts and shut down customers that didn’t make sense. Imagine what thiswas doing to the executive team: they had made it, and they had all this freedom because theywere entrepreneurs in their own worlds. Then I, as the CEO, put a lot of red tape around themand didn’t let them have as much flexibility as they used to have. People had been operatingincredibly flexibly. For example, it was nauseating to look at expense reports and see whatpeople thought was OK. It was not as structured as it needed to be.Members of the executive team also found themselves running bigger departments than ever beforeand working closely with the company’s growing number of accountants. Overall, Barker was pleasedwith the team’s performance; general counsel Lance Templast concurred, commending them as “anoverall good team that knows the business.” But persistent roadblocks prevented the executive teamfrom performing at the top of its game.Examples of ExcellenceExecutive-team members described their colleagues variously as passionate, entrepreneurial,knowledgeable, competent, self-motivated, and dedicated. They also praised the team’s energeticThis document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together4conversations and good debates. “We’re a super-talented group of individuals that are extremelyknowledgeable about our industry in sporting goods,” said Christopher Hennessy, Head of GlobalProduct and Merchandising. “We’re passionate and loyal, and collectively all of us want to achieve thegoals that we set as a company. I think those are the common threads and the bonds that pull us together.”The previous year, Blake Sports Apparel had reached its aggressive international and domesticmargin and revenue goals. Despite frustrations along the way, the executive team got the job done,resulting in a 5-percent bonus for every employee at the company. Thanks to collaboration betweenthe Sales and Product departments, the company reached number-one in the world for sales of certainproducts, in some cases overtaking its biggest competitor: Cartlock. The company also securedfinancing from a global bank, which obliged everyone to adhere to strict policies and procedures toobtain strong audit results. But these successes obscured the challenges facing the executive team.Challenges & OpportunitiesDespite the executive team’s skills and successes, failures of communication and collaborationplagued its internal workings. One year, for example, Blake Sports Apparel received numerous inquiriesfrom retailers interested in selling its products. But the team failed to cooperate in a timely manner toenter these new customers into its system. Procedures outlined in the customer compliance manual, suchas how goods would be shipped to a customer, were not systematically and speedily signed off on. Somecustomers’ “test orders,” a routine part of the set-up procedure, went unprocessed. And the executiveteam failed to make timely business decisions, such as how much credit to extend to a customer. As aresult, customers were still waiting six months later to be set up in Blake Sports Apparel’s systems. Thisinaction resulted in months of lost revenue; meanwhile products sat in distribution centers instead ofreaching store shelves. Customers were frustrated; Barker speculated that they might ultimately taketheir business elsewhere or place smaller orders than they had initially planned.Another problem pertained to “gap plans,” or lists of action items generated annually by reviews ofthe previous year’s revenue data. These plans identified opportunities for the company to reach itsgoals, and included such items as developing new products and revamping existing ones. Everydepartment played a role in generating and executing a gap plan—a plan started in Sales, moved on toProduct, and required the involvement of Finance and Operations to assess its viability. Six monthsafter the most recent gap plan had been finalized, the executive team was failing to develop newproducts outlined in the plan, resulting in lost time and revenue and creating urgency for employeesin their departments: such new products had to be designed, developed, sourced, set up, and shippedwithin the calendar year. Meanwhile, demand for new products that had been launched was sometimesmiscommunicated between the Sales and Product departments. For instance, the company hustled toproduce a product under the misapprehension of high demand at one of its largest customers; once theproduct was ready, the order never materialized.Pricing was also problematic. New products and those that were revamped or revived after beingdiscontinued were referred to Finance to assess margins and determine pricing. This process often tooklonger than necessary, delaying release of the products. The Finance department in turn claimed thatpeople had been slow to submit such necessary information as packing and shipping costs andexpected discounts. Others claimed that Finance had been vague about the information it needed.Barker offered this analogy to describe the executive team:Like in sports, sometimes a team wins that shouldn’t win—meaning there’s fiveseconds left on the clock, the team plays lousy, but somehow, some way, the ball gets overthe line and the team wins. We win. I don’t know how we do it, but every year, year afterThis document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together 417-0485year, you cannot look back at this company and see what we’ve done and not wonderhow we did it. But how we played the game is insane. We make it so hard. We drop fiveyardpasses over and over again; it’s like we didn’t just talk and get on the same pageabout how we’re going to run the play. The other thing is we’re not dealing with the minorleagues. We’re dealing with Howell. The bar is set so high there’s truly no finish line—soeven if you think you’ve done a good job, even if you think you left it all on the field, youhave to do more. I’m trying to manage an executive team at a very high level, and I’m notsaying I have an executive team that’s not performing—they are performing. They’re justnot coming together as a team. Sometimes I think the approach they take to theircolleagues is: ‘I’m going to get this guy off the field. I’m going to crush him. I’m going tohit him in the knees and prove that he can’t run that play.’ That’s where it gets frustrating.Goals & PrioritiesThough convinced that misalignment of goals was resulting in competing priorities, Barker had notyet pinpointed its exact location. Company-wide goals, established by the executive team during anoffsite with Barker, focused on margin and revenue; a 5-percent company-wide bonus was tied toachieving those goals. Barker also collaborated with each team member to establish weighted KPIsspecific to his or her department. At individual performance reviews, Barker scored executives on eachobjective (25/50/75/100 percent of a KPI); the executives scored themselves as well. If the two scoresdiffered, Barker explained his score and the executive did the same. Then they jointly determined eachfinal score. These scores were then weighted to determine the bonus the executive would receive. Thisprocess was identical for all members of the team. Barker also earmarked discretionary funds to furthercompensate someone who had had an exceptional year. He reported that this process was wellreceivedand that executives viewed their goals and KPIs as clear, but some team members asserted thatmisalignment persisted. According to Hennessy:The opportunities exist around making sure we’re not trying to achieve company goalsin silos. In our business, when we are setting goals ourselves around revenue targets andmargin targets, sometimes those goals get pulled in several different directions by all ofthe socioeconomic issues that can occur outside of what we can control. I think there’salways that struggle between Sales, Product, Operations, and Finance to figure out ourindividual goals, and how we prioritize those individual goals so that collectively we canachieve the goals we set as an organization. Sometimes they don’t align.CFO Andrew Cook concurred:I think sometimes there are areas of frustration, because the goals set for the executiveteam aren’t aligned. Maybe one is chasing sales, and then the other one is more concernedabout margin, and a third one is concerned about making a cool product, and the fourthone is concerned about getting the product manufactured, and none of the goals for thoseobjectives are tied together. As a result, what might be good for one person may notnecessarily be good for their colleagues. It creates conflict and trust issues. I think that’sone really big opportunity for us to improve.Goals that appeared to be aligned in theory were not always aligned in practice: sometimes teammembers pursued self-interest before company goals. Olivia Hermida, Division President at SwitchActivewear, a subcompany of Blake Sports Apparel, observed, “The executive team consists ofcompetitors that want to win. Overall that is a great thing, but it does create challenges at times.”Several members described the team as consisting of Type-A personalities: self-motivated, aggressive,and driven to perfection.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together6CommunicationInadequate communication among members of the executive team was a multi-faceted issue. Oneaspect was withholding of information. Carl Herman, Senior Director of Planning and Procurement,described barriers he faced as a direct report to a member of the executive team:We provide inventory reports to the Sales team. We tried to improve by providing notonly the inventory we have but also the associated sales data for the inventory we soldpreviously. We tried to provide more integrated information to our Sales team so they arebetter equipped to sell. But when we provided those reports, the Sales director feltinsulted. He thought, ‘Oh, you think my team is not doing their job; you need to give themthis information.’ That’s not my original intent. I don’t care whether you look at thisinformation or not. I just want to provide you with better data to support the process.The other thing is how secretive we are with information. For example, we cannot putinformation for key accounts in the same spreadsheet. Their point is, ‘No, we don’t wantthe sales reps to look at all of our customer data so they can compare. They should onlyfocus on their accounts.’ The Sales portion sits only in their own silos and focuses only onwhat their accounts are doing, not really caring or learning about what the other accountsare selling. I don’t think that is optimal.Barker responded to the criticism that team members withheld information by pointing out that theinformation-sharing process was designed to protect proprietary ideas. In the past, departingemployees had absconded with pricing models; to prevent more such transgressions, Barker hadempowered the executive team to determine who should have access to what information (as opposedto allowing open access for all). But even when information was shared, it was sometimes presented ina format that managers found inaccessible or difficult to leverage. The combination of apparent secrecyand the company’s privately held status led employees to question the company’s financial standingand the degree of its profitability.Another instance of withholding information was the Finance department’s failure to inform theexecutive team when bonuses would be paid out; thus, this information could not be communicated toemployees. One executive characterized this situation as “playing a game of Keep Away” withinformation that others needed. This propensity to withhold information led team members to “makedecisions in a vacuum,” as one executive put it.Even when information was forthcoming, open communication was hindered by lack of trust. Forexample, when Finance informed Sales that the company was losing money on a given product, theSales department’s reaction was to question the pricing analysis. Similarly, the Finance and Productdepartments sometimes second-guessed the Sales department’s decisions to discount prices onparticular products for its customers. The information that had fed into these decisions was availableto all involved, but the executive team did not collaborate in order to build a cohesive sales strategybecause individuals did not trust one another to prioritize the good of the company over their ownrespective priorities.Another issue was lack of responsiveness. “I think if people would communicate and answer their emailsand be respectful and responsive to their colleagues, we would be fine,” observed AmberMcKinnon, Barker’s executive assistant. “Cam will set up calls and meetings and people just won’t showup. It seems if you have something that’s pressing and you go to another team member and ask for fiveminutes of their time, it just doesn’t happen.” Another example pertained to the 99-week companycalendar that was posted for all members of the executive team and contained all key company deadlines.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together 417-0487The deadlines were habitually ignored, which led to otherwise avoidable issues, such as missing shippingdates to customers. Barker was often the one who had to step in to address issues as they arose. “I wouldassume things were getting done and my team was working together,” said Barker, “But then there wouldbe the fire, and the next fire, and the next, and that’s what it would take to get things to the finish line. I’dhave to wait for the explosion, and then I’d have to go in and clean up the mess.”An important part of facilitating communication among the executive team was to leverage efficientand effective team meetings, an objective of which the executive team often fell short. The executive teammet twice weekly: once in a revenue meeting attended by multiple functions at the executive team leveland the level below, and once in a check-in meeting attended by the executive team via phone. Althoughteam members did make the effort to attend the check-in meetings, no one set an agenda, so the meetingsoften ran for an inadequate length of time. For example, some meetings that needed to be two hours werescheduled for one. Important topics were often shortchanged and not given the time necessary to beaddressed. As a result, many meetings ended with unresolved issues, but the team did not schedulefollow-up meetings to continue the necessary conversations. Therefore, issues remained unresolved untilproblems or disputes emerged. The executive team also met with Barker twice monthly: once in abusiness update meeting, and once in an S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) meeting. Barker notedhow participation in team meetings was often unbalanced. As Barker described, “I think at a certain pointpeople just give up the fight. Even if someone has a healthy argument to give in regard to a topic, theyanticipate the letdown of the group not being able to come together to solve the problem, so they don’twant to bring it up or engage in the type of active discussion we would want to encourage.” Teammembers were “scarred” from their past experiences with the team, according to Barker, and they madeit clear in their behaviors that there was little trust in the team’s ability to work together. As Barkersummarized, “The meeting structure was in place, but communication in those meetings was a joke.”Finally, conflict resolution was poor. The executive team was adept at debating but inept atresolving conflict and building consensus. Much communication was defensive: executive-teammembers sometimes brought subordinates to meetings to witness what was said, or copied the generalcounsel on email communications. Team members also leaned on Barker to step in and mediatedisputes. For example, Barker recalled two team members who met with him about a dispute, and eachbrought with him to the meeting a binder of emails detailing their electronic communications with oneanother. Barker noted, “God knows how long it took to get those binders put together. They spent moretime doing that than actually working on the issue.” The team members’ lack of ability to work togetherto resolve conflicts amongst themselves ultimately cost both the team members and Barker time thatcould have been spent in more productive ways.Focus on Management and LeadershipSome perceived the executive team as strategic in its thinking, but several people described itsmembers as overly focused on day-to-day tactical matters, which should have been the province ofmiddle managers. Hennessy shared his perspective:A challenge that we have is that we tend to be a very tactical group—and probably notas strategic as we need to be, as the leadership team of an organization that has beengrowing as fast as we’ve been growing. Sometimes, being tactical and being on theground, we lose sight of what the bigger picture should be and could be. What has hurtus is not empowering our mid-management team to be fully responsible for what’s goingon with the day-to-day of the business, and reporting up to us what that looks like—sothat we, as an executive team, can really focus on the next 24 to 36 months and drive thecompany forward. One of our biggest opportunities as an executive team is to becomeThis document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together8more strategic. If we try to attack our challenges from a completely tactical perspective,we’ll never succeed.Failure to develop middle managers had other ramifications as well. “Some executive-teammembers are slow to evolve their departments, as far as upgrading the talent pool of people. I’ve alsobeen pushing them on their lack of succession planning,” observed Steve Myers, an external advisor.“I don’t feel that any one of the departments has someone that could step in and take over, and that’sleaving Cam and the company very vulnerable.” Barker elaborated: “They are all producers. But theylower overall productivity by not letting the people they hired produce for them. Theirmicromanagement leads to loss of productivity and loss of growth of people in the organization.” Headded, “They struggle to utilize the leadership tools they have available in the organization to motivatetheir teams to reach high-achieving results.”Power DynamicsAt times the executive team’s structure and distribution of power prevented it from performing as acohesive group. A manager compared it to other executive teams he had worked with at other firms: “Ithink that the overall executive team’s power structures in other companies are much more balanced. Here,Finance controls the majority of the company, and also the products.” One executive asserted that theFinance department should be better integrated with the rest of the business, citing specific shortcomings:“The Finance department provides a lot of feedback on what’s wrong but no solutions. Feedback is givento others prior to the people directly responsible for the issue. There are many more questions or steps tosomething that should be simple to execute. There’s a belief that people are not qualified or smart enoughor trustworthy.” Although Cook was a technically competent CFO and seemingly invested in doing rightby Barker, his peers reportedly found him to be difficult and manipulative.The degree of control wielded by Finance, and lack of trust between it and other departments, oftencaused processes to stall when they reached the Finance team. “Finance focuses too often on their needs,without consideration and support for the entire team,” one executive said. “They need to think, ‘Whatcan we do to simplify processes, allowing the other departments to work more efficiently andeffectively?’ Again, it’s the silo approach. Due to Finance’s control, bottlenecks often occur.” In fact,some departments felt so unsupported by Finance that they created new positions and hired their own“shadow finance teams” to meet their needs.At the other end of the power spectrum, the executive team focused so intently on the Howell businessthat it sometimes failed to adequately support Switch Activewear, a subcompany that Barker had recentlyfounded in the past year. Switch Activewear, whose business was manufacturing accessories underlicense to relatively small brands and customization services (applying names, logos, and numbers toapparel), was built to leverage Blake Sports Apparel’s infrastructure, including sourcing, sales, billing,and shipping. By design, it was highly dependent on Blake Sports Apparel’s support. SwitchActivewear’s offices, located in Edinburgh, Scotland, employed about ten people; another couple ofemployees worked in Birmingham at Blake Sports Apparel’s headquarters. Because it had little to do withthe Howell business, it was routinely perceived as a lesser priority. “Cam has a vision that includes SwitchActivewear,” Hermida explained. “With the Blake Sports Apparel team [pursuing] a proven Howellmodel, it is understandable that Switch Activewear is confusing and disruptive. The Switch Activewearteam objective is to create an infrastructure that will be successful in this [Blake Sports Apparel’s]environment.” In a company-wide survey, a Blake Sports Apparel employee commented:There’s a lot going on in Edinburgh. The Switch Activewear team is trying to learn ourprocess, get up to speed, grow the business, and it seems to be overwhelming for them.The Switch Activewear team is having a hard time planning and executing on their own.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together 417-0489It would be more beneficial to focus only on sales [and] business development, and/orget more professional resources to help them take the lead and bring their projects homebefore starting ten others.In Barker’s opinion, the executive team’s slow onboarding of Switch Activewear resulted in fourmonths of lost production and revenue. Processes were not streamlined in a timely manner, and ninemonths after its founding Switch Activewear still lacked a website and online sales capability.The Chief Executive OfficerIn the course of analyzing the dynamics of the executive team, Barker also had to examine his ownleadership. The majority of the team characterized him as a passionate entrepreneur and visionary withboth strengths and shortcomings; he was described as inspiring, empowering, and talented, forexample, but not as a coach to his team. As a self-identified introvert, he admitted to spending littletime engaging socially with colleagues. “I’m not a CEO that needs to be the loudest guy in the room,”Barker said. Hennessy described him as “very good at knowing what buttons to push, and when topush them, in order to get that maximum effort out of people without burning them out.” Thougheffective at driving his executive team to perform, Barker sometimes failed to hold people accountable.“As a group, we talk about what needs to be done, and then I back away,” he admitted. He was alsosomewhat disconnected from the day-to-day details of the business, devoting most of his time tostrategy and to leveraging external resources, such as professional organizations, to help him thinkthrough strategic issues: “I’m not in the weeds. I don’t like the weeds,” he explained. Barker alsoexpressed a preference for succinct summaries of operational issues, accompanied by suggestedsolutions: “I like the summaries, with solutions to the summaries, in regards to what we can do, andwhat we should do.” Barker possessed a willingness to surround himself with people with strongerskills in areas where he needed help, but the company lacked a cross-functional internal leader tooversee day-to-day operations.Barker’s detachment from daily operations was a possible factor in the existence of competingpriorities at the company. Judith Soule, GM International, observed:Sometimes Cam is the one that is causing the chaos in the group, because of all theentrepreneurship and projects he’s working on. I think he sometimes puts things onpeople’s desks that are not aligned with the global strategy for how we want to push theHowell business. He could be stricter, to keep us focused on our main priorities and makesure we’re not getting sidetracked. That’s a difficult one, because in his role as CEO heshould push us, I think; but on the other hand he is also the one that puts these sideprojects on our desks with a deadline of the next 24 hours.Just as the executive team set an example for their subordinates, Barker set the tone for his team. Often,he readily admitted, he presented himself very casually: “A lot of the time I’m in shorts, a t-shirt, and tennisshoes.” The executive team in turn was less than professional in verbal communications with one another.Working toward SolutionsBarker considered it urgent to address the executive team’s challenges. A strong, united team at thetop would position the company better to address the challenges and opportunities of the months andyears ahead: for instance, in addition to taking on the additional Howell product categories and furtherintegrating Howell and Blake Sports Apparel, Blake Sports Apparel would probably need to expandits ecommerce business, implement better systems and processes, increase innovation, help growThis document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together10Switch Sportswear, and reassess its business model. Barker credited the executive team with manysuccesses, but enumerated the ways that its dysfunctional dynamics hurt performance: “We’re missingrevenue, missing opportunities, not making quicker decisions, hurting relationships, and hurtingcommunication. We do lots of good things, but the perception is our management team hates eachother.” The tone set by the executive team also reverberated, impacting how people at all levels of thecompany worked together, as well as how the company was perceived by external parties. “Theexecutive-team members look at one another as competition, not as collaborators. They’re setting anexample,” said Herman. Another employee spelled out the consequences in a company-wide survey:“Executives are not getting along, not dealing with their differences directly, and putting staff in themiddle of their fights, which makes the situation very uncomfortable. It negatively affects employeeinter- and intra-department morale and otherwise great staff relationships.” The tension betweenexecutive-team members also caused some employees to create an allegiance to their respectivedepartment head on the executive team, at times refusing to collaborate with other executive-teammembers, who they viewed as adversaries of their boss and their department.As he turned the ignition, Barker reminded himself that the executive team was capable ofexceptional performance and had supported Blake Sports Apparel through years of sustained growth;its members had been loyal in times of crisis and uncertainty. On the other hand, animosity amongteam members sometimes impeded performance and eroded morale. Executives even badmouthedeach other and reported each other’s mistakes to Barker instead of offering one another support. Theexecutive team itself saw a need for change. Asked to rank their performance as a team, they scoredthemselves 3.2 on a 1–5 scale (individual scores: 2/2/3/3/3/3.5/4/4/4.5). Some members describedthe team as average, “passing, but not honors students,” or “in the middle”; others scored the teamlower for reasons such as “inefficiency due to distractions”; still others assigned the team higher scoresbecause, as one put it, “the company wouldn’t be where it was if the team wasn’t performing at arelatively high level.” Perhaps tellingly, one executive said he would award the team a 4 or a 5 exceptfor one member who deserved a lower mark.Although Blake Sports Apparel had experienced aggregated growth of about 28 percent per yearover the course of the company’s history, in the current year, they were facing growth only in the highsingle digits. Several of their brick-and-mortar customers (including major big box retailers such asSports Authority, Sports Chalet and City Sports) had declared bankruptcy, unable to keep pace withthe increasing dominance of online retailers, such as Amazon. In fact, that same year, almost twohundred sporting goods stores declared bankruptcy, signaling a challenges time for the industry andimpacting several of Blake Sports Apparel’s key accounts. Barker needed the executive team to operateas seamlessly as possible to rebound the next year back into a growth rate of 20+ percent. Furthermore,Barker needed the executive team to work together to reach his longer-term goals for the company:five hundred million dollars in revenue by five years later, and one billion dollars in revenue by tenyears later. Although the company had grown under the leadership of the existing executive team,Barker could not help but wonder how many growth opportunities had been lost due to their inabilityto work together and align themselves for the benefit of the company. He wondered if and how theexisting team would be able to help the company deal with its current challenges and reach itsambitious goals for the future.Barker summarized his challenge as he was starting to see it: “If I don’t do something, the team isgoing to crumble. On this particular team, players need to be traded. Is the team going to dissolve, oram I going to control how it dissolves? How am I going to dissolve it in regard to pace, timing, andwho is going to move on from the group?” Did the team really need to be dismantled? Was there anyway Barker could intervene before the team got to that point? Or was the team already there? Howshould Barker proceed?This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 -11-Exhibit 1 Executive Team: Organizational ChartSource: Company documents.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.417-048 Blake Sports Apparel and Switch Activewear: Bringing the Executive Team Together12Exhibit 2 Executive Team: Biographical InformationAndrew Cook, Chief Financial OfficerJoined nine years ago. Served as controller for approximately six years, and as CFO reporting to Barkerfor three years. Over twenty years finance and accounting experience. Previously worked in positionsranging from controller to CFO at both public and private companies.Zachary Fried, GM of North America SalesJoined Blake Sports Apparel eleven years ago; GM of North America sales reporting to Barker for thepast eight years. Twenty-five years sporting-goods industry experience, including at Howell as internalsales representative, territory sales account executive, and strategic account executive.Christopher Hennessy, Head of Global Product and MerchandisingJoined Blake Sports Apparel nine years ago. Served as director of merchandising and national salesmanager. Head of global product and merchandising reporting to Barker for the past five years.Previously held licensing positions at two global organizations and buying positions at leadingsporting-goods companies.Olivia Hermida, President of Switch ActivewearJoined Switch Activewear last year as a direct report to Barker. Located in Edinburgh, Scotland. Overtwenty years in the sports-accessories business; previous experience co-licensing brands.Jeff Shargel, Chief Operating OfficerJoined eleven years ago as a direct report to Barker. Industrial engineer and executive with over twentyyears of experience developing, growing, and leading supply chain, logistics operations,manufacturing, engineering and information technology.Judith Soule, GM InternationalJoined Blake Sports Apparel four years ago as a direct report to Barker. Located in Munich, Germany.Seventeen years with Howell Europe as merchandising manager, sourcing manager, developmentmanager, sales manager, business-unit director, and merchandising director.Lance Templast, General CounselJoined this year as a direct report to Barker. First general counsel at the company. Over fifteen years ofexperience in general corporate law, strategic business and commercial contracts, M&A, venturecapital, private equity, corporate finance and securities, and provision of counsel to companies withdomestic and international operations.Source: Company documents.Note: Executives are located in Birmingham, England unless otherwise stated.This document is authorized for use only by MIsty Cobb in Leadership in the 21st Century at Strayer University, 2018.
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