Case study: TransCanada

North American energy firm uses the Mutual Learning approach to increase efficiency and effectiveness between groups.

TransCanada is a leader in the development and operation of North American energy infrastructure that includes natural gas pipelines, oil pipelines and power generation facilities.

Where We Started

Deborah Goodfellow, TransCanada’s Director of HR Client Services explained a Human Resources initiative:

“TransCanada identified an opportunity to move HR Consultants from transactional HR work to a strategic partner model. Our goal was for HR Consultants to work with clients to identify people solutions that support the overall achievement of business objectives. This work included helping teams increase their overall effectiveness through in-depth diagnostic, analysis and intervention as well as leadership coaching.”

TransCanada hired Roger Schwarz & Associates (RSA) to work with a group of internal HR Consultants to teach the Mutual Learning approach to accomplish these goals.

Shortly after the work began, a critical issue emerged. Two internal business groups who provide important support to large capital projects found themselves in a “pressure cooker situation.” These groups were working on a complex capital-intensive project. Their ability to influence the project in a positive way and get the work done was at risk due to a challenge in clarifying:

  • Who got to make final decisions
  • Who had accountability for results

Two Human Resource Consultants (HRCs) applied the Mutual Learning approach to help the groups work through their challenges.

“Both groups told us they were having problems clarifying accountabilities and boundaries. The situation had escalated to the point where productivity was impacted and they weren’t interacting effectively. Issues surfaced up to senior levels for action and decision-making.”

The Work

Deb Fairbanks, one of the HRCs involved, explained the work with the two groups:

“We saw that we needed to create a forum where leaders, and all team members, could come together to discuss the challenges and share relevant information and perspectives.”

In the larger group session, the HRCs started by introducing the Mutual Learning approach’s Eight Behaviors for Smarter Teams. The Eight Behaviors gave the participants a shared understanding with which to approach the working session. HRC Charman Cross explained:

“Once we identified the issues, we discovered that perspectives differed about who had accountability for decision making. It was a challenge for everyone involved to balance the legitimate priorities of both groups.”

Because the participants were clear on the Eight Behaviors, the meeting produced the desired outcome:

“The leaders were engaged right out of the gate: they took accountability for how we got here and articulated a vision for where we want to go. Then, the groups asked: ‘How do we put process in place? What do we actually need to do to effectively deliver on our respective accountabilities?’ In the large group forum the participants jointly defined how the groups would work together going forward. Then, in follow up work, we put the processes in place.”

The Results

The HRCs attribute the groups’ success to the introduction of the Mutual Learning approach. Deb Fairbanks explained:

“The work environment and working relationships became more solutions-focused. The groups now have processes in place to deal with challenges associated with working on large, complex projects as well as conflicting perspectives inherent in executing day-to-day activities. There is an absolute understanding of accountability and the value of the Mutual Learning approach to improve business effectiveness and efficiency.”

Charman Cross elaborated:

“The crux of the work was the forum where the teams could share relevant information, talk about the issues and understand one another’s perspectives.

Hearing different perspectives helped people understand how the process needed to evolve: where it needed to be flexible and where it needed to be more rigid. As a result of our work, working relationships are more effective. People are now able to use what they learned, the tools and approach, and apply them to other processes and interactions.”

Deborah Goodfellow sums up the benefits of the Mutual Learning approach:

“You can be a more effective leadership team if you use a Mutual Learning mindset to help understand diverse views, work through the challenges and increase collaboration. You will get a better business outcome.”