Case Study - Transforming A Team in Three Months


Like many technology organizations, Sysco Foods was embarking on an agile transformation. I was brought in as a consultant after several small-scale transformations completed. The previous transformations involved eight months to year-long engagements with multiple consultants engaged the whole time. This was not sustainable for the client, and they needed to see what was possible with one consultant.


I engaged with the team I was to focus my attention on. They were a service and support team with strict Service Level Agreements for incident resolution, and the team was distributed across India, England, and the US. The team witnessed the previous transformations, and they did not want to experience the same thing.

Three months later, the team’s manager said, “I don’t ever want to go back to the way we worked before.”

The company employed several assessments that covered everything from culture and teamwork to database governance. The previous transformations were set to achieve a level 4 across many of the measures. My job was to do the same.

In three months, my team assessed higher in more categories than the other transformed teams.

Previous transformations focused primarily on the typical meeting structures and technical practices and relied heavily on pairing consultants to employees for entire workdays. I took a more human-centered approach and focused my attention on building a team.

I conducted interviews with each team member, initiated one-on-ones that focused on individual coaching and prepared to have a multi-day team kickoff. The kickoff concentrated on three elements:

  • Designing and agreeing to be a part of a team
  • Understanding Kanban as a way to visualize and manage work
  • Prioritizing activities to strengthen the team

After the kickoff, I focused on re-enforcing the ideas and commitments the team made amongst themselves. Within the first week, they were talking and collaborating more. The manager, who previously controlled the team’s activities through daily assignment, found he didn’t have to manage the tasks closely as the team took responsibility themselves. He shifted his focus to working side-by-side with them, which he missed when he became a manager.

I showed them by leveraging Kanban how to visualize and manage their work, which led them to take on project work that previously they never had time for. It was slow and inconsistent at first, but the team and senior leadership were thrilled at the team’s additional capacity.

Results and Conclusion

  • $1.9 million in savings for transformation effort
  • Team assessed higher (4+) in every desired capability
  • Additional capacity allowed for project work to start
  • No disruptions to existing Service Level Agreements
  • Manager said, “I don’t ever want to go back to the way we worked before.”

The key elements that I employed when joining were:

  1. Establish personal coaching relationships with each member
  2. Team-centric kickoff
  3. Daily re-enforcement of the team’s desires
  4. Kanban visualization for work management