Use of Team Management Profile within a Korean Company in Seoul

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Copyright © Graham Nisbet. All rights reserved.


I was approached by a life insurance company in Seoul, South Korea to assist them to develop a business improvement strategy. The company had been going through some significant changes and had realigned its sales distribution structure, letting about half of its sales staff go.

It was now ready to address some fundamental issues on its corporate direction and on the dynamics of the executive team. The life insurance industry in Korea is heavily government regulated and dominated by a few very large local insurers. The company I worked with is one of the few foreign owned life companies. It had begun only a few years before as a branch of a North American company, but had been locally incorporated in the mid 90s. The current chief executive had ascended to the president's chair about a year beforehand.

I communicated extensively with them in the months up to August, when I made my first visit. I spent a week or so there, speaking with each of the significant voices, and scoping both the size of the challenge and some strategies that might assist. They had first approached me to help develop what they called a TQM program. After my first visit, it was obvious that a key component to the success of their TQM initiative, would be the ability of the top team to speak with one voice.

The top team consisted of eight intelligent and articulate men. While they were very polite to one another, there were some concerns about the way their colleagues went about doing things. In my discussions with them I found that:

  1. They had no clear and agreed direction for the company, and no articulated vision, mission or values.

  2. They were quite different individuals, and tended to think that those who worked differently to themselves were simply wrong.

Solution Development

I suggested that it would be useful if the executive committee could spend a few days together and address both of these critical issues. They agreed and a conference was set for December. I could get three days of their time and the challenge was to decide how to spend that time most profitably.

We decided that the agenda would include:

1. Background to TQM and the key success factors for any business improvement initiative.
2. Understanding individual differences using the Team Management Profile Questionnaire (TMPQ)
3. Determining a strategic intent for the company and agreeing vision, mission and values.

While I had conducted similar sessions with Australian executive teams, I hadn't previously attempted to facilitate sessions in Korea. Not only had I not previously worked in Korea, but the Team Management Profile Questionnaire (TMPQ) had not previously been used there either.

My first step was to contact Team Management Systems (TMS) and decide how we would go about using it. I knew from my first visit to Seoul that all of the executive team had a pretty fair ability to communicate in English. While English was a second language for all of them, only six of the eight were Korean. One was French Canadian and the other a Dutchman. These latter two had very well developed English skills from having worked in English speaking environments for many years. Of the rest, all bar one had good expressive English and they could all read English competently.

The challenge was whether or not they would clearly understand all of the words in TMPQ. If they misinterpreted the English it was possible that their Profile result could be muddied. As I was the first person to want to use the questionnaire in Korea, TMS didn't have a Korean translation available. But they did point me in the right direction to find a suitable translator. Getting it translated was much easier than I had thought it might have been.

Armed with a copy of the questionnaire suitably translated, I got the Korean group members to complete the questionnaire and had it processed in the usual way. It would have been significantly expensive to have translated their Profile reports also into Korean. So I decided that I would present them with the usual English version. In the event that worked very well. While there were a handful of queries on some of the terminology in the reports, there were probably no more than I tend to get in any group of English speaking managers.

Team Management Profile Workshop Delivery

I took the Profile reports with me to the conference in Seoul in December. The executive committee members that attended the conference consisted of the President, two professional actuaries, the IT and administration directors, two sales executives and the internal auditor. The Profile results told me that we had:

  1. 3 Assessor-Developers

  2. 2 Thruster-Organizers

  3. 1 Concluder-Producer

  4. 2 Controller-Inspectors

As a team their strength lay in the Organizing and Controlling parts of the Wheel. One of the team members had a related role in the Creator-Innovator part of the Wheel and there were three who had related roles in each of the Explorer-Promoter and Upholder-Maintainer roles. By the time I factored in the related roles, the only team role preference completely missing from the team was the Reporter-Adviser. So, on paper, they had a good potential to be a well balanced and effective team. Their challenge was to learn to value their differences, rather than to have them as a source of conflict.

As we went through the workshop there were a number of 'ah ha' experiences for the participants. Two of the Assessor-Developers for example expressed that it explained a lot to them knowing that the other had the same role preference. While they were comfortable with similar ways of operating, they had a history of clashing. As we processed this a bit further we discovered that they were both quite adept at developing workable plans. They both tended to develop their own plans and then get cross with the other for not following them! In an Assessor-Developer kind of way, they were both then prone to deciding to just get on and implement their own plans without any further reference to the other, leaving any number of staff and the other executive team members somewhat confused.

Another participant, a Thruster-Organizer, was apparently being spoken to about his performance and his continued membership of the team was under a cloud. While the issues that led to the president thinking about replacing him were complex, it was exacerbated, I expect, by the Thruster's tendency to get on and try to hit his targets, even when they no longer agreed with the president's objectives. The president, a Controller-Inspector, was most comfortable making reasoned decisions based on detailed information and so had an approach that was quite different to the Thruster-Organizer's "lets get on with it".

Evaluation of Using the TMP in Korea

The members of the executive team felt that the TMP had high face validity. That is, when they got the results they said things like, "ah yes, that seems like me". Furthermore the results seemed to align pretty well with the way that they saw each other "ah, that is him!". Certainly from my discussions with them on the earlier trip and from the way that they behaved during the conference, they all exhibited behaviors consistent with their Profile results.

The use of the Profile was very powerful for them. Having distributed and debriefed the Profiles, they were then, I think for the first time, happy to discuss their individual views on where the company was going. In the space of a day we then developed a common, agreed statement of corporate vision, along with a description of the values that they expected their staff to hold. Further, they were able to enunciate examples of the behaviors they expected to see from staff who held those values.

Immediately following the executive conference, the president called the company staff together and briefed them on the results of the conference. He announced to them the vision, mission, values and behaviors that the executive had agreed.

He expected the executive team members to be reinforcing the vision and values. At each regular executive committee meeting following the conference, he would begin the agenda by asking each one around the table to give an example of the way the values were being lived out in his part of the company. I sat in on one of these meetings. In his thorough, Controller-Inspector way, the president went around the table and asked each one to share his experiences. If any couldn't think of an example, he politely told them that he would come back to them later and moved on. And true to his word, he would revisit each one, until everyone had contributed.

On a subsequent trip to Seoul, I took a group of more junior staff through the TMPQ. This second group were all Korean nationals, and while they read English quite well, their conversational English was not as well developed. For this group, I am not as confident that the exercise was as successful as it had been with the executive team. We had again used the Korean translation of the questionnaire and produced the reports in English. This second group had a number of questions on what some of the English words in their reports meant. Also, within the Korean culture it is not usual for someone to openly question a teacher, so I suspect that there may have been even more questions in their minds but they didn't articulate them to me.


My use of the TMPQ in Korea, especially with the executive team, underlined for me again its power as a tool to understand the contribution different individuals make to teams. To be confident that the individuals understand their profiles, a fair level of English understanding is needed. It is certainly worth the cost of translating the questionnaire into the native tongue of people living in non-English speaking environments. But to use it extensively in these environments, it may be worthwhile to also have the profile reports translated by TMS.

My experience was with a small sample group. While it doesn't represent a robust scientific study, the Profile reports seem valid for the people I worked with, whatever culture they had grown up in. Those I worked with used language appropriate to their culture, but seemed to behave in a way consistent with their Profiles.

The company launched its TQM program, conducted various customer surveys, improved its processes and so on. Along with a refocused quality sales effort, under a new sales director, the company experienced quite good success following that pivotal conference and continued to trade well through the subsequent downturn in the Asian economy. While the success of the TMPQ with the executive team is not by any means the only reason for the company's ongoing success, I am confident that it played a very important part.

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