I conducted interviews and wrote these case studies to highlight what Nora Ludviksen brings to her clients.
Re-Wiring Communication and Getting Back to Work: A conversation with RB – Vice President, consumer reporting agency, Seattle
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this job anymore.”
RB had two decades of experience at a Seattle consumer reporting agency when she was tapped to be Vice President and General Manager. She’d already noticed some communication problems with the leadership team, but she figured they were inevitable given the many personalities and communication styles.
The team was put to the test when it took on a major operating system upgrade. It was ‘all hands on deck,’ and everything came to a boiling point. The fissures could no longer be avoided.
“It had gotten to where trust was completely eroded,” said RB. “And I realized I didn’t have the right tools to handle such complex issues. I needed help.”
Interpersonal Problems are Work Problems
Problems became apparent in many ways, threatening the productivity of the small office. An over-reliance on email contributed to miscommunication and a sense of disconnection. Emails were often interpreted through a lens of suspicion, causing anger and hurt feelings. Some people didn’t want to communicate at all because they feared others might take offense. The leadership team held weekly conference calls, but there was scant participation because people were so guarded – or downright mad.
“I was constantly on alert,” said RB. “I felt like I had to be on the lookout for something to erupt. One email might set someone off and they’d be so upset they would call in sick the next day.”
To their credit, the leadership team recognized there were problems. They also knew they weren’t going to fix them alone. Out of their frustration and anxiety came a resolve to find a solution.
Coming to The Table
“When I found Nora, it was a lifesaver,” said RB. “She has the most amazing way of approaching communication challenges with professionalism, inquisitiveness, and caring. She became our communication consultant as well as an executive coach for me and my team.”
After interviewing each person in a confidential phone call, Nora helped the team learn about their personal communication styles through individual assessments and a series of group exercises. The aim was to better understand each other and practice new ways of interacting that would help repair trust and create a work environment everyone would want to be a part of.
RB describes it as a transformative experience; “It was uncomfortable. It was emotional for all of us. It was not easy, but we learned a lot about each other during the process.”
With Nora by their side, the team discovered what it meant to truly communicate and support each other. RB discovered something as well. She’s finding the leader she wants to be; a confident coach and mentor.
“I knew I had it in me. I just had to find it,” said RB. Sometimes she feels amazed at how far the team has come. “I never thought I’d feel such a sense of calm.”
Practicing New Skills; Using New Tools
The team understands it’s all still a work in progress. As they began working remotely due to COVID-19, RB made a point to check in frequently with each of them. Everyone began seeing more measured communication, more forgiveness, and a return to collaboration. Team members are now helping each other and engaging productively during meetings. As an added benefit, their new communication tools have improved interactions with clients, too.
“Nora has become an important member of my team. She’s there as a resource for all of us. In the future we may bring her in for a refresher and go through some of the exercises again. It will be exciting to see how far we’ve come.”
Building on a Vision of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A conversation with Alex Rolluda, President of Rolluda Architects
“Our leadership team meetings are like barbarians around a table – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Alex Rolluda, President of Rolluda Architects, gets a kick out of the expressive energy of his leadership team, and their willingness to fight for their opinions. “But once we make a decision,” he said, “we all need to align and move forward.”
This kind of creative tension isn’t easy to balance. When personalities get tangled, outside coaching and sometimes mediation helps rebuild trust and open channels of communication. Nora’s first assignment with Rolluda was to mediate interpersonal issues between key staff that threatened to disrupt the collaboration the firm cherishes.
“Nora’s architecture background is a real plus because she knows how we think and process,” said Alex. “As we got to know Nora, we also started talking about solidifying our mission, vision, and values.”
Success on his own terms
The values Alex carries with him go back to the beginning of his career when his graduate school professor called him into his office to offer some advice: Architecture might not be the right field for a Filipino man. Alex took this as a challenge.
“I decided to prove him wrong,” Alex said. “And I did.”
Alex knew that success would have to be on his own terms. After paying their dues at established firms, he and his partner Gary Scott started Rolluda/Scott Architects in 1996. In 2000, the firm became Rolluda Architects and eventually grew substantially to 20 architects. Then came 2008 and the financial crisis.
Learning together through crisis
“It was bleak. We had to go into survival mode,” said Alex. “Within a year, we were down to seven architects.”
Initially the firm had to focus on stabilizing and re-building. When they were on steadier footing, Rolluda understood it wasn’t just talent and hard work that got them through. Culture was key.
The experience showed Alex the importance of nurturing a loyal and dedicated team. “The people who stuck with us sacrificed a lot,” said Alex. “Today they’re all principals on my leadership team.”
Grounding in what’s most important
“We started to realize our values were very important to us,” said Alex. “We didn’t just want to be big, award-winning, or successful. We wanted to intentionally build in values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Each member of the leadership team had their own take on the firm’s values. As a talented, diverse, and confident team, they were passionate about creating something bigger than themselves. But they needed a way to bring their myriad ideas together.
Nora led a series of retreat workshops to help them articulate to each other what was important. Then she facilitated group conversations to merge those individual values into core values for the firm.
A magical moment
That’s when something remarkable happened: In the midst of an intense brainstorming session, Alex sat back and scanned the sheets of notes and whiteboard scrawls on the walls of their workshop room. He suddenly saw the synthesis of values, vision, and mission in one clear image. “I see a…Mandala!” he exclaimed, rushing to grab a marker and sketch it on the flipchart. His colleagues watched in rapt silence and then started murmuring as they caught on and joined his excitement.
The Mandala shows how the firm’s values, mission, and vision are linked, with the value of “respect” at the core. Together, they articulated a more refined vision: Transforming architecture through the power of collaboration and diversity.
“It suddenly became so clear,” said Alex. “But it took somebody special to get that insight out of us. That was Nora.”
Learning what it means to be a leader
Alex describes Nora’s process was both structured and flexible. He remembers a particularly poignant moment when his team was broken up to work in groups. But he was the odd man out. “Nora took me aside and said, ‘This round, you just stand with me and observe. This is your team. Watch how they interact; observe their strengths, their body language.’ It was powerful.”
Alex still carries that feeling with him: The importance of being a member of the team while at the same time being its leader.
Bringing what’s inside out
Alex and his 10-person leadership team value their ongoing relationship with Nora. Over the past three years she has facilitated discussion of issues that can otherwise get lost in the intensity of day-to-day work.
“We see Nora as an intuitive guide,” said Alex. “She has this ability to get you where you need to be by mining the information that’s already inside you.”
By participating in Nora’s virtual Fearless Leader Executive Forum since the start of COVID, Alex has gained insights from other senior-level leaders who share their ideas and worries with Nora as a guide.
He also has Nora leading monthly listening circles to create a safe place where the entire Rolluda “family” can talk about what they’re going through during the isolation of the pandemic.
“Seeing each employee as an individual and solidifying our values helps us build loyalty and a clear sense of purpose,” said Alex. “Our Mandala represents our commitment to a higher vision, and Nora helped us get there.”