My first management role was as Classified Advertising Manager of two daily broadsheet newspapers, and the obstacles would have been a challenge even for a seasoned manager.

Most of the phone rooms that took the ads weren’t speaking to each other. One would give a message to the person next to her to pass to the person facing her across the desk.

I was expected to increase the classifieds but the printer’s union, under which my phone room was placed, said I was not allowed to teach them to sell.

Another way I could have increased the classification was to use the sales reps. But, they didn’t get a commission if they placed any ads in the classified section. Hence, classifieds had no priority for them.

I looked to the existing management team for a role model or mentor. But the big goal for the management team was to join the 12-year club. That’s right, once they had been a manager for 12 years, they were taken out to dinner once a month.

So, what to do? There were so many issues within the classified department, but I had only been in the management role for five minutes!

So, I called a “Customer Service” meeting after hours, paid for the phone room overtime, supplied a cask of wine, and gave them the problems to solve. After all, most of them had been working in the phone room for years.

We started the session with some “Customer Service” training. If they could get more information, the client was more likely to have a successful advert. So, we looked at all the questions we could ask to make a good advert. Just so you and the printers’ union know, that was not upselling, just good customer service!

Then I started throwing problems at them. They forgot they weren’t speaking to each other and brainstormed ideas. Some, they already knew the answers to, but no one had thought to ask them. Others were not just our problem; they were industry problems. And this little phone room transformed into a creative, vibrant team coming up with suggestion after suggestion. The room hummed with energy.

After an hour, I tried to wind up the meeting, but they weren’t finished yet. Fifteen minutes later, I tried again only to be ignored. Fifteen minutes later again, I kicked them all out and they left, still discussing the issues.

The next day, I had a stream of ladies into my office with still more ideas and suggestions. It was the start of a successful department, a creative team and the start of a dramatic increase in the classified section.

That was the birth of my journey of transforming groups of discontented people into high-performing teams. And this is what I teach my clients today.

And it was one of the many case studies in my first book, Team Play, Strategies for Successful People Management –

And the ironic result was that the Managing Director insisted the other managers sit in and observe my training sessions to learn how to motivate their teams.