Best Practice From The Exponential Transformation of Two Airports

There was a need to adapt to the impact of the accelerating technological change.

Tania Hodgkinson

Few industries were as hard hit as the travel industry in 2020. For airports, it meant a dramatic reduction in traffic. The management board at Fraport Twin Star Airport Management in Bulgaria faced the same challenges as most organizations today. First, the need to develop business post-pandemic - a context they were aware, would not be what it was before Covid-19. The second was the need to lead better as a team in increasingly complex and uncertain times. Third, there was a need to adapt to the impact of the accelerating technological change. Another need included a desire to develop further commercial activities at the airports and the challenge to manage two airports only 100 km apart but having their own teams.

Fraport Bulgaria is a traditionally hierarchical and linear business as an asset-based business and a highly regulated industry. Yet, the management board of this successfully profitable business took the disruption as an opportunity to embark on an ambitious transformation - their 'Fit4Future' project.

In collaboration with the CEO, Frank Quante, and the management board, ExO Sprint Coach and Leadership Team Coach Tania Hodgkinson at InnovThink designed a multi-tier leadership development, ExO Training, and Systemic Team Development program. Designed to be delivered in a compressed and intensive period before the all-important summer preparation season, when seasonal staff on demand triples the headcount, Fit4Future combined four elements:

An imagined future 20 years into the future as a catalyst

Visual science fiction storytelling to unlock a vision of traveling

First, the Vision 2040 event is a series of workshops with over 100 company employees, including the full leadership team and 30 partner organizations. With the creators of the SciFiHive from ExO Execute, participants used visual science fiction storytelling to unlock a vision of traveling 20 years hence to 2040. The purpose of starting the Fit4Future project with this approach was to break through limiting assumptions and create barriers in the present. These barriers were a legacy of the socialist history of the country.

Working in 13 carefully selected teams over 4 workshops, the teams collected over 600 data points of exponential technologies, future contextual changes, and emerging business models that powered their imagination to create 13 visual science fiction comic stories. The themes emerging from these stories then formed valuable input into creating a strategic innovation roadmap for the leadership team. This was done by looking at the viability, opportunity, and uniqueness of each theme and prioritizing them based on how they aligned with the MTP and strategy. The themes included developing e-mobility hubs at the airports, creating a regional sustainable tourism ecosystem and connecting it to key markets, and leveraging the existing tangible and intangible airport assets, both land and airside.

Learning to lead systemically in an exponential context

The second element included ExO Training workshops over two days with 50 senior and wider leadership team members. This experiential approach brought working teams together with members from different departments, different airports, and different hierarchical levels that usually did not work together. It also created a new common language, appearing in corridors discussions and around the water cooler.

The third and most comprehensive and intense element of the Fit4Future project brought together the management board and the wider leadership team, all 50 members, to work together systemically as a team.  This involved working together and in groups to align their commission as a leadership team, find their MTP and gain common clarity on their team goals and collective responsibility, and develop how they best co-create towards their future goals and MTP as how they connect with all key stakeholders. Finally, they developed a new approach to continuing to learn and evolve jointly as a team and organization. This systemic cycle included a first learning cycle of workshops followed by a second more implementation-oriented cycle. This newly established systemic team process continues.

Five Sprints at the end of the project and the start of a new process

Five ExO Sprints were shaped from these elements, fully staffed internally with 28 team members across both airports. They were surrounded and supported with two layers of support from the senior leadership team, with 26 of them acting as expert advisers on topics such as regulations (very necessary in such a regulated industry), legal, aviation, commercial, technical, and facilities, as well as mentors, creating a safe environment for the sprint teams to evolve their initiatives. In addition, all 54 gathered every Friday for the full duration of all the sprint team results presentations. This ensured that the leadership team, including the management board, we're on the same journey, shifting their mindset and staying close to the initiatives.

Over the course of the 6 months of the project, Fraport invested over 9000 people hours, resulting in a remarkable transformation start. The key things that turned these ExO Sprints into a successful transformation were first recognizing the urgency and responsibility of the management board to act and drive this project. Secondly, the systemic, rather than linear, approach to transformation. Thirdly, also the development of how the leadership operates systemically and generatively as a team.

The close integration of all the four elements of the Fit4Future project created the momentum towards releasing new potential and energies for Fraport's Twin Star Airports in Bulgaria and new hope for their role at the heart of the Black Sea Coast. Certainly, the active participation of sprint team members, expert advisors, and the weekly presence of the entire management board and leadership team at the sprint results presentations was instrumental in the success of the sprints for the whole organization.

CEO Frank Quante, himself having now certified as an OpenExO Consultant and Systemic Team Coach, said:

“The driving element, the deepest muscle of this project, is the strong responsibility the whole TOP Management of our airports shows towards the employees and the region we are serving with the airports. This gives us enormous credibility inside and outside our company. Especially in a former socialist country like Bulgaria, the switch to a Create-the Future-Yourself - mindset somehow needed a tool like the SciFiHive to unlock our creativity. I was so impressed by our results, especially when managers told me how they grew up in an environment of obedience and repression of free-thinking.

The biggest jump in the project was triggered by shifting to a systemic leadership approach. This created a team spirit that convinced nearly everyone in the organization. The OpenExO methodology was a great tool to direct and harvest the energy we created into innovative business development initiatives. I am very thankful to my team and our coach: Great job!!”


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Exponential OrganizationsAdaptabilityCase StudyExO Sprint

Tania Hodgkinson

Leadership Team Coach. ExO Sprint Coach & Trainer. Purpose Launchpad Mentor.