All-Star Case Studies

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2020 Case Study - English Tea Shop

Colombo, Sri Lanka

2019 Revenues:
million (exports)

Employees: 280

Critical Numbers™: Contribution/Sales; Core Business Growth Rate; Cashflow Conversion Cycle











Organization Background

The island nation of Sri Lanka has long been revered for its tea, especially in the United Kingdom. In 2010, Suranga Herath and his team capitalized on that history when they rebranded the business (which was founded in 2001), calling it English Tea Shop. Building on lessons learned from earlier in the company’s history, when it catered to low cost and mass production, English Tea Shop evolved into a premium organic brand. They did that by moving away from the traditional auction model used to buy tea for centuries. To help promote sustainable agriculture practices, the company now buys its tea directly from organic farmers.


In 2014, Herath flew to the U.S. to attend an executive leadership program at Harvard University. He was looking for ideas of how to sustain his business by creating a shared-value model where his employees, farmers, and customers could all thrive together.


One of Herath’s professors, Boris Groysberg, had listed Jack Stack’s The Great Game of Business on a reading list. After reading the book, Herath immediately put together a presentation for his leadership team explaining how The Great Game of Business® (GGOB) was the operating system for their business they were looking for. Despite some concerns about opening their books to the entire team, they made the commitment to start playing Great Game™, and teaching their team to become businesspeople, in 2015.


Within the first 12 months of playing GGOB—what the team calls “The Big Game”—English Tea Shop saw a 31% improvement in productivity, all of which came without any new investments in systems or technology. “While our financials have been strong right throughout, the biggest advantage came from the greater understanding of business,” says Herath. “When everyone started thinking and acting like businesspeople, they understood challenges better, and they applied their knowledge and skills much better. We now have a culture focused on building shared value and win/win partnerships. We are confident we now have a long-term approach that will make us a uniquely sustainable business.”

“It's pushed me out of the comfort zone of my desk and into a level of ownership across the entire company. I'm much more engaged with the entire staff on a daily basis. I feel like I'm part of the company and that I'm not just an employee number and it empowers and motivates me to perform at a high standard on a daily basis.”

~ Ranga Nalin Senanayake, Front Office Associate

Spotlight on the Pandemic

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the English Tea Shop team hasn’t wavered from its weekly huddle rhythm—which they have continued for five years and running. That communication pattern proved to be incredibly valuable as the company weathered the crisis. “It was a huge burden off my shoulders that so many people inside the company had a deep knowledge of our P&L and our balance sheet,” says Herath. “We also relied heavily on our forward forecasting, line of sight and MiniGames™. I’m not sure how we would have handled this kind of scenario, one you could never have planned for, if we weren’t playing GGOB.”

“GGOB has given me a greater sense of involvement and has provided more opportunities for employees to directly influence the way in which the business is run. This has enabled teams to bond more and collectively come up with solutions for obstacles faced by the business.”

~ Thevin Pethiyagoda, Key Account Manager

MiniGame™ Spotlight

The English Tea Shop team has relied on MiniGames to tackle various cost-reduction efforts in its factory and logistics operations over the past few years. They have now embarked on a series of COVID-19 led MiniGames to help them improve their cash collection, inventory turn, and the productivity of their production teams.

What’s Next

Herath and the English Tea team have several targets to revisit and improve upon heading into next year. The first is revisiting their Critical Numbers and Scorecards for 2020/21. The team also sees room to improve the accuracy of its forward-forecasts, which began in 2020. “We see MiniGames, forward forecasting, and High- Involvement Planning™ becoming even more important and put to better use in the new normal, post-COVID world,” says Herath.

“We have confidence in the company and the management, and we feel an ownership in everything the company does, and we are more involved in company planning and goals. I have a better understanding of how the company runs and how it grows and prospers based on our commitment.”

~ Sylvana Fonseka, Assistant Manager, Quality Assurance



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