“Give me a bad strategy and a great team and I’ll win almost every time. Give me a good strategy and a [blank] team and we’re bound to fail,” is how one CFO and former head strategist in the CEB network described the importance of teams.
The reality for most companies is that after you’ve burned incense, praised the new shiny “thing,” and rallied the troops, there are two likely outcomes of any strategy planning session.
You have too many ideas that can’t be fully resourced.
You need to create teams to implement the great ideas.
Most companies struggle mightily with number one (see “Apple, Microsoft, and the Seven Rules of Investment Decision Making” for more on that topic) and number two is done poorly, if at all.
Many times “the team” is a set of volunteers that has neither the ability nor structure to succeed. Companies that are successful in implementing strategy with teams do five things well.
Explicitly identify the capabilities needed to execute against strategy: Determine what capabilities are needed to successfully implement the strategy. Most companies never explicitly define the capabilities needed, so they never even know if their strategy failed or if it was an execution problem.
When companies do suss out their capabilities and then use a capability matrix to understand whether they have the right people in place, they find they have no team that can execute against key high-level strategies. See the CEB whitepaper “Avoiding the Growth Talent Trap” for more on how companies use capability matrices.
Design teams that have complementery competencies and share values and work styles: CEB research shows network performance thrives when firms put teams together that have complementary skills, shared values, share similar working styles, and have the capacity to execute.
You don’t want a team that “gets along” or is a team of “mini-mes”, you need to focus instead on the right mix of skills with the right values and then create a work stream that enhances their collaborative strengths. One company physically moved strategic teams to an adjoining office. The right team fills in the gaps for peers’ lack of competencies and develops into a whole that’s worth many times more than the sum of the parts.
Consider the networks (formal, informal, extended and future) necessary to execute strategy: Define the “strategic ecosystems” the team has to operate in. As mentioned in “Stop Cascading Strategy“, one person in one location can bring down strategy. Take time to identify your networks and create a plan to reach mutual accountability and shared vision around your initiatives.
Revisit and pressure test assumptions with their networks: Once you’ve fully considered the capabilities needed to implement the strategy and defined your networks, revisit the assumptions that underpin your strategy and share those with your networks.
They will give you valuable feedback and in some cases argue for funding and resources to help you complete your initiatives. If there are weak links in the chain, now is the time to find them, not in the strategy review a year later.
Create an operational rhythm with accountability: Finally, you need an operational rhythm and review, a cadence of accountability that identifies risks and opportunities, helps the team respond. When failures and roadblocks arise it’s critical for teams to quickly and blamelessly reorient and move on.
In the military they refer to this as the OODA loop: “observe, orient, decide, and act.” If you’re not meeting about strategy at least quarterly, you’ll have little chance of adapting and executing. Many firms now have “weekly” strategy meetings to share what they’ve experience and worked on. To quote nineteenth century German field marshall Helmuth von Moltke, “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.”
This post is excerpted from the CEB whitepaper, “Avoiding the Growth Talent Trap”.