As a team coach, when I first start working with a new customer’s top team, I’m watching out for as much data as I can gather as the sessions progress. What people say, when they say it, how they say it, their body language, levels of concentration and so - it is all useful information and provides the evidence for when I hold up the mirror back to the team and say “This is what I’m seeing and hearing - it’s what you are saying and doing - what does it tell us?”
Unless there are one or more real team killers, it’s usually unlikely that interpersonal tensions are the main causes of discord. Much more often, the point of disagreement arises around their strategy. Some team members may say that there is no strategy, which is worrying. Others may have different ideas on the exact form and content of their current strategy. Yet more of them may have a view that their current activity (or some of it) is not actually part of their strategy.
Top team performance and strategy
A good strategy is a prerequisite of a successful top team. Without a common purpose and complete buy-in by all members of the team they are never going to be a high performing team. The opposite does not automatically work however, as even with a brilliant strategy a poorly led or wrongly constituted team will still not perform as well as it might.
Rigidity of 3 year plan cycle
The world doesn’t always work in convenient time periods. Whilst it is “normal” to have an annual budget and many organisations have a 3 or 5 year business plan, it is important to realise when things have changed so much that you need to relook at your fundamental plans and goals. Strategy is not just for year end - it’s for when you need it - when things are tough and complicated.
If goals and plans were pots and pans
The other issue is distinguishing between strategy, business plans, budgets, plans etc. Are they all the same thing? And should you have one of each? Well, in general, they tend to divide up something like this:
- Strategy is a statement of your overall goal and how you’re going to get there. Ideally, short and sweet and comprehensible and meaningful to all relevant parties. If your own staff don’t get it, what chance have your customers and financial backers?
- Business plans tend to be the detail of how to deliver the strategy. These often cover a number of years - 3 and 5 year plans are common. This is the tool for detailed resource planning - money, people, investment, equipment etc.
- A budget is usually an even more detailed plan for the coming year against which we measure achievement - usually through the management accounts.
- Plans are for specific projects or developments - usually within the framework of the business plan and/or budget.
Remember, these are all just tools, not religious icons. Use them to help you run and develop your organisation, not as an end in themselves.
All these plans and targets are fine but delivering them is another matter. This is where getting the top team into the right place - willing and able to work together at a strategic level is the key enabler. Without this level of understanding, cooperation and buy-in, even the whizziest of strategies and plans will get nowhere.
Once you’ve done a good job on developing your strategy, you are likely to find that it’s pretty simple. That’s great. Keeping It Simple S*****d is a great approach and will make sure that you have properly drilled down to the key issues.
It will also help you sort out the wood from the trees and get out of the detail. Many teams find this the hardest part of the process. Forgetting about the day to day issues and pressures for long enough to address properly the strategic issues facing the organisation is vital if you are to add any value.
What can help?
- Make sure you are using a comprehensive strategy tool, one which ensures that you look at all the relevant issues and facilitates the involvement of the key people. The process of working through the issues and agreeing on the strategic direction is a fantastic motivator and creates solid buy-in - people really want to get stuck in and deliver the ideas that they help generate.
- Getting the horse before the cart is a big help too. Spend time on top team formation and development - as a team and individually before expecting to be strategy gurus. Strategy development is a team activity and teams need to form and to practice before they perform to their potential.
- This is important stuff so give it the importance it deserves. Allocate enough time to explore the issues - and not just in a single session, take time to revisit and chew over the issues and the points of disagreement.
- Try and involve as many people as possible - having more junior people in the sessions can stimulate great ideas and also helps to spread the word and generate buy-in which is vital if you are serious about implementing the strategy.
- Relate your strategy development and planning processes to the natural rhythm of your organisation. As stated above, just because you’ve always done a 3 year plan, doesn’t mean that the frequency is necessarily right if your market conditions change. This cycle is part of the Norms of the organisation - its natural rhythm. We explored this concept in our blog “Norms - the way we do things round here”.
We can help too
We do a lot of this stuff and we can help you navigate through all the complexity and human issues that face you. In particular, we can help with:
- Strategy models and processes. We have many well proven frameworks that guide you through the process and make sure that you address all the key issues. We can facilitate meetings and workshops and help you maintain focus and come up with a winning strategy.
- Top team development. Our Stellar Programme is a great way to manage individual and team coaching in parallel to create a truly high performing leadership team.
- Advice. If you aren’t sure where to start or how to go about building your strategy and your top team, simply drop us an email or call us on +44 (0)1302 746430 to have a chat. We won’t bite and we may be able to point you in the right direction - we look forward to hearing from you. Good luck.
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Written by Steve Hinton
Steve Hinton is an experienced Executive Coach and Consultant working with Chief Executives, Managing Directors, Senior Executives and other leaders and can work with you to create exceptional and successful leadership teams.
Contact Steve for an informal chat, and take the first step toward your team's super success!