Sunday 17 December 2017

Teamwork makes dream work in any company

Most business leaders love nothing more than spending a couple of days away from the office, plotting strategy. Agenda items are enticing: breakthroughs into markets, new product development or a step-change improvement in productivity. Experience shows, however, that devising grand plans on a leadership retreat is the easy part. The really tough part is the delivery.

Typically, a leadership team, once it has formed its strategic plan, will present it to the staff -- often with long PowerPoint displays and lots of jargon. They are then surprised and disappointed that people either don't 'get it' or don't show much enthusiasm for implementing it, or both.

Much time then has to be spent selling the new strategy or initiative, helping people make sense of it and dealing with resistance. By not engaging their people earlier, the leadership team has created another problem they have to solve.

A strategy that doesn't get the commitment of staff will usually not be executed well. In extreme cases, a poorly executed strategy can lead to loss of direction, plummeting morale and a downward spiral for the organisation.

At Sheppard Moscow, we encourage the organisations we work with to adopt a radically different approach, one that includes staff at all levels of the business in discussions about strategic plans. This does not mean letting go of the leadership responsibility -- the senior team still makes the decisions.

But they do so by holding deep conversations with people throughout the company, to understand the local reality, elicit new ideas, and ensure staff are kept informed of the strategic intent and their role in that.

This approach is the alternative to 'command and control' but it is not a soft option; it requires rigorous discipline and holding people to account. However, the discipline is maintained through shared values and understanding, not rules and regulations.

It is actually a highly efficient way of working. Although a significant amount of time has to be invested upfront, huge amounts of time and energy are saved subsequently because once people are engaged and committed to the plan, everything moves more quickly.

To function successfully in today's complex environment, organisations increasingly need faster responses and practical actions to solve problems rather than long, drawn-out change programmes.

At the same time, it is critical to get enough participation and ownership to ensure that the entire team is committed to making it happen.

And because business today is too complex and demanding for any leader or group of leaders to have all the answers, getting ideas from people in the frontline and tapping into their creativity, has become a key to competitiveness. Large group processes such as conferences help to address this simultaneous need for speed, ownership and creativity.

At such a conference, you can create an environment whereby people genuinely contribute on an equal basis with their peers, so that everyone can have an input into the core elements of the strategy.

This process of involvement and engagement connects people to each other and to the task and builds relationships that open up channels of communication for the future.

This results in a culture of trust, creativity and collaboration. We believe it is also essential to tie the 'people' exercises to real business issues.

Too many companies restrict strategic discussions to a tiny clique, and then indulge in team-building exercises that are non work-related, such as games or outdoor pursuits.

Our teamwork involves discussing live commercial matters, such as emerging markets or product development, exploring specific roles and new approaches. There will still be space for socialising, but business and team development are seen as part of the same initiative.

Many business strategies fail, but not all do. In our experience the difference lies in the execution and the execution depends upon building a full and shared understanding of where the business needs to go, and everyone's role within it.

Eamonn O'Dwyer is a partner and consultant with Sheppard Moscow, a global organisational consultancy.

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