Strategic Team Development

Business Team 1: Strategic Team Review & Action Tool

According to Hughes, Beatty, and Dinwoodie (2014), a Strategic Leadership Team (SLT), “refers to individuals who collectively exert significant influence on the strategic direction of a particular business unit, product line, function…division, or company” (p. 285). Together, the five “Business Team 1” members form an SLT.  To analyze the strategic leadership capabilities within our team, we each completed the Strategic Team Review and Action Tool (STRAT) survey and together reviewed and analyzed our average group scores. Outlined below is a summary of our identified top strengths, overall strengths, and areas for improvement.

Strategic Leadership Team’s Identified Top Strengths

High Level of Integrity

As an SLT, we pride ourselves on fostering shared values and a high standard of integrity. Northouse (2010) describes integral leaders as “people who adhere to a strong set of principles and take responsibility for their actions. Leaders with integrity inspire confidence in others because they can be trusted to do what they say they are going to do” (p. 25). Trust and integrity is ingrained in our organizational DNA as all levels and departments have a shared duty to high moral standards. It is the consistency of this practice that produces a greater level of trust and employees are more apt to be vulnerable with one another (Johnson, 2018, p. 338). Our SLT is very knowledgeable of our context, believe in people, and aim to serve and influence change. Johnson (2018) reveals “leaders who possess integrity are true to themselves, reflecting consistency between what they say publicly and how they think and act privately. They live out their values and keep their promises and are honest with their dealings with others” (p. 78). As an SLT, we utilize ethics as our strategic driver and believe if we lead by example, others will follow.

In our discussions, we have discovered some key behaviours cultivating our high level of integrity. First, we take responsibility for our actions and all outcomes occur within the organization as a result of our recommendations. We do not blame others for mistakes or failures. We “make the truth a moral imperative, seek to be truthful in all situations and publicly admit to our mistakes and encourage others to do the same” (Johnson, 2018, p. 78).

Further, we practice servant leadership by caring about the interests and development of others, putting their needs above our own. Through the pursuit of evidence to inform decisions, we strive to exemplify trust through our actions. As a team we also share a moral compass that fosters transparency and dependability. Johnson (2018) states integrity can be a measurement of spiritual climate and ensuring adherence to a code of conduct, honesty, sincerity, and candor can inhibit spirituality (p. 129). Together, we hold a commitment to value ethical principles and encourage others to follow and share the same principles as us.

Trust and Respect in Each Other

It did not surprise us to learn our team has a high level of trust and respect for each other, “since trust is frequently related to integrity” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 163). Hughes et al. (2014) distinguishes between three dimensions of trust; contractual, competence, and communication (p. 163). Our SLT exhibits contractual trust in how we consistently meet our “obligations based on the expectations that have been set” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 163). We understand and trust each other to follow through on our commitments. As a team, we have instilled trust in each other by demonstrating our skills and capabilities in the high quality of work we each produce. Most evident is communication trust which is “the willingness to share information in a timely manner, admit mistakes, tell the truth, keep confidences, and give and receive constructive feedback that opens dialogue when challenges happen” (p. 164). We utilize concepts, such as the cone of confidence, to remind ourselves of the commitment we have made to each other to keep confidences.

Additionally, we regularly practice reflective listening as it “enables you to build trust… allows you to demonstrate that you are listening, defuse any negative emotions the other person may have…and avoid your own pressured reactions” (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 159). Trust in an SLT is vital, because “without trust, team members will have minimal impact on each other. The team will be far less likely to…collectively embrace bold strategic decisions with the levels of commitment essential to championing them throughout the organization” (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 210).

Strategic Leadership Team’s Identified Overall Strengths

Clear about our Basic Purpose and Core Values

Our SLT is clear about our fundamental purpose and core values. Despite our team functioning within a union environment, and being comprised of individuals from several departments within the organization, we are still able to have a cohesive understanding of the purpose of our SLT and the core values that define it. This is due our members internalizing the vision and core values of the organization, resulting in the creation of a distinct corporate culture, crafted through a clear social purpose statement, accompanied by strategic goals with measurable objectives throughout the organizational structure. We could draw on these goals and objectives and then translate them into the underlying purpose of the SLT.

During our formation, we recognized the importance of clarity and a shared understanding of our purpose. As a result, there is a conscious effort to regularly refer to the broader set of strategic goals. These strategic goals were used to create both a purpose statement and core values for our team. Hughes et al. (2014) emphasizes the value of this critical SLT attribute when they posit, “people are committed when they are willing to expand effort toward the needs of the organization, over and above the effort needed to meet their own individual goals” (p. 43).

Our team deliberately remains focused on core values and utilizes this focus to evaluate our work through this lens. This is a difficult practice to instill and maintain, especially given the union/management dichotomy of this team and the resulting team composition challenges. The distraction of urgent tasks that push their way to the forefront of the team’s efforts causes an additional challenge to stay focused on core values. A realization here is there are still short-term tactical efforts required to achieving strategic goals. Hughes et al. (2014) reminded us “people sometimes assume that ‘being strategic’ means focusing on the long term, but that’s only half right. Strategic acting requires attending to both short-term and long-term objectives” (p. 106). Perhaps we would be served well to maintain our long-term focus by briefly reviewing our purpose statement and core values at the outset of each meeting, and then identifying the near-term tactics and deliverables currently required to address our strategic goals. This may allow us to see urgent tasks as a lower priority than the more critical tasks, and empower us to avoid the distraction of fighting fires.

Fosters Cooperation Rather than Competition Across Organizational Units

As a team, we strive to foster cooperation, and focus on serving each other and the team as a whole, instead of competing with each other for attention and resources. Our team has chosen to work through a servant leadership framework to achieve common goals. Lepsinger (2010) cautioned the importance of this when he claimed how “self-interest, and a lack of appreciation for how individual actions impact all participants, undermines cooperation and eventually destroys the ‘common’” (p. 168).

Through self-evaluation, we realized our group invests time in ensuring we have discussed and created a set of norms. Hughes et al. (2014) recognize the necessity for a team to create and adhere to a set of norms to enhance performance and foster a sense of honesty and openness in their communication practices. Our team purposefully fosters cooperation because we feel there is a measurable sense of accountability to each other. This accountability extends to our work, yet we know there will be strong support from our leaders within the organization. This accountability/support tandem is an active enabler of team cooperation.

Despite our challenges indicated in the STRAT assessment, specifically risk-taking, team productivity, and team composition, we are still able to achieve a high level of cooperation. The team realized this when we discussed our cooperative capabilities against questions posed by Hughes et al. (2014) and were challenged to consider how we build and maintain working relationships with coworkers. To further this strength, our team will assess if we negotiate well or alienate others, and evaluate our level of success in gaining cooperation from others who are not directly under our authority.

Our team also has a measurable degree of voluntary cooperation. Galbraith (2014) acknowledged how “today there is great interest in removing barriers and encouraging voluntary cooperation” and further explained how “people cooperate voluntarily when they have relationships with people in other departments and are comfortable working with them.” (p. 78). The structure of our group mimics those where strategic leadership teams consist of people from other departments given the comprehensive and diverse company and organizational makeup of our team.

Lastly, our team’s ability to cooperate stems from our willingness to build relationships while working to address the strategic goals and tactical objectives set in front of us. Lepsinger (2010) boldly states “obviously, it’s more satisfying to work for or with someone who is friendly, cooperative, and supportive than with someone who is cold and impersonal, or worse, hostile, uncooperative, and does not treat others with respect” (pg. 64). Because of this emotional commonality created through the shared experience of the highly demanding nature of our work, we have come to understand our cooperation is partly a result of the team developing this sense of emotional connection.

Welcome Different Opinions

As an SLT, we are working hard to make every possible contribution to our success. Our team values different opinions and believes there must be understanding which comes from the open expression of opinions, feelings, and ideas (Banutu-Gomez & Banutu-Gomez, 2007). For the long-term success of the organization, it is necessary to involve each team member in decision making. We discuss our concerns openly and honestly, and collectively determine a mutually beneficial solution. Individuals feel like a part of the team when they actively participate and express their opinions freely. This helps in boosting the motivation, and a team performs best when all members get a chance to express themselves quickly, and other team members welcome their opinions.

In our SLT, we come together and bring multiple perspectives, different information, and different experiences. Within effective teams, this depth of information is combined in ways that cannot happen with any single individual (Hughes et al., 2014). Each person offers a different perspective, skill and ability, and through our group discussions, we achieve better results. Our strategic leadership team welcomes all opinions, which has helped in building trust and respect between us. Every team member feels involved, which helps in generating healthy communication to discuss problems and collectively decide on a solution.

Strategic Leadership Team’s Identified Areas for Improvement

We Do Not Encourage an Appropriate Level of Risk

As an SLT, we speak about goal-setting and creating an action plan comprised of specific tasks and activities we are each accountable for, but we have not encouraged an appropriate level of risk necessary for success. As a team, we do not spend much time analyzing the level of risk in our planning, strategies, and decisions, nor do we involve others outside our team in our decision-making process. As our SLT has considered implementing an action plan, we need to determine the risks of our actions too. Lepsinger (2010) suggest “many people do not spend much time on this step, because they erroneously believe the development of an action plan is sufficient” (p. 46).

Furthermore, we tend to be comfortable and in agreement with our decisions, and fail to challenge the status quo. We look at the advantages of our decisions but do not explore the risks and potential impacts of our decisions. As an SLT, we have determined four root causes which discourage the appropriate level of risk taking.

First, we do not involve or speak to “the people closest to the action” to make the decisions (Lepsinger, 2010, p. 130). Within our team, we rely on each other as subject matter experts and believe we know the best solution. By having a narrow decision making scale, the outcomes of the decision poses a higher risk to our organization because we do not consult with the front-line staff and allow them to share their risk assessments. We have become biased and are not encompassing multiple perspectives, which consequently might be leaving out options for a better alternative.

Similarly, additional teams outside of our SLT do not challenge our decisions and strategies. We understand SLTs can be this way, as Hughes et al. (2014) states, teams can “consciously or unconsciously adopt a norm of not challenging the leaders’ opinions. Frequently, in these situations, poor decisions result since no one raises relevant information and perspectives” (p. 203). Therefore, we may be making decisions based on inaccuracies, and irrelevant information.

Additionally, we are too comfortable with our organizational strengths and can be complacent of change in our strategy formulation. As a team, we focus on consistency, minimizing error, and reducing risk. We tend to be too comfortable with the status quo and do not challenge risks in our organization, creating little sense of urgency which prevents risk-taking. Kotter (2012) suggests “without a sense of urgency, people won’t give that extra effort that is often essential. They won’t make needed sacrifices and will cling onto the status quo and resist initiatives from above” (p.5). Therefore, we need to look at changing our team’s attitude and mindset to analyze and look at risks when we are making decisions. We must become comfortable with the fact that our decisions may not always result in the success we desire, and view these as learning opportunities. Collins & Porras (2002) suggest “staying in the comfort zone does little to stimulate progress” (p. 100). Identifying opportunities and appropriate levels of risk, which align with our key drivers and values, will allow us to stimulate change and effectiveness in our organization.

Finally, we are unwilling to accept uncertainty which leads to an avoidance of taking risks. Levi (2017) states “in risk-avoidance cultures, social harmony and stability are valued. People want to have rules and norms that define appropriate behaviour, and they prefer things to stay the same so they know what is expected of them” (p. 288). As a strategic leadership team, we are experiencing resistance, and fear the potential for failure. As a strategic leadership team, we need to focus on action items which can be analyzed prior to making decisions, and understand risk can result in positive change.

We Waste Energy on Unproductive Activities

Our SLT understands our direction and mandate within our larger context, but we continue to spend time and energy on unproductive activities that do not effectively further our strategic purpose.  This is evident within our meetings, as well as the strategic solutions we are responsible for developing.  We often fail to achieve the results we would expect, consequently due to the unknown, or little return of investment with some of our strategic initiatives.  In our discussions, we discovered three root causes for this ineffectiveness.

First, we fail to do the necessary work to ensure a plan is appropriate and will yield the required results.  Ungerer et al. (2016) suggest testing ideas through a “firing bullets and then cannonballs” approach for empirical evidence of success with targeted experiments before launching a full-scale strategy (p. 318).   Within this process, valuable knowledge is gained which can be used to adjust the original concept to increase the enduring performance potential (Hughes et al., 2014, p. 22).

We also do not champion the drive to identify both lead and lag measures of critical strategic initiatives we propose (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012, p. 11).  Lag measures are the results metrics or key performance indicators which demonstrates past behaviours are successful.  Lead measures, on the other hand, are predictable leverages influencing team member behaviours (p. 52).  Identifying lead measures maximize and direct our time and energy as an organization towards behaviours directly influencing our defined strategic outcomes.

Finally, we have not looked for opportunities to maximize technology to our benefit.  As an SLT, outside of our regular meetings, our collaborative opportunities are usually confined to emails or impromptu conversations.  This makes communication very difficult and our ongoing collaboration, stilted.  As a result, we will look at an online tool such as Basecamp, Trello, or Asana, to help with the management of our work.

Having challenging, meaningful, and measurable objectives are essential in driving our interest and participation in this strategic leadership team. Our team determined the need to consider and create a way to measure our achievements as being important. Hughes et al. (2014) supported this by stating “selecting the right metrics to assess current performance and future capability is one of the most important things you can do as a strategic leader…[and] your key metrics should be based on your strategic drivers” (p. 113). To do our best at linking these and making sure they “hang together” as Hughes et al. (2014) indicated, we will regularly review our purpose statement and core values to ensure what we are doing and measuring is effectively advancing the strategic goals of the entire organization.

We Do Not Have the Right Composition to Achieve our Purpose

The final weakness of our SLT is we do not have the right composition on our team to operate as effectively and efficiently as we would like. A high level of trust exists within our team, and as a result, we have openly discussed the holes within the represented competencies, skills and expertise we believe we need to further our success. Sometimes the gap in the appropriate composition is due to our working in a unionized environment, where seniority plays a substantial role in the assignment of positions. Other times, the gap is due to our organization’s limited financial resources as we are unable to hire the necessary experts. Given our limitations, we have determined some action steps to address this area of concern.

We plan to inform our supervisor of our concerns, explain why it is crucial these be addressed, and present our plan to fill in the gaps. Our first goal is to determine the best way to manage up and increase our influence of upper management (Hughes et al., 2014). We also want to increase our networking ability, thereby opening doors to resources that were not otherwise available (Hughes et al., 2014). Further, we will recommend our strategic leadership team has the ability to recruit temporary members or contract out expert consultations to provide specific knowledge and expertise for which we are lacking. Our team has a common understanding of the importance of collaboration and we know that it is not a weakness or incompetence but instead contributes to a team’s strength and overall capability (Ungerer, Ungerer, & Herholdt, 2016).

Conclusion

Our SLT identified strengths in cooperating versus competing, in having a clear responsibility to contribute to one or more strategic drivers, demonstrated clarity in our basic purpose and core values, and in welcoming different opinions. We know by capitalizing on these strengths we can focus further on developing our areas for improvement. Now understanding our three weaknesses of not encouraging an appropriate level of risk, wasting energy on unproductive activities, and not having the right composition to achieve our purpose, we can focus on improving our strategic leadership team’s performance potential by transforming our weaknesses into opportunities and strengths. As an SLT, we need to work on improving our strategic effectiveness by focusing on the competencies and actions to allow us to become a more effective strategic leadership team.

References

Banutu-Gomez, M. B., & Banutu-Gomez, S. M. (2007). Leadership and organizational change in a competitive environment. Business Renaissance Quarterly, 2(2), 69.

Collins, J., & Porras, J.I. (2002). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies (1st ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Galbraith, J. R. (2014). Designing organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. C., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, C. (2018). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Kotter, J. (2012). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press

Lepsinger, R. (2010). Closing the execution gap. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Levi, D. (2017). Group dynamics for teams (5th ed.). California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo: Sage

McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. New York, NY: FranklinCovey Co.

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Ungerer, M., Ungerer, G., & Herholdt, J. (2016). Navigating strategic possibilities: Strategy formulation and execution practices to flourish. Randburg: KR Publishing