Which comes first, strategy or team effectiveness?

February 10, 2014
Executive team sitting around a flip chart
One of my great passions is facilitating business strategy sessions. As I’ve told you before, I’m a junkie for business and facilitating strategy gives me a taste of so many different businesses that I’m like a kid in a candy store.
But almost every time I facilitate a strategy session, I realize why my work in improving team dynamics is so important: poor team dynamics undermine strategy. If any of the following are happening on your team, you need to address the team issues before engaging in your strategy process.

1. Groupthink

This is a really tough thing to spot because the most common experience of being on a team with groupthink is just how great it feels. You probably think you’re on the healthiest team of your career. Everyone motors through decisions; you’re so aligned. Watch out! Teams where everyone thinks alike will miss strategic opportunities, downplay strategic threats, and drive to answers superficially. If there is too little constructive dissent on your team, don’t bother doing a strategy process without finding a way to dial up the diversity of thought.

2. Bullying

Dominant members of the team who steamroll others into their perspectives are a significant risk to your strategy process. Unfortunately, many people on your team are so wired for harmony, they will just give in rather than endlessly battle with a combative teammate. The loudest voice will prevail but that gives you no guarantee that the best strategy will be chosen. You might even resent the bully so much you will sabotage the strategy. 

3. Functional Blinders

One of the extremely common team dysfunctions that is apparent in strategic planning is siloed, functional thinking. In this case, you weigh in only when the issue pertains directly to your business or corporate area. The result is conservative, status quo thinking that reinforces what is at the expense of what could be. Many an organization has gone the way of the dodo bird because strategy sessions didn’t expose the risks in the status quo. Will yours be one of them? Read more about the challenge of wearing your corporate hat here

4. Passive Aggressiveness

Engaging in a strategy process with a passive-aggressive team is like walking through a fun house hall of mirrors: nothing is as it seems. Your disagreements are muted, obscured by use of sarcasm, or hidden all together. It feels as if each session is the first because decisions that had been made are reopened in the interim. Because you have so much frustration bottled up, you mistake strategic issues for personal attacks and the entire discussion becomes fraught with emotion. 

5. Gang wars

If your team has factions and any version of corporate rumbles or drag races, you need to address those issues before attempting a strategy process. Any strategic discussion will be so clouded by how potential actions will affect you that there’s no hope of anything useful being accomplished. There will probably be so much yelling and table pounding that you’ll give up and stick with the current plan. Even if you try to do something different, the risk is that skunkworks projects continue within the camps.   
If you think logically about first things first, it make sense that you would do strategic planning before addressing team effectiveness. Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way. If your team has a strategic planning process in your future, invest in healthy team dynamics first.
For more tips and tools to make your team more effective, visit www.changeyourteam.com
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