What’s the first thing you, as a business executive, do when you need to tackle big issues like closing the gap on operating margins, creating better operations processes, or identifying the best new path to growth and development?
Chances are you put together a strategic team.
An integral part of any organization, a strategic team is tasked with making strategy happen. It solves big-picture problems and moves the needle on important issues at a high — and highly tactical — level.
Connecting the why, what, and how of a company’s strategic agenda, a strategic team serves as the engine driving an organization’s strategic plan forward by pulling together its directional aspects, the connective elements that guide its overall integration, and the action map for its execution.
A strategic team’s fundamental mission is to move forward an organization’s strategic agenda — that is, the plan for the direction, integration, and execution of strategy for growth, performance, and change within the organization at various levels. Some agendas are designed to improve processes and systems. Others are built to support change at one level or another. Whether it’s operations and growth or new market directions — policy revisions or business model evolutions — strategic teams are the entities that get it done.
The 10 Imperatives of Strategic Teams
Today’s business environment is rife with constantly evolving communications technology; heightened competition; the growing sophistication of employee performance systems; the rise of business operating systems; and the growing pressure for everything to be better, smarter, cheaper, and faster. As a result, strategic teams find themselves fulfilling an ever-expanding raft of imperatives. And for each imperative, a different type of strategic team is needed.
That said, in my work with a broad array of corporate, institutional, and nonprofit organizations, I’ve observed that strategic teams of all kinds typically do the following 10 things:
1. Building Talent Supply Chains
Strategic teams help companies find ways to steadily provide and develop competent, motivated, connected, adaptive, and persistent talent.
Where do we find the talent? How do we keep finding the talent so we can avoid the pitfalls of no talent in the pool? Strategic teams answer these questions.
2. Providing Strong Project Teams and Reserves
For any project, strategic teams make sure all key roles are filled — and they make sure the people in those roles are properly set up and supported to do what they need to do.
3. Ensuring a Strong and Agile Strategic Team Culture
A strategic team is only as good as its culture — that is, the way people behave in practice. This is not to be confused with what’s written in culture statements or decks. All too often, people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Strategic teams make sure the talk and the walk are aligned.
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4. Creating Learning and Development Pathways
Strategic teams can inspire and inform the most effective pathways in learning and development, providing an ongoing base of education and knowledge. In a process often referred to as “translation,” they also help make learning and development more effective by ensuring that everybody is on the same page about what information and messages are being conveyed — and what they mean.
5. Modeling the Power of Effective Collaboration
Strategic teams can demonstrate what collaboration means for the success of the organization, shaping the ways people work together to advance capacity, progress, and adaptation.
6. Providing Effective Change Leadership and Management
When big change comes, there are all sorts of pitfalls an organization must watch out for, from communication to knowledge cascades. Strategic teams are working on what matters and counts today while getting ready for tomorrow.
7. Building Influence and Credibility for Strategic Initiatives
By connecting different perspectives, ideas, and insights to shape efforts and impact, a strategic team can get staff buy-in for any new initiative and create a positive culture around the change.
8. Crystallizing Everyday Awareness, Maze Sense, and Attention
Organizations sometimes lose the forest for the trees. Strategic teams can bring forth the clearest picture of decision-making, risk management, and problem-solving from the highest to the most granular level.
9. Enhancing the Power of Strategic Conversation
Finding the most effective way to communicate the challenges facing an organization is no mean feat. By bringing the essence of strategic challenges, issues, and decision options into everyday engagement, strategic teams can help bridge that gap.
10. Shaping the Vision for Smart, Forward-Looking Aspirations
Strategic teams have the luxury of being proactive, not reactive. They are convened to think ahead in a way that few organizations can do on a daily basis. As such, they are constantly taking action to meet short-term goals while simultaneously thinking ahead to, and preparing for, the actions needed to achieve longer-term goals.
Adhering to the Cultural Agenda
All of the above must take place in the context of the organization’s cultural agenda — that is, the foundations for and expression of the primary rules for making strategy happen. With these elements framing a strategic team’s mission and design, the team is poised to meet the imperatives above and tackle the major problems the organization must address to succeed and grow.
Daniel Wolf is president and cofounder of Dewar Sloan and the author of Strategic Teams and Development: The FieldBook for People Making Strategy Happen.