This is the second article in my series that explores how managers at every level can use strategic thinking techniques to increase their team’s effectiveness and their impact as a leader. The first article covered the first steps to
creating a strategy
that is simple, relevant, and achievable and that keeps up with the pace of change in today's business environments.
“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”—Zig Ziglar
A quick internet search of “What makes teams successful?” brings up hundreds of lists and opinions. What’s mentioned most, even more than communication and leadership, are “purpose” and “common goals.”
Purpose and goals are about aspiration. When people believe that their actions will result in something better than today, they will do whatever they can to achieve it.
- Good managers strive to achieve the goals set for their team.
- Good leaders know that it is the team that achieves its goals, not the manager.
- Great leaders rally their team members around a common purpose, then do whatever it takes to support team members as they strive to achieve that purpose.
Strategic thinking helps leaders to turn good teams into high-performing teams by fostering belief in a common purpose. Here are some ways that every manager can use strategic thinking to achieve this, no matter what level they are.
Start Where the Team Is Now
Too many great ideas have been wrecked because they were imposed on a team without taking its members into account. If people don’t believe in an idea, or if it is alien to the way things are today, it will not succeed. People work hard to define their place in a team. They have figured out how to align their personal objectives to the objectives of the team. They are heavily invested in the way things are today—even those who spend a lot of time complaining.
If people don’t believe in an idea, it will not succeed.
A good leader starts by understanding where the team is today and how it got there. They have a goal in mind, but they get everyone to understand why the current situation is not enough to meet future needs.
If you have not done so already, start with the simple exercise of Look Out, Look In, Look Forward.
Build a Team Dream Rather than a Dream Team
Great teams do not always have the most capable players. Stories abound of underdogs who overcame all odds and came out on top. What they have in common is that team members share a dream, and they all work hard to achieve it.
Building a team dream (or “vision,” if you prefer business-speak) is as simple as asking “Where do we want to go?” In new teams, a leader has the vision and hires people who believe in that vision. Existing teams will find it more helpful to go through this exercise in a team offsite. Here are a few guidelines:
- At a minimum, a team has to achieve what the organization expects of it. If the team has historically underperformed, a good start would be for the team to dream about meeting its objectives for the first time.
- A team dream should be aspirational. We don’t dream about things we already have. Think about how to help another part of the organization, take on a new initiative, or improve existing performance.
- Team dreams should contribute to the organization’s objectives. They should support or exceed the organization’s overall goals, not take it in an unwanted direction.
Get Behind the Team
A good leader does not try to manage every aspect of the team. If they have the right people in the team, as long as those people all believe in the team dream, they will find ways to achieve it. A good leader does four things:
Keeps the Dream Alive: Every meeting is about achieving the dream. Every metric shows how close we are to getting there. Every achievement on the way to the dream is celebrated. But be genuine about it. Reminders and celebrations should reflect the leader’s personality and that of the team members. Fake enthusiasm reflects disbelief and will kill the dream.
Removes Obstacles: Achieving aspirational goals often means doing things differently. Good leaders step in when the organization’s process hinders the team, or when another department doesn’t understand, or when funding is needed for some unforeseen expense. Good leaders also understand that they might be the obstacle, so they spend a lot of time listening and are ready to distance themselves when needed.
Creates a Bubble: Team members need to feel safe in achieving their dream. A good leader understands that other groups might be critical or uncooperative. They know what each team member is doing and why and will back that team member, while separately resolving political issues and dysfunctional organization dynamics.
Invests in the Team: Aspiration means doing more than we do today. That means using new skills, or using old skills in new ways, creating new processes or working methods. A good leader finds ways to encourage personal growth, whether through formal, job-related training or less formal means. One team that needed to become better at communicating started attending an improv group. Another team that needed to think more creatively took drawing classes. A leader that expects more from the team, invests more in them, professionally and personally.
You have a really good idea of where you are today, what’s likely to change, and why. You’ve created an aspirational team vision. Next, I’ll cover how to help team members create a plan and empower them to achieve it.
David will share seven principles for creating a winning strategy at Service Management World.
David Cannon is known for crafting industry best practices for strategy and IT operations, which he uses to make organizations function more effectively and efficiently. He has led consulting practices in Forrester, Hewlett-Packard, and BMC Software, creating effective operating models that exploit both business and technology capabilities in integrated solutions. David believes that successful digital strategy is an enterprise initiative that integrates technology from multiple internal and external sources to achieve business success. He is the coauthor of the ITIL 2007 Service Operation book and the ITIL 2011 Service Strategy book, and he was awarded two lifetime achievement awards by itSMF. Follow David on Twitter @itilso.