Select the right team to get the best strategy.

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It’s surprisingly common to find organisations where the strategy lacks any kind of team input having been created by just one or two people. This model tends to be favoured where

  • there is a strong entrepreneur who leads from the front and owns all the strategic thinking or
  • strategy is undertaken alone in a dark corner because it is a good thing but not because anyone thinks it will affect the direction of the organisation.

These approaches loose the many benefits gained from involving a strategy making team. It’s perhaps also worth noting that in those organisations where a team wasn’t involved the strategies often drift downwards into bottom drawer where they lie untouched except for particles of dust.

By contrast we recommend that an organisation’s strategy is worked on by a team. Involving a team leads to a natural process of buy-in so that there’s a ready-made force for implementation when the strategy is completed. The recommendation for a team of course raises a couple of questions:

  1. how large a team?
  2. and who should be in it?

Winners and losers

Given that the result of strategy making usually creates organisational winners and losers, there is usually no shortage of people willing to join the team to have their say. That is excepting of course where the strategy making process is historically a waste of time because of ‘bottom drawer syndrome’ or that the process tends towards a never ending talking-shop. Neither create threat, but not do they create operational strategy.

If we assume then that the strategy making process is robust, who should we invite to the process and should there be some limits on numbers? Number is of course less of an issue in a small organisation or sub-grouping of a larger organisations (a department perhaps) just because the number of people who could conceivably be involved is probably not very many. In larger organisations however choices will have to be made.

The magic numbers five to seven

In numerous studies of group working and decision making a group of 5 to 7 people seems to be a magic number for effective working; fewer and the risk is that there is insufficient variety of thought in the room, many more and opportunities to contribute and be heard become more difficult and chaos can ensue.

We suggest then a strategy group of between 5 and 7, remembering that going to the lower end leaves head room to add more people along the way should that become necessary . How then do we make the important decision of who to invite onto the team? The guiding star here is this – participants are invited for one of two reasons either:

  • they possess information that the group must have to build a robust strategy, or
  • they have an influence in the organisation that could materially affect delivery of the strategy either by creating obstruction or by breaking down barriers.

These two points will of course be influenced by the likelihood of existing local political considerations but the guidelines should be used as a touchstone for moving forward. In other words if someone is appointed for another kind of reason it’s best to know what that reason is from the outset.

Finally there are two other roles it’s helpful to assign:

  1. Customer and
  2. Sponsor

The Customer role

The customer is just as you might expect – the customer for the strategy and therefore by extension they are in agreement with the strategy making process. The customer authorises the resources that will need to be committed to the process and identifies the imperative for the output. Customers may or may not be part of the strategy making team but if they are not then they will stay in close contact with the process and take a keen interest in its progress.

The Sponsor role

The sponsor of the strategy making team legitimises the process within the life of the organisation. They are not directly involved in the strategy making but from their senior position as Chair, Director, Trustee, Department Head etc they provide endorsement of the process and an unwritten support that will help keep the team on track as it is buffeted by ongoing organisational events.

Facilitation

There is one final role to consider and that is in the question whether or not to use a facilitator for the group. Strategy groups often appoint a facilitator from amongst their number. This is a big ask. Participating and facilitating at the same time is nearly impossible and the risk is that neither role is achieved well. A facilitator internal to the organisation who only facilitates is a better idea but then they may lack either a robustness of process to bring to the task or lack the knowledge or status to challenge existing thinking.

Conclusion

Strategy is the primary thinking that moves an organisation forward. Be the challenge lean operations, culture change, efficiency, new markets, new products, it is the quality of the strategy that will be a major determinant of future success. That is why putting together the right strategy making team with the right facilitation is one of the important decisions that an organisation’s leaders must make.


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