Managing a small team to deliver that all important strategy. Some ideas.

Like many organisations, the one I work for is engaged in a round of strategic planning – why are we here, where are we going and how will we get there? 

Most stratagems, I am told, fail! This is usually down to what’s called a “strategy execution gap”. I take this to mean that you’ve thought lots about what you’re aiming for but much less about how you are going to do get there and what resources you need.

Another reason for failure could be that many people believe that there is a thing called simplicity. I’ve never really believed that anything is truly simple – even if it’s made to look so. We should be full of joy that the world is endlessly complex and all the more beautiful for it. H.L.Mencken said “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”.

Anyway, the reason I am writing this post is to share the output of a fairly recent creative brainstorm (with the permission of the participants). It was in the context of a small operational team considering its needs within an organisation.

(These answers, though clear and simple, may be wrong!)

Value talented people

  • Make sure everyone is happy and focussed
  • Keep everyone communications and coordinated
  • Provide them with the right tools for the job
  • Appreciated everyone, each for their unique talents
  • Listen, consult and make no assumptions
  • Make it fun (or at least enjoyable)

Make participation and inclusion a habit

  • Build a diverse team with complementary talents
  • Include all stakeholders in the processes and decision making where possible
  • Value both big and small ideas and contributions
  • Have no favourites, enjoy difficult but honest people

Build creative partnerships

  • Build networks of talent and expertise both internally and externally
  • Transform talking into concrete action as quickly as possible
  • Take care to share ownership of projects with respect for other stakeholders
  • Be open about your agenda and prepared to negotiate and trade
  • Confess to gaps, be willing to combine effort and assets for greatest impact
  • Share knowledge, stories and information generously
  • Be hospitable

Create a culture of innovation

  • Fail often and learn lots
  • Make resources available to encourage innovation
  • Find new approaches to old work
  • Value disruption and change
  • Build on the ideas of other people

Provide the best resources

  • Provide the best and up to date tools
  • Make decisions based on the highest quality information
  • Create spaces for dialogue and sharing ideas
  • Seek out the best training possible
  • Don’t be afraid to pay for good stuff
  • Realistic budgets

Shared journey

Some years ago I was working in a department in which the boss was unhappy with the level of productivity. He was piling on the work and unhappy that not enough work was being done and not to a high enough standard. His solution was to send everyone on an inspirational time management course. His hope was that we would all get more work done and improve standards. Here’s why it didn’t work.

On the course we were encouraged to prioritise the work according to its urgency and in particular its strategic value. And so, we all became adept time managers.

At the time the department didn’t have a clear strategy and so we all worked to meet our own personal strategic objectives – these were to do with getting promotion, winning awards, working with our favourite teams. We became very confident in the art of saying no. Because there was no clear direction the staff would push back with hard questions about how the work would meet strategic aims. The boss got less done than before, and the staff became more difficult to manage.

Reflecting on this some 20 years later I can see just how valuable a shared understanding of vision and purpose is for the work we do. A failure to provide a clear articulation of purpose and values is disempowering for staff who will inevitably find their own direction. There is really no use in pointing a finger at difficult and under performing staff if there is a disconnect between the ideas and energy of the staff and the company vision.

Each of us is operating according to our own personal goals, passions and energies. When we talk about human resources we sometimes only count the numbers of person hours available. These calculations may look ok on the company dashboard but people need fuel to make them come alive. What we end up with sometimes is a strong, over paid manager trying to kick start an empty engine. Manipulative, bullying management doesn’t work. The ideas, passion, and goodwill of the people is the real resource we share.

Where people’s ideas and energies are valued and there is shared purpose time will be found.