Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Strategy Implementation and Team Building – Years of Hard Work

My friend and associate, Robin Speculand, has been working with strategy implementation ideas and frameworks from his base in Singapore. He has published 4 books and has brought his Implementation Hub to the world of collaborative organizational development. Summarizing expansively, he would suggest that implementation is very hard work, requires a great deal of investment of executive and management time, and only works slowly at best.

The research from the people who studied the implementation of quality control and management systems over the past 20 years have consistently suggested that it takes 3 years to really see good implementation. There has been a lot of research done on this issue by the university business communities and others.

I expand on some of the issues of why so many strategy improvements fail in an older blog that cites a good bit of Robin’s research, but here is a short summary from that longer article of mine:

Robin’s Key Findings include:

  • 80% of leaders feel their company is good at crafting strategy but only 44% are good at implementation and only 2% are confident that they will achieve 80-100% of their strategy’s objectives
  • Most leaders should allocate more time to implementing strategy than creating their strategy
  • An overwhelming of managers believe that their bonus should be linked to the successful implementation of the strategy
  • 70% of leaders spend less than one-day a month reviewing strategy
  • Leaders believe that only 5% of employees have a basic understanding of the company strategy and goals

I was reminded of this when reading a great article about the issues surrounding the effective implementation of high-performance work teams. You can find the full article here, but let me excerpt a bit of it to align with some of Robin’s findings above. The article in New Directions Consulting also suggests a time framework of 2 to 3 years and shares some key implementation steps, somewhat modified by me for clarity, but including these three phases and these bullets and more:

The “Start Up” Phase (6-8 months) – including initial budgeting for training, meeting time, lost production time, etc. This includes the initial design of team support processes and accountability:

  • Team charter including agreement on goals and measures
  • Help/Hinder list and other protocols for roadblock management
  • Team Meetings and support system processes with coaching
  • Early consensus building across the organization
  • Team conflict resolution engagements and alignment
  • Communications
  • Team training — basic
  • Cross training on task knowledge

The “Growing” Phase (9-18 months) with most time being spent in organizing and fine-tuning systems and processes:

  • Sharing cross-functional team and work assignments
  • Conflict resolution between members
  • Team planning and problem solving (continuous improvement)
  • New member selection, orientation and training
  • Team management system development – including defining of action items and feedback / support systems and measurements
  • Presentations to management – issues, results, opportunities

The “Mature” Phase (18-36 months and continuous) whereby changes and improvements will actually become visible and measurable – the impacts:

  • Continuing problem identification and management
  • Costing / budgeting and integrating financial reporting
  • Analyzing team performance and conducting “lessons learned” sessions to identify issues and opportunities
  • Redesigning work processes and systems
  • Proposing new capital and process improvement opportunities
  • Proposing new business ideas and customer requests
  • Team performance management, with feedback, rewards and recognition
  • Greater linkage between team’s metrics and organizational metrics
  • Integration of teaming into operational and management systems like compensation, performance management, career growth, training and development, etc.

above adapted from New Dimensions Consulting newsletter and blog.

A lot of the teamwork will appear like this to the organization as a whole:

Trial and Error Murphy's Law words

and how the organization reacts to these situations of trial and error learning will be a critical cultural change that must happen if teams are to thrive and be effective in implementing change and improvement.

As teams become more operational and more common, teams and individuals will begin to address cross-functional issues that are harder to manage because they cross a variety of operational and logistical and systemic barriers. Changing metrics is always difficult and making people accountable for different things is not generally accepted smoothly. There will be change at a personal and a peer-group level that needs to occur before the organizational issues can be addressed with any effectiveness.

I wrote up a lot more extensively on these ideas in an earlier blog, focused on Ancona and Bresman’s book on X-teams (2007). This generated some good thinking on the components of the implementation process and especially about improving the external focus of teams — how that could be so beneficial to overall organizational collaboration and improve the closeness to customers. Find more on X-teams and cross-functional organizational improvement by clicking here or on the image below:

Involving and engagind Drawing Board words

In my view, there are no silver bullet solutions to teamwork.

There are lots of troubles with teams, issues of team motivation, issues of leadership and alignment and the view that probably ALL of Murphy’s Laws will apply as you work with individuals with different personal and professional agendas and merge them into operational units and then try to get those units to address potentially risky issues.

But the impacts of good teamwork on organizational performance cannot be understated. It generates improvement in a wide variety of ways, helps increase engagement and decrease employee turnover, improves innovation and processes, etc.

But it is also like giving birth to a baby elephant:

Baby Elephant Teamwork Quote words

If you are not fully committed to teams and teaming, consider doing more research and reading. There are hundreds of books and articles about the issue. There are also a wide variety of structures and frameworks under which your processes can operate. Some are quite rigid and some are much less so — your corporation’s style and culture will help determine which might be best for your particular needs and there is NOT one best way to accomplish this. What works for Apple or Google will not work for CVS or Walmart.

Plus, the one really important requirement for success is the absolute commitment of the top management team and senior leadership. If you are not willing to commit money and time and focus to the improvement initiative, consider NOT doing anything along these lines. The worst thing you can do is partly commit and then de-commit at some future time, since it makes implementing the next initiative so much harder.

If you are interested in powerful tools for involving and engaging people and for helping to build higher levels of inter-organizational collaboration — or you are looking for a leadership development exercise that will help focus your management team on the issues of team building and employee engagement, Performance Management Company has designed the Square Wheels tools for organizational improvement and The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for building alignment to shared goals and cross-functional teamwork.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

The actual quote for the baby elephant birth quote is:

TEAMWORK: An awful lot like giving birth to a baby elephant.

  • It always starts at a high level.
  • It’s accomplished with a lot of trumpeting and screaming.
  • It takes 22 months to grow and develop.
  • – And then you have a baby elephant to take care of…





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  1. “Leaders believe that only 5% of employees have a basic understanding of the company strategy and goals”

    Then clearly we have a communication issue between leaders and employees! If your staff doesn’t understand the company’s mission and end game how are they supposed to understand how their day-to-day work fits into the big picture?

  2. Your findings mentioned in article are true and raises the questions about using the teambuilding solutions. The organizations need to emphasis on this aspect in order to have better coordination among the employees.

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