Staff Management: Make Team Conflict Work For Your Strategy

Being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Having staff and managers with intelligence is great, but for organizations to really get somewhere together it takes teamwork. In his book “The Advantage,” Patrick Lencioni addresses organizational health issues. He stresses the importance of healthy organizational environments as the trumping influencer of success over all other “smarter” competencies in areas such as marketing, finance, technology and even strategy.

Video: Get Comfortable with Team Conflict

His perspective on teams is one that strikes a chord with us. This last week, one of our customers let us know that they were shifting their strategic management approach to Excel documents so each department could track their own respective strategy without overlapping.

The organization’s department leaders did not like having shared goals across departmental lines. For them this proved problematic during strategy execution because directors did not independently own all the tasks associated with their goals, nor control how their department might be tasked to help fulfill another department’s goal. This created conflict.

Yet, it’s this kind of conflict that we often can get insight from that improves organizational performance. Uncomfortable interactions often reveal where communication is breaking down. It might even suggest where biases are becoming stumbling blocks. Breaking all this down with honesty and sincerity is part of creating teams that trust and understand each other… and it’s a whole lot better than believing you are all rowing in the same boat when really you are not.

Having shared accountability across departmental lines in a strategic plan versus not is much like what Lencioni describes as the difference between a a “team” and a “working group.” In his analogy, working groups are like golfing groups, where players go out and play their game then come together at the end of the day to compare scores. A real team in his words is “more like a basketball team, one that plays together simultaneously, in an interactive, mutually dependent, and often interchangeable way.”

In our view, meaningful strategic achievement does not happen in silos. The fulfillment of long-term objectives requires departments to act in unison at some point. It doesn’t matter if the goals are tracked with OnStrategy or an MS Excel file (although we believe the former is more effective). What matters beyond all else is that leadership is ready to focus on the whole organization as their number one priority, and recognize when departmental protectionism is harming rather than helping achieve important organizational outcomes.

In your next strategic planning retreat help build an environment of mutually dependent team players by ensuring you have exercises on your agenda that foster honest, open communication and participation. (If you are on a calendar year cycle you should schedule this now if you haven’t already.) There’s a host of approaches on how to do this, and if you’d like to talk to anyon e on our OnStrategy team on how to accomplish this, well, that’s why we exist.


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