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Want to Build a Better Strategy? Lean into Collaboration

Updated: Feb 12, 2020


Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

Great strategy is the cornerstone of an organization's success. Successful strategies happen when everyone is ‘living’ the plan. Too often however, it’s just a few individuals who craft it.


Consider leaning into the power of collaboration.


Before I go on, I want to be clear. Collaboration does not mean consensus. It’s about involving the right people at the right time and in a meaningful way.


One best-in-class example of leaning into collaboration stands out for me. I was working with the Canadian division of a multi-national consumer packaged goods manufacturer when a new Canadian GM was announced. He was a young up-and-comer from the U.S.


As you can imagine, some people were anticipating his arrival with trepidation. What would this new GM be like? Would "what works in the U.S." be implemented here?


In short order, that trepidation turned to relief (and even excitement) as we all discovered how much that new GM genuinely leaned into collaboration as a leadership tool.


In the first 30 days, he held more than thirty 1-to-1 conversations with employees across the whole organization. It wasn't just that he fit these meetings into his already busy schedule; it was the way he did it. This new GM didn't talk at people, he had authentic conversations with them.


What made these conversations authentic? This new GM was not listening for what he wanted to hear. Rather, he was listening because he truly valued his team’s expertise and perspectives. His humility and open mind quickly won the trust of team members. The insights gained from this 1-to-1 collaborative process fed directly into the new Canadian strategy.


So if 1-to-1 collaboration is a big hit, team collaboration knocks it out of the park. As my late, great mentor Luke Sklar used to say: ‘More smart people thrown at a problem always yields better results’. Collaborative leaders know they're not experts in everything so getting the bona fide experts in a room to work together on big challenges is time well spent.



That’s where collaborative team work sessions come in. These sessions are often structured and provide a multitude of benefits on many levels:


Cohesion: Collaborative work sessions makes it easier for individuals to bond as a more cohesive team. This is especially helpful for new leadership teams as they move through Tuckman's group development stages of 'forming, storming and norming'. Safety: Team sessions provide a safe space where people can express themselves in an open, honest and candid way. Strategic decision-making is high stakes, so drawing out different perspectives (and key tension areas) ultimately drive better decisions.

Clarity: Collaborative work sessions allow for a more coherent strategy. When you have participants with varied expertise in a room, it helps break down silos and reduces the chances of conflicting strategies.

  • For instance, let’s say a strategic choice of 'Invest behind Brand X' is made. A synergy is created if the sales strategy is ‘Expand to a Region that makes sense for Brand X'. Even more synergies occur if finance projects ‘Favourable currency exchange in said Region’. Eventually...everything just clicks into place. And it’s like the light switch is flipped ON. Result? A coherent strategy that’s easy for everyone to grasp.


Expansion: New diverse perspectives provide fresh ideas and possibilities. You just need that one good idea that can change the growth trajectory of your business.

No Buy-in? No Strategy.


Buy-in: The most important benefit of collaborative work sessions is buy-in. You don’t really have a strategy if you don’t have the team’s buy-in. They’re the ones who must live with the consequences of strategic choices, so involving them is key.

Not only will they have a deeper understanding of the business and why certain decisions were made, but their buy-in will also have transformed them into staunch advocates for the strategic direction. They are now equipped, energized & empowered to take the lead on implementing the strategy.


So how about that new Canadian GM?


I’m happy to report that after a series of collaborative work sessions, the cross-functional leadership team developed a clear, cohesive long-term strategy that delivered 5+ years of significant growth and profitability. Not to mention the best-ever engagement scores. In fact, they became a global example of a high-performing team that over delivered results!


How has collaboration helped better decision-making for you? What tips can you share to foster more collaboration?


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