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Create a plan to get teams thinking outside their own turf

Coach's Corner--October 13, 2008

The Client
Name: Tom
Age: 42
Title: Director, Strategic Planning
Time at company: 10 years
Industry: Insurance
Issue: Moving past silos in strategic planning
Q.  I lead our company’s strategic planning process, and I find that most members of the executive team focus on their business unit, rather than the good of the company. The CEO doesn’t push his team to come together, either. How can I help them see the bigger picture?

A. Perhaps it’s human nature to protect our turf. Nevertheless, overcoming this is essential to developing a good strategy.

The inner game
To bring about change, you’ll probably have to push harder than the executives are used to. How does that feel? Look for any internal barriers, including fear of conflict or of challenging people in leadership. Consider what might happen if you pressure them, and ask yourself how realistic your concerns are. Often fears vanish when faced directly.

Think about what might be getting in their way. They’d likely agree that the company comes first, despite their unit-focused behavior. Consider concerns that might hold them back and gaps in their ability to focus at a different level. From this position of empathy, you’ll be able to push without alienating them.

Know your goal. Visualize a successful planning process, including the ways you’d like people to communicate. Plan ground rules and activities that will move them off their turf. Be neutral about specific outcomes, focusing instead on how it happens. Control the process and use your vision to help the team create a useful plan.

The outer game
To improve your process, invest time in advance meetings and set the right tone for the sessions.

Your first stop is the CEO. Get on the same page with him so you’ll have more leverage with the other executives. Raise your concerns, being direct about your observations and using specific examples. Ask for his support in being just as direct with the other leaders. If he doesn’t share your perspective, at least get his buy-in to your approach. That way, he won’t be blindsided and derail you later.

Talk with the others, drawing out their hopes for their unit and the company and any concerns they may have. Be informal and positive; this isn’t the time for confrontation or boilerplate statements of goals and visions. Learn about them and build their engagement in your process.

In the planning sessions, focus first on coming together as a team. Present your ground rules, emphasizing communication and openness. Declare your role as “truth-teller,” using a light approach to catching them when they are expressing limited viewpoints. Design activities that help them identify new perspectives. For example, imagine how your finance and service executives might see things differently if they were planning for each other’s area. Help them tie the new plan to the company’s overarching vision, so that it truly supports the company’s good rather than benefiting each area separately.

Expect resistance, and bring plenty of humor into the process. Elicit your CEO’s help in making it safe for his team to set aside their “turfism.” Address concerns directly, and don’t be afraid to show that you’re taking risks in this process, too.

The last word
Working together, you, the CEO and the executive team will be able to use a planning process that puts the company first.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted October 12, 2008
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