5 Steps to Developing a Team that Thinks Strategically

Wikipedia defines strategic as “carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage:”
Synonyms to strategic include planned, calculated, tactical, politic, judicious, prudent, shrewd. Large businesses seem to have systematic ways to develop teams that operate from a strategic perspective. Small business could definitely benefit by developing a culture, operations and planning based on a strategic platform. Here are the five steps to take to develop strategic teams.

Create a Strategic Team Culture

When the team is in place and functioning, it is important to work on the culture. Encourage inclusive problem solving. This means that when a real life budget issues comes up, take it to the team, give them a chance to problem solve but make sure you give parameters. For instance if you need to cut $30,000 from the personnel budget the parameters might be that we won’t cut a position or decrease benefits. Make employee(s) responsible to for their choices and their ideas. Employees who are empowered to make decisions about the things they work with every day tend to be more creative and more strategic. The closer to the level a problem is solved, the more likely the solution is to be practical and effective. Provide leadership to the idea of thinking ahead, thinking globally and problem solving in a planful way. The more the company leadership models a strategic way of thinking, the more strategic thinking the teams will be. This can include

Provide Team Building and Strategy Training for the Employees

Build the team by having clear goals, setting the ground rules, encouraging listening and brainstorming and developing a process for developing and implementing ideas. Make the team accountable for work product instead of making individuals personally responsible will help teams to think more globally and with the future in mind. There are many team-building exercises and training materials available at no cost online. Take advantage of this and engage your teams in team building training. Don’t assume it happens naturally, it may not.

A great way to train a team on strategy is use simulation games. To prepare for a simulation game, develop some scenarios where strategic thinking will be required. Assign teams and employees to roles they don’t normally take. Give the scenarios to the teams and let them role play the process for coming up with solutions to the scenarios. Make sure to have your teams outline their thinking, their strategies and ideas for solving the problem. Give feedback to individuals and teams to help them learn new ways of looking at and processing problems. Simulation games can be used at any time to sharpen a teams’ strategic skills.

Develop an Inclusive Strategic Plan

The first step in a strategic plan is gathering information. This is a great time to include all employees in investigation of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) that are current to the business. Inquiry is important here. Ask questions like “what could I do to exceed the customer’s expectations” and if there were no barriers, what would I do to advance the company?” The next step is prioritizing. You may decide at this point not to include all employees, but pare it down to cross disciplinary teams, or supervisors and/or managers. A best practice is to storyboard all of the SWOT items and then work with the teams to prioritize the most strategic goals and put the rest on hold during the process.

Once the goals have been determined, it may be a good idea to pare the planning team down to the management team. At this point, the team will begin to develop strategic initiatives from the goals. When the strategic initiatives have been created from the goals, the process goes back to the teams.

The teams develop objectives that have timelines, barriers, materials, and budget for each initiative and send a draft back to the final planning team. The final planning team approves it.

Follow-up and Follow-Through

This is the area where many businesses fail. They develop a great strategic plan and throw it in a filing cabinet and don’t do anything with it. Make sure to give each team responsibility for their goals, initiatives and objectives. Create a regular meeting where teams report on their progress on the goals. Be prepared to change goals and objectives or to add goals and objectives if the SWOT items become relevant.

Having strategic teams will forward business objectives at a very fast pace. A key to keep them is leadership. Make sure that the leadership in the business is supporting the teams, coaching and giving feedback to maintain the culture.

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