A major aerospace systems producer was faced with several challenges brought about by regulatory changes that brought their order and service process to a halt. To address the plethora of issues that ensued, a series of multi-disciplinary teams were chartered and deployed. Their mission was to manage production, inventory, logistical and operating adjustments, and the business design adjustments that had to be made—all of which became part of the broader effort to accommodate the chaos the regulatory changes had triggered.
This is just one example of how the variety of strategic teams has grown as the nature of business organization and structure evolves. The general forces of change include communication technology, the rise of competitive tension, the increased sophistication of employee performance systems, the rise of business operating systems and the growing pressure for everything to be better, smarter, cheaper and faster. These forces are likely to continue, sustaining the advance of strategic teams as a major structural and cultural asset of organizations.
What Are Strategic Teams?
Strategic teams are generally defined as providing the capacity to integrate and execute an organization’s strategy. They are chartered or assigned to connect three key elements:
- The strategic agenda of the enterprise—the direction, integration and execution of strategy for growth, performance and change.
- The talent blocks and beams of the organization—the combined skills, expertise, experience, knack and maturity of people who are charged as the agents of making strategy happen.
- The cultural agenda of the enterprise—the foundations for and the expression of the primary rules for making strategy happen.
The work to be done by strategic teams may be sought to trigger new organizational capacity or to jack up the existing resources and capabilities of the organization and its stakeholders. Such work might be needed to respond to changes in the wake of a merger or acquisition as was the case when a provider of medical devices and materials merged with a technology company with innovative material technology and application systems. Together, these companies had the opportunity to change the game in two major categories, but the means of working together effectively had to be worked out in rapid fashion. This was accomplished thanks to three strategic teams working together on technical translation, production design and category management.
All in all, we see at least 20 unique types of strategic teams—from system teams and process teams to customer and insight teams—in action in companies large and small shaping the company’s agenda for growth, performance and change at different levels in collaboration with leaders at every level.
The Needs Addressed by Strategic Teams
Looking across a broad array of corporate, institutional and nonprofit organizations, we’ve observed 10 common organization needs that can be addressed by the right blend of strategic teams:
- Talent supply chains—providing the depth of competent, motivated, connected, adaptive and persistent talent.
- Strong project teams and reserves—staffing the range of work that is mission-critical, in structures that effectively move the needles.
- Strong and agile strategic team culture—building on everyday thought and behavior that powers persistence, impact, results and advances.
- Learning and development pathways, inspired in strategic teams—providing an ongoing base of education, knowledge, translation.
- The power of effective collaboration—shaping the ways and means for working together to advance capacity, progress, adaptation. This was the case in the example of the merger between the medical device and technology companies mentioned above.
- Effective change leadership and management—working on what matters and counts today, while getting ready for tomorrow.
- Influence and credibility for strategic initiatives—connecting different perspectives, ideas, knowledge and insights to shape efforts and impact.
- Everyday awareness, maze sense and attention—bringing forth the clearest picture of decision making, risk management, problem solving.
- The power of strategic conversation—bringing the essence of strategic challenges, issues and decision options into everyday engagement.
- Creating a vision of smart, forward-looking aspirations—shaping ideas that are both forward-focused and forward-powered, with forward understanding.
In one example of this final point, a leading producer of consumer appliances was determined to reset the competitive game with a combination of product design and market moves that would speak to some powerful and attractive environmental advantages. Customers are both sensitive to and skeptical of these claims in today’s marketplace, so the strategic teams assembled for this work blended some design-driven imperatives with a series of market-focused narratives to speak to both product system innovation and a credible range of influence mechanisms.
These 10 organization needs are met in different ways by strategic teams. They are served with the power and trust that is built on a system of everyday thought and behavior. That power and trust exudes from strategic teams that are well-designed and well-deployed. Strategic teams are catalytic. They are knowledge drivers and capacity builders in the organizations of today and tomorrow. Building a force of strategic teams that serves so many practical needs is a powerful new competence for the organization of today—and tomorrow. Strategic teams are the new/next structure of organizations and the new/next space for organization development.