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7 Crucial Strategies to Facilitate Competitive Business Transformations

Inc. Magazine

By Martin Zwilling | May 20, 2022 

Building and transforming organizational teams is far more complicated than building products. 

In my experience as a business advisor, most organizations, large and small, struggle to keep up with the pace of change and competitive forces today.

You may have a brilliant product strategy, but your operational teams seem to fight change, as well as each other, resulting in turf battles and confusion, leading to the internal drama and problems that occupy too much of your time.

A question I often get is how to transform that overall team into a smooth-running machine that will keep up with the pace of market change, and competition in today’s world. I long ago realized that teams are not machines, but people driven by social forces, so they must be treated as humans, not products that can be manufactured and repaired. People need to feel motivation.

Recently, I found a new book, “Navigate the Swirl,” by Richard Hawkes, which details seven people strategies that, I have learned the hard way, are key to the continuous business changes required to meet today’s market. Hawkes, as the Founder of Growth River consulting, speaks from his experience helping to create high performance organizations around the world.

Here is a summary of key strategies and conversations that both of us agree will help your organization evolve into the adaptive social system your business needs to survive and thrive today:

1. Energize the team around a shared purpose.

Every team needs a sense of purpose to facilitate their engagement, commitment, and emotional connectivity. It’s important that the purpose is explicit and understood by everyone on the team. It can be simple, straightforward, and even functional, rather than world-changing or high-minded.

These days, I see an increasing value in adopting and promoting for your team a higher-level purpose, such as saving the environment or assisting the disadvantaged. The payback in team engagement, as well as customer revenue and loyalty, can be large.

2. Keep focus on the journey to a common goal.

It’s up to you to provide clarity around priorities, visualizing the required results, and developing a shared sense of being “in it together.” Priorities must include both those for today and tomorrow, and the changes you are targeting to maintain business leadership from tomorrow through the future.

I would caution you that there will always be events, such as disruptive new technologies, that cannot be predicted. Trying to control what you can’t influence just creates worry and unproductive stress. I encourage you to keep your team focus on targets credible today.

3. Build a mindset of continuous transformation.

This requires embracing a team’s diversity of perspectives, and developing new agreements to support each other, be accountable, and coachable. You do this by being the role model for trust, transparency, and accountability. Team members need comfort with giving and receiving feedback.

Another approach to establishing this mindset is to create a learning culture in your organization. In a learning culture, your teams have to see rewards rather than penalties for learning from mistakes, and be supported to regularly schedule change experiments.

4. Clarify individual roles and required capabilities.

Specifying roles is seen by the team as distributing power. It’s important to start at the level of capabilities to translate strategies into on-the-ground execution. This may require hiring new people, expanding skillsets, and providing coaching to get the high degree of creativity often required.

Especially with the right people, and the right skillsets, there will be a good bit of creative tension, and that’s good. Constructive conflict brings out the best alternatives for any transformation, and is inherently productive and positive. Foster it rather than fight it.

5. Solidify processes and team interdependencies.

High performance teams are not freestanding – they must exist in a matrix, a larger social system, and you must optimize the business processes that are cross-functional. Selected leaders must be members of more than one team, as connectors, to advocate-up and align-down the hierarchy.

6. Align strategies and local decision making.

You must build foundations to surface and resolve strategic trade-offs between teams. Each team has a unique role and impact from strategy changes, and being closely connected, a change in one impacts the others. Resolution comes from reconciling trade-offs and aligning toward competitive advantage.

7. Provide resources to implement initiatives.

Here you need not only project management resources, but also skills in forecasting, budgeting, and resource tracking. Of course, implementation also requires the resources to test, iterate, and prototype solutions, in a lean and agile fashion, dictated by the needs of the marketplace.

In my experience, timely business transformations can only be accomplished by high-performance teams. Only these have the built-in intelligence and motivation to know what needs to be done, what learning is needed, and where they need to focus to keep up with the pace of change in business today.

You can’t do it alone. If you need transformation, start with the team.