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Invest more in winning teams, less in strategy

It doesn’t matter whether your strategy is brilliant or not; if it is executed by mediocre teams, it won’t really work. On the other hand, you will achieve much better results with a mediocre strategy performed by winning teams. Time after time.

In our culture, one of the persisting problems with the phenomenon ‘culture’ is that it is so hard to measure. In organizations, all our Key Performance Indicators focus on turnover, profit, growth, pipelines and return on investment. These indicators are essential for each business’s health. Without turnover and profit, a company has no right to exist. Whereas culture is the invisible link connecting the different people and departments of an organization.

When it concerns building winning teams and a productive culture, three elements always come back. The first: how do you deal with conflicts? The second: do we trust each other? And finally: who takes responsibility?

Life is so much more than just about winning and losing. However, this habit is sometimes so deeply rooted that we tend to turn each issue into a matter of winning and losing, even when it is not important at all. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a large team. Some team members were turning each difference of opinion into a matter of life and death. When one won, the other had to lose. This attitude was very inefficient and had large negative financial consequences, due to undesired staff turnover amongst other things. In this case, each regretted loss amounted to € 500.000,- per person at least. A team that doesn’t really know how to deal with differences of opinion, runs the huge risk to make a mountain out of a molehill. On the other hand, if there is too much silent discord, the team can’t progress anymore. In another team I worked with, I noticed how this problem prevented them from moving forward. Learning how to deal with differences of opinion is an essential skill in order to develop a productive culture.

Do we really trust each other? Mutual trust is essential in order to grow and to move up. Look, for instance, on a Saturday morning at the young players of your local football team. They play on half a football field. When the ball is rolling, they are all running after it like a swarm of bees. This way, they are roaming all over the field. Nobody has his own position and they are doing everything together. They might be lucky if their keeper stays in his goal to defend it. A culture like that is not sufficiently productive in order to make great progress. If a team really wants to make a step change, it has to enable its members to specialize and to avoid that all members deal with all subjects.

Do we pursue the same objectives? Especially within larger organizations, I have already often noticed that people can hide themselves in the organizational complexity. When feeling wronged, they stop taking responsibilities and start hiding themselves at the organization’s crossroads. Silo formation is a well-known problem preventing a business from really moving forward. As we have already written in one of our columns: within an organization, silos have to be killed.

The above three elements always come back when you want to create a productive culture in a company. Culture rather implies the how, instead of just the what . In my experience, doing business and leading people are about finding the right balance between guiding on the basis of facts or KPI's and continuously investing in the connections within your organization. In all teams I have led during the past few years, I have been working according to a well-considered strategy. However, I have always made sure not to give disproportionate attention to the strategy. In my experience, you can make the biggest difference on the work floor by putting your strategy into practice, monitoring the KPI's and creating a healthy culture and winning teams.

Mathematics say: 1 + 1 = 2. When speaking of mergers, this formula becomes: 1 + 1 = 3. Lately, after that the owners of the American Huffington Post had sold their company to AOL, I heard them say that for this merger: 1+ 1 = 11!!! This seems to be a pleasant thought for this weekend.


By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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