Strategy Execution: Get Collaboration Right!

To execute your business strategy successfully and keep programs on schedule, supporting people to get collaboration right is just as important as good planning. Have you really thought this through?

In today’s turbulent business environment, where companies and organizations are learning how to deal with an increased rate of complexity and change, strategy execution is high on the agenda of business leaders. How to turn good ideas into concrete results? How to beat the competition? How to increase responsiveness, flexibility and speed?

Strategy execution has changed!

HRS Business Transformation Services, slide with title 'How Strategy Execution Has Changed'There is a need for companies to take a close look at their business models and strategy execution habits

If the past 25 years of working with companies and business teams to achieve strategic objectives have taught me one thing, it is this.

For strategy execution to succeed, focusing on deliverables, planning, analyzing data, and controlling finances is important, but not enough. Getting collaboration right, across teams, functions and company units, is at least as important. And probably even more.

I recall a study conducted by IMD’s Professor of Innovation Management Bill Fischer and his team. Fischer, a firm believer in the power of good teamwork, investigated how the giant Chinese home appliance maker Haier accelerated and improved strategy execution by changing the way its employees collaborate.

Here is what he found.

Like many companies, Haier used to be organized with strong hierarchies, with separate departments (R@D, manufacturing, sales, HR, …) run by layers of managers. Convinced that these silos within Haier slowed the company down in this fast-speed internet age, CEO Zhang Ruimin took a bold step. He practically reversed Haier’s internal structure and broke the large firm (70,000 employees) down into a network of ‘mini-companies’, or self-managed teams of cross-functional employees, each responsible for its own profit and loss.

“If we don’t challenge ourselves, someone else will.” – Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin

It works broadly like this. Any Haier employee can generate his/her own idea and submit a prospective business plan (including sales goals, plan of attack and a budget for the resources needed), based on careful studying of customer comments and market information. If approved by senior management, that person can create and lead his/her own team to implement the project, which involves persuading staff such as engineers, designers and sales experts to join. Team members share in the resulting profits, and have the right to elect a new leader if the team underperforms. In Zhang’s words: “In the past, employees waited to hear from the boss. Now, they have become entrepreneurs, collaborate across functions and listen to the customer.”

While the Haier Group takes business transformation to the extreme, the example brings home at least one important point. Improving business performance by getting cross-functional collaboration right does not just happen by itself. It requires new ways of thinking, new approaches that fit today’s reality and challenges. And an active and continuing involvement of senior leadership is essential.

In the way we work with our clients, getting collaboration right is about finding the most effective combination of:

  • Fostering a mindset that encourages collaborative behavior (team development, learning to think across borders (functions, cultures, departments));
  • Making decisions and setting priorities that create clear and transparent responsibilities (dare to make choices, even if the consequences are sometimes hard to predict);
  • Putting processes in place that stimulate continuous feedback loops between people, teams, and leaders (team structures, meeting & communication rhythm, networks)
  • Assembling a portfolio of integrated technologies that facilitate collaboration
  • Measuring and finding the right balance between ‘learning by analyzing’ (study), ‘learning by doing’ (experimenting), and ‘learning by evaluating’ (anchoring what works well).

What things would you add? Share it with us!

Co-written by Hanneke Siebelink

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Photo: GotCredit/Flickr (Creative Commons)


How to get collaboration right: some useful reading material

Good books:

– Reinventing Giants: How Chinese global competitor Haier has changed the way big companies transform. By Bill Fischer, Umberto Lago and Fang Liu, 2013

– Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity and reap big result. By Morten Hansen, 2009.

Good articles:

The Collaborative Organization: How to make employee networks really work

How to Create Collaboration that Generates Results: Five articles with interesting tips


Aad Boot leaning against a door postAad is a global business advisor, change leader and program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and our services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

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