So far in our strategy implementation series, we’ve covered crucial aspects of the implementation process, including key steps to get and stay on track, how to best utilize a portfolio approach to assess program alignment to the plan goals, and pitfalls to avoid. But there is a less defined and equally important key to success—your associations’ culture and the ability to collaborate across teams and functions.
Association culture and cross-team collaboration are critical to effective strategy implementation. This cultural piece is generally driven by association leadership, who can spur progress by modeling collaborative behaviors and fostering environments where their teams learn not just from successes, but from failures.
Learn more about how to foster teamwork that unlocks the greatest potential for success—even through setbacks.
Why is collaboration so critical?
Often as we push ahead on our priorities for the year, association staff may not realize the tasks they are working on overlap with other teams or may miss out on opportunities to maximize their efforts and their budgets by looking outside of their silo. For example, an education department and membership department may not realize there are synergies and efficiencies in working together on shared objectives. And it is these synergies that are often the key to success.
Looking back to the portfolio approach in our earlier post, we recommend analyzing your program portfolio to find efficiencies and alignment across the organization. This work starts by conducting an organization-wide portfolio audit to provide better direction for prioritizing resources—and ultimately free up resources that can be allocated to new program development. This will also help identify redundancies across teams and lead to more collaboration towards shared goals.
It’s also important to be clear about the programs that truly align with your strategic plan and organize those into portfolios of work that can be evaluated together. It’s ultimately best if that’s cross-departmental because it forces us to think outside of the silos that may be visible or invisible within our organizations. Charge your teams to work collaboratively to determine how over time you can reposition your resources to drive mission impact.
It’s not always easy to pull together teams across departments, but in the long run, the benefits will be worth it. Thinking about plans horizontally can help unlock new potential within the organization.
How to work effectively across teams
Vanilla Ice once said, “Stop. Collaborate and Listen.” And he had a point…
It is crucial for teams to slow down in order to engage with others in the organization. Collaboration takes time and for staff to prioritize it among all of the other priorities they have on their plates, you may need to create new organizational norms and incentives to support cross-team work. It may turn out that two teams have budgets allocated towards a shared goal, and instead of each doing something different, they could pool resources to do something even better. It’s hard work that sometimes requires a shift in how we approach our work, but the benefits are worth it.
How do teams start to make the shift?
- Slow down.
- Engage across groups.
- Listen to each other’s points of view.
- Look for ways to align, synergize and eliminate duplication
When multiple staff members and teams work together on common objectives that put the organization, its mission and its strategic priorities first, great things will happen.
Learn from failures to move forward
When shifting norms to encourage cross-team collaboration, one challenge that can arise is fear of failure. This fear can limit engagement with other teams and create silos that make information flow difficult or impossible. Embrace learning from failures and be willing to share the lessons from mistakes with others. In fact, it is important to learn to fail fast so that you can incorporate those lessons into the next iteration of your plan. This isn’t a new concept— most project management methodologies have built-in retrospectives, with a focus on being honest about what did and didn’t go well.
Part of this involves continually assessing the environment, adjusting based on research and staying flexible. Be willing to adapt and change your plan based on new information, rather than continue down the same path because you said you would. In our earlier blog, we discuss the importance of remaining nimble, agile and looking ahead—including learning from failures. This is a key component to successful strategy implementation. While the goals and outcomes of the plan should remain solid, your approach to achieving them may change based on what you are learning during the implementation phase.
Here are some tips to integrate learning from failures and shifting gears:
- Intentionally create a safe space so that people aren’t afraid to fail.
- Hold regular meetings with team leads to share progress. And if there isn’t progress, discuss why not and what could help. For example, are more resources needed? Are there barriers to address?
- Create time and space for sharing lessons learned so that others don’t repeat the same mistakes. Instead of, “I could have told you that would happen,” isn’t it better for the association if everyone can avoid the repeated mistake altogether? Then you can bring those lessons forward so that they can be more successful the next time.
- It’s critically important that all senior team members are on the same page about this. Pockets within an organization where people are afraid to fail will create inertia and disengagement for the team.
Get in touch to find out how we can help with advice, counsel and sessions on change management to transform the way your association’s staff works.
You can also read more about strategic planning and implementation here: