There is no one-size-fits-all method to find the right solutions, but a ‘team engagement’ checklist will put you on the right track.
The most important way executive teams create value for their businesses is by framing and solving strategic problems. There are, of course, other important things leadership teams need to do, ranging from updating strategy, doing annual budgeting and planning, reporting results, and interacting with key external stakeholders. However, to a large extent, these are routine tasks; being good at framing and solving strategic problems is the true hallmark of high-performing business teams.
By strategic problems, I mean the organization’s most significant emerging challenges and promising potential opportunities. Examples include deciding whether to pursue a substantial acquisition or divest an underperforming business or enter a new market or diversify into a new line of business or make a significant capital investment.
What these examples have in common are: (1) they have major impacts on organizations, their health, and prospects for growth;(2) they are complex and don’t have obvious right answers; and (3) they usually require “deep teamwork” – by which I mean integration of the knowledge and judgment of team members – to achieve good solutions.
Seen through this lens, the most important role business leaders play is to guide their teams effectively in framing and solving strategic problems. Unfortunately, there is no one “best way” for leaders to do this; it depends on the nature of the problems and the context in which they are being solved.
While there is not a tried-and-true recipe for doing it, leaders with whom I have worked have found it helpful to have a menu of “team engagement modes” from which to choose, as well as a set of principles for how to make the right choice.
By team engagement modes, I mean distinct ways in which leaders can engage with their teams to frame and solve strategic problems. Specifically, there are six distinct engagement modes that leaders can employ that are arrayed on a spectrum from team self-organization on one end to leader-directed decision-making on the other.
Making sound decisions about team engagement modes is an important example of the power of process control. As executives move to more senior levels, leadership becomes less about understanding the substance of all facets of strategic problems (although this, of course, remains important) and more about shaping the processes that they employ to frame and solve them. This is an essential shift leaders must make as they move up, but it can be challenging when their success and even identities are deeply grounded in their technical knowledge and mastery of the detail.