Strategic Planning and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Posted by on Oct 1, 2013

I’ve been involved in helping Sain Associates with their strategic planning for over 20 years, and I have really enjoyed working with such a great group.  Over the years, they have gone through a lot of changes, and strategic planning has helped them adapt to the challenges that the industry has had to deal with.

As a strategic planning consultant with Vantage Associates, I’m always reading and looking at different models and different ways that organizations deal with the challenges they are faced with. The book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, fits very well with the model that we tend to use in our planning process.

In the book, Lencioni identifies five characteristics that can be used to measure the functionality (or quality) of a team. These characteristics often show up in the strategic planning process. In fact, the planning process often reveals weaknesses in the team and helps the team grow stronger by addressing these weaknesses head on.

Here are the five dysfunctions and how they relate to the planning process:

Absence of Trust – Without trust there is no truth. To improve as an organization, or an individual, we must be able to recognize and understand our weaknesses. We must be able to gather feedback and hear criticism. If you can’t admit your weaknesses to yourself and others, they can’t help you improve and grow. The planning process begins with a fair and honest assessment of where the organization is now. When that assessment is skewed, it is often because of a lack of trust.

Fear of Conflict – The planning process is designed to create a type of creative conflict. The conflict comes from sharing insights and perspectives that often differ greatly among the team. The status quo is challenged and people are encouraged to voice their opinions. An absence of healthy debate on important strategic issues is a sign of a breakdown within the team and a fear of conflict.

Lack of Commitment – If consensus was required for every decision, nothing would ever get done. Most organizations are not run like a democracy. However, you don’t have to agree with a decision in order to support it. Once a team makes a decision, everyone on that team should commit 100% to implementing the decision regardless of your position before the decision was made. It is not easy to go back to your department and tell your people that you are completely committed to a decision you didn’t originally support. However, it is impossible to provide that commitment if you were not given an opportunity to fully voice your position because of a fear of conflict.

Avoidance of Accountability – A strong team will always hold each other accountable. The planning process will always include a clear set of expectations that include: 1) What will be done? 2) Who will do it? and 3) When will it be done? Without this clarity, peer-to-peer accountability will never gain traction.

Inattention to Results – A focus on results is the key to success with any organization. Some results are well defined and easily measured. Others are more fuzzy and harder to pin down. A good planning process forces an organization to define the results it desires.

I am happy to be working with Sain Associates again this week on strategic planning for 2014.

Principal and Vice President of Vantage Associates, Jim Sisson, has worked since 1985 to assist companies in developing effective planning systems. He often works with companies that have little or no experience in planning and helps them develop planning systems that satisfy their specific needs. He provides consultation in the areas of strategic planning, marketing strategy and operational planning. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a degree in Engineering from the University of South Alabama.

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