Client Login

Leading transformation with collaboration in the new year

The Lime Group | Articles

Fabrice Lesaffre

It’s become almost a truism that executives rarely focus their energy on what’s most important for their business. This often occurs within the area of strategic thinking. Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan found that 85% of executive teams spend less than an hour a month discussing their strategy, and half spend no time at all.(For a great infographic on this subject:

But strategy isn’t the only area where executives tend to under-invest their time. They also miss opportunities to transform how their organizations function. One of the best times to do this is the beginning of the year. This is the time of year when most organizations come together for big annual kick-off meetings, to celebrate and plan ahead for the coming year. Annual kick-off meetings are a tremendous teaching moment, an opportunity for executives to signal significant shifts in direction or change the tone of conversation within their organization. However, in Lime’s experience, more often than not executives simply go through the motions. They stick to the standard script, focusing on the plan and priorities for the year ahead.

But some executives aren’t making that mistake. One of our senior clients recently capitalized on an opportunity to transform the dynamic within her organization using the momentum of the New Year. As a new executive to the firm, our client was given the challenge of merging two disparate global functions that historically had not collaborated well. Half of the individuals within these functions were new to her, and she had to fill the shoes of a very experienced and respected executive.

Our client could have played it safe. She didn’t.

Early in the year she brought together 80 of her most senior managers. With Lime’s advice, she split them into teams and asked them to brainstorm ways to solve the toughest challenges the company was facing. In forcing them to collaborate, she helped them to start sharing and understanding each others’ perspectives.

Then she asked her teams to come up with new operating principles – new ways of working together as one group. This was a first for the group. No one had ever given these individuals a chance to reflect on what was working well and what wasn’t. The level of excitement started rising; 45 minutes later there was a real buzz in the room, as teams reported back the things they wanted to stop, start and continue. People clapped. They cheered. Towards the end, a senior leader from one of the legacy organizations stood up in front of the whole group and said that the two-day meeting had felt like one of the best, most strategic uses of her time.

A smashing leadership success.

What made it possible? Two lessons we took home:

First, as an executive, always invest time early in the year to make sure that you’re setting the agenda and tune for your organization. Bring people together and challenge them to collaborate in new ways.
Second, role model the kind of collaborative, ‘can-do’ organization you really want. Throw out the mind-numbing slide presentations on annual plans and priorities. Make at least half of the meeting interactive. Form teams and ask people to tackle the truly strategic challenges your organization is facing. Ask two questions: How will we work better together? How will we solve the biggest long-term threats to our business?
As a leader, what else could possibly be more important than answering these questions?