The Power of Healthy Team Conflict to Validate Strategy Thubmnail

In our work with growth companies there is always a lot of emphasis in leadership teams on defining a clear and powerful strategy and building execution to support it, what you might call the hard systems, and typically less emphasis on ‘softer’ systems such as building culture and team cohesion.

But these systems are interdependent and must be developed in tandem. In the Metronomics system, we develop six systems to allow our clients to scale and growth with ease, speed and confidence. There are three hard systems: strategy, execution and cash, as well as three soft systems: human, cultural and cohesion. It’s only by developing these systems in tandem that the full growth potential of a business can be realized.

Developing a powerful & differentiated strategy

The aim of our business strategy work with clients is to develop what Michael Porter calls “A unique and valuable position involving a different set of activities”. It includes a step-by-step process to develop and validate strategy based on the market the business operates in, its’ core customer, the unique traits of the business and the interlocking activities that bring this all together in a powerful way that is hard for competitors to duplicate. Quarter-by-Quarter, we structure the activities and priorities of the business around developing a unique position designed to appeal to a deeply researched and clearly articulated core customer.

Michael Porter’s concept of an activity fit map is a central step in this process, and leads to the differentiators that set the business apart in the market. As an example, the below diagram, taken from Porters 1996 HBR Article, shows the activity fit map he developed for Southwest Airlines. For those familiar with this well-known business, this diagram will likely ring true. By focusing on the red activities as differentiators, Southwest achieved a market position that to this day remains hard for others to duplicate.

Activity Fit Map

Porter, M. (1996), What is strategy? Harvard Business Review, 74(6), pp. 61–78.

It’s a powerful and robust process that most of the founders and leadership teams we work with have not previously attempted. One of the most satisfying parts of my role as a business coach is to work with teams as the crucial insights and intellectual breakthroughs start to flow, leading to a high degree of confidence that we are on the right track.

Building team cohesion

But a great strategy is only part of the recipe for success. The best strategy fails without outstanding execution and a strong cohesive culture – that is, with the team working together cohesively and with focus. It’s a cliché as much as it is a truism, but culture does eat strategy for breakfast. Having a clearly defined and alive culture in the business, led from the front by leaders of the business as living examples, and particularly the CEO, is a crucial first step. This is the Cultural System.

Equally important, is developing a high level of trust between team members. The power of trust in a team cannot be overstated. High trust teams have cohesion and are much more effective in driving strategy and execution. As we all know, lack of cohesion saps energy from the organization and distracts from what the team should really be doing. Fighting turf wars or who should have done what, rumors and backchannel communications.

But how to build trust in a hard running team managing the challenges of a high-growth business? The Cohesive System develops team cohesion on a daily, monthly and quarterly basis. This system is highly interconnected with the Cultural System and, amongst others, draws on the work of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team assessment is a great way to get a handle on where the team should focus on improving their cohesiveness in the next quarter and the next year. It gives your leaders self-awareness of how well they are interacting with each other for the good of the team.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
The 5 Dysfuctions of a team

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 2002

The results of this assessment indicate where a team is on their development to being a highly cohesive team and developing into a high-performing business team. This assessment aligns with the work you have been doing in each of the three soft-edge systems. It will point out key actions and behaviors to focus on and set a benchmark to grow from into the future. Assessments like these are invaluable for creating a great discussion with the team around the next steps in their cohesive behavioral growth.

As this work progresses, senior leadership team members become familiar with each other personality profiles through tools such as DISC and Gallup Strengths Finder. They gain a better understanding of how other team members react in different situations, and their respective contributions. In time, we move on to use other frameworks such as Steven M.R. Covey’s Speed of Trust and Robert Anderson and Bill Adams’ Scaling Leadership.

After several quarters of this work, our aim is for the leadership team to achieve A-Player normalized cohesion. What does this mean? Such teams are able to engage in healthy team conflict to validate strategy or to identify areas where execution may be falling down. The level of trust and mutual understanding in the team is high enough that team members are not threatened when challenged on specific points, which allows the discussion to move forward to the underlying issues.

The power of developing these systems together

This is so powerful in a business. The right candid discussions on crucial strategy or execution issues, with egos genuinely left at the door and everyone bringing their best self and their best contribution. The beauty of the Metronomics approach is the stepwise manner in which we develop all six systems in tandem: cohesion, culture, human, strategy, execution and cash. These systems are deeply interlocked and interdependent.

The strategy work mentioned above proceeds more quickly and effectively when driven by a A- player team with normalized cohesion able to engage in healthy conflict discussions. In turn, as this work progresses, the team becomes more highly energized and committed around business goals and enjoys the ride as the business grows more quickly. The systems feed of each other and that most wonderous of effects – momentum – starts to kick-in across the team and business.

Crucial in all this is a self-aware and empathetic leader and leadership team who is willing to learn, to openly communicate and create an environment where the entire leadership team can grow.


Do you want to Scale-Up your business?
Answer 20 questions in our Business Scalability Scorecard at this link, and we’ll send you a personalized report and also a complimentary Audible copy of best- selling author Shannon Susko’s recently released book, The M Game – The Metronomics Monograph