How many times have you sat through meetings where you had ideas but didn’t feel comfortable speaking up? Why are there always challenges strategizing with your fellow team members? Why is collaboration such a buzzword but not a common practice at work?
Nilofer Merchant’s The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy discusses these common challenges, focusing on the term “strategy” as an active process including all stakeholders. Merchant argues that strategy often functions as a noun, the execution of a plan. Instead, it needs to be a verb, an active process that integrates thinking about and planning the execution. The strategy creation process should “engage the team, identify the key interdependent tasks that must be done, find the weak spots and make changes, and get buy-in and accountability. All this needs to happen before execution”. Companies often dismiss the strategy process, putting all their efforts into the end result.
The process neglect tends to lead to an “air sandwich” – a disconnect between executives and employees: More often than not, boardroom executives devise a strategy with no companywide input, handing over the plan to the team to execute. The disconnect, the air between these two teams lacks “The substance of the business – the debate of options, the understanding of capabilities, sharing of the underlying assumptions, the identification of risks, issues that need to be tracked, and all the other things that need to be tracked”. The sandwich needs to be filled with a “set of other understandings that would connect the vision of the direction to the reality.” Merchant proposes that team members become “co-creators” and the collaborative leaders responsibilities include creating a safe environment for sharing ideas and facilitating the idea elimination process, supporting the team whittle down all input into workable ideas.
The New How discusses a four-step program for collaborative strategy, named “Quest”: Question the need or opportunity; Envision ideas to address the issue; Select which solutions are most appropriate and Take how the strategy should be executed. Merchant delivers many examples for teams and leaders how the roles play out in each step. She also goes into detail how the collaborative process plays out in corporate culture, shaped by six elements: power, people, change, decision making, process and idea generation.
The New How is an excellent manual with various real-life exercises to implement Merchant’s vision. It’s written for executives of all levels and for aspiring leaders who want to participate in the strategy creation process from the first day. Her ideas and exercises will spark ideas within your organization and encourage a more active collaboration on all levels. No more meetings where people feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas.