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Phase One: Engaging the Team

No two MWB journeys are exactly the same, nor should they be. Every business starts the journey from a different place and, as mentioned earlier, every executive who is to lead an MWB journey should begin by making a careful assessment of the "starting conditions" facing his or her business before designing the journey.

Assessing Starting Conditions

Starting conditions will impact on your choice of the MWBs, the urgency surrounding their execution, and the relative emphasis to be placed on the emotional side of the journey versus the intellectual side. You simply cannot plan for an optimum journey if you have not first had a close look at your starting conditions.

Every business sets out on its MWB journey from a different starting place. Some are in great financial health. Others are in crisis. Some have a management team that truly is a team, in others the team is in complete disarray. Some have a clear sense of the future, others have scarcely thought about it. And so on. These differences can mean, for example, that one organization could have a significant emotional challenge ahead of it to get everyone working toward the same objectives, while for others, who work well together but don’t make good strategic choices, the challenge will be more on the intellectual side.

Before embarking on an MWB journey we suggest that the leader assesses the four starting conditions identified in Chapter 2. These will impact both the design of the kick-off event and the subsequent activities required to engage the rest of the organization. We have found, for instance, that some organizations are eager to implement the MWBs chosen at the kick-off event, while others will greet the new imperatives with dismay and comments like: "Here we go again, another flavor of the month–I wonder how long this one will last." The final starting condition, discussed in Chapter 3, is the readiness of the leader to lead the journey. It is a demanding challenge, and not everyone is ready for it, even if it is what the organization needs.

With the starting conditions identified, the leader can design the kick-off event, paying particular attention to who will attend, the topics to be discussed, and its duration. In our experience the kick-off event can involve anywhere from ten to forty managers, and on occasion may consist of two shorter events rather than one longer one. However, we believe the offsite should include at least two and preferably three or four overnight stays, and should be held in an unusual location. You want people to get "away from the office" both mentally and physically.

Mapping Phase One of the Journey

The kick-off event should center on the three clusters of activity identified in Figure 1.1: "open windows," "define and agree battles," and "commit to one agenda." Your first reaction on looking at this figure may be, "why all the fuss?" Why not simply start with defining and agreeing on the battles? Surely that has to be the first step, and then in Phase Two, you engage the organization to win the chosen battles. Well, yes and no. In fact, no.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 The MWB Journey—Phase One: Engaging the Team

The problem is that while you may think that defining a shortlist of MWBs would be an intellectual process–why this battle is more vital to the future of our organization than that one–it is also very much an emotional process involving personal aspirations and fears, such as, "will my projects and concerns make it onto the final list?" Because the chosen MWBs will receive the lion’s share of the firm’s resources and management attention for the coming months and years, other things will have to be cut back or eliminated. All of this means, of course, that creating a shortlist of MWBs is going to result in winners and losers among the management team members. So choosing MWBs is definitely an emotion-laden process.

The question is whether these emotions will come "on to the table" during the discussion or will be hidden, emerging much later to subvert the implementation process. To avoid this possibility, you want an open and honest debate when you are choosing your MWBs. But a full-blown MWB debate is a difficult context in which to start personal discussions, which is why we recommend that you engage in "opening windows"–especially emotional windows–before you move to debate the MWBs

Opening Windows

Opening windows exercises are, in effect, "warm-up" events to start the group moving gently forward on both the intellectual and emotional journeys in parallel. In Chapter 4 we describe seven exercises that we have used to "open windows" with a number of teams. The aims are to build a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the business, and at the same time have people discuss their personal feelings about how the team works together, and their role in it. The exercises range from personal ones such as asking each participant to describe their lifeline, to "outside-in perspectives" during which participants get into the "hearts and minds" of shareholders, customers, competitors, or perhaps regulators.

The more personal exercises will start the group on the emotional side of the MWB journey, while the others build the intellectual side. Whether you choose to spend more time opening emotional windows or on intellectual exercises will depend on your starting conditions. The farther you judge you have to go on the emotional side, the more emphasis you will put on opening the personal windows, and vice versa.

Defining and Agreeing MWBs: Colliding to Decide

Of course you cannot open windows forever, you need to get to the heart of the matter, which is deciding on the MWBs. The best way to begin is to review the criteria outlined earlier in this chapter, and then create a long list of potential battles. This gets everyone thinking about what is a MWB and what is not. As you begin to shorten the list some battles may be repositioned as sub-battles of others. Others will be thrown out on the grounds of not having enough impact, not being winnable, and so on.

It will take several iterations to complete the list, and we recommend these discussions do not all take place on the same day–a night for reflection, talk at the bar, and a good night’s sleep are necessary parts of the process. When the list is finished, you need to review it to see whether all the battles taken together are winnable. Each on its own might be feasible, but as a group they may be too much. You cannot undertake them all with the resources you have. At that point the conversation often turns to timing issues–could we sequence the battles in such a way as to make the whole list feasible? This also leads to the question of which of the current activities we need to stop doing in order to free up the resources needed for our MWBs (the "must-stops").

Defining and agreeing on your MWBs is likely to produce some real stress points on your MWB journey. Suddenly this process, which may have been regarded by some of your executives as a relatively harmless waste of time, is getting real. Everyone wants their pet projects or their part of the business to feature on the final list of MWBs. That is not going to happen.

As we discuss in Chapters 3 and 5, this is a testing time for the leader. The key is making sure you get the real issues on the table during the debates, and deciding how long to let the debates run. The leader who arrives at the kick-off event with a fixed idea of the right list of MWBs and imposes his or her will is in trouble. There will be no buy-in and the battles are unlikely to be won. On the other hand, as we point out later, selecting MWBs is neither a democratic process nor a popularity contest. If the MWBs are chosen on the basis of who is supporting them rather than intellectual rigor, you have a problem.

In addition, the losers–for there will be managers who perceive themselves as losers in this process–have to be kept on board, because you will need everyone to do their part in ensuring that the chosen battles are won, even those who did not support all items on the list as it was being created.

Committing to One Agenda

The final stage of the kick-off event, "committing to one agenda," is one of the most important parts of the emotional side of the MWB journey. It is a vital step in the process of building a real team at the top of the organization. Not only are the most senior managers in the company committing to give their full support to all of the chosen MWBs, whether they are directly involved in them or not (or initially supported them or not), they are also committing to working together as a team at the top. Shared goals and shared accountability will be the order of the day from this point forward. Silo walls are coming down, for good. This new attitude is perhaps best captured by the manager who explained: "If I win the MWB that I am leading by using all of the resources you need to win yours, that is not a win."

Leaders who want to get the members of their team to commit to the chosen MWBs and begin to adopt new supportive behaviors usually use a combination of "carrot" and "stick" approaches. The carrot is, "look at the great and successful future we can build together–which is so much better than our situation today." The stick is, "if you do not support these MWBs and adopt this new behavior there will be no place for you in the organization," We do not believe that fear is a successful long-term motivator, and you do not want to begin your journey with everyone feeling that they have been coerced into joining the trip. So the more you can use the carrot approach the better.

If you are a new leader, you will learn a lot about your senior people during the kick-off event. You may learn that some are not willing to come on the MWB journey with you. Especially on the final day, when people are committing to new ways of working together, you are likely to be challenged by key players who do not want change. They may even have formed a coalition to stop the MWB journey before it gets started and decided to push you to the limit. "Do you really intend to go through with this?" will be the question, in one form or another. Your answer, demonstrated in both words and deeds, has to be yes.

Of course, creating an emotionally charged day during which managers pledge to work together and behave differently to support one another in the future is only a beginning. The real test is in what happens in subsequent weeks and months. But it is an important beginning, and the end of the first phase of the MWB journey. So what should you have achieved by the end of Phase One? These are the outcomes that we believe you should shoot for in your kick-off event:

  1. Shared understanding of the challenges and options facing the organization. Opening windows is critical to get everyone on the same page in terms of understanding the full picture of the challenges that are facing the organization and the options for addressing them. In particular, this part of the process has to promote openness between the team members that allows them to appreciate the different perspectives that others may bring, as well as laying the foundation for improving teamwork and cooperation across traditional organizational barriers or boundaries.
  2. An agreed list of 3–5 MWBs. These are the critical battles that the organization needs to win in the next year or two to move toward its desired vision of the future, both in terms of business performance and how the organization works together.
  3. A committed team for each MWB. During the second half of the kick-off event the leader will assign the team leaders responsible for each MWB. Others may be added to each team when the group returns to the office.
  4. A high-level action plan for each MWB. High-level action plans will be created for each MWB during the kick-off event. More detail and depth will be added to the plans once the group returns to the office and expanded teams are created.
  5. New ways of working together. The whole group will leave the kickoff event having committed to new ways of working together. This group agenda is broader than any individual MWB, and should lead to a permanent change in behavior.
  6. Individual commitments. Each individual at the kick-off event will commit to personal actions and behaviors necessary to win the MWBs and to support the new group behavior. This means not only supporting colleagues but also holding each other accountable for achieving targets.
  7. An initial assessment of the starting conditions for engaging the organization. Before returning home after the kick-off event, the team need to think through how members of the organization will react to the MWB agenda and how best to engage them. And, of course, what needs to be done immediately on return to the office.
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