There is a better way

Just for a minute, imagine what it would be like to work for an organisation that is truly purpose-led, where individuals collaborate and contribute to deliver meaningful work, fuelled by powerful, autonomous and self-managed teams; an organisation that is known for its ability to consistently adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and effectively evolve and execute strategy.

It might, or might not, sound like utopia to you but either way, it’s not! On the contrary, there is a growing number of pioneering organisations leading the way, and these companies are setting an entirely new standard in terms of organisational maturity.

For these organisations, strategy is not a comprehensive power point presentation brought to life only through a series of static and one-way executive roadshows, hoping that somehow the strategic intent will miraculously translate into execution at the front-line. Instead, strategic direction is guided by purpose, intention and learning. The strategy is a signpost for teams as they lead, own and execute that strategy. It’s an iterative, dynamic, collaborative and organic process constantly evolving through learning and experimentation.

Culture is not an inorganic aspiration, brainstormed into a set of shared values, and captured on a laminated poster with beautiful icons. Instead, it’s authentic, coherent and merely a by-product of consistent behaviours over time (Rework 2018). These behaviours gravitate around collaboration, authenticity, ownership, learning and experimentation.

These companies don’t lead with policies and procedures, policies that merely are control mechanisms in disguise based on the underlying assumption that people can’t be trusted. Instead, these companies believe that people generally want to do good and that their true nature is wanting to contribute and make a difference. Therefore, their role is to provide individuals and teams with the freedom and trust they require to be truly autonomous and self-managed.

“You can’t blow up bureaucracy with a bureaucratic change process. You can’t build a culture of trust with a program full of oversight and verification. Start the way you mean to finish.”- Aaron Dignam

Last year, I worked with Paul, Australian CEO of a Fortune 100 company, and his team. The scope of the engagement was to support them with the development and implementation of a new strategy. Faced with an unprecedented level of change and disruption, they predict that as much as 60% (!) of the current core business will have become obsolete by 2025, putting massive pressure on the organisation to adapt by creating new lines of business in adjacent spaces and uncharted territories.

From the outside, it looks like a typical management scenario of our time — a large, very traditional, global organisation trying to redefine and transform their business before the tide goes out. The recipe typically involves; a new strategy, some executive roadshows, cultural workshops, some new and fresh ways of working (e.g., ‘Agility at Scale’), and at the top of the shopping list you’ll find a handful of ‘strategic acquisitions’. However, too often this ambition of longevity and value creation turns into value destruction. The new strategy doesn’t translate into execution, the updated culture only becomes those laminated words on the wall in the boardroom, and the ‘agile at scale’ program stalls and finally suffocate under the compression of the old hierarchical and bureaucratical structures that prevail as the basic assumptions (mindset) in the organisation hasn’t changed.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” — Peter Drucker

However, this turned out to be a different story. Paul and his team bravely put a stake in the ground to do it differently this time, as they decided to learn from the many failed change efforts in the past. To them, the key was to take the approach of a learning organisation. One that is inclusive, engaging, iterative, experiential and that leverages the collective wisdom of the organisation. A cross-functional implementation team was formed with full autonomy and ownership of the implementation process. Part of their scope was also to act as coaches to the executive team, supporting them in clearly defining the strategic direction. They run a series of strategy workshops comprising of people from all parts of the organisation and based on the feedback and suggestions made during those sessions they iterated the strategy accordingly. They also run ‘fish tank’ sessions where high potentials ideated and suggested critical components of the go-to-market strategy.

However, the most critical enabler for this shift was the self-awareness, maturity and courage demonstrated by Paul and his executive team. They realised that for them to successfully lead this change, they had to upgrade their maturity and the way they work as a team. They needed to transform from ‘ a group of high performing players’ to ‘an effective, cohesive leadership team’. In this particular instance, this team demonstrated the critical attributes needed in a truly mature and adaptive organisation — the ability to sense, respond, learn and adapt.

Think of the team that you’re a member of and consider the following:

  • Are you a high performing team or a group of high-performing players?
  • Do you have a clear team purpose for why you are a team?
  • Is the team’s strategy clear, do you have shared goals, and does every player on the team know how they best contribute?
  • Do members of the team tend to prioritise the interests of the team or the interests of themselves?
  • Are team meetings generally meaningful and engaging or often a waste of time?
  • Does the team have a cadence of reflection and learning built into the team rhythm or do tactical and urgent issues always take priority?
  • Does the team culture promote authenticity, vulnerability, openness and trust

Originally published at




Entrepreneur, business leader and transformational coach highly passionate about supporting individuals, leaders, and teams to grow and be successful.

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Carl-Johan Axelsson

Carl-Johan Axelsson

Entrepreneur, business leader and transformational coach highly passionate about supporting individuals, leaders, and teams to grow and be successful.

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