The Opportunity

Tricordant were engaged in October 2016 by a major Government Arm’s Length Body to facilitate the Senior Management Team to develop, at pace, a strategy for Ministerial approval, which had been timetabled for January 2017.

Austerity measures in public services and the rising cost of operations had combined to create the perfect economic storm for the Chief Executive and top team.  The Board had recognized the need to realign strategically their resources, products and services to support and deliver the Government’s policy agenda. They faced the added complication of the ALB comprising 3 previously independent organisations.

The Tricordant Approach

To develop the shape and content of the strategy we facilitated a series of 5 x 3 hourly workshop sessions for the 9 members of the SMT between mid-October and early December, focusing on the themes described in Figure 1.

Our focus in the workshops was clearly on co-creating the strategy with the SMT, and doing so in a developmental way or the newly formed team.

We used a range of classic strategy development tools in combination with Organisation Development and Design methods along the way. We will highlight here only those which most helped them get unstuck when the complexity became overwhelming or significant differences of view emerged.

Purpose and Vision – Differentiate to Integrate

Finding the common purpose of 3 previously independent organisations, was the first tricky bit. Previous attempts to “integrate” had met resistance based principally on fear of loss of identity.

We used Distributed Network concepts and language first to differentiate the 3 Primary Functions (figure 2) in the organisation so they could then integrate the whole by finding their common sweet-spot.

We then looked for the overlaps between pairs of Primary Functions to test if and how they could add value to one another through genuine connections. We also tested this in Leadership Development workshops with the next 2 levels of leadership in the organisation.

This process of differentiation helped overcome commonly held fears in each of the functions that they would have to dilute their purpose and effectiveness for the sake of an organisational construct imposed by a previous Secretary of State.

Seeing the System

 The organisation operates in an enormously complex system at the juncture between 2 major departments of Government, supporting client organisations in differing ways in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.  Using the SPECTRE framework, the team constructed what has become known as their iconic  “Jackson Polllock” mind-map (figure 3) of the trends and drivers they need to pay attention to in their strategy.

This in turn led the team, in an SMT meeting between workshops, to process their thinking into 4 strategic priority themes that became the key building blocks for the strategy and its subsequent translation into their Business Plan.

Polarity Thinking

There remained however an inherent tension in the team and the wider organisation, stemming from the fear that a radical new strategy risked throwing the baby out with the bath-water, sacrificing the benefits of what they already did well, and potentially the organisation’s reputation, on the altar of transformation.

The introduction of Polarity Thinking, identifying the polarity of Continuity and Transformation as key to development the strategy, was the final break-through to unstick the work. Through the Polarity lens the team could see how to leverage the benefits of both continuity and transformation, and the also the pitfalls of both poles. In turn this led to the development of a clear dual track strategy. The graphic in figure 4 shows the completed Polarity Map after iteration and completion by the next level of leadership.

The timescale was very challenging and the ask was quite (over?) ambitious, with individuals finding it quite tough at various points.  Tricordant were great in keeping us focused on the key matters, bring their experience and techniques to get us thinking more creatively, and also tackle some sensitive issues in a constructive way.  SMT availability was always a challenge, and as the programme proceeded we had to adapt the plan. Without their support, guidance (and at times, direction!), I doubt whether we would have got as far as quickly – for the first time we have created a way of describing what we do that enables us to structure and present our plans in an integrated way.  We have achieved the key targets of producing a strategy and business plan by the deadline, and have opened the door to deeper conversations about how we work together as a team.  It feels like a step change has been made, and some testing with staff in follow up sessions is validating the direction of travel.

Director of Finance and Corporate Planning, commissioner of the project

The Outcome

The outcome of the work was a strategy developed at pace, from initiation to Secretary of State approval, in 3 months.

Critical to their success was the client team fully engaging in the work, and driving the internal work in between the workshops with their teams to fill the gaps and detail.

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