The secret to successful strategy execution: Cascading & Connecting

Verbinden teams

Would you like to improve your strategy implementation? But do you find yourself relying on others to do so? By forming a truly cohesive team, strategies can be effortlessly executed. However, in order for this to happen, the strategy must first be understood by everyone. Otherwise, it cannot be put into practice. In this article, you’ll discover what strategy is, why it’s important – and simultaneously, challenging. We also provide a few effective tips for you and your team, so keep reading.

What is strategy?

Let’s start at the beginning: what is strategy? The word “strategy” comes from Greek and means “the art of leading troops.” An organization is essentially no different from a troop or group of people that needs to be led. That’s why the ancient Greek definition still applies to our current time.

A strategy ensures that a large group of people can achieve a goal together. This is often expressed in abstract texts and PowerPoints, as well as in videos in a WhatsApp group, a poster by the coffee machine, and so on. The information seems to be spread everywhere, creating a lack of overview. Some team members are actively involved, while others feel like it’s happening to them. And yet another person shrugs when hearing about “old wine in new bottles.” After all, so much has already been said about it…

Without strategy, there’s no direction and no focus

However, the strategy was designed to make the organization successful. And whether the execution is enthusiastic and involved or not, someone at the top of the organizational hierarchy is impatiently waiting for the new strategy to be implemented. This is logical because without strategy, everyone does their own thing and their noses aren’t pointed in the same direction, especially when dealing with such a large group of people.

This waiting at the top can be quite challenging, and people often become impatient. Results are also often difficult to measure or notice, which creates a need for reporting. More detailed information is made visible, and management regularly issues a new report, which almost no one reads anymore.

Nevertheless, it’s important for everyone in the organization to know that the work being done is meaningful. After all, you’re all trying to contribute to the organization’s goal.

Why is it so difficult?

And here’s where the difficulty arises. Our brains work in a certain way, and it starts with understanding the context and what we really want to achieve. This takes some time.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example: “Together, we’ll get COVID-19 under control” was the government’s strategy. But does that mean we want fewer hospital admissions, fewer infections, or as a society to learn to live with the virus? How you interpret the strategy  determines your actions in the coming workday.

So, it’s not the case that when the boss of an organization comes up with a strategic goal, the rest of the organization immediately understands it and can flawlessly execute it. Meanwhile, those different people (groups) are dependent on each other. This is likely the case in your organization as well.

So it is not that – when the boss of an organization comes up with a strategic goal – the rest of the organization immediately understands this and can flawlessly implement it. But in the meantime, those different people (groups) are dependent on each other. That is probably also the case in your organization. If you ask individuals in a management team when their team is successful, you will probably get a different answer from everyone.

So if you really want to understand what is meant, you have to talk to each other and really make time for it. A simple email with the approach described in it is never enough, not even if you make a great PowerPoint presentation out of it. This requires human work.

In fact, even if you and your team are on the same page, it does not necessarily mean that it is also logical for other people in the organization.

The solution: cascading & connecting

As a manager, it is essential not only to align with your management team regarding the strategy but also to ensure that all teams under your leadership understand the intention and context. This process is called cascading and connecting. It involves initiating a flow of information both top-down and bottom-up and providing feedback to ensure successful implementation.

This process is called cascading and connecting, which involves initiating a flow of information both top-down and bottom-up and providing feedback on the outcomes of those conversations. For instance, you could tell the management team, “It’s good that you want to go in that direction, but there are practical conditions that we need to fulfill from the operational side. Otherwise, we can’t realize it. Do you have clarity on this with the management team?”

The next question is who is responsible for ensuring that the strategy is well-implemented and that people on the shop floor understand its intention. This falls on the team leader, or alternatively, a Product Owner if there is no clear team leader. These individuals are accountable for cascading and connecting. However, this can often be more challenging than anticipated.

“While you can take a comprehensive training course in this area at Leading with Obeya (which you should definitely do if you find it interesting!), you can also start small by following these tips.”

To create better connections between teams, you can start with these two tips:

1. Clarify the strategy and translate it into concrete actions. It’s essential that all layers of the organization understand the higher goals and how they can be achieved through actions at all levels.

For instance, if the CEO walks through each leadership level, from the Obeya board to the shop floor, he or she should see the same elements of the strategy throughout the organization, where it becomes more specific at each level.

2. Foster a culture of open communication and dialogue. This ensures that employees feel free to give ideas and feedback, and that there is a shared understanding of the strategy and implementation.

Strategic policy could be: We want to focus more on customer satisfaction. Of course, there are several ways to achieve this goal. In this case, the operational team conducts a situation assessment that best aligns with the strategic policy and associated conditions: we will approach our customers personally. The operational team makes this decision and communicates it back to leadership, who are now aware of the changing circumstances and can potentially create new policies accordingly. This creates a continuous dialogue.

The key thing to remember is that strategy and execution must be connected and this should be visible in all actions at all levels of the organization. Good communication and a culture of dialogue are essential in this regard. Leading with Obeya can help by improving collaboration and communication within and between teams and by providing visual insight into the progress of actions.