Why Leadership, Culture, Organisation, Strategy, Change and Execution are Team Sports

Why Leadership, Culture, Organisation, Strategy, Change and Execution are Team Sports


We usually read or hear about each of these elements in isolation, but I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a more holistic overview of their relationship with each other.


Where does leadership reside?

Is it positional (for example at the “top” of the organisation), or is it something else?

According to Posner & Kouzes, in The Leadership Challenge “the domain of leaders is the future” as that’s the direction in which their organisations are going. 

But where are these leaders?

The answer is “throughout your organisation”; however, whether these leaders are allowed to emerge is largely dependent upon the culture and structure of the establishment.

More on these later.

Again, from The Leadership Challenge, exemplary leaders exhibit five practices: 

  • Model the way by clarifying and affirming shared values and aligning actions with them.
  • Inspire a shared vision of the future and the opportunities they present to the organisation. 
  • Challenge the process by experimenting, innovating, celebrating small wins and being prepared to take risks and continually learning from those experiences.
  • Enable others to act by building trust and collaboration and enabling and encouraging their contributors to take the initiative and to develop and grow. 
  • Encourage the heart (you’ll find this to be a common them throughout this article) through genuine recognition of achievement, engendering community.

Leadership “honesty” (trust) consistently ranked as the number one most admired leadership characteristic over a ten-year period and trustworthiness and leaders doing what they say they will do has been shown to increase trust by around 6x.  

Direct reports record a nearly 23x higher engagement when leaders exhibit the five practices.  

Research from Gallup and Forbes indicates that organisations with highly engaged employees benefit from

  • 10% higher customer ratings
  • 18% higher sales
  • achieve a 23% higher profitability

than those with lower engagement.

Effective change requires both leadership and management.  Either one in isolation is not enough. 

So, effective leadership is a team game – and we’ll expand upon this theme further, later in this article.


“The way we do things around here”. 

But it’s much more than that and takes longer to establish.

It’s well understood that organisational culture develops over time and there is a difference between the espoused and actual culture.

The cultural mix of an organisation consists of symbols, power structures, organisational structures, control systems, rituals, routines and, of course the organisation’s history and stories.

  • Is yours an inward or outward facing culture? 
  • Do you encourage a growth and winning mindset amongst your people? 
  • Is yours a rigid or adaptive culture?

Is your organisation showing signs of “the Peter Principle” – (where people are promoted beyond their competence) or the Dunning Kruger Effect (leaders grossly over-estimate their own capabilities and how they then compensate for their limitations). 

These are examples of how the “wrong people” can end up percolating towards the top of an organisation whilst stifling leadership, innovation, and engagement.

  • Is your culture agile? 
  • Is it adaptive enough to structure to benefit from change? 

If it is, then all of the cultural complexity identified above will need to be nudged towards the new future by strategically developing a “movement” consisting of early adopters and drivers of transformation.

How about organisational values?  Are they articulated and shared?

And remember, every time you seek to adapt and change, including that of culture, you’re likely to have to overcome Roger’s diffusion of innovation curve and ensure that you have the late majority’s buy-in to succeed.

So, culture (and cultural change) is also about teamwork, lots of communication and time.


Frequently, when organisations start, they do so with an entrepreneurial spirit and culture. 

Entrepreneurs have been described as:

“……people who do more than anyone thinks possible, with less than anyone thinks possible…..

The collaborative spirit means that people often wear several hats and there is a flat network structure.  Even Google started that way (and more of Google later, too).

However, as the organisation expands along with the need to develop reliability and stability, the default is to progressively migrate to the 19th century model – the hierarchy.

Gradually silos are built, and bottom-to-top (and visa-versa) information flow can be glacial, and so does an organisation’s ability to respond to change and/or loss of competitive advantage – agility is eroded.

A resolution is to keep both structures, for which they are best suited. 

Both the network structure for innovation and agility and the hierarchy for reliability and stability.  

The two elements of the same organisation have clear lines of crosstalk and interaction.

But isn’t that likely to involve a cultural change and the breaking down of silos?

Well, yes, they may well do, because a very large proportion of organisations are still hierarchical.

However, you can’t do “culture change by memo” (it can’t work).

So, it’s back to teamwork and lots of communication, time, and applying sound and well-established change principles and methodology.

That’s also true for organisation transformation in general (please see our article on the difference between Change and Transformation)


Strategy and strategic initiatives imply change, often significant change. 

That means leadership, vision, likely cultural implications, buy-in, communication (and lots of it), data, planning and inputs from key stakeholders (and stakeholders generally).

The strategic vision and its planning should occur neither in a vacuum nor silo, or by “the select few”. 

It requires multi-dimensional stakeholder interaction.

Creating a plan where people “have to” change will meet resistance.  People need to “want to” change and be prepared to buy-in. 

The more people feel they are part of the solution, the more likely it is to succeed.

So, strategy isn’t about one person coming up with a master plan to be imposed upon stakeholders. 

It’s about teamwork, and creating a strategic vision, ideally with a higher purpose – “to make more profit” just doesn’t cut it – the vision needs to be something that engages positive emotions and instils purpose and engagement throughout your organisation.


It’s coming at us faster than ever, and this is where we pull together all the elements highlighted above, plus the really important “creative network” (part of the dual structure) which is formed by volunteers from throughout the organisation. 

They’ll organically organise, take the strategic vision, work-it-up, give it life and meaning, and in doing so demonstrate that leadership exists throughout the enterprise. 

The change or transformation will have qualified and highly committed executive sponsors.   

They’ll help to maintain the change by removing barriers to action, celebrating short-term wins (it works, try it!) and maintaining acceleration/momentum and communicating with the entire team, organisation wide, using multi-modal (and innovative) methods.

In his inspirational and insightful book “Leading with Your Head and Your Heart”, Bill Lucia explains how, during his time as CEO at HMS, the change principles, creative network and change accelerators (called Results Accelerators, in HMS) helped in the period 2014-2020/21 to:


  • Increase revenue by 52%
  • Increase AEBITA by 82%
  • Increase employee engagement to 83% (from a low starting point in 2014)
  • Increase management effectiveness to 89%
  • Increase top talent retention to 97%

All despite of (and in fact, because of) an almost continuous transformation program during that time.

Kotter International partnered with HMS during this transformation, and they have said:

“….instead of taking a lot of time to get new ideas from a small group of people, take a small amount of time from members of a large group of people and exponentially increase the number and quality of solutions that are generated….” 

The bonus is that not only do you create effective inventiveness, ideation and innovation using a creative network (and HMS had 60%+ of its people as volunteers in the network) but leaders emerge.  

Leadership is definitely a team game.


Fully 62% of Private Equity companies’ reported unfocussed execution, 49% reported lack of urgency and 52% reported deal delays as an issue in a recent Alix report.

How can any change, transformation or strategic initiative succeed if organisations cannot execute?

Creating a sense of urgency is critical to any change or transformation program. 

But the need to measure before, during and after it is fundamental, otherwise, how will the change be confirmed and sustained?

Cue Google, or more correctly Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel who evolved OKRs (“Objective and Key Results”) from Peter Druker’s MBOs (“Management by Objectives”).

These became the drivers of execution at Intel and then in 1999, a start-up called “Google”, when they were introduced to them by John Doerr (who’d just invested $12.4M for 12%).

The point of OKRs is that, in an effectively run operation, they’re deliberately visible organisation wide. 

There are top-level OKRs and individual OKRs and everyone shares their result and support if key results (“KRs”) are falling behind.

OKRs are created by teams at the organisational, divisional and department level.

There can be “stretch” OKRs (because people engage when they’re challenged) and Google’s growth, it’s 10X thinking and execution, has largely been down to using OKRs to focus, create alignment, tracking OKRs, stretch OKRs, engagement of its people in the execution of its, and their own, OKRs. 

Ditto Intel (at one point – “Operation Crush” 1980 – OKRs saved it).  The Gates Foundation is also a user of, and vocal advocate for, OKRs.

And, of course, you can set up KPIs to measure progress towards your OKR(s).


So, once again, it’s about people engaging in, enjoying, and being really effective at team playing. 

Oxford Review’s 02/2019 special report titled High-Performance Teams: What the Research Says identifies the following 12 attributes of high-performance teams:

  • Trust
  • Size
  • Stories and emotion sharing
  • Shared vision
  • Diversity
  • Self-efficacy and emotional intelligence
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Willingness to co-operate
  • Mutual support and encouragement
  • A developmental mindset
  • Shared leadership
  • External coach

It’s about organisations recognising their people and the importance of shared vision, values, emotional connection and critically, trust.

And please note, the reference to “Team Sport” is not “trivial’.

Yes, sport can be about fun (and so should “work”), but it’s also about team work, collaboration, resilience, innovation, dedication, continuous improvements, the ability to fiercely challenge each other, and digging deep to sustain competitive advantage.

Barry Eustance CMgr MCMI

Principal Change Practitioner THE SIXSESS CONSULTANCY


Tony Underwood and Barry Eustance CMgr MCMI will be running their:

Trust Centred Leadership, Change & Execution retreats planned from Q1 of 2024. 

Spaces will be limited. 

To register interest in attending one of our engaging and performance focussed retreats, please contact us via:


We’ll acknowledge your interest by return, and as soon as program details are finalised, we’ll be in contact with you to discuss and plan your attendance.

Thank you.

#change #transformation #leadership #trustcentredleadership #kotter #OKR

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