Why Strategy and Culture Are Equally Important

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While strategy is important, healthy and positive organizational culture is essential. Without healthy culture, a strategic plan will not be executed well in the long term.

By Rick Vandermyden

Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without strategy. —General Norman Schwarzkopf

Too often we see organizations focus too heavily on strategy and not enough on character. High-performance cultures have both. In the book Built To Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, the authors describe how all great, enduring companies have a core purpose. A single, clear, concise statement that all of leadership buys into. When leadership buys in, there is a high probability of team buy-in.

In Good To Great, James C. Collins discusses the concept of getting the “right” people on the bus, the “wrong” people off the bus, and the right people in the right seat on the bus. These “right” people, first and foremost, are cultural matches for the organization. These individuals easily align with the core purpose and strategy of the organization as well as desire to be involved in a high-performance culture.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, provides a model for how any company can achieve organizational health. This model balances smart qualities and healthy qualities.

The first step in the implementation of this model is building a cohesive leadership team. It is critical that there is complete clarity and alignment with the stated mission, vision, and strategy. Small fissures at the top of the organization can create gaping canyons between departments or among team members.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni describes the five behaviors that are paramount to building a cohesive leadership team. They are as follows:

1. Build Trust

This refers to vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability means team members being willing to say they need help, they messed up, someone else is better at a given skill set, and being open with weaknesses. Leadership must be the first to admit their weaknesses. Team members must be able to take risks and give feedback among their peers.

2. Master Conflict

A leader cannot be afraid to encourage healthy conflict within the team. This means being able to find the middle between false harmony and mean-spirited, personal attacks. There is a space right in the middle of these two where it is possible to engage in healthy conflict. Everyone is able to share and debate all ideas. This is a place to be heard and weigh in on key initiatives.

3. Achieve Commitment

Once everyone has weighed in, the team can move to buy in. Since the team has weighed in and debated all ideas, it can now move to clarity and commitment. Each team member agrees on the prescribed path even if it does not include his or her individual idea. No one can walk out and undermine the clarity agreed to in the meeting.

4. Embrace Accountability

This is peer-to-peer accountability. The leader has the ultimate responsibility for accountability; however, once they demonstrate their willingness to hold members accountable, they may not have to. Team members of high-performing teams provide peer accountability that is more powerful than leaders’ accountability. However, if the leader is unwilling the team will not be compelled to take sole accountability.

5. Focus on Results

The focus is on collective team results over individual or departmental results. High-performing teams know that the team winning trumps any individual or departmental agendas. For example, a successful team in professional sports is focused on the championship more than any one player’s stats within a season or game.

A leadership team that lacks these behaviors undermines a high-performance culture. Conversely, a leadership team with an intentional focus on these behaviors has a high probability of developing a high-performance culture. This culture is dependent on leaders developing their personal character as well as the character of their team members.

What happens when an organization lacks clarity of purpose? Team members don’t know why what they do matters day to day, nor do they know what behaviors are expected of them. How does an organization develop their purpose? Here are six critical questions from The Advantage, which Lencioni believes lead to organizational health.


This should be completely idealistic. What is it that causes you, your leadership team, and your team members to get out of bed every morning and show up to serve your customers? What creates energy in the organization to pursue something lofty that improves people’s lives? Being in pursuit of such a purpose will help team members identify they are with the right organization.


Every organization has a culture. The question is: Is our company culture intentional or accidental? Do we have a set of core beliefs and expected behaviors for each other? Do we hold to standards or do we accept whatever behavior shows up? Organizations thrive when they have a few beliefs (three to five at most) that they insist everyone lives by. This cannot be a list of nice-sounding values on a wall. Values being on display does not matter if they are not in the hearts and minds of the entire team.


This is a simple, one-sentence description that everything can stand on. For example, a physical therapy company’s might be, “We help people get to optimum physical health.”


What is our plan for success? How does our team know when we are succeeding? This starts as a broad list that includes things that impact the entire organization. It then narrows down to a few specific things that can be measured so the team members know when they are successful.


Do team members know what the priority is right now and their part in achieving it? Is the team able to galvanize their efforts so each member’s contribution helps achieve the top priority? This is typically a short-term priority of 60 to 90 days that helps the company achieve larger goals.


Do team members and leaders have a clear direction on what they need to do? Do they know how their unique contribution fits into the top priority or the business purpose? A continued drive toward clarity will help to develop the high-performance culture desired.

Though the process described for working through these questions is in depth, it is not complicated.

A leadership team that is cohesive tends to create a cohesive team. A leadership team that creates clarity tends to communicate clarity for team members. Cohesiveness and clarity are necessary for organizations to develop a high-performance culture.

What can you do now? Schedule a one-hour meeting of your Leadership Team or if you are the leadership team, take some time to reflect individually. Consider the preceding six critical questions and try to develop an answer to each question in 10 minutes. If working with a team, have each team member present an answer and see if you can get group consensus on that answer within 10 minutes. If you need to schedule a second one-hour meeting (you probably will), do that one week later. This process will be a great start to building a company with strong organizational health.

Rick Vandermyden

Rick Vandermyden owns a corporate consulting business as well as the Keller Williams Realty franchises operated in Folsom, California, for more than 15 years. He can be reached at info@rickvdm.com.

*This author has a professional affiliation with this subject.

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