Organizational Assessment & Analysis
Strategic Team Review and Action Tool (STRAT)
What We Did
Assessed group dynamics, facilitated a debrief meeting, and recommended solutions using the Strategic Team Review and Action Tool (STRAT)
Naming the “politeness factor” led to more productive meetings, honest conversations, managing dissent and expectations strengthening trust and respect.
Improving Team Synergy of an Early-Stage DEI Startup
All In Consulting is a ten-person team of consultants, DEI professionals, and coaches with over 75 years of combined experience working with leaders on organizational and culture change.
Over a three-month period, the leadership team worked to crystallize core values, establish group norms, and build a climate of trust and mutual respect. Group members found it important to discuss their priorities and pain points while still in the “forming” stage of team development. Group members felt ambivalence around the pace at which to move forward with the venture, striking a balance between relationship-building and task accomplishment.
Solution: STRAT Assessment and Debrief
AIC decided to engage the STRAT Assessment and Debrief process to assess how the team was working together, prior to becoming an official organization. Prior to taking the STRAT, the group had only met three or four time. The STRAT tool is typically used for mature organizations where groups are well developed. Using the STRAT, our consultant assisted this new team in assessing group consensus around strategic direction and emerging group dynamics.
Description of the Tool
The Strategic Team Review and Action Tool (STRAT) consists of 32 questions designed to survey a strategic leadership team (SLT). The purpose of the STRAT is to generate conversation among the SLT members regarding what they are doing well and what they could do better. Because STRAT is not a validated instrument, teams that score higher on STRAT are not necessarily better than teams that score lower. As such, the tool functions best when used as "a springboard for conversations regarding team processes." 
Based on the Strategic Leadership Framework, STRAT focuses on the human element of strategy. The framework proposes strategic leadership not as a position, but as an inclusive process whereby:
individuals share in the responsibility of developing and practicing strategy within organizations
the shared responsibility goes beyond implementing a strategy delegated from the top but extends to include various stakeholder groups in specific strategy-making activities
organizations become “continual learning engines” where the organizational strategy, vision, direction, and tactics are continually formulated, implemented, reassessed, and revised.
Taking the STRAT: Description of the Intervention
Although consultants most commonly use STRAT for established leadership teams, the process also proved effective as a springboard to discussing team dynamics within this startup consulting group. The consultant administered a 37-item survey via SurveyMonkey, with a 78% response rate.
After scoring, the consultant distributed a pre-read report containing item scores, average ratings and frequency distribution. The average deviation (i.e., difference between group mean and STRAT norm values) ranged from -0.84 to 0.91. The pre-read report also provided three reflection items for discussion.
The consultant and SLT leaders co-created four objectives for the debrief session to:
Share aggregate and comparison data for the STRAT
Provide space for group feedback on the results
Build consensus around strengths, points of confusion, and areas of improvement
Identify clear next steps to address any opportunities or areas for improvement
Six team members attended the two-hour debrief meeting where the consultant reviewed survey results. This virtual session provided space for team members to share their perceptions of group dynamics. One member recorded notes, and another functioned as timekeeper. The meeting opened with a check-in (icebreaker), and a review of the agenda, STRAT process, session goals, group norms, and roles. Then, the facilitator reviewed the conceptual framework for strategic leadership and played a related video by Dr. David Dinwoodie. The team commenced to discuss the data by selecting three to five items to focus the discussion. Group members shared their selections and looked for repeating items. In the debrief process, team members named positive and negative group dynamics. For example, participants identified the “politeness” factor as a challenge to openness in communication. After defining patterns, participants examined and reflected on the aggregate data, identifying strengths, points of confusion/intrigue, and areas for improvement. Finally, the group discussed potential next steps, along with what they appreciated about the debrief meeting. Following the debrief meeting, the consultant produced and delivered a report providing recommendations to address current and impending challenges.
The Results: Overcoming “the Politeness Factor” to Accommodate Dissent
AIC is in the forming stage of team development. The team will encounter more conflict and disagreement as they begin working together. Getting the issues out on the table raised awareness of a recurring theme in group interactions—the politeness factor.
A major philosophy of AIC’s leadership culture is to model the type of culture team members seek to create for clients. This includes communication culture. The principal shaped a creative, collaborative culture with strong humanistic values. Team members characterized the climate of AIC by high morale (Item 27), acceptance of different opinions (Item 10), high trust and respect for others (Item 22), group synergy (Item 12), low conflict, and low tension.
Despite the open climate, undiscussables existed due to self-censorship and what the team termed “the politeness factor.” While politeness characterizes the forming stage of a team, the workshop helped team members to name and discuss how it played out in group meetings.
The politeness factor is a work in progress, slowly being replaced with more open and candid interactions. Team members are becoming more comfortable discussing their true feelings and challenges. These discussions have not always felt comfortable, but by naming this factor ahead of time, team members gained a determination to deal with the challenge head-on, instead of sweeping it under the proverbial rug.
Underlying tensions observed around politeness and reluctance to engage issues have been less likely to escalate into full-blown conflict. Instead, team members engage with increasing vulnerability and authenticity to share their unfiltered thoughts, even when it would be easier not to.
Communication norms are in flux, especially around expressing dissenting views. This is to be expected, given the current stage of team development. Group members have also acknowledged that client-facing work can potentially shift the communication climate. As AIC moves into later stages of team development, extreme politeness will be tempered by characteristics of the performing stage. Predicting which issues will surface at a given time is difficult. As a DEI organization, leaders underscored the need to examine equity on the SLT and how communication norms are shaped by ethnic and cultural norms. They are becoming increasingly comfortable addressing underlying conflict, along with understanding the productive nature of well-managed conflict.
Since the Workshop…
The principal and operating manager have become more comfortable engaging in critical conversations. For example, the operating manager spoke up during a critical decision with information about the external environment. This dissenting view resulted in a decision to accelerate the pace of business development activities. This is important because her intel accelerated the business development strategy to provide transformational DEI service to organizations at a time when turbulence in the external environment had increased in response to social injustice. At a time when organizations were desperate for DEI solutions to address a need that exploded overnight. With this action, she overcame the overcoming politeness factor and challenged the status quo while staying true to the shared values, which resulted in a decision to pursue a strategic opportunity to help organizations. She met the moment in a way that politeness would not have allowed.
The principal noted that it feels good breaking through the ice, and naming issues without fear of people taking things the wrong way. Engaging in the STRAT process has led to honest conversations and learning about others’ assumptions (e.g., regarding projects, roles, and expectations). Collectively, they are beginning to hear more dissent. Group members are also being clearer on their needs, wants, and interests. Overall, cutting through the politeness has strengthened trust and respect.
Quotes on STRAT Process
“[The exercise] felt like the first time we really delved into our culture or our dynamic. It named something things we didn’t previously look at like the politeness factor. Helped us to assess and look at our dynamic. Would love to have us take it second time at some point soon to assess based on the first and second time.”
-N. Perry, Managing Partner
“We put some things on the table we had not talked about before like naming elephants. I think it was useful and impactful.”
-T. Fallon, Principal
 Hughes, R. L., Beatty, K. C., & Dinwoodie, D. L. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization's enduring success (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
 As a function of organizational climate, tension characterizes “the degree to which there is a sense of stress or a psychological ‘edge’ in the work atmosphere.” Burton, R. M., Obel, B., & Hakonsson, D. D. (2015). Organizational design: A step-by-step approach(3rd ed.). Cambridge.