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Uniting for change

How shared principles break organizational deadlocks

Bridging differences and building consensus through core principles


Navigating organizational change is daunting, often hindered by conflicting priorities that lead to stalemates. How do you move forward when the path ahead seems blocked?


In this article, we delve into a groundbreaking approach that has redefined how large enterprises navigate internal stalemates. We intertwine a narrative around a real-life case with six practical tips for building a collaborative team, showcasing how shared principles are not merely theoretical concepts but powerful tools for aligning diverse executive priorities. Our story reveals how these principles, once integrated into a company's decision-making process, can transform organizational dynamics, fostering unity and turning potential conflicts into collaborative success.


As you explore this journey, you will gain insights into how senior executives from a major enterprise tackled challenges in enhancing their software development models' effectiveness and efficiency. Before engaging with us, they grappled with a lack of shared vision and guiding principles, leading to a deadlock. Each executive, entrenched in their domain’s values and priorities, faced unique challenges and biases. Compounding this was a lack of universal terminology, with terms like "value" or "customer" leading to switchtracking.


In this exploration, we not only recount their journey to success but also provide a blueprint for senior executives. You will learn how to harness your team's collective strength to drive meaningful change, guided by our six key strategies for fostering effective collaboration and innovative leadership in today’s dynamic business landscape.


Our approach


Let's start by defining 'Principles' in our context. They are the foundational beliefs and values that guide an organization's actions, decisions and strategies.


Before our intervention, the organization's decision-making was implicit and lacked structure, leading to slow strategic decision-making. By focusing on discussing principles rather than specific agendas, we enabled the leadership team to cut decision-making time in half, enhancing their responsiveness in their highly competitive online social networking market. 


We identified the root of their stalemate as a lack of shared principles, essential for meaningful strategy and operating model discussions. These principles needed to reflect each business domain's values, ensuring all perspectives and priorities are represented without compromise.


To transform their software development process, we guided them in adopting the Thoughtworks EDGE Operating Model, with an emphasis on principles. This comprehensive model touches upon crucial areas like executive vision, product strategy, portfolio management, product architecture, lean delivery, and measuring value. Each area plays a specific role in evolving their software model: executive vision shapes the direction, product strategy defines the roadmap, portfolio management aligns projects with business objectives, and product architecture ensures technical coherence.


Our aim was to create a unified language and align priorities, transitioning from initial skepticism to a universal consensus on principles.


Understanding the contextual landscape


Our journey began with a series of workshops that allowed executives to highlight their domain’s priorities, revealing unique values and perspectives from their respective business areas. Additionally, this clarified the demands each executive had for the new operating model. For example, the transformation in the Information Security Officer's approach from 'approval for all features' to 'Secure by Design' facilitated more positive discussions.


Diving into the challenges they faced revealed pain-points not previously considered. A significant challenge was the lack of a 'Lingua Franca'; in discussions on virtually any topic, the term 'Customer' had different meanings — for some, it referred to internal consumers of certain services, while for others, it meant external business customers. This misalignment in terminology was more than a mere communication issue; it was a fundamental barrier to strategic alignment and efficient decision-making. Without a unified understanding, departments operated in silos, leading to conflicting strategies and initiatives that often undermined the company’s overall customer experience and market responsiveness. 

By aligning on a shared definition, the team could streamline their strategies, ensuring that every decision and action taken was uniformly customer-centric, thus significantly enhancing the company's ability to respond to market changes and customer needs swiftly and effectively.
Each area plays a specific role in evolving their software model: executive vision shapes the direction, product strategy defines the roadmap, portfolio management aligns projects with business objectives, and product architecture ensures technical coherence.

Representing values was another major challenge, as conflicts emerged when individuals felt their values were overlooked or infringed upon. Some executives felt their views were unrepresented in proposals, while others believed differing concerns were obstructive. 


In the highlighted case, the conflict between product strategists and the Information Security Officer exemplified this, where a shared 'customer first' approach clashed with differing valuations of security and creativity.


Finally, we discovered widespread opportunities, particularly a unanimous wish for responsible, autonomous software development teams. This insight spurred discussions on enablement principles and practices to fulfill their common goals.


Identifying core principles


Common themes from discussions on values and priorities helped frame our set of principles. 


The dialogue revealed both positive legacy principles, like agile development and user-centric design, and negative ones, such as siloed development. This insight led to quick alignment on effective principles and gap identification, hastening the final set's development.


In implementing our methodology, we worked with the team to develop unifying principles, tailored to their unique context, based on our EDGE Operating Model. While covering key areas like Executive Vision and Product Strategy, we focused on how these principles could be integrated into their existing framework. For instance, we emphasized Agile Implementation as a means to enhance flexibility and responsiveness, and Measuring Value to ensure continuous improvement and alignment with business outcomes. These principles were not just adopted but adapted to fit their specific operational needs and challenges.


The principles which sprang from these discussions included:

  • Long-term customer value creation over short-term gains

  • Promoting innovation and agile decision-making

  • Embracing a value-based, data-driven mindset when ideating business use cases

  • Fostering individual and team responsibility for actions and outcomes

  • Continuous evaluation of measurement parameters for relevance and effectiveness


These principles, deeply resonating with each executive, encapsulated their and their teams' values. Serving as discussion cornerstones, these principles provided a shared language for resolving disagreements. Fully committed, they applied these principles in the next phase of operating model development, transforming their software process.


The impact of shared principles


We witnessed a transformative shift.


Strategy meetings shifted from discord to a more collaborative rhythm. Stalemates gave way to productive dialogue. Shared principles became the team's benchmarks for strategy and decision evaluation. 


With a common language and shared priorities now in place, the development-speed and quality of their code improved significantly, focusing on solutions that upheld shared principles.


The shift in decision-making was eclipsed by the executives' own transformation. In weeks, they transitioned from guarding individual interests to unitedly defending a shared vision. They successfully bridged differences, fostering an authentic collaborative environment.


Six tips for building a collaborative team


  • Develop shared principles: Develop shared principles to create a common values and priorities language that fosters collaboration and mitigates biases, ensuring decisions align with organizational interests.

  • Make mutual understanding a team goal: Discussing each stakeholder's concerns, participants gain insight into diverse values and priorities crucial for collective decisions and strategies.

  • Establish a shared language: Essential for effective communication, a common understanding of key terms drives progress.

  • Recognize team members’ values: Address potential stalemates by ensuring all values are represented in discussions.

  • Clarify legacy principles: Assessing current principles saves time and reveals gaps needing attention.

  • Liftoff at '80%': Aim for 80% alignment in collaborative efforts to circumvent protracted debates, enhance efficiency, and ensure adaptability for future refinements.


A new paradigm in leadership


The transformation we observed powerfully demonstrated how shared principles can navigate through stalemates and enhance collaboration, offering a fresh perspective on leadership dynamics. This experience goes beyond a success story; it's a blueprint for how unity in values and principles can revolutionize organizational strategy and decision-making.


Our role in guiding this journey has reinforced the significance of principles in crafting effective operating models and setting the stage for sustained success. This case serves as an inspiring example for leaders seeking innovative approaches to foster team alignment and strategic breakthroughs.


Learn more about our EDGE Operating Model