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The power of grassroots teams to drive strategy, culture, learning, and execution

February 24, 2022
clock 5 MIN READ

At SEI, we have always been driven by grassroots energy. My team uses a volunteer board to spur ideas and allow employees expand their own skills and experiences beyond their day-to-day roles and responsibilities. We look for individuals to lead self-formed teams to explore these opportunities and share their ideas and insights. Through this effort, we come up with initiatives and investments that drive our business and our culture forward. 

Below is one such project run by the author of this guest blog, our always on, always curious, and always thinking leader, Jon O’Neil. Thanks Jon, for your leadership and commitment, and for sharing your learning with the Front and Centered community. 

Plans fail without good advice.
  But they succeed when there are many advisers.   – A proverb of Solomon

We recently launched several strategic planning initiatives led by cross-functional teams of volunteers from our business units. I’ve had the opportunity to lead one of these teams over the past eight months. Our purpose is to explore and develop new growth strategies for our business, starting with market assessment through to final business plan and launch of implementation.

In forming our team, we intentionally drew our volunteer members from a wide variety of cross-functional areas and industry expertise. In addition to our core team of six, we have dozens of advisers, who have been a continuous source of insight along the way.

We recently completed a major milestone in the project when we presented our conclusions to our unit’s leadership. We were not only pleased with the positive response we received, but we are also enthusiastic about our experience from working together in this diverse team model. Here are a few of our learnings:

Community-based strategy development can drive high levels of engagement and innovation while surfacing entirely new ideas. 

Because our team is made up of “boots-on-the-ground” individual contributors, we are in daily contact with our clients and industry influencers, giving us a variety of insights into the most current trends in the market. This has been complemented by access to all levels of our business’s leadership, who have well informed, broad-based perspectives. 
We gathered data from many sources including detailed interviews with relationship and sales team members, together with many clients, prospects, and industry consultants.

As we assembled the data in the early stages of the project, the team began to recognize distinct patterns and trends that drove us to key conclusions that then informed our proposed strategic initiatives. The breadth and depth of the data that we were able to gather in this process was critical to fully understanding the opportunities that our business can prioritize.

Teamwork reinforces key cultural values.

SEI’s culture is built on collaboration, community and teamwork. It’s been part of our DNA from the beginning. Our team is diverse in functional expertise, background, and perspective, which enables us to attack an issue through a wide range of problem solving styles. As team members, we regularly engage in healthy, respectful debate, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to voice their perspective. We test each other’s assumptions and regularly end a meeting with better and different outcomes than the working hypothesis we started with. Overall, our experience as a team has given us the opportunity to strengthen our abilities to leverage the power of our cultural values. 

Professional development through direct experience leads to high impact learning and is easily scalable.

Each of our team members have experienced professional growth through this project work. We have gained a much deeper understanding of our business, the markets we serve, our competitive positioning, and the areas of greatest business growth opportunity. In our day-to-day work, each of us is highly focused on a specific set of functional assignments, but this project has broadened our horizons, offering opportunities to practice new skills, increase our organizational networks, and participate in real business leadership. This experience-based model of professional development incurs no financial cost, results in a more motivated workforce and can be applied to a limitless number of business opportunities begging to be addressed. 

Broad-based engagement at the grass roots level will improve the path from idea to execution.

This experience-based model of professional development incurs no financial cost, results in a more motivated workforce and can be applied to a limitless number of business opportunities begging to be addressed.

Our team will continue working on this project through to implementation, in collaboration with our broader product development organization. A more traditional approach at this point would often involve a “hand off” to the functional experts. By staying fully engaged in the next steps, we will ensure that we maintain momentum and institutional knowledge while fully leveraging the insights we have gained throughout the project to date.

In addition to these key learnings, I would be remiss not to mention we have also had a lot of fun. In this day and age, there is no shortage of work to go around. The irony is in the new world of work, wherever you sit, people are looking for personal and professional growth opportunities and meaningful interactions and connections. A volunteer project checks all the boxes and I appreciate the great opportunity this one has given me, to move SEI’s business forward and strengthen personal and professional relationships along the way.

Albert Chiaradonna

Executive Vice President, SEI Global Private Banking

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