As football season gets underway commentators fill hours of airtime predicting the strengths and weaknesses of teams, coaches, and players. Everyone involved understands that a pattern of success has an inherent vulnerability. As it was depicted in the 2009 film of the same name, it is a good practice to know your strengths and to place powerful and trusted people on your blind side.
This is also the season when many focus on strategic planning. While there is a standard playbook for the process it is the strengths of the team that shape its direction and success in implementation. For most the process looks something like this:
1. Define or revisit the mission, the stated purpose for which you show up to work.
2. Describe the current state of the company. This is often accomplished using the SWOT analysis to discuss Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
3. Customer analysis, look at who currently buys from you and why they do.
4. Depict a future state. Based on all the information gathered set goals for reaching the desired future state in three to five years.
5. Prioritize the objectives. Assign action items, target due dates for completion, and criteria for review.
6. Align these goals with rewards and accountability so that people are working out the strategic plan every day.
I suggest we add a preseason to strategic planning season. Preparation will make all the difference in the outcome. Lets start the planning by thinking about who will be in the room. You have a personality, your team has a style, and your company has a culture. These are different terms of scale, all defining the way we get things done. So, the first step is back, to take an objective view of the way you and your team interact as you gather information, make decisions, solve disagreements, and carry out a plan.
The group leader’s personality will influence interaction. The team that leader has assembled may be an extension of his/her strengths or complementary in their skills. In either case all perspectives need to be heard from. Setting and reinforcing this rule of engagement is essential to good planning and implementation. Groups create their own momentum and will silence the minority perspective automatically when the rules of engagement are ignored.
Consider these questions as you review the teams past work, particularly when it engages in planning and problem solving:
• Who has the most influence?
• Who talks the most?
• How is information gathered, and what information is valued most highly (e.g. sales dept. data vs. quality dept. data)
• What does our decision making process look like?
• Do we spend more time our vision of the company’s future or on measurable action items to accomplish the goals?
• How is our follow through? Have we been held accountable for the goals we set in the past?
Based on your answers to the questions above you may want to rethink who is included in planning, and how you will moderate in order to be certain that the process is not unwittingly flawed by the group’s strength.
It is common in independent entrepreneurial companies to find a leader with visionary gifts and perspective. The team around that leader will likely share that perspective, or has learned to submit to it during meetings. The blindside of this strength is often a weakness in the mechanics of accountability. Looking back on the days devoted to planning the team will remember an inspiring time in which little attention was devoted to action plans, measurement of progress, or alignment of the goals with daily work.
Individual or team leadership style can be measured and the results will fast track you to better team functioning. A word to the wise, there are many measurement tools of this kind available today (the most popular being the DISC, MBTI, and Enneagram) but their use can backfire in the wrong hands. Be sure to use a professional that is certified in the use of the specific test, as well as having a solid background in psychometrics. Among the reasons for caution is the misuse of test results. The best use of the measures is to understand valued contributions that each team member may bring to improve individual performance and team effectiveness. The worst use is that of pigeonholing team members, using the tests description like a horoscope to explain or dismiss behavior. Horoscopes are cheaper.
Would I suggest that the visionary entrepreneur reign in her game changing ideas? Of course not, but I did ask her the questions listed above. We did measure and thoroughly discuss the team’s leadership style. Out of those discussions a meeting structure was framed that balanced consideration of current state data, casting a vision for the future state, and using the quieter skills of her team build a prioritized action plan that was tied to weekly goals for implementation. The team is more cohesive and the process nets better results as they protect their strategic blindside.