I help teams of any size across government and the private sector (both for-profit and non-profit organizations), efficiently explore and design a range of next wise actions using some variation of the following approach, drawn from design thinking expert Jeanne Liedtka from University of Virginia Darden School of Business : 1) Determining What Is, 2) Discovering What If, 3) Discovering What Wows and, 4) Determining What Now.
The depth of these stages depends entirely on the context. I‘ve led processes in these stages using different tools and techniques over the course of days to weeks. But what they all have in common are the principles of planning and strategy design that I learned early and honed over time in the crucibles of stress.
I want to first share with you these principles and then help your teams design the right variation of the overall approach to plans and planning that suits you where you are now and where you hope to go. With a few questions, and perhaps an introductory visit, we can get a good feel for what lies ahead in order to accomplish what you need. The results will be a structure of the very best next wise actions for your teams, coupled to ongoing processes to stay out front of the inevitable adaptive evolutions to come. All I ask in return is your commitment to putting skin in the game.
Leadership and Teams are two sides of the same golden coin. As such, there is really no point in wondering whether the individual or the group is the best level for intervention. Like many things in life, they are deeply symbiotic. A better way I like to refer to this symbiosis is to say, that we are all only participants - no more, no less.
For me, the joy is seeing the lights turn on at both levels of participants - leader and team member - to a new sense of belonging with one another. The goal is a team fit for purpose, where being truly heard and actually valued finally become matter of course. While there is no silver bullet, I've been around long enough to recognize what's usually going on, or at least how to begin a useful exploration into these relationships. It is this most basic component of every organization and community that I love working with the most, because the results are always deeply human, often moving, and immediately impactful to the problem at hand.
I bring my own rich tapestry of experiences with teams where I've been both the leader and the follower as I suspect you have too. More importantly, I bring both app based team effectiveness support tools, as well as various participatory sharing and exploration techniques to probe these evolving human landscapes in the digital age.
Yet honestly, sometimes it doesn't take much secret sauce or wizardry from me. Simply bringing an outside perspective can be a catalyst for discoveries in your teams and organizational communities.
All organizational challenges are actually nested in many parts and wholes, of which we can never fully grasp or influence (think Russian nesting dolls as a possible metaphor). The nature of this challenge varies with the context. However, we should not be surprised by our failure to control, or even shape, all of these nested domains, since there is no such thing as a frictionless or perfectly linear world. Moreover, we all have limited bandwidth with which to influence, or even care about, many of these wider, nesting ecological circles in which we reside. However, we can improve our own organizational eyesight, hearing, and touch when it comes to which parts and wholes across our nesting systems are most essential to our surviving and thriving.
I use a combinatory perspective of science and your stakeholder experiences to help broaden the collective participants' perspectives through various future journey mappings and workshop interactions. One of the flexible frames I offer as a starting point for this exploration is the venerable "What Is, What If, What Wows, What Now" approach, detailed in section three below.
When possible, I like to back these workshops up with app-based tools for on-going organizational narrative pattern analyses. These help 100% of all participants continuously identify and transparently connect themselves to graphically portrayed patterns showing up in bright visual displays right on their own desktops and mobile platforms. These fun and engaging tools can provide a dynamic (and anonymous) picture of how the different cultures in an organization are thinking about their own contours and eventually how they may then explore intersections together.
This is NOT a tool for coordination such as email or other collaborative office apps. The tools I provide are for getting a more "Gestaltian" view of deeper patterns, that have both process and emotional content, all designed to get at this more abstract, but still partly graspable, thing we call Culture.
The coolest thing is, these tools can, if desired, be viewed in real time and simultaneously across all levels of the organization or community! One can easily then imagine the powerful opportunities and obstacles that can be identified in real time for deeper in-person/virtual team, community, and leader discussions later. And, all of this can scale as easily as sending an email.
However, regardless of technique, and whether you use workshop and/or narrative pattern tools, your shared ecologies are always truly worth exploring. Work in this area will yield rich interlocking possibilities across your systems, and identify as yet untapped leverage points for all. I would enjoy helping in this exploration to find what's most important to you, and your teams', success.
I specialize in unique narrative experience gathering techniques that help everyone in an organization spot important trends that can otherwise become deeply hidden. It is often these deeply hidden trends that are actually guiding your culture, and not always towards what's most important. My techniques arm an entire population of stakeholders with visually interesting pattern graphs right on their desktops and mobile devices. And to the extent that participants use these self-guided techniques, and offer on-going descriptions of their work experiences, the resulting patterns and graphs essentially become a living cultural landscape for all to see.
The real work then continues, as the whole organization gathers periodically to co-design the wisest actions to adjust the cultural conditions. That would then inspire new informal narratives to emerge around the "break rooms" of their organizations. These new stories told then become the healthier culture of tomorrow.
As background, the most honest stories we tell each other about our cultures, happen in the hallways or the break rooms after the official meetings are over. These informal individual story experiences eventually aggregate into the explicit and implicit contours of our collective lives we call - culture. The more we can become aware of these narrative contours, the more we can gauge whether they trend our cultures away or towards what's collectively most important to us.
But the trick is to take this kind of temperature in the raw as it were, and then instantly share it widely and transparently for all to see. This allows everyone to take natural cues from the emerging landscape rather than solely from centralized authorities and/or experts. This more natural approach leads to healthier inside ecologies that "keep up" with the outside ecologies that matter.
If you are still not sure about this approach, let me gently remind you how cultures will always have the first and last word in spite of best laid plans, programs, and processes. After all, as the saying goes, Culture always eats Strategy for breakfast! But, we CAN do more to keep up with the fast moving world, as long at the culture says so.
How many of us have experienced the meeting or workshop format where the leader did most of the talking, while a few dominant players competed, and the rest sat idly by rolling their eyes silently? Sound at least somewhat familiar? Even if your organization has espoused more participatory styles in your gatherings, how often has this consistently manifested well for all involved? Count yourself lucky if it has.
What would you think if I told you that you could hold a gathering and actually hear from each and every one in the room, multiple times, and do all this in a shorter overall timespan, regardless of the size of the gathering? Sound impossible? Well it is very possible, given a great set of parallel group sharing exercises called Liberating Structures. They are called Liberating Structures because they are simple, lightly held, structures that "liberate" the greatest agency in every attending member, while creating the broadest set of perspectives on a given topic, in the least amount of time. This happens all due to the power of breaking into twos - threes - or no more than sixes, in fun, relatively rapid, but varied exploration exercises.
These can be used in an instant, and mixed and matched, with almost zero time needed to describe or prepare. They also require a minimum of so-called "expert" facilitation, which usually translates into - unnecessary performance art! Instead, these exercises help move the "professional" facilitator off center stage, while moving the participants on stage, where they belong and where their wisdom can best influence the show. After all, gatherings are not for the one; they are for the many.
In the end, I look forward to mixing and matching these techniques with some of your own approaches, as well as some of the processes noted above, to create the most potent, results-oriented explorations possible tailored to your needs.