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Monday, March 10, 2014


One of the biggest challenges I have faced as an organizational leader is to get teams to craft and deploy what seems to be the best strategic approach for moving forward.

In my early years of leadership I would make the mistake of simply floating  an open question to the group, fishing for ideas on how best to proceed (on whatever topic was moot at the time).  Again and again I experienced questioning looks, shrugs, acquiescent responses, and even bland questions meant to dodge the issue.  I would often get frustrated at this dynamic, wanting to blame team members for being disengaged, for lacking motivation to tackle our organizational problems, or for simply trying to fly below the radar (in the interest of self-preservation).  

While some of that stuff may have, in fact, been at play, I came to understand that the condition of stasis was more my problem (as the leader) than theirs.  The reality is that most of us, regardless of our job title or organizational role, stay focused on the contexts and circumstances that are most relevant to our particular assignment.  Few spend time thinking about the big picture challenges to an organization because, frankly, they are swamped with the flood of smaller picture stuff that rolls in each day. 

I eventually (far too belatedly, I must admit), came around to a better approach to having team conversations about big picture strategy, forecasting, and organizational response efforts.  I learned to leverage my own obsessiveness in thinking about the sticky stuff we deal with in organizations, those things that wake me up at 2:00 a.m. with my mind whirring away.

I began using a process I’ll call “hole shooting” to help get the best thinking and fuller engagement of the leadership team.  It goes something like this: I would try to think of a few (two at least) alternative approaches to the situational challenge with which we were faced.  I would put those options on the table and invite team members to "shoot holes in 'em."  This approach seems to garner much higher levels of engagement from team members.  Oddly, the human mind seems more adept at finding fault than finding worthiness. 

So be it.  At least we could get off dead center using this method of strategy deconstruction.  In a backward sort of way, we could tease out the least vulnerable strategies.  Good enough, so long as it provided impetus for moving our organization in the direction we needed it to go. 

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