For Better Big Idea Meetings, Think Small
BY Les McKeown
Think you need every conceivable data point put on a spreadsheet and analyzed over and over just to get a big idea on the table? Nope. Not at all.
I've facilitated just about every conceivable type of business gathering. From high-level strategic planning to grinding out micro-granular tactics--and everything in between. Meetings with detailed, PowerPoint-heavy agendas and free-wheeling, 'let's reinvent the industry' blue-sky sessions.
But one type of meeting has consistently proved to be more powerful than any other--and it's usually precipitated by one simple, anguished question: 'What the heck do we do now?'
You'd naturally assume that answering such a simple question requires a near-Olympian feat of information-gathering and analysis--every conceivable data point has been corralled, spreadsheeted and pivot-tabled to an inch of its life.
But here's the counter-intuitive lesson I've learned when faced with a scorched-earth, burnt-bridges, come-to-Jesus moment: simplicity is not just your friend, it is truly a secret weapon.
See, what happens with most senior teams is that when faced with an existential issue, they tend to double down on what generated success previously. They default to the 'success principles' that were developed in a previous era, which in turn prevents genuinely new, inspired thinking.
So, if you're in a situation where you need to reinvent your mission, your strategy, your product line, your culture--anything, really, of genuine importance, rather than holding an autopsy to pore over the entrails of what went before, try this instead:
1. Put some fresh eyes in the room. This is no criticism of your existing team, but answering the question 'What the heck do we do now?' requires fresh eyes. Not instead of your current team, but alongside them. Grab some folks from your supply chain, from elsewhere in your industry - and from outside your industry, and pay or bribe them to sit with you as you...
2. Ask: What does success look like? That's it. That's all. Ask a single, simple, powerful question.
Don't elaborate, don't editorialize, don't place parameters on how the question can or should be answered. Simply ask the question, give folks a little time to think, then go around the table, giving each person three minutes to answer as best they can.
Have a facilitator available to flip chart the answers, then take it from there. Batch the responses, look for trends, explore commonalities. Slough off the outliers and hone in on the obvious, the unanimous, the 'of course's'. Agree on a form of words that conveys the core answer to, 'What does success look like?'
3. Ask: How do we get there? Take a break--a couple of hours, a day. Whatever works for you, then come back and ask another simple question: 'Now that we know what success looks like, how do we get there?'
Use the same process: a little time to think, then three minutes for each person in sequence (don't start with an open discussion. You'll get immediately bogged down in cross-talk and inappropriate levels of detail). Have a facilitator trap the answers, then start batching. Pare off the outliers and agree on the core. Stop when the group starts talking about tactics rather than strategies. You can work the details out later.
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