While military analogies have limits in business--and are often more cliché than practical--one that I find highly effective is the idea of a war room. A war room is a space where information is gathered and displayed where your team can meet to discuss and decide on strategies and objectives. Done well, a war room can be a powerful tool in creating focus and alignment in your team.
As a strategic coach, I'm always looking for an edge that I can give my clients. And while more ideas and information can help, more often than not, it's about creating deeper insights and making a better decision with the information you already have.
The problem is that information can be buried in binders and folders or on hard drives (or the cloud these days) and inaccessible to the team. Making this information accessible and placing it in clear view allows it to be used more effectively.
This is what a war room does so well. It takes the key information, data, and plans that a team has developed and organizes it in a structured and visual way so that it's at the team's fingertips. Here are five aspects of a great war room.
1) Close to the action
The best war rooms are located in a central place close to where the work is being done. It should be easy to get to and easy to access. High-performance teams meet daily to review updates and action plans. If your space is too far away to easily access, you won't establish a routine that will drive the pace.
Your war room need not be physical. Several teams that I work with are virtual, with leadership located in disparate parts of the world. A virtual war room creates common data sets, meeting tools, reports, and documents that give everyone on the team the right information in the right format.
2) Common ground
It's important that your war room be accessible to everyone at all times. Don't put it in the CEO's office or the main conference room if these are closed or occupied during the day. You want your war room to be open and available to everyone on the leadership team at all times so they can access information, update plans and reports, and have a space to think about strategy and long-term goals.
3) Information radiators
Having spent almost two decades in Lean/Agile software development, I've borrowed many ideas and concepts and applied them to my business coaching strategy. One of the core ideas that I've borrowed is an information radiator. By organizing information and insights in large format charts, diagrams, and models and putting them on the wall, you create visual access to the critical resources the team needs to plan and make better decisions.
4) Meeting space, not working space
It's important to set up your war room as an ideal place to meet. Generally, war room meetings are short and focused. You need enough space for everyone on the team to be in the room and still see everyone and everything on the walls. I tend to like open spaces where people stand or sit in chairs that can be quickly moved around, rather than conference tables.
Don't encourage people to work in the war room. This allows other people to come in and quickly access the information they need without disrupting others. Quick meetings and work sessions are fine, but for focused work, use another space.
5) Invite change and updates
Everything in the war room should be easy to update and change. I like stickies on walls that can be edited, replaced, moved and reorganized as needed. Don't get attached to any particular setup or format. The key to a good war room is the ability to adapt quickly to changing situations and strategies. Whiteboard and glass walls create great surfaces where diagrams, sheets, notes, and documents quickly posted and edited.
In today's rapidly changing business world, having the right tools and information at your fingertips is key. With the right information in the right format, teams will be able to gain insights and quickly execute strategic moves that will win in their market.