It is hard for us to think strategically. In the team we know that it is important and that a well-formulated strategy would help us a lot, but we don’t have it.
Strategy requires discourse, collaboration, contemplation and critical thinking. It requires time and space. Unfortunately, time to think (alone and together) is always in short supply.
Again, each time, we face the week, month or semester as if we can only pay attention to the plate of food in front of us and not the full menu that remains to be served, so we don’t measure out, we don’t know how much is left or how much we should eat so as not to go hungry or be fully satiated.
The system we are in does not encourage strategic thinking, it is not built for thinking and foresight, it is built to be reactive. It is often a matter of saving the day.
A strategy is a succession of actions, of next steps towards a goal, so if I can only fix my attention on the next urgent email, the next meeting, the next milestone, I can’t spend time on those actions, which are what give meaning to a strategy.
A quick search on strategy returns more pillars than a Greek temple. These pillars support a roof, the strategy, there we do not see processes, communication or anything else.
This is a problem, because we each interpret our pillars in our own way. Some think that a vision, a goal, a mission is all we need, but without actions, without a path, we only have Greek temples.
Principles, guidelines and actions
In the client’s area where I work, we have objectives, but no explicit way to achieve them. Yes, we have plenty of roadmaps, story mappings, even gantt charts, everything, but those are just maps and nothing more, not a strategy.
I know that some will think it is pure incompetence, but we are immersed in an ecosystem that leaves us no time, that exhausts us, where the immediate steals all our attention. Our team communicates within a tangle of hierarchical relationships that drink from the same problems that we do, an improvised local change would provoke conflict and that also prevents us from implementing changes. We are afraid.
We have realized that strategy and actions arise from team communication and individual thinking. Without the two things we separately get nowhere because the day to day devours us, but if we talk to each other, share our fears and small solutions, we are formulating simple actions to move towards our local and humble goal.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said:
“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.
Plans do not stand up to reality because we cannot contemplate all factors. If we could model all the physical laws involved in nature we could make predictions without guesswork, for example, always knowing the number that will come up at the roulette wheel.
Plans are static, planning is the constant process of changing actions to accomplish the purpose. Plausible and executable actions, not infallible plans. A process of communication, of constant planning, but without thinking only in the long term. We know very well that plans deviate from what is foreseen on the first day, we must go back to the drawing board, to talk and look for actions, small steps.
It is essential to discuss the basic foundations of the team, the operating system or the foundations, so to speak. Establish principles and guidelines that help to mark common lines of behavior and that serve as a continent for actions. In this way we break stereotypes and bad practices, vices that without even realizing it cloud our capacity for critical thinking. We are able to know how we are all expected to behave, in a consistent way, and this is ideal for those of us who are already there and for new colleagues who join us; for example, before starting a task, we should talk about it together to check that there are no internal dependencies or blockages.
Reflecting and sharing, within the framework of our fundamentals, helps to develop in everyone the critical skills necessary for strategic thinking. It is amazing how quickly you can learn with good communication and a clear-headed desire to improve. It helps us a lot to develop this ability because we always look ahead, only the horizon over which we do so changes, so, little by little, we collaborate together on the next action, the next step. An actionable strategy, without a plan, but planned.