In our last post and podcast, we introduced you to the idea of team-based planning and its many benefits. To recap, it’s an activity most commonly carried out at the beginning of the year (or whenever a refresh is required), and it’s guaranteed to bring clarity, focus and direction to your team. Team-based planning gets everyone on board, aligned and invested not only in the outcome, but the journey too.
Today, we’re sharing 10 key steps to help you with this valuable planning process (you can also hear us discuss the 10 steps on this podcast episode). We also link below to a template you can use to work through these steps. So, let’s dive in.
A situation analysis provides context so that everyone starts the planning process on the same page. We do this by asking questions like, ‘What's been happening in the team, our environment, our organisation?’ and, ‘What's brought us to this place in time?’ Though the insights gathered don't have to go in the plan itself, it’s important to make sure everyone in the team agrees upon the current the state of play.
You can also include a blue-sky vision at this step so there's an element of aspiration in your context. If you want to stretch your team further than they’ve been before or create something new, a blue-sky vision helps them imagine what that looks like. For example, ‘This is where I’d like to see the team heading…’ or ‘This is what success looks like for us…’
A nice tool we use for this activity is The Target:
‘Success’ might look like everyone's kicking goals, getting great feedback from stakeholders or there are less time-sucking email threads or meetings. ‘Non-success’ might look like bickering, in-fighting or not sharing resources within the team. When success metrics are in alignment, it’s much easier to set goals.
To start creating the plan, we recommend the tried and tested SWOT Analysis method which asks the question, ‘What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the team with respect to both internal and external issues?’
Try going one step further by asking the follow-on question, ‘So What?’. For example, your team might say, ‘Our strength is that we're highly skilled’. But asking ‘So what?’ will prompt them to explain the implication or impact of having that strength.
Later, as the objectives are being developed, you can refer back to the SWOT analysis to find opportunities that are not priorities or threats that need to be addressed with the plan.
Stakeholders are those people likely to be successful as a result of your success and vice versa. You may have the same customer but a different focus, for example, you might be in a finance team and your stakeholders might be HR or IT.
In this analysis, ask about the impact and importance of these stakeholders. By doing so, you'll build up a relationship map of people in your organisation. This is where you could bring in a team-building activity. For example, you might ask your team to imagine what your key stakeholders are saying about them, and then what they’d like the stakeholders to say about them. In one of our workshops we asked this very question, and then we actually brought the stakeholder in to explain what they thought! (If you can’t physically bring in the stakeholder, you can ask them prior to the workshop and have a big reveal.)
We covered this in previous a podcast and post, and essentially the Team Purpose answers the question, ‘What do we do, for whom and why?’ The answer/s give your team clarity and common direction, defining and setting the framework for the team and how it operates. Defining your Team Purpose focuses the team on delivering the right things to the right people at the right time in the right way.
Shared values are an important element of a high performing team. We suggest you look at values from a behavioural perspective asking the question, ‘What are the values or behaviours that will guide the way we make decisions and how we interact with each other?’ The aim is to have everyone in agreement so that objectives can be successfully achieved in a way that everyone approves. For examples of values you can refer to our Values Card Sort exercise here.
We encourage people to use the SMART framework to answer the question, ‘What do we want to have achieved by the end of a period or a timeframe?’ e.g. specific, measurable, realistic and achievable within the timeframe. The more specific you are, the more clarity it brings to your team. For example, ‘We have to do all of this by June, so the implication for me is…’
If you can't be specific because you're waiting on information from other sectors, try putting a timeframe on it, or just be as precise as you can. Bear in mind there may be objectives in several distinct areas.
To set objectives in multiple areas, you could use a scorecard approach, with headings for areas such as finance, customer, people, process (depending on the focus of your organisation). During a team session, you could separate those areas into four corners, and ask groups of people to move around and see what different objectives come up in each area. Ideally you want people to work independently and together. This could be a perfect opportunity to bring in stakeholders and get them in on the ground floor if there are objectives that directly impact them.
When working on objectives, think about your success factors, asking the question. ‘In order to achieve these objectives…’
What has to go right?
What are the potential barriers, and how can we mitigate them?
What do we need to do?
Who do we need to get on board or on side?
What resources and support is required for us to reach our objectives? Quite often, we'll set objectives without asking what resources are required to reach them. Is it time, money, other people's efforts that we need in order to achieve this objective? Is it IT spend?
This not only has the task element (what do we need?) but also the people element (who do we need?). This is where you, as a people manager, might require different resources to others in the team. It's a great indicator of diversity and individual team members’ needs.
During this step we ask the question, ’What are we doing now that's not in the plan?’ This is important because teams tend to add more and more into the plan forgetting they already have things to do on a day-to-day basis. This step helps to shore up the plan and confirm that it’s balanced, realistic and achievable. There may be objectives that must be let go.
Here we suggest you create a timeline and map out where each of your objectives fall in the course of a calendar year. (Tip: If they're all in July, you've got a problem.) Again, it’s about creating balance and perspective, which is much easier when you can see it clearly set out before you.
Identify the critical points or milestones and understand how they’ll impact other areas of the business. For example, at certain times your business may have conferences, or your people may have board papers to write. We've seen teams take this to the next level by not only mapping out the objectives and when they fall, but also establishing which stakeholders are heavily involved in the delivery of that objective.
Take your timeline to each stakeholder so they can see where and when you’ll need their support. In this way, you're creating better relationships within the organisation and broadening your network. By giving an overview of activities and the bigger picture, this is a practical way of doing something really useful for everyone involved.
This step is about asking the questions, ‘How do we keep this plan alive? How do we follow up? How do we make sure that we don't create a document that just sits in a drawer? How do we use this in a practical way so we're successful as a team?’
Some teams might decide to have this as an agenda item for regular team meetings, touching base on the team plan to check where they're on or off track. Or they might focus on different key steps in the plan at different team meetings.
Others keep the plan alive by physically putting it up in a shared space and using a red/amber/green approach. This is where the objectives going well get a green light, those that are faltering a bit get amber, and red is used for those not hitting target. This leads to the question, ‘Why and what do we need to do about that?’ We also suggest diarising team meetings and inviting the one-up manager along every quarter.
Your team may come up with some great alternative ideas for ensuring the plan is nurtured as a living breathing document, so make sure to get them involved.
If every team in an organisation did a team-based plan you’d start to see amazing changes. When people are aligned in thoughts, actions, words and behaviours, that's when the magic happens and you have the greatest power and impact.
Getting your team involved in the planning process, with everyone contributing and on board, is a skill that every people leader would do well to master. We talk about creating success using personal goal setting, Well, this is just what you’re doing as a team with your team-based plan - creating a vision and a strategy for bringing that plan to life.
As the Chinese proverb says, "If you want one year of prosperity you grow grain, if you want 10 years of prosperity, you grow trees." And that's exactly what we're doing here, growing strong healthy trees.
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