One of my friends used to be a Captain of Industry. Before his retirement, he worked in top positions in China, Malesia, Argentine, Austria, Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands. He has seen every management style in decision-making and met everyone with clout.
Every time I meet him, he wears a pair of old jeans and dirty rubber clogs and takes me on a walk along the grassy meadows he now owns. We pet the sheep and the cows and collect some eggs on the way. Another obligatory part of our meetings is admiring his vegetable garden and eating a tomato straight off the vine 🍅.
A man of opposites and without pretense.
We discussed getting the organization to work more strategically on one of those walks.
From the management books and schools, we all know that leaders are responsible for strategy. But apart from a handful of managers employing time-consuming textbook procedures, every manager I know is just plodding along. So I asked him how he did it.
He walked on silently for a couple of minutes.
Then he turned to me and said:
"I get the best ideas when I walk around here. When I'm tinkering in the shed or cutting the trees. But when you work, finding the time to take walks like this can be tough. Let alone take your team along the walk."
We started laughing because we both envisioned the management team in their suits and good shoes, right there, in the mud. And cow shit.
I related to his story and said that my best ideas come to mind when I walk my three dogs. A mutual friend has his best ideas in the shower. Another one when swimming. During the commute. While reading the papers at leisure on Sunday. And so on.
Nobody had their best ideas in the office.
So strange that we get our best ideas outside when there's no agenda and that we want our teams to cough it up at will amid the office hubbub.
Then my friend said:
"I never had fixed moments for strategy. Strategic insights bubble up now and then whenever they're ripe. So instead of pushing everyone into a fixed process, turn your work into a series of moments and environments in which thoughts can bubble."
Easier said than done because I am really impatient with things that need bubbling 🙄. I am very goal-oriented and deadline-driven.
So here is what I came up with:
- A management team app for operational reminders AND bubbles;
- No fixed agenda for management team meetings;
- Our meetings start informally over coffee or lunch to let things bubble;
- When bubbles arise, we convene an off-site meeting to investigate the bubble in the next week or so.
Sometimes my impatient self gets uptight from all that freewheeling in the team discussions. But when I'm out with the dogs and think it over, I always conclude that the bubbling strategy is much more effective than my drive to be efficient.
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