Special-purpose groups intentionally skewed to internal representation give you the best of both worlds – internal knowledge, experience, relationship, influence, and ability to execute, all informed, challenged, and supported by external expertise and perspective.
All Together, All at Once
Bring everyone together to combine what they see, hear, and believe, align on what it all means, discuss options, and recommend the best ones. We’re not talking about a restructure or a temporary re-assignment; we mean convening them in one place temporarily — usually two to three days — to solve and align as one focused effort.
Put Shared Understanding before Action
Force them to tell stories, express anger and frustration, describe what they see going on from every angle, and level-set on language, before releasing them to ideate and discuss solutions. That’s right – make it okay to struggle and to gripe. Deliberately build tension and frustration and make it okay to spin wheels. Just do it fast and make sure everyone is listening to each other and challenging each other. Once they’ve primed their own pipe with the data, information and knowledge that they’ve collectively expressed, the resulting shared understanding will produce explosions of progress.
Make Collisions the Fuel for Solving
If solving big challenges was about brainpower, the big challenges would all be solved, regularly and routinely. There is no shortage of brainpower – in fact, brainpower is abundantly available. But, in the context of complex challenges, brainpower is table stakes, and frustratingly insufficient. Collisions are the imperative – the ‘method of action’ for getting to results.
A “collision” is a deliberate, highly effective exchange between individuals, where they are intentionally and briefly brought together to interact on something important. At any given collision point, the two or more people involved are in direct contact with each other (not through an intermediary, as in the hub-and-spoke model), talking, listening, challenging, agreeing or disagreeing, and then moving on to other collisions. A high volume of effective collisions among all the right players fuels problem-solving and controlled explosions of progress in large groups when:
• They are carefully coordinated so that many happen in parallel, and put every single person in contact with every other person;
• They repeat, so that people can progress together iteratively from shared understanding, through ideas, and then finally to decisions;
• They impose behavioral rules and roles that elevate communication far above the norm; and
• There is strong, real-time capture and dissemination of the insights resulting from each collision.
To be crystal clear, if you don’t intend to get serious, precise, and scientific about how you put people on a collision course – then disregard everything that preceded this, and continue with what you’re used to (task forces, consultants, workshops, or whatever). Even when you adhere to everything we’ve laid out here, if you short-cut collisions, your efforts will be in vain: The loudest voices will dominate; Smart ideas will not be spoken by introverts; Only a subset of the people you’ve convened will engage (usually the usual suspects); and ultimately they won’t match the variety of the challenge. When you bake a cake, it’s not enough to put all the ingredients out on the counter. Collisions among the ingredients are what get you a cake, and likewise, collisions among people are what get you a solution and buy-in. They are what surfaces everything relevant. They are how the dots are connected. They are how wise and creative judgements are made. They are how coherence, clarity, novelty, alignment and buy-in are achieved.
The good news is that none of this is theory. This is happening every day around the globe on top challenges, and the know-how and tool set is mature and available. Organizations are growing faster than their peers this way, driving sustainable productivity gains, entering new markets and adjacencies, turning around, and transforming. So, set your expectations high, and know that contrary to the conventional thinking you’ve been conditioned to believe, there actually is a formula.
David Komlos and David Benjamin are co-authors of CRACKING COMPLEXITY: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast.