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  • Writer's pictureEndring

Breaking New Ground? Move Forward Faster by Slowing Down.

When you’re starting something big - a meaty new role, or an ambitious new mandate - how you get started makes all the difference.

Many of us have a bias towards action, and that’s not a bad thing. We also feel we need to be seen as the experts. I mean, why else would we be hired into the job? We have the experience, you have the knowledge - the right thing to do is put it in play quickly and lead the charge, right?

But rushing to solution and trying to be the expert will actually slow you down in the long run.

You need to make sure your actions are taking you in the right direction. With a more structured and inclusive process, you will get the right people, data, and ideas together - with just a bit more upfront effort.

We’ve supported many leaders this way, getting them mobilized in as little as 3-4 weeks.

In today’s issue, we are going to share the key steps that will help you start slow to speed up:

  1. Forge your dream team.

  2. Listen.

  3. Define the right problem and frame it as an opportunity.

  4. Start with the end in mind.

  5. Launch experiments.

If you follow this structured approach, you will find yourself going down the right path with strong support from your colleagues, having a team that is invested and feels ownership for the direction you’re taking, and equipped with a whole lot of engaged people helping you to bring your vision to life.

1. Forge your dream team.

You can’t go it alone. The team you assemble is important right from the start. And the people you want with you on the journey shouldn’t be limited to direct reports you may have.

You need to have a diverse team. The team needs to reflect different points of view and different experiences. You should have customers represented, employees represented, and various business areas represented.

Look for passion, not just capability. The right mindsets, attitudes and values will often be more important than the perfect skillset. Passion generates so much energy and commitment - making less work for you and the rest of the team in the long run.

When you have assembled the right team, you need to forge it.

  • Take the time to get to know each other. Do something social, do a challenge together, whatever it is - make that space to build connection.

  • Do the work to set a clear purpose for the team - what you will stand for, what you are meant to do. Connect the purpose of the team to everyone’s individual purpose and values.

  • Talk about and establish team norms - how people like to work, what people need. A helpful tool we’ve seen is creating individual ‘User Manuals’.

  • Set the stage about how everyone is learning. Role model vulnerability to demonstrate how this is a safe place. Ask more questions than providing answers.

Source: Chris Stone

A team that spends time getting to know each other, understand each others’ motivations, and learn how they can best work together is well worth the effort. You will collaborate more effectively, trust each other more, and set the stage for more innovative ideas.

Pro Tip: Psychological safety in your team is absolutely critical to get the best from them. Read our previous post on creating psychological safety before, during, and after your sessions with the team

2. Listen.

Don’t make any assumptions about the situation, or push your views from the start.

You need to really listen. If you are new to the organization, this is a great chance for you to meet the senior leaders in the organization and build rapport. If you aren’t new, don’t blindly trust how the situation has been presented to you.

Interview people across the organization to understand what their experience has been, what they see as the biggest barriers to overcome.

Run sessions with frontline employees. Run sessions with end users and/or customers if you can.

And remember, your dream team can and should help you with this. They know different people and can take on different segments of the organization - and they will have unique interpretations, seeing things you might not have seen.

Spend time harnessing this data, and distilling it into insights. And do it with the team. Some of the work we do with teams to help them involves:

  • Bright Spots: There are usually a lot of things that are actually working well, especially in areas that are pushing the envelope. Starting with appreciative inquiry is not only inspiring but also informs the solutions you might want to pursue later.

  • Expert interviews: If you can bring a key stakeholder into the meeting, a great exercise is to interview them live while the team identifies salient issues and concerns. If not with the stakeholder, you can have the most knowledgeable team member represent their findings.

  • 'The Five Why’s: Sometimes an issue smells like a symptom rather than a root cause. By asking ‘why?’ many times, you can dive deeper under the surface to find out what is driving the issue with the team.

The gold that you can get from all of this work is fundamental to framing the problem(s) you are trying to solve for. It also gets the team aligned on - and deeply steeped in - the current environment, experiences, and issues/problems.

Pro tip: There are politics in every organization, but if the initiative is highly political, sometimes you won’t get the straight goods. In these cases it can be really important to get a 3rd party perspective. And they can take notes, which is tough when actually interviewing. Results are also often startling.

3. Define the right problem and frame it as an opportunity.

When you have a deep understanding of what’s really going on, you need to make sure you are solving the right problem.


“Problems don't really care whether we acknowledge them or not. They still exist. What matters is how we choose to direct our energy, because our tomorrow is the direct result of the way we spend our resources today. Pick your problems, pick your future.”

Seth Godin


At this point, you might want to carve out some time to let things ‘steep’. Create the space for the team to just talk about what you have uncovered. Maybe change locations, get out of the meeting room or Zoom window. Walk and talk. Let the thoughts, angles and perspectives percolate and flow. Let the connections emerge.

Some slow processing time sets the stage for the structured decision making to come.

Next, we like to work on distilling the many issues and problems that have emerged. This usually involves:

  • Theming and voting: Working together and alone, starting to capture the connections between the issues and root causes into themes, and getting a sense of where the energy is through ‘heatmapping’.

  • Impact vs Effort: Not all problems are the same size, nor do they have the same impact when they’re solved. An exercise to prioritize the problems in terms of the highest impact and worthwhile effort is critical to laser-focus on the right problems to solve.

  • Converting issues into ‘How Might We’s: Problems cause negative emotions and seem limiting to people. By converting the problem into a ‘How Might We...’, you focus on the opportunity and an open-ended way of looking at solving for it.

Pro Tip: Sometimes focusing on one problem will actually solve for multiple. Look for the ‘two-fers’ or even ‘multi-fers’ when evaluating the priority problems.

4. Start with the end in mind.

It’s important to get the team focused on an inspiring vision for the future. And imagining the future isn’t very useful if you don’t actually describe how things will be different in that future, too.

A vision statement has to be inspiring, and there are a number of creative ways we use to get teams to tap into both hearts and minds, rather than only the rational. The exercise of creating a vision is powerful and builds energy and commitment.

The vision is your long term goal - but how will you KNOW that the vision has been achieved (or is on the right track to being achieved)?

You need to get the team to start building the path towards that vision without jumping to solution. The best way to do this is to identify areas of focus and outcomes. This involves:

  • Ideating the big 'thrusts': Let each team member come up with a compelling set of main ‘thrusts’ for reaching the vision. Ask them to also put down some ideas on the key outcomes that will result from focusing on that area, and share it all with the team.

  • Aligning the team on the best set: You’ll generally see some great alignment emerge naturally, and then you can refine the areas of focus with some simple voting.

  • Going deeper on the outcomes: Get the team to start fleshing out and refining the outcomes associated with each area of focus, and then work to identify which ones seem to be longer term vs the ones that look like they’re shorter term (ie, they will happen on the path to achieving the vision)

Why is focusing on outcomes better than building a series of solutions or initiatives? Because you are still working in the hypothetical.

You might have strong ideas on what to do, but what you really need to spend time on are clear results you need to see in the short and long term to know you are on track. This will sharpen, and help you evaluate, solution ideas.

Pro Tip: Instill a progress over perfection mindset with your team: “we are just putting stakes in the ground”. No decision is final, and in fact, we are assembling a hypothesis on where you need to focus to best solve this problem.

5. Launch experiments.

Here is a common fallacy:

Just because you have a long term vision, you need to have a long-term plan.

What you really need to do is to set up immediate action and validate your hypothesis with experiments.

This is where you really pick up speed - and because you have an aligned team, you have defined the right problem to solve, and you have set a clear set of target outcomes, you can be much more nimble and unleash a lot more action.

At this stage we normally help teams develop a 3-6 month plan to get mobilized - there are always ducks that need to be put in a row.

But our focus is to motivate the team start experimenting and taking action within the ‘guardrails’ of the vision and with a clear focus on the outcomes.

The experiments are testable versions of solutions, at a smaller scale, and more like a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) than a fully fledged solution. Good characteristics are:

  • Short time frames

  • Low (or no) cost

  • Small scale

  • Targeted at specific outcomes (ideally measurable)

By the way, this is a great stage to expand the team and involve more people.

Working first with the team to ideate a bunch of ‘straw dog’ experiments, you can then broaden the audience and get more people included in shaping them further and bringing them to life.

Pro Tip: As you complete the experiments, bring the team back together to assess the progress. It will help inform what is working (which can then be scaled up) and where you need to come up with more ideas to test.

Summing up

When you have an ambitious new role or mandate, it’s tempting to try to be the hero. There is a lot of pressure to show progress, fast. There’s also a lot of pressure to be seen as the expert.

But if you apply a structured process to get the right people, information, vision and alignment - and start some experiments to test your hypotheses - you will be farther ahead in 90 days than if you try to use your previous experience as a shortcut.

Instead, in 4-6 weeks you can slow down to speed up if you:

  1. Build your dream team.

  2. Listen.

  3. Define the right problem and frame it as an opportunity.

  4. Start with the end in mind.

  5. Launch experiments.

If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to subscribe and/or reach out to us.

Thanks for reading. See you again next week!

We hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Whenever you're ready, there are more ways we can help you:

  1. Run workshops with your team to help you define a strategy, an employee experience, and/or define culture

  2. Teach you how to facilitate powerful collaboration sessions with your team that yield results, fast

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