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Insights

Group Flow: What’s the Focus?

Thursday, September 22, 2016
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In traditional meetings, leaders often dictate the goal or problem to be solved and set the strategy and meeting agenda accordingly. But having the wrong focus can waste the group’s time, and they flounder to solve a symptom of the real problem. In this post, let’s look at two simple ways to ensure you’re setting the right focus.

Case in Point

I recently received a request from Bob, a vice president of sales at a B2B service company. He had just pulled the plug on his company’s migration to a new CRM system and the implementation work was well underway. Bob claimed that the new CRM implementation was failing because there was lack of support from the internal IT group.

Like any good leader, Bob was trying to figure out how to solve the situation himself—so that he could “present the solution, not the problem” to the executive team. One option was to go to a more costly and complex CRM that would be integrated by a third party (more cost!). He wanted to present this solution in such a way as to be accepted and quickly implemented by “technologically backward, change-adverse executives” (in his humble opinion).

He sought my assistance in framing justification for the more expensive CRM and implementation. He needed advice in how to overcome concerns about failure to implement the first CRM, and how to convey urgency due to loss of near-term productivity with the failed implementation.

Within 10 minutes, we realized the issue wasn’t how to present his solution. I advised him to engage his peers and team to identify as many options as possible, because their experience and perspectives were different than his and would lead to a stronger solution with much higher support.

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Meanwhile, the day’s most urgent issue was to identify ideas on how to garner internal IT support for any CRM migration. With a peer group, I led them through a specific method for analyzing issues. Because the focus was properly set, the Bob realized he didn’t want to have a meeting to present the CRM issue at all. Rather, he needed a one-on-one with the CEO regarding the competence of the CIO, a long-standing employee.

The CEO had been looking for a reason to oust the CIO, recognizing his incompetence and weaknesses in other situations. Bob had been trying to find a solution to circumvent the CIO, which the CIO would likely never allow to happen. But the competence and support from the CIO was a requirement to any successful CRM implementation.

In fact, a competent CIO replacement could significantly reduce costs because a third-party implementation would no longer be necessary. Bob’s energy to overcome the week’s CRM disaster increased dramatically in the 30 minutes we worked together. He felt he could take action to truly resolve the issue, rather than trying to persuade the executives to an uncertain solution.

Finding the Right Focus

This is the power of focus: not only is your team energized by working together in flow, but the best solution becomes evident. Here are two simple ways to ensure you’re setting the right focus.

  1. Ask “Why?” To ensure your group isn’t focused on the symptom of a greater problem or delving too far into the weeds, ask “Why?” as many times as necessary to get to the core issue. This is essentially what Bob and I did. Why did the CRM implementation fail? Because there was no internal IT support. Why? Because the CIO was acting as a stumbling block. Why? Because the CIO hadn’t demonstrated any competence to facilitate the implementation.

  2. Explore a Parallel Focus. Experimenting with setting a parallel focus can expand your group’s thinking. For example, don’t focus on “How can we convince our conservative client to go for the new, edgy marketing campaign ?” Instead, try an expansive focus like “Ideas on persuading conservative people” or a parallel goal like “How can we convince a stay-at-home mom on a limited budget to switch to a more flashy brand of laundry detergent?”

In the next post, I’ll provide some additional guidelines, alternatives, and examples for expanding your thinking on the focus, particularly if you’re looking for innovation and useable creative ideas.

About the Author
Laurie Buss is an aerospace engineer, market analyst, business consultant, fine artist, and an expert in workplace sustainability, efficiency, and strategy development. After a 23-year career working for and consulting to corporations like Hughes, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Thales, and SpaceX, she now enables companies to cut meeting time in half, eliminate up to 80 percent of inefficiency in manufacturing and business processes, and increase profits with fresh ideas for product development and improving business operations.
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