Horizons of Focus | It works... my story with our mgt team


Here is my backdrop... I will try to keep it generic but provide enough detail to make it useful.

I work for a company that acquired my old company 11 months ago. As we joined as one it was clear we still had 2 companies with two cultures. This was not the type of aquisition where we needed to cut heads but we need to grow - fast. We need to be effective and efficient.

A majority of the leaders on the team operate in a tactical mode a majority of the time. This is natural because they are customer facing and very busy with customer projects day in and day out.

After 11 months in this situation I jotted the following question down on a piece of paper while having my morning coffee (proving ideas come to you when you least expect them!): "If you had to design an organization to deliver optimal customer value, would it look like this?" My answer was "no". I reviewed this question with my manager and his answer was "no" as well.

At that moment I thought to myself, we have just spawned a 40K foot project:

Create a new org design to deliver optimal customer value in the most effective/efficient manner.

I also realized we needed to exit this opportunity as a united leadership team versus two separte leadership teams "acting" as one.

I was tasked with the responsibility of facilitating the team through this discussion. I thought - you get what you ask for! But, honestly, I was charged up by the challenge and I knew the GTD framework would help me work through all the different levels of discussion.

I put together the agenda for meeting - a 3 day face to face session. My first objective was to get people to the proper frame of thinking. During the last several months our previous meetings were conversations that spawned deep dives into very tactical topics. The conversations were directed by the personalities of the team versus the objective of the topic to be discussed. Urgent/ Important "to me" trumped Not-urgent/ Important "for the organization."

I designed the agenda. As pre-reading, I summarized the Horizons of Focus for our context. This was a very important meeting tactic. We needed a way to (1) show people what level we needed to start our conversation and (2) we needed a way to declare the tactical items out of scope for this discussion.

I sent out the agenda. About 1 hour after the agenda was sent I got a call from one of my peers from "the other culture." This is a peer that I have grown to respect over the last couple of months and vice versa. He was the assigned representative for the "other culture" managers to call me. The team felt the agenda had two much "fluff." We need to "get work done," "We don't have time to waste." Using the Levels of Horizon as my mental framework I was able to demonstrate that we do have a lot of work to do but the team was not yet aligned on our target or how we should do our work. I was able to take him from tactical to strategic back down to tactical. We ended the call having a robust conversation but agreed that the agenda made sense.

The Horizons of Focus framework served the team very well. It gave us a way to understand the different levels of conversations and kept us focused at the right level. I had several mini projects to accomplish during the week. I leveraged the GTD project verbs to help:

Complete... the review of the Hedge Hog concept handed to us by upper management (ref Good to Great, by Jim Collins) - Deliverable - team agrees it is still valid.

Complete... culture work
Complete... promise work
Complete... Stakeholder brainstorm
Complete... Org design criteria definition
Complete... Org design models as separate teams
Complete... the selection of the design that is the best of all the ideas presented.

As we worked through these "mini-projects" all the conversations were mindmapped using mindmanager. We could literally watch our conversation grow and spawn new branches. This was very powerful. Words were spoken, words were caught and made real by capturing them on the mindmap. Everyone was handed a physical copy of the group discussion at the end of a session. This put everyone on the same page - literally!

To make a long story short... we exited the meeting with a new organization structure model version 1.0. There were things that still needed to be done. We captured those on a meeting summary mindmap:

Resolve... X
Finalize... Y
Complete... review of org design with... Z

I want to reiterate the power of using the (verb) + (phrase) structure. By the end of the meeting the whole team calibrated their phrasing to use this structure. As David says, we could see "the successful outcome."

Also, we left the meeting having the conversations that needed to be had. Everyone had a chance to speak and contribute. We mindfully and intentially paused and ask for group approval (by individual) on key items before we moved forward. As it turns out, the group thinking was aligned around many topics. It just "felt" like we were not. One of the real golden nuggets of this meeting was our conversation. It gave people the opportunity to speak and to listen. The Horizons of Focus and the Mindmap helped us hold and focus the conversation at the right level.

At the end of the meeting everyone left charged up. Common feedback:
"we needed to have those conversations"
"we now have something tangible to act on"
"we share more things in common than we realized"

My valued peer who called me after the agenda was sent out felt the meeting went very well.

Summary - The Horizons of Focus provided a great framework for this discussion. I parked projects (verb + phrase) within the appropriate horizon. I used mindmapping to capture the conversation. I used mindmapping to summarize the meeting and focus the team on what needed to be done next.

Second, you really do need to "carve out time" to have these discussions. Creating a physical environment for these discussions is very important. These are not spontaneous discussions. These are "we need to hold back the world for X days" to create space for these types of discussions. The space does not show up. I learned you have to make it happen.

We are moving down to the lower levels of Horizon has we move to the implementation phase of our new org design. We have many more "projects" to complete but we are well on our way.

Personally, I've found the framework, outlined above, that works well with mid- to senior- to exec- management. This is my play book for the future. I've conducted in similar sessions in the past - I wish I could turn back the hands of time to use this framework in those meetings.

Thanks David. The question, "At what level do you want to have this conversation?" is a very powerful question.

I hope this case study helps others.

PS: I am amazed that this all started with a note I "captured" and "processed" over a cup of coffee.


Wow, thank you for sharing that at the level of detail that you did. Very useful! Congratulations, sounds like you got some great work done!