Pre-Meeting Input

We solicit anonymous input around ten days before each year's annual strategic planning meeting. Using an online input form, we ask each participant for their personal sense of what the top five Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and Strengths - the WOTS-up topics. We ask for their visualization of what they want the organization to look like within five years. The first year we initiate our process, we ask about the organization's vision -- core values, core purpose, and "big hairy audacious goal." We also ask four questions that can be used to inform and define the organization's mission:

  • Who do you want to be?
  • What do you want to do?
  • Who do you want to do it for?
  • Why do you do it?

Soliciting prioritized input before the team gets together minimizes the risk of “group think.” It also gets the team members to start thinking independently and strategically. During the planning meeting, we utilize handouts consolidated from this input and hold a facilitated discussion around each topic. This helps each team member understand everyone's perspective on the most important issues. The key value of this process is the interactive discussions that develop insights.

The book The Wisdom of Crowds relates a story from the book Blind Man’s Bluff, which documents how a diverse, independent group of people will derive a better solution than any one expert. (Note that these people need to be both diverse and independent.)

“In May 1968, the U.S. submarine Scorpion disappeared on its way back to Newport News. Although the Navy knew the sub’s last reported location, it had no idea what had happened and only the vaguest sense of how far it might have traveled.  The area the Navy was searching was a circle twenty miles wide and thousands of feet deep, a hopeless task. Officer John Craven concocted a series of scenarios and assembled a team of mathematicians, submarine specialists, and salvage men. He asked each to provide their best guess about how likely each scenario was. They guessed about why the sub had a problem, its speed and direction, steepness of descent, and so forth. The average of all their guesses placed the sub within 220 yards of where it was ultimately found.”