During a typical work week, how much time do you spend shutting out all distractions and brainstorming your next big strategic project? How much time does your team dedicate to getting creative and collectively aligning focus on the new critical projects coming over the horizon?
If you are like most organizations, probably not much – it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by daily routines, deadlines, emails, and the next fire to put out. And sometimes it takes a career move to shake things up.
Shaking Things Up
I made the transition from the City of Dublin, Ohio’s City Manager’s Office to the Economic Development Division in February of 2015 as part of my career path in hopes of one day becoming a City Manager. My role as an Economic Development Administrator complimented two other existing Economic Development Administrator positions along with our Director and Administrative Specialist. Like any newly established team, there came a period of transition in which we got to know one another’s styles and (for me at least) learn an entirely new job and skill set.
It did not take long to recognize that our team was special. We all had different personalities, strengths, backgrounds, and we all brought unique perspectives to the table. Our team had prior experience in Planning, City Management, Community Relations, and Public Works along with experience at various economic development agencies. We realized that, as different as we all are, we each brought valuable insights to the table resulting in a very well rounded Economic Development team.
Settling into the Same Routine
Like most work teams, however, we settled into a routine, with Monday afternoons set aside for staff meeting where we gave status updates on our ongoing projects along with general thoughts on various other initiatives. After about two months of this, we realized two things:
1) We did not leave ourselves much time to get creative and spend time advancing some of our critical team and individual projects, and
2) We were not fully leveraging the diverse strengths each member brought to the team.
A New Process: Think Tank Tuesdays
To address this, we decided to pilot a new process: Think Tank Tuesdays or “T3.” For each T3 meeting, we decided to set aside an hour and a half every other Tuesday morning to think creatively about a strategic goal outside of our day-to-day operations. The only rule from the outset was that each meeting would be led by the respective team member on a topic of their choosing and that the topic was to be focused on a strategic project that aligns with our Economic Development team’s goals.
Jeremiah, a fellow Economic Development Administrator and T3 creator, took the wheel on our first foray into these unchartered waters. The first topic our group tackled was to organize our various strategic projects and programs into “buckets” using the Design Thinking stages of Project Management:
- Prototype; and
The Design Thinking model was also cross-referenced with our Economic Development Strategic Plan so that we could evaluate where on the spectrum each program currently aligns, along with evaluating whether each of these initiatives truly fit into our team’s focus – and if not, asking ourselves whether it was worth our time and effort or if it should be dropped. This exercise can easily be performed by any team by simply asking yourselves, “Where are we?” and more importantly, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”.
After undertaking this initial exercise to get our bearings on what strategic initiatives were collectively on our plate, we assigned each program to specific members of our team. Each team member then volunteered to host subsequent T3 meetings as an opportunity to pitch our respective ideas around each of the strategic projects.
Our First Project
Dublin’s IT Workforce Development Program was one of the first strategic projects, which over the course of several T3 meetings evolved from a technology skills-focused initiative to an employee culture-focused initiative. This project was fitting for our T3 meeting as the exercise boosted the City of Dublin’s employee engagement by creating an opportunity to get creative and build ownership and team focus around the Economic Development team’s strategic goals. It presented a great opportunity for employees to hone soft skills through project management, presentation experience, and leadership – not to mention and the ability to capture team feedback and allow for different perspectives to keep the project moving forward or pivot if needed.
Now, over a year has passed since our inaugural Think Tank Tuesday and the momentum continues to build. We covered a variety of strategic initiatives from International Business Development, to Corporate Wellness and our community’s fiber-optic network system, Dublink. We used a variety of techniques including Design Thinking, Brainstorming, the “5 Whys,” Process Mapping, Sequencing Diagrams, Multi-Voting and other tools for group engagement. I have personally enjoyed the opportunity to flex my creative muscles with our team and have been pleasantly surprised with the out-of-the-box ideas that have come from our collective collaboration.
In the grand scheme of things, taking 1.5 hours out of 80 for one single, focused strategy discussion every two weeks only equates to 1.9% of a work year. That’s an incredibly small percentage of time dedicated to creativity and strategic thinking in a work group, and has been an easy and obvious commitment for our Economic Development team to make. I don not believe the question is whether you are able to allot that amount of time to your team for this type of activity, the better question is, “Can you afford NOT to?”