September 02, 2015

Teams and Planning

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Abraham Lincoln

Effective planning requires more than just a plan

Despite the plethora of tools and techniques now available to teams, issues surrounding planning continue to be important and often times contentious.

In some organisations, teams—reflecting the work styles and personalities of individual members—can often be addicted to action. The perception of an overriding ‘need’ to get things done quickly and to move towards a goal can undermine the need to systematically plan. The result of this action-orientation can impact negatively not just on efficient task accomplishment but on the relationships within the team.

In other organisations teams are obliged to adhere to very sophisticated planning practices and policies. While in general terms these practices ensure planning is consistently undertaken, teams may find that the methodology is not necessarily the most appropriate for the project or work at hand. In such a case, teams can end up over-planning, investing time, effort and energy in developing strategies, reports and critical path analyses that the task at hand simply does not warrant.

Teams should therefore be conscious of the potential negative impact of both under-planning and over-planning. Appropriateness is the key and leaders need to encourage early conversations to discuss what is the best approach to planning in order to deliver the desired goals.

Planning as a process maximises the potential for a smooth and efficient route to goal accomplishment. It helps clarify the shared understanding of these goals and ensures team members are clear on their own and each other’s roles.

Appropriate and effective planning will ensure that all team members are always fully aware of the direction in which they are heading and at what stage of progress (or otherwise) the project is at.

Planning is a future-oriented activity that focuses on:

  • aligning the work of team members;
  • co-ordinating and integrating team members’ separate contributions and
  • allocating the required resources and equipment.

When the planning practice is appropriate to the goals, team members can feel more confident about what they are doing both individually and collectively. Appropriate planning generates a sense of organisation among members and it generates confidence in the leader’s ability to ensure that a workable infrastructure with a clear roadmap is in place.

Without appropriate planning, teams struggle. A team may actually achieve its goals despite the lack of effective planning. However, the frustration, inferior quality outputs, re-working, confusion, un-seen risks, customer dissatisfaction, damaged team or leader reputation can be the cost leading to conflict and significantly undermining commitment.

Planning is not just a process of identifying tasks, establishing logical sequencing, exploring risks, allocating resources, managing dependencies and developing Gantt charts and reports. The application of best practice planning methodologies will help the team consider all of these aspects of their work and provide an agenda for communication between team members and for reporting to external stakeholders.  Appropriate planning is a critical tool in developing and enhancing the team’s esprit de corps. It builds confidence in individuals, between team members and their leader and sustains their sense of managed control.  

The existence of a plan does not necessarily imply that there is an effective strategy in place for planning. When the team engages with the appropriate planning process for the goal it sets out to achieve, it maximises the potential for achievement of its goal and the generation of a high performing team culture.

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