Strategic thinking online

March 2, 2007

The key to success, when planning strategy, is communication among team members. While past columns have described tools to assist teams make decisions more effectively (DI SCAN, Strategic thinking tools), we have not yet discussed the environments that may allow for effective communication.

The key to success, when planning strategy, is communication among team members. While past columns have described tools to assist teams make decisions more effectively (DI SCAN, Strategic thinking tools), we have not yet discussed the environments that may allow for effective communication.

Such environments can be especially challenging today, as team members may be scattered around the globe. At any given time, a number of team members will be sleeping (hopefully not during meetings), while others are eating, and others are at their computers. To fully appreciate the possibilities of communication environments, we will consider a strategic thinking tool to assist us: our friendly 2 x 2 table (DI SCAN,Successful technology implementation makes medical imaging tick). Let's use a 2 x 2 table to assist us in thinking about communication environments.

When we think about communication environments, a possible combination of factors to consider are those concerning time and those concerning place. For time, we can have Anytime and Specific Time. For place, we can have Any Place and Specific Place. This provides us with four possible combinations.

In the upper left quadrant, we have Anytime and Specific Place - this is a mailbox. Today it is probably unheard of to think of a mailbox being used for communicating strategy-related materials, except perhaps for a final draft as a record.

In the lower left quadrant, we have Specific Time and Specific Place - this is a meeting. There are certainly times when the team must sit down together and look each other in the eye. However, for the global team this is very costly and time-consuming, considering travel time.

In the lower right quadrant, we have Specific Time and Any Place - this would be video conferencing or web-based meetings. This approach can be efficient in that members can be located around the globe while communicating as a team. Setting a common time is the challenge.

This brings us to the heart of the story - Anytime and Any Place communications - in the upper right quadrant. I like to think of this as Net Think. Let's consider a real example.

In the embryonic stage of FutuRad (RSNA organization to investigate the future of radiology), I attended a meeting of radiology chairs, physics chairs, some hospital CEOs, and a few of us from industry. The ideas discussed were all over the map. At the end of the meeting, I approached the chair and suggested that we needed a common ground. He grabbed the idea. I proposed the use of a vision statement and said that I would facilitate the dialogue using Net Think.

Armed with the appropriate e-mail addresses, I let the team know about the basics of a vision statement, consisting of a purpose (where we want to go) and a mission (five key strategies to accomplish the purpose). To get started, I suggested that everyone send me a few key words that they believe should be part of a purpose. The response was amazing.

I then sent the entire list of words, after removing obvious redundancies, to everyone and asked them for the most important words. Once again, a rapid and useful response. Next step, sending out the latest list of words and asking if someone would like to propose a purpose. It didn't take long until we had identified exactly that.

The same process was followed to get at the mission, this time asking for key strategies that would be required to achieve the purpose. The outcome of this process was excellent. I quickly became a believer in Net Think.

The key to success with Net Think is that everyone involved feels that they are participating in the process. Each cycle of requests and responses took about 36 hours, producing a useful result with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Ronald Schilling is an editorial advisor to Diagnostic Imaging and president of RBS Consulting in Los Altos Hills, CA. Comments can be addressed to ronald11341@aol.com.