Collaboration | The Brainzooming Group - Part 2 – page 2
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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas keeping executives focused on strategic priorities during strategic planning meetings. If your team wanders away from the important strategic topic, here’s a strategy to address it:

3 Ways to Keep Strategic Priorities Front and Center with Executives via Inside the Executive Suite

An executive reported a real-time challenge: keeping the senior team at her company focused on strategic priorities. Depending on the number of executives, or the positions of those prone to overly-detailed discussions, making sure a senior team does not get caught in the weeds during strategy meetings can be a touchy proposition.

We suspect it’s an issue familiar to many organizations. We find it typical that at least one or two individuals in any senior group are comfortable sticking to more detail than you would expect them to embrace. These may be individuals who are responsible for specific areas (and perhaps have been so throughout their careers) and/or ones with personalities oriented toward greater-than-average detail.

Keeping Strategic Priorities Front and Center

Do you struggle keeping senior-level strategy discussions at the appropriate level? If so, try these techniques we’ve employed over the years to focus meetings on strategic priorities that legitimately deserve executive suite attention.

1. Identify Where Everyone Stands Up Front

We are major proponents for meeting with executives before important strategy discussions. Whether through in-person interviews or some type of online input, it is helpful to know which executives are thinking what, and what issues resonate most strongly with them. Pre-meetings provide a sense of areas in which individuals may take the group into unnecessary detail. Questions to explore up front include:

  • What are the most important issues to address?
  • Where do you suspect strategy discussions could potentially derail?
  • What factors are important for determining the right strategy?
  • What topics do you feel most strongly about addressing in the meeting?

Based on participants’ answers, you will develop an early indication of the areas in which a meeting could go into the weeds. You will also have a sense of the major strategic themes to use in anchoring meeting conversations. Also, look for the senior leaders most likely to keep things out of the weeds. Talk with them beforehand, asking for their assistance to voice concerns if a particular leader or discussion becomes stuck in tactical matters.

2. Implement a Structure that Emphasizes Discussions on Strategic Priorities

Using what you identify during pre-meeting conversations, design a meeting format and structure to help the team focus on strategic issues. As you evaluate what is strategic, we recommend ignoring whether issues are long- or short-term. The timeline associated with acting on an opportunity or challenge doesn’t determine its strategic importance. Rather, think of strategic issues as those that will create a material impact on any of the following areas for your organization:

  • Its brands
  • Key audiences
  • Customers and prospects
  • Structure and alignment
  • Financial prospects
  • Vision and values
  • Resources and raw materials

Sharing and adopting a comparable framework for what is strategic helps keep a discussion focused on matters that will legitimately move the needle in any of these areas.

We also use several other approaches to steer strategic conversations:

  • List the major strategic themes you identify before the meeting. Allow the senior group to individually and collectively assign each item to a category: strategic, tactical, or (project) task issues.
  • Assign time limits to various agenda topics, allowing more time for strategic matters—disproportionately so.
  • As tactical or extraneous items are mentioned and commanding attention, stop and ask for clarification around the strategic issue to which they relate. If they can’t be tied back to strategy, table them.
  • Tackle non-strategic topics with questions that reveal them for what they are. Ask: How does this contribute to accomplishing our major objectives? How will this create a meaningful impact for customers (or other audiences)? If we don’t address this at a senior level, what major downsides will it create?

You can use these techniques individually or in combination to help manage discussions toward a strategic level.

3. Actively Listening for Strategic Information

From our experience, it’s rare that senior leaders (or anyone else for that matter) will articulate clear strategy statements and strategic issues right away. Instead, strategy emerges from snippets of conversation. That places heavy responsibility on the meeting facilitator to listen for strategic inputs amid conversation that may largely seem tactical.

Beyond monitoring for the strategic areas we mentioned earlier, listen for any conversation that touches on:

  • Organizational aspirations
  • Expectations tied to strategic initiatives and outcomes
  • Numbers that help size the impact of a strategic initiative
  • Significant strengths and weaknesses
  • Factors impacting organizational success, either positively or negatively
  • Descriptions of metrics and objectives
  • Beliefs central to the ways in which an organization conducts business
  • Elements that will contribute to decision making

By identifying the types of information you need to develop and refine strategy, you can better recognize relevant elements that surface throughout a strategic discussion. When details emerge, record and organize them in a way that both highlights their strategic nature and provides a visual aid to align the group. We’ve used this technique to allow a leadership team the flexibility to talk in an open format, while capturing their strategic insights and organizing them in a way they can productively use. Another advantage to actively and distinctly posting strategic decisions and issues as you go through a meeting is that it creates a visual aid to manage the conversation. If people get in the weeds when trying to revisit previously-made decisions, you can point them to the decision list to demonstrate it has already been addressed.

Additionally, if several senior participants are struggling to stay on a strategic plane, divide the larger group into smaller sub-groups. Put tactical thinkers together, freeing those ready to stay focused on strategic topics and make progress.

Keep Trying

We’ve suggested various ideas for keeping strategic priorities a focus for executives . We’ve used them all successfully. Yet they won’t all work in every situation. Try them, adapt where you need to do so, and develop your own variations that work most successfully with your group of senior leaders.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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We turn to extreme creativity questions to help clients imagine big ideas. It is all part of not ASKING for big ideas; we use big questions that enhance peoples’ natural creative thinking skills. They start filling the extra space big questions create with ideas of ALL sizes. Based on our experience using extreme creativity questions, they DO tend to yield bigger ideas.

5 Quick Tips on Extreme Creativity and Creative Thinking Skills

What other tips have we learned about how extreme creativity questions boost creative thinking skills? Here are five of them:

1. Plan the series of extreme creativity questions you are going to use.

Try to use different types of questions so you aren’t only looking at your opportunity from one perspective. That means not every question should be about doing ridiculous amounts of something or doing completely without something. Mix it up!

2. Don’t think an awkward experience isn’t working.

It is okay if feels uncomfortable and it doesn’t seem as if an extreme creativity question makes sense for your organization. That means it is stretching your thinking. Don’t move away to a different question that seems a better fit until you’ve made a healthy effort to exploit a more difficult one.

3. Try introducing extreme creativity roles for participants.

Imagine an outlandish creativity-oriented title that perfectly fits each participant’s creative thinking skills. Do a few exercises without disclosing the roles, then hand each person his or her extreme creativity role. You can have them reveal the roles OR keep them secret. They assume the extreme creativity roles (Master of Mashups, for instance) for an exercise. Afterward, have each person pass their role to someone who the extreme creativity role will stretch during the next exercise.

4. What seems like funny business can be incredible business.

Look for laughter as a strong cue that a group working with extreme creativity questions is onto something. Laughter is a natural response when an idea is outrageous. It is more likely to signal an idea has promise than it doesn’t.

5. There are multiple ways to work with outlandish ideas.

If you are coming up with ideas that seem to have promise, but seem as if they won’t work, don’t just leave them in that state. Have a way to extract usable versions of the ideas, even if you continue pursuing the impossible side of them.

Boosting Your Team’s Creative Thinking Skills

If you are looking to boost the impact and innovative nature of ideas in your organization, we recommend employing extreme creativity questions.

Alternatively, you can employ The Brainzooming Group, and we’ll develop the exercises and facilitate all the extreme creativity thinking for you! Contact us, and let’s get started, why don’t you? – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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It’s the time of year when it’s easy to look backward and forward at multiple dimensions of your implementation plan.

You have enough time to gain a sense of what’s working. You can look at your first steps and see whether your subsequent steps have been as effective. There is also enough time to still address gaps in your implementation plan to improve results before the year ends.
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What are those forward and backward looks telling you about the success of your implementation plan?

  • Are your people rallied around strategic priorities versus daily distractions?
  • Have you engaged key audiences to move forward aggressively?
  • Are you successfully executing innovation initiatives beyond the first big splash earlier in the year?
  • When things haven’t gone as expected, is your organization agile enough to change the direction?

If your implementation plan results are lacking by this point in the year, we have just the thing for you! It’s not too late!

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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It’s time to launch an innovation strategy for your organization. Your brand has grown dramatically the last few years. You are not sure, however, what will drive the next round of growth. So, it’s time to announce an innovation program, because that will undoubtedly fill the growth gap facing your brand.

How will the innovation strategy eliminate your revenue shortfalls? That is not yet completely clear yet. But, hey, it’s an innovation strategy! All kinds of good things are sure to result!!!

As you and your leadership team announce the new innovation strategy, your employees have questions.

6 Things about Your Innovation Strategy Employees Need to Know

Here are six things about your innovation strategy employees want to know. Are you prepared to answer these questions?

Is this innovation push just for this quarter or this year?

Your employees have been through the flavor-of-the-month strategy. Probably not at YOUR company, but somewhere they worked before, no doubt. They know innovation strategies come and go. They will want to know whether your innovation strategy is here to stay. Demonstrating that it is will take both words and LOTS of actions.

How innovative do you want us to be?

The easy answer is to say you are looking for big ideas. Who doesn’t love big ideas? The problem: asking for big ideas rarely leads to big ideas. Instead, give your team creative thinking questions appropriately sized to the innovation you are seeking. Then, let them go to town answering the questions.

What expectations or limits are in place on an innovation strategy?

I know, I know. You want your employees to start with a clean sheet of paper as they start imagining the future. Be honest, though. You’ve never given them free reign before to innovate. Do everyone a favor. Share goals, objectives, and strategies for where you want to direct your innovation strategy. You’ll ALL be more successful. Pinky swear.

What are you going to do with our ideas?

If you announce you want everyone to innovate, you need to have thought upfront about how you are actually going to review and process the ideas your employees share. Have you figured that out? We didn’t think so. Identify the process, THEN make your big innovation strategy announcement.

Will I get into trouble if I break something?

Your employees are concerned about getting into trouble. As much as you SAY you want disruptive innovation, they have doubts. Heck, we were talking with a new CEO recently. His board told him to be both innovative and to not mess anything up with the organization. He’s running the show and struggling to find the right balance. You can imagine how someone with less standing in the organization struggles. Stake out a penalty-free free space in which your team can experiment and break things.

Who owns my idea if it turns into something successful?

I hate all the legal mumbo jumbo. But innovation is all fun until somebody’s idea starts generating lots of money, and you have to settle up equitably. Let your team know the rules. Who owns what? How much does everyone get paid for an idea that proves successful? It can seem premature to consider this while still figuring out how an electronic idea box works. Set the rules before you ask people to play the innovation strategy game.

There Is Work to Do

We’re not saying everything requires an immediate answer. Being ready to tackle these questions at the start, however, is important to creating an innovation strategy that WORKS! – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Last week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas for how to handle confidential information. The business strategy focus revolved around how an executive can maintain confidences while employing confidential information to best benefit his or her organization. While passing along confidential information was more in the news last week than this week, it’s a daily issue in business.

Here are ideas the Armada newsletter shared on how to handle confidential information:

Business Strategy – How to Handle Confidential Information via Inside the Executive Suite

Confidential information has been in the news recently. It is a topic relevant to any senior executive immersed in business strategy. While the nation wrestles over handling confidential information in a government setting with geopolitical implications, similar and dissimilar questions exist in private business. Beyond trade secrets and insider knowledge that could move markets, organizations consider a wide variety of information as confidential.

How should you go about handling confidential information within your business strategy?

What are the different varieties, the implications behind a confidential information designation, and the way executives are using it?

These questions drove a chat with a former Fortune 500 executive about how he navigated confidential information at senior levels. It was not a legal conversation (so don’t take his comments as legal advice). His strategies suggest a real-world, pragmatic approach to protecting confidences while getting work done.

One Executive’s Take on Using Confidential Information

“Unless I’m too far removed from it to remember, I don’t recall any extensive training in business school about confidential information. While we undoubtedly covered it in class, I learned the ins and outs of confidential information on the job. When I worked on the consulting side, that was largely client information. In the Fortune 500 world, it was dealing with our own business information. Honestly, ‘confidential’ was as much code for ‘don’t tell anyone this’ as it was legally confidential information.”

Market-Moving and Insider Information

“The first consideration is whether the information has legal implications. Information that moves markets, is insider knowledge, contains trade secrets, or has some other legal standing must be handled with the strictest confidence. In these cases, you sign legal documents with specific parameters. I read through what I’m signing and strictly apply the restrictions. If something is unclear to you, reach out to your legal staff for advice so you have a clear, actionable guideline to work with as you conduct business.”

Via Shutterstock

Handling Business Strategy

“Much of what I dealt with involved information that an organization does not want disclosed because it changes the business and competitive environments, typically for the worse. Maybe there is paperwork attached to disclosing this type of information. Sometimes someone passes along information and declares it confidential as they spill the beans to you about something. These are tricky situations because they center around your ethics and smart business practices.

“What I do in these situations is step back and think about what the information means for daily and longer-term business. For example, in a corporate parent role, one of our subsidiaries had to disclose a new service offering it was planning. When the new service reached the market, the staff of another, competitive subsidiary visited my office to try to understand the market implications. The plan had to remain confidential to protect business relationships. I applied my knowledge of the new service offering to prompt them with questions they needed to ask or service implications they might need to explore. The questions were what I might have suggested if a competitor outside our corporate family had made a similar move.

“That kind of upfront exploration may suggest that activities currently underway might be more important, or less important, based on confidential information. In these cases, try to offer guidance or manage priorities to foster smart business decisions without disclosing confidential knowledge. Provide context to others so they think about their activities in a bigger or slightly different way that better fits a future outcome. Do this by finding a relationship between current, publicly-known strategies and what will happen as you implement confidential information.

“This happens with branding changes. Executives cannot disclose exact branding moves to their teams before public announcements. However, waiting to tell employees until after the market has learned the information leaves employees ill-equipped to support the change. I suggest finding ideas you can share with employees to prepare them for change without disclosing confidential information. If a rebranding will more heavily emphasize an aspect of a brand that exists today, ramp up the emphasis ahead of time. This is not necessarily easy, but savvy executives find ways to apply confidential information to maximize the impact as early as possible without compromising confidentiality.”

When You Can’t Say, or Don’t Know

“When there’s a buzz about something confidential in a company, it creates questions about what the secrets are. Some questions are point blank; others are more subtle. If you are in the know and receiving those questions, how do you handle it? It is important for me to never lie to people. I suggest executives develop an answer to questions about confidential information that they use in every instance, whether the person asking is on the right track or not. One example might be, ‘I can’t and don’t speculate about rumors.’ Rather than lying to someone accurately asking about a confidential matter (by telling them an emphatic ‘no’ to correct information), using a non-committal response is truthful and protects your own reputation.

“On the topic of consistency, in some cases, you may not know confidential information but have to continue your work. I’d analyze these situations after the fact to understand what the indicators were for the confidential situation. For example, when our company considered M&A activity, I’d receive certain questions about competitors’ market positions. The questions were always about multiple competitors, never one. The questions surfacing became a signal a deal might be in the works. That consistency helped me be more effective for the company without ever having to know the specifics of a confidential matter.”

Only One Point of View

These suggestions are from one individual. They are not legal advice about confidentiality. But they do suggest the importance of creating the policy and practices that work best for your organization.   – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

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  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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If you are doing strategic planning activities for a support function within an organization, you can face challenges deciding what the plan should emphasize.

It’s easy to focus on creating important capabilities for the functional area (i.e., implement better accounting systems, develop an improved human resources process). It is probably equally easy to fall into the trap of simply taking orders from the P&L side of the business, limiting your focus to simply listing what the line organization tells your area it needs from you.

For strategic planning activities within a matrix organization, however, the ideal is to foster a shared strategic mindset between the line organization and support areas. Both line and functional areas should be leading the organization in the same direction with complementary strategic initiatives. This is the reason we are emphatic about having both line and functional leaders participate in strategic planning activities for functional departments.

2 Strategic Thinking Questions for Strategic Planning Activities in a Support Organization

One way to instill the mindset that a functional department also needs to take on a leadership role in the organization during strategic planning (and afterward) is asking and answering these two strategic thinking questions:

Within our strategic plan…

  • Our department will drive _____________?

  • Our department will enable _____________?

At the start of your strategic planning activities, solicit ideas broadly with these strategic thinking questions. Identify a comprehensive list of ideas for where the functional area will DRIVE initiatives to make the organization better. Do the same for how your work will ENABLE the important objectives for the entire organization. Identify themes and narrow your answers. You are not looking for a final list of dozens of strategic initiatives. You want just a few areas where your functional area can concentrate. These should be strategic initiatives where a functional area can meaningfully and visibly improve core metrics for the overall organization. – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative Strategy



Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I was thinking about tables recently, and the role they play in creating or thwarting team collaboration.

A table can…

Provide distance and separation between participants

That can be both healthy or disastrous. It’s easy to use distance and opposition (as in sitting on directly opposite sides of the table) to foster disagreement, aggression, and otherness. In different situations, distance around a table can offer space for individual reflection or a couple of people to collaborate without being drawn into something bigger.

Idea: Arrange people purposefully and keep moving them around.

Serve as a hiding place

If it is your intention, you can use a table’s shapes and angles and how people fill them up to keep yourself out of view and out of the team conversation. You may use the hiding place to observe, look away, or plan what you do when you emerge from hiding.

Idea: A facilitator needs to draw people out of hiding places.

Create clutter

A too big table or too many tables in a too small room, can fill all the available space people need to move around both physically and mentally. They can eliminate any flexibility a space might offer.

Idea: Pay attention to how many table you are using and not using. Get rooms with way more square footage than you think you will need.

Establish power

Sitting at the front, sitting at the back, or sitting at a corner can, depending on who is doing the sitting, change the power dynamics for the entire group.

Idea: Use tables without corners and avoid creating a clear front of the room.

Be purely functional

It provides a place to put your arms, bang your head (or your fist), take notes, hold your drink, plug in your computer. You hope it affords an arrangement that lets you see what you need to see and is a jumping off point for people to productively collaborate.

Idea: Match the right table to what you will need it for throughout the meeting.

Team Collaboration with No Table at All

This thinking inspired something we’ll be doing soon: eliminate the tables and use only a few chairs. Provide the right amount of space to make it both inviting and slightly awkward.

We look forward to seeing what using no tables at all will do for creating or thwarting team collaboration. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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