Mastermind: setting strategy together

One of the processes we have been playing with at Enspiral is how we set our collective strategy. A team of us ran the first Mastermind process to come up with our 2014 Enspiral strategy and we are just winding up our one for 2015. Teams within Enspiral are also picking up and adapting the process which is often a sign there is something in the idea.

Mastermind, set strategy together.Image by Maz Hermon

I initially had a strong aversion to setting a formal strategy for the network, it seemed much more important to focus on our culture and let the direction emerge naturally from people’s actions. However, I’ve found that the process can be a strong culture building initiative in its own right and having a formal strategy gives people context when they are making decisions in Loomio and Cobudget.

I came to the conclusion that it is important to hold the strategy lightly and realise it is just a snapshot of the network’s intentions, but it’s better to have a snapshot than nothing.

The top level process is pretty straight forward.

  1. Gather as much high level information as you can and consolidate into a digestible format to share with the whole group.
  2. Focus on divergent thinking through individual and group processes to build up a list of possible strategic directions.
  3. Look for common themes and build a consolidated list of possibilities, use dot voting to prioritise the most important.
  4. Have a small group use this information to create a proposed strategy and run through a normal Loomio decision making process to finalise it.

Gather Information > Divergent Thinking > Convergent Thinking  > Summary & Approval

This has lots of elements I like such as

  • An iterative nature to give ideas time to develop
  • A balance between whole group, small group and individual activities
  • A balance between creativity and focus

But I also see it as just a baseline and that the true power of the process lies in future iterations. For example, at Dev Academy we are experimenting with a two step approach of

Individual Mastermind:  each team member is invited to think about their personal strategy and direction for the year.
Regular Mastermind:  we collectively think about the team as a whole with the additional context of  each person’s strategy and intentions.

I really like this adaptation as it doubles down on culture building and also builds a stronger personal reflection process. Personally, I found it really useful to sit down and think about where I should be heading and how best to communicate that with others. It was that process which led me to start blogging again.

I can imagine a truly fractal process where each team at Enspiral has a clearly articulated strategy which can provide context for our whole of network thinking. By having a similar name and process at different scales of organising we reduce the cognitive load for participants and we can also reduce the transaction costs for engaging by automating the information systems.

It also evokes the possibility of truly living strategies that respond to change in real time. At the moment a full network strategy is quite expensive in terms of engagement. Would it be possible to design processes so that the strategy evolved through lots of small alterations as the context changed? Could we build a strategy that is a real time reflection of our collective intent that mirrors a traditional swarm?

Currently we orient ourselves with information from other people’s actions and crude, somewhat outdated snapshots of our collective intent. That’s analogous to swallows bumping into each other to correct their individual paths using images their eyes collected 2 hours ago. What if instead we could orient ourselves based off the accurate, explicit intent of individuals and teams of all different sizes?

If we make forming, updating and sharing our strategic direction cheap enough and ubiquitous in an organisation I think we could unlock elegance that would make the swallows envious.

Here are some of the documents I’m working with if anyone feels like hacking on the process and I’d love to hear of any similar work going on.

My personal strategy
Individual Mastermind Template
Review of 2014 Mastermind Process


Mastermind: setting strategy together

3 thoughts on “Mastermind: setting strategy together

  1. Natalie says:

    Hi Josh,
    really interesting blog post. Triggered a whole lot of thoughts I’d like to share – relatively unordered and unfinished, but maybe you’ll find something useful in them. Ignore if not.

    * Love the fractal process idea and seeing the tension where this sits in the wider context and in relation to direction setting.

    * Mastermind template is a great reflection document and valuable as such. It’s fantastic that it touches on personal stuff (-> “showing up whole”) but I think this could go even further. To the point where it becomes part of the purpose of the organisation to look after people’s individual needs, however unrelated they may be, to allow them to contribute back

    * However, for a strategy document it is too wordy to be usefully shared with many – my question is: is there a way to use charts, images, short hands that capture the essence of what was found in the process – tags that help people retain the information – like ‘this is Josh who is working a too much and needs help saying no’ – i.e. what is the essence – what is it that people really need to know about this? (something that could be useful with some of your other documents etc as well. Try and get them onto one page, using images / charts etc. Yes, you’ll lose some detail but words are a very ineffective way to convey information – images and the associations that come with them can be a lot more powerful)

    * which brings me to the next thought, regarding personal elements: can the information be distilled into _offers_ and _requests_? The thought process is brilliant and very useful, but I think another level of thinking needs to be applied to identify what is key: What is it you offer? What is it you need from others, specifically – in the short term and long term? — There’s a process of enquiring into self and there is communicating the results of that to others – the bits that are relevant. People will step up to address unmet needs if they are clear

    * Some images that came up regarding the point about strategy adjustment: Ways to harvest where people are heading every day – something like a daily wordcloud comes to mind or the image of a sound engineers’ mixing desk with your strategy goals being the different channels that get turned up or down every day – collective ‘tuning’ could emerge

    * Another way for a daily check on ‘system health’ could be using loomio for a daily gage – green = “I’m ok” orange =”xyz needs attention” red=”Today I need xyz” (be specific). The daily poll outcome gives the system an opportunity to respond to meet the needs of the individual ‘red flags’. Something like that.

    * More general ramblings: I couldn’t help trying on the ecosystem view as a filter – if I liken Enspiral to a forest system…
    – plants of the system take advantage of each others strategies, filling niches by identifying gaps
    – additional outputs of the forest system follow naturally and partially without intention (e.g. oxygen is produced) which are marginal to the forest but critical to the larger system (earth).
    – forest capitalizes most on the growing network connections and information flows
    – Forest as such doesn’t have a strategy – it just is – but communication is complete
    – What makes a forest a forest are its emerging characteristics which naturally make it suited to some organisms but not others – in an evolutionary, somewhat directionless process.

    All of which makes me think that if each organisation focuses on meeting its own needs and seeking out how meeting others’ needs is in alignment with their own will lead to an overall strategic direction.

    * Last thing I’m thinking about is the 12 permaculture principles that surround the three core values (earth care, people care, fair share) and how they could be applied to the design of your organisation – but that would require a bit more thinking about

    Maybe some of this is useful for something. Happy to clarify if needed. Have a great day!

    1. joshua says:

      Great thinking, thanks for sharing. I liked your point about providing smaller amounts of information and that this long form template isn’t optimised for well for that. It was designed as a yearly reflection to be shared amongst small teams.

      I also thought the ideas about how to harvest people’s daily direction in cheap ways are fantastic and would love to experiment with them some day.

      I think the crux of the emergent strategy approach is in the “seeking out how meeting others’ needs” bit. I’ve found at Enspiral that it is easy for our ventures to be absorbed in their own world (as you would expect from early stage ventures) that it is quite challenging for teams to resource good comms between each other let alone collaborating.

      1. Hear what you’re saying. It’s a tricky one.

        Only thing I can think of there is (standing in the shoes of ‘Enspiral’), become very clear (and succinct) about what Enspiral is, does and provides for the businesses within and for the wider world. This could probably be broken down into two aspects: Services and opportunities Enspiral provides to the businesses within and “services” and or “opportunities” (or whatever it is) it provides to the rest of the world (e.g., as I understand it, trialling different ways of collaborating and communicating / documenting those etc). For both aspects becoming clear what exactly it is ‘Enspiral’ requires from each member organisation to meet these objectives and putting lean and effective processes into place to harvest those contributions in a way that reflects the level of benefit the individual organisations get from it on the other hand. Finding that balance might be a bit tricky, but if you are providing excellent support services to the organisations within, you can expect a reasonable level of contribution to the wider ‘philosophical’ objectives (such as x amount of hours / month meetings or comms etc). People can commit to that and of course contribute to setting those wider goals.

        Also seems like people in Enspiral are very passionate and idealistic anyway, so it’s a matter of freeing them up enough to be able to make those contributions they are already keen on making. Find out what it is they need to be able to do that – this may even require adding ‘left field’ support to the mix, whatever it is – don’t know – childcare, take home dinners one day a week or joint grocery orders to save the shopping time (making this up now – you get the jist). Or linking these processes in with what people do anyway outside work – socialise, eat, go for walks – whatever. Needs to be fun and not feel like a chore.

        Bringing Enspirals goals and objectives in both areas down onto a single page (ideally in a chart) might be good – happy to help with that if an outside perspective is helpful… Can be hard to see things if you’re in the middle of them.

        Also wondering if you have a visual ‘map’ of the organisations involved – what are their passions, strengths, areas of expertise and infrastructure they use and needs they have and what their biggest challenges are – this can help with charting roles and pinning down focus areas.

        Love what you guys do! Best wishes.

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