In the dream, the client has deep pockets. Deep conviction too. They are a long-term GTD® user who has leveraged their practice of GTD into a promotion, and wants their new team to get the same benefits they have personally experienced from using the approach: more freedom and focus, along with a dramatic uptick in their own productivity. From us, they want a plan that will increase productivity on the team by at least 30%, and that improves employee engagement scores on stress and sick time.
This client is not terribly altruistic or generous, despite their willingness to splash out some cash on developing their people. They know it won’t be cheap to make the dramatic change they are planning, but their own experience tells them that the targets they’ve set us are on the low side of what is possible. They also know that if we are successful, whatever we cost will be a rounding error in the financial, cultural and reputational upside they’ll profit from.
Here is the broad strokes plan of interventions I’d be suggesting in our next meeting:
- IT assessment and recommendations
- GTD Level 1 Fundamentals seminar
- GTD Workflow Coaching 1:1 follow ups
- Team Alignment session – working standards for the team
- GTD Level 2 Projects and Priorities seminar
- Team Alignment session – role clarity for the team
- GTD Level 3 – Focus and Direction seminar
- Team Alignment session – purpose and vision for the team
I suspect my enlightened leader (and you, enlightened reader) would want a bit more detail than that, so here goes:
1. Analysis of Technical/Tool related issues
The first thing we do is take a look at the available IT toolset. A culture of healthy high performance will not be driven by hardware or software, but in today’s world getting the technical toolset right is a significant enabler of fast and transparent communication, and effective information management.
When we do this, what we usually find is that the team is either slightly – or significantly – over-tooled. Beyond the usual O365 toolset (which itself contains many redundancies), many teams – or sub-teams within a team – have often ‘gone rogue’ and identified an IT solution for themselves to solve a particular problem that they have. This makes perfect sense in the moment they do it, but after a year (or five, or ten…) of unconscious accumulation on the wider team, what we uncover often looks like a ‘top of the pops’ hitlist of IT fads from yesteryear. A list of tools that many on the team aren’t actually using, or sometimes even aware of.
Our first job is to audit the toolset, then ask simple questions about what leadership is trying to achieve with each piece of software we’ve found. With clarity on their desired outcomes we can propose edits. With what is left after pruning, we make recommendations on how the existing tools can best be used by a team who is using GTD.
2. Level 1 Fundamentals seminar:
Once the edges of the team’s digital playing field have been defined in step 1, we can be much more helpful in what is often considered the starting point for our work – the GTD Fundamentals seminar. Doing this work as an intact team will flush out points of friction, both on the team itself and at the interfaces with other teams. The purpose of this seminar is to impart the basic skills of GTD to individuals on the team however, so we make a note of these challenges so we can come back to them a bit further into the process. Most important at this stage is that each participant gets both a theoretical understanding of the basic moves of GTD, and – most importantly – a felt sense of how the principles will work in their world, on a day-to-day basis.
3. Follow-up one-to-one coaching sessions (for manager level and above) 3-6 weeks after the L1 seminar:
In an ideal learning world, we’d say everything that we need to say in the Level 1 seminar, everyone would hear it, understand it, and implement it as we intend.
It is not a perfect world.
We know that much of what we say will be missed the first time around. Some that is heard will be misunderstood, and much of what we suggest will be ‘enhanced’ by the learner with individual tweaks. Without timely support and follow-up, we know many will get discouraged. Our new reinforcement app gives 16 weeks of support for understanding the principles of GTD in a general way, but we’ve learned that at this point people really need some 1:1 attention. The gaps in their understanding are specific to them and their system, and so they need individual support. Some didn’t understand why they need a projects list, others feel that tracking ‘waiting for’s will be too onerous, and another sub-set have forgotten why being specific about the next physical, visible action is the key to helping them get moving. Going through everything again for everyone would be a waste of time for all concerned. But in a couple of hours one-to-one coaching with each participant we can re-emphasize core principles, fill in any gaps in understanding and show them how they can keep returning to a place of centred productivity for as long as they choose.
4. Team Alignment Seminar – working standards
With each individual now aware of a new way of working, and enabled with a system to help them perform at a higher level, we bring the team back together to think through how they want to work with each other. This is where we pick up the points of friction and frustration that got collected in the Level 1 seminar. In one or two short sessions we help them think through and establish working standards that support both individual wellness and team productivity. We’ve covered this work in greater depth here, so in this article I’ll simply restate the key idea: that there are enormous benefits for both individuals and the team as whole when members agree on – and even occasionally hit – some simple standards for how they want to work with each other.
As much as we are invested in the team’s success and want to continue, at this point the best thing we can do is go away for a while to let them test drive the new approach.
5. Level 2 Projects and Priorities seminar (within three to six months of the L1 seminar):
The next stage of reinforcement is to refresh and deepen the core content of Level 1, and then introduce new content that builds on the fundamental principles. We drive to having participants experience the freedom that comes from having a truly complete inventory of all their projects, and show them how to finally get those projects off their minds using the Natural Planning Model. We begin the process of fleshing out their longer term goals and desires, and do a deep dive into how their roles and responsibilities can be catalogued in a way that offers more balance and breathing space. Key to this seminar is the opportunity for the group to begin to share information, in-house hacks and best practices. Early adopters and tech freaks are given structured opportunities to present home-grown team-specific solutions to those less comfortable with change.
6. Team Alignment session – role clarity
Having brought home the value of clearly defined personal and professional roles and responsibilities at an individual level, we now can help the group to clearly map role responsibilities and accountabilities at the team level, and ensure there are no overlaps or gaps. This has many benefits, such as keeping people from spraying mails to a wide distribution in hopes that the message reaches the right person. When well-defined roles have clean edges, and are easily accessible and occasionally reviewed, team members know who does what, and can cut back on long distribution lists. They’ll also know what is NOT their job, and have a bit of structural support for saying ‘no’ when things come their way that are not part of their roles. Looping back to earlier learning, we use the Natural Planning Model® at a team level to identify priority projects and get them rolling while still in the session.
7. Level 3 Focus and Direction seminar (within a year of initial L1 seminar)
Once the individuals on the team have their day-to-day more under control, they have more space to focus on why they are doing what they are doing, and whether it is all pointed in a direction they want to go. This seminar helps participants utilise the full range of GTD frameworks to create and execute their vision for their life. The focus here is on an understanding of the psychological principles of outcome thinking, and its effect on both perception and performance. Beyond that, we dig into questions like, “How does your strategic plan relate to the actions on your lists?”, or, “How do the meetings in your calendar support the things you care most deeply about?” This level is about creating the awareness, freedom, and capacity to be fully accountable for your results, and how you “make it up, and make it happen.”
8. Team Alignment session – purpose and vision
Many teams like to start with high level resolutions around mission and vision, but – as with an individual – it is hard for a team that is dropping balls all over the place to believe in its ability to execute well enough to deliver a big vision. Once they’ve had some experience working in a team where conscious commitments are more likely to be fulfilled on than not, then – even if the vision seems big and challenging – they’ll have the self-confidence to get started. Our experience in facilitating teams to clarify their mission, vision and strategy is that landing upon perfectly worded, marketing-ready statements is much less important than the engagement and inspiration available from engaging in the longer process of dialogue that articulates what the team really stands for, and the problems it solves for its stakeholders. The outcome for this intervention is a working draft of those things, that is then kept alive by regular review and updates.
There’s the plan. That is how I’d do it, if posed the challenge by my hypothetical dream client. Life is messy, so it doesn’t always get done exactly this way in real life: sometimes the mission and vision are already clear, and we can skip that part; often we’ve already done Level 1 when the awareness comes that there is more to play for than just individual skill development. If we did it all over the course of a year, I believe we’d be looking for the clients’ team targets in our rear view mirror, and they’d be laughing all the way to the bank (and their next promotion).