Great guest post from Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn. Authors of “Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions”, out now from FT Publishing.

Long-term, big-picture thinking, or taking a holistic view, is not something that just happens automatically. It needs to be given attention. We are all busy and sometimes that makes it too easy to be tempted to think short-term. We get that.

Short-term focus can yield short-term rewards, which can be both valuable and rewarding. If something is urgent it needs addressing. But short-term focus can’t be done at the expense of a longer-term view. It’s costly to not consider the big picture, the long-term implications of what we do today. It’s inefficient to not have proper planning or thought-through solutions.

Short-term thinking is by its nature focused on tasks here and now, so people may be busy with activities but losing sight of the purpose and therefore not seeing or taking full responsibility for the end results. Everyone is busy, but not necessarily on the right things, in the right order and for the right reason.

Here are some solutions to help focus you and your team on long term thinking.

Solution 1: Balanced short- and long-term reporting

Put greater focus on both short- and long-term reporting of goals and results. They are both important to understand business success and need to run side by side.

Solution 2: Develop people’s ability to think long-term

Develop people’s understanding of cause and effect, and of what impact actions and behaviours have on stakeholders and results. A quick and simple way to do this is to look at your to do-list and ask yourself what the short and long-term implications (+ or –) of those actions will be.

Solution 3: Study the competition and the marketplace

Share your market intelligence as a team; learn from each other. Read business news. Talk to other people in the business to learn from them. Join external networks. Study your industry. Study your market. Study your competitors. Ask yourself questions like:
• What is going on out there that I need to know?
• What is going on out there that we need to know about as a team?
• What else do we need to be thinking about that we currently don’t know?
• How strategic are we versus tactical? Let’s take our ‘to do’ list and ask ourselves: does this fit in the strategic or the tactical? Where should we be spending our time?

Solution 4: Be a ‘time owl’

Be wise like an owl about how you spend your time.

Are you focusing on what’s important or are you simply responding to what’s urgent?

Plan your day, your week, your month and your year(s). Value your own time and that of your team. Schedule regular time for reflection and strategy to make sure your actions are relevant and effective in the long-term. Force yourself to look ahead – and stick to it.

By doing this you ensure you lift your head up from the daily tasks and consider the bigger picture.

If you are the team’s leader, remember that you set the tone, you are the role model – others will do what you do. So ask yourself: how am I spending my time?

Solution 5: Team goals and rewards

Set both short- and long-term team goals. Short-term goals keep team members focused on what needs to happen now and long term goals give the bigger picture. When you have both, you start to think more about what you are doing, considering the impact of your actions today into the future. You should be able to see the red thread from what you are doing today right to the future long-term goal, and how it contributes to the organisation’s overall vision and purpose.

Linked to the goals, reward and recognise people for long-term thinking. This will encourage the very behaviour you want.

Solution 6: Communicate the overall purpose.

Make absolutely sure that everyone knows the purpose of the team.
• Spend more time together to make the purpose actionable at a team level.
• Make the red thread clear, from each person’s role/task to the team’s purpose, to the overall purpose/vision of the organisation.
• Sometimes you may need to be explicit about the red thread and the links. You may need to explain and link it to make it understood by others. It is an easy assumption to think that people implicitly understand those links.

Solution 7: Invest in team time

Invest in team time, even if the team is changing. When having a fast-changing team it can be tempting to not take the time to bond as a team, thinking that the team will just change anyway. But unless you do, you’re in danger of speeding up turnover even more. It can be as simple as a quick check-in as a team for 15 minutes to align something or you may need to invest the right amount of time for a really big change. In teams, chunky emotional change topics are sometimes given a very short timeslot on the agenda, like 30 minutes. This is better than nothing but you will not gain real buy-in and understanding to the long-term change if topics are shoehorned into a tight agenda. You may think the team has had the discussion but if they haven’t connected to it at an emotional level then it is less likely to happen. Any lasting, real transformational change happens at an emotional level.

Solution 8: Take a long-term view on your team members

If you are a leader; no employee is ‘yours’ forever. People are ‘on loan’ only and your responsibility is to help them develop, to make more of those resources you’ve been loaned. Be generous, consider that you have a collective leadership responsibility to think long term with the resources that you have, even if they won’t always be with you. And if all leaders take that collective responsibility then you will reap the rewards through your future employees too.

Solution 9: Make the big picture understandable

Break the big picture into smaller, understandable, actionable pieces, while still keeping the big picture. Show how the smaller pieces fit in. Take one chunk at a time and explain and show the links. Take a step-by-step approach to build a picture from today to the future and show others how you make those connections. Draw a chart, talk about it or tell a story to help make it understandable and get people to make meaning of it.

It is crucial for businesses and business leaders to be able to take a holistic view, to see the big picture and understand how all parts of the business jigsaw fit together. For a team this means being able to think beyond your own area and recognise how you fit into the wider organisation, and impact the customer experience and the value proposition as a whole.

Taking a long term view of the business includes being able to assess impact, make decisions and take actions that are not just about an isolated, localised issue.

“Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions” by Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn is out now from FT Publishing. You can explore the 10 challenges that teams face in more in detail. You can buy the book on Amazon now .See www.leadingteamsbook.com for more information.


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