During the past couple of days I consulted a leadership team on forming a strategic plan for 2010. The most dynamic aspect was what took place on the second day of the planning retreat, when several different levels–including the front-line employees–joined the senior management members in order to flesh out the high-level tactics that had been developed on the first day. The whole system, then, had the opportunity to lend a voice and shape the approach the organization is taking as it moves toward a new calendar year.
We engaged the whole system through a model designed to do just so, called The World Cafe. Perhaps you've heard of this model or experienced it first hand. Designed for large groups, it involves a series of tables hosted by facilitators. Groups of individuals who are part of a particular organization or community rotate from table to table, sharing ideas on a specific topic. The facilitators remain in place at their original tables, and ensure that the ideas build upon one another as each new group rotates in. The result of all of this is a powerful set of initiatives that has been shaped by the whole, a conversation enriched by the insights of many rather than just the perspective of those with the most power.
I encourage leaders to practice some modified version of the “cafe” on a regular basis. Be intentional about engaging every level of the organization in order to glean the best ideas and, more importantly, ensure that a strategy is more likely to be executed with success.
A “servant leadership” mindset is a prerequisite, however, and a healthy realization that without the front-line employees the formal leaders would not need to be around.