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What’s the smallest thing?

I remember running a workshop with a team last year. We wanted to find ways to improve collaboration. We had a lively discussion and set a powerful vision for what the workplace could look like. 

It sounded great but there was a sense that nothing was going to happen. People didn’t have capacity for another project. 

Why is it that when it comes to execution we get stuck? Overwhelmed or paralysed about where to start? 

The problem is not the size of the goal but the size of the first step. 

You’ve heard the quote about eating an elephant one bite at a time (not sure why the poor elephant got picked on!). The point is, it’s lots of small steps that lead to a large accomplishment. 

Often, we’re looking for one leap to get us there. In a complex environment, we can’t grasp all the moving parts and unseen variables. 

We aren’t aware of all the assumptions we’ve made. A seemingly logical next step can have all kinds of unintended consequences. So we do nothing.

‘Installing a new digital platform’. ‘Organisation-wide events’. These all came up as the next step for better collaboration. It wasn’t long before it became destined for the ‘too-hard basket’. I’m sure you’ve been in workshops or brainstorming sessions like this.

So how do we make progress towards the powerful vision we have?

We need to start with a set of small steps and a robust learning process. Try the following approach:

1. Choose the option you want to make progress towards. This may be something like ‘collaborating better within and across teams’. Or something more strategic in nature like ‘gaining more market share’ or ‘replacing myself.’

2. Choose a small action. Instead of investing a lot of resource into an elaborate plan, try something small. Set some appropriate parameters like ‘complete in under 15 minutes’ or ‘involve no more than 3 people.’ Something you can recover from if it doesn’t work. Ask yourself, “What is the smallest action I can take to learn the most about this situation?”

Write this down and share it with your team.

3. Track progress and capture what you’ve learnt.  Gathering evidence to give you confidence for the next step.

Reflect on the experience of the step you took with your team. Measure as much and as many variables as you can. 

4. Then take the next small step…

In our workshop, we took a couple of the big ideas and asked, “What’s the smallest thing you could do?” Suddenly, there was a shift in the room. People felt empowered. Relieved that they had something achievable to work on, not a massive project.

In this case we shifted from collaboration platforms as a solution to visualisations of the current work and introducing daily stand ups. Small, easy-to-do steps they could learn a lot from and build on.

I help people take small steps towards big visions. Contact me to set up a time to discuss if you or your team are feeling stuck on a next step.

Doug Maarschalk guides workplace teams to become more ‘human’ by growing a culture of contribution, learning and empowerment. He is a facilitator, consultant and coach who helps teams get clear on their strategy and change their thinking to become high performing. He’s worked with clients in the horticulture, banking, logistics and manufacture sectors along with local government. Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.

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