Facilitating Breakthrough Thinking

Over time, every industry develops its own set of truisms. In organization design circles, two that come to mind are: “Organizations are a reflection of the collective logic of the organization’s leadership,” and “Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they’re getting.” Put the two together, and you can infer that if an organization is not getting its desired results, a change in thinking on the part of the leadership may be in order.

For this to happen, a leader or group of leaders must first assume accountability and realize that a change in thinking is necessary. They must also be willing to change the way they think.

However, as we all know, intending and doing are two different animals. Changing the way your mind works is no easy task. It’s not uncommon for leaders to start working through a process only to have every scenario they come up with turn out to be nothing more than a whitewashed version of what they’re already doing—like putting lipstick on the pig.

Breakthrough Thinking Techniques

Part of what we do as organization transformation facilitators is to help leaders and organizations break out of that cycle and see or reimagine something that’s indeed different. This process can help pave the way for breakthrough change.

To facilitate a new mindset, we must put processes and techniques in place to help leaders truly reimagine what needs to be done and how to accomplish it.  Here are a few of the organization transformation techniques we employ to help leaders break out of their thinking:

  1. Frameworks and tools. A framework provides a new lens through which to look at an aspect of your organization or a problem you may be experiencing. The framework may help shed new light on the issue so you can see it and approach it in a fresh, new way. The organizational Cube in our book, Mastering the Cube, is an example of a framework that can spur new thinking and insights.
  2. Small group advocacy. One very powerful technique we use to facilitate breakthrough thinking is to divide an organization’s leaders into smaller groups to brainstorm and generate options and ideas. Then, we bring them back to the large group to share the options and ideas that came up during their break-out sessions. While it may or may not generate the ultimate solution immediately, it nearly always helps catalyze different or creative ways of thinking about the problem and possible solutions.
  3. Challenge through questions. We frequently ask people to play through scenarios in their organization and think about how it would work if it was done differently.

It’s also important to make sure that team members are indeed willing and able to step out of their current reality to envision different or new realities. You can spend a long time talking through options and scenarios, but if on the inside a person thinks the whole idea of organization transformation is a bad idea and doesn’t want to do it, what are the chances it will ever work? (This is why it is so important to create a compelling case for change throughout the organization during a change transformation process.)

Red Flags That It’s Time for a Change in Thinking

Sometimes what leaders need most are ideas for how to rethink a problem that has been there for a long time. The right tools and facilitation processes, along with the right team of people to work on it, will enable your leadership team to ask the right kinds of future-focused questions to redesign and imagine successful ways of doing things.

Leaders typically seek such a breakthrough thinking process when they realize they are stuck in their own way of thinking about issues and problems. But it’s easy to project elsewhere and think the problem must be coming from somewhere else. Signs that a leader may need help to rethink their thinking include:

  • Looking for benchmarks. There is sometimes a tendency to look outside in the hope that someone else has solved your challenge. Benchmarks offer assurance. However, they will take you to average, not world class. If you’re asking questions like “what are others doing” it’s usually a sign that a leader is floundering for ideas.
  • Reverting to the tried and true. Sometimes leaders will fall back on strategies and practices that worked for them in another role or job, without thinking carefully about whether or not the conditions are the same in their current job or situation.
  • Dead-end cycles. A pattern of trying things over and over and not seeing material results is a sure indication that a different way of thinking is needed.

When mindset transformation is done well, it can result in innovative and even breakthrough organizational solutions. As organizations and leaders find new ideas and new ways of thinking, they are able to really change the way they approach problems to achieve measurable and impactful results.