Collaborative Planning: Tools and Techniques for First-Time Managers

As a first-time manager, it is important to engage your team members in collaborative planning to achieve optimum results. Nowadays employees expect to be involved; they no longer want their managers to operate independently and make important planning decisions without their input. Whether you have been promoted from within your organization or from outside, one of the first things you must achieve as part of daily management is building trust among your team for full participation. This article will provide you with a map for building trust among your team; and tools and techniques for generating full and meaningful input. 

You will also learn the basics of holding effective meetings, keeping daily abreast of team progress/work by walking about, and using technology to promote quick and efficient information sharing and planning documents. Collaborative planning with your team will help team members know what is expected of them, both individually and collectively. When everyone on the team shares ideas, knowledge, and skills to support the team’s progress, better choices and more effective teamwork will result. Effective teams produce desired results so everyone, employees, managers, the organization, and stakeholders benefit.  

Tools and Techniques for Collaborative Planning: Building Trust for Full Participation

As a first-time manager, one of the first things you must do is build trust with your team, individually and collectively. Think back to a manager that you had in your career who emulated sound leadership and seemed to generate a high level of trust among you and your team-mates. The most common characteristics may have included the following:

·       Keeping commitments

·       Clarifying expectations

·       Being transparent

·       Acting proactively, rather than reactively

·       Admitting mistakes with a sincere apology

·       Demonstrating personal integrity

It is also important to learn about team members’ individual preferences and work styles. For example, some people will find you more trustworthy if you demonstrate competence in your work, and are an active, timely problem solver and decision-maker. Other team members will be more open to a relationship or people-oriented approach, including active listening, respect, kindness, and courtesy. Being cognizant of, and practicing trust-building characteristics and understanding the personal preference of your team members will be rewarded.  Trust is a foundational requirement for effective teams and positive results. Having gained trust for full participation, the next step is developing some techniques for generating ideas and input from your entire team. 

Tools and Techniques for Collaborative Planning: Generating Ideas and Input from Your Team

Here are some general principles for gaining full participation and input of ideas from your team. Strive to develop an atmosphere of acceptance in which all ideas are recognized and acknowledged. This encourages people to participate. It is important to demonstrate respect for different perspectives free from criticism. It is also important to encourage the team to make connections and build on one another’s ideas. As the manager, you are also in the position to bring in information about the bigger organization and the broader world. In addition to these general principles, a number of more specific strategies and techniques can be used to generate full discussion and generation of ideas.

The first technique is classic brainstorming. This can be easily done in a meeting to generate many ideas in a short period of time. Members can build on each other’s ideas while staying focused on a common purpose. There should be clear understanding of the question, issue, or problem under discussion.  Typically, the following ground rules are used for brainstorming:

·       Encourage active participation

·       All ideas are good ones and worthy of consideration

·       Record the ideas on a whiteboard or flip chart as they were stated

·       Ideas should be concise and express one thought 

·       Listen to others’ ideas and find a connection to piggyback on them

·       Do not debate the merits of an idea

·       Avoid criticizing ideas

·       Wait until the ideas dry up before clarifying or allowing for questions about the ideas 

After the brainstorm, agree on the need for further discussion and follow-up actions.

Debate can also be used to generate ideas. This format allows the team to fully examine an issue or planning decision by voicing pros and cons. It allows for objections and support for an idea to be openly discussed while maintaining a positive and constructive atmosphere.  As with brainstorming, it is important to establish the ground rules, timing of discussion, and which team member(s) will conduct the two sides of the debate. Afterwards, the team can then choose the most desirable option for addressing the issue that was debated.

Some managers may find mind mapping helpful to analyze and explore ideas related to a central topic or theme. It involves the use of a diagram or pictures to organize information graphically. The central topic is written in the middle of a large piece of paper. Then related sub-topics for the central topic are brainstormed and written down. For each major-related topic draw a line to show the connection to the main topic. Then for each subtopic, brainstorm lower level sub-topics. Continue to draw lines to show various connections and relationships between ideas. Use colors and drawings and keep the topic labels as short as possible. The ideas generated can them be used for problem-solving, planning and gaining insight about complex issues. 

Tools and Techniques for Collaborative Planning: Holding Effective Meetings

As a first-time manager, you will inevitably be called upon to hold regular meetings with your team. If allowed to just happen haphazardly, these meeting can waste time and leave the team feeling de-motivated and lacking in direction. However, with a bit of planning, you can hold effective meetings that keep the team’s progress and accomplishments toward goal achievement a key focus. The result is effective teamwork for success. 

It is important to have a process for your meetings. This includes planning, conducting, and following up each meeting. The components of planning a meeting include managing logistics (location, time, frequency), establishing a purpose, identifying participants and guests, choosing techniques that suit the purpose of the meeting, and sending out an agenda. 

When conducting the meeting, start with a brief check-in where each participant has an opportunity to state how they are feeling in general or about their work. Then, take time to review the agenda with the group and ask for any additional items. You may need to establish ground rules, or if already in place, review them. It is also important to clarify key roles that include leader, recorder and timekeeper. To keep the agenda moving forward, cover one item at a time and manage the discussions. Setting time limits for agenda items can be helpful to maintain the focus and pace of the meeting. At the end of each meeting, it is important to summarize decisions and review the action items generated. In addition, this is a good time to ask for future agenda items and remind the team of the next meeting. A quick evaluation of how the meeting went is helpful to identify what went well and what you might do differently to improve future meetings. The evaluation can be done informally using a round-robin approach; or more formally by having individuals jot down answers to two or three questions about the meeting. Follow-up is important to ensure that decisions and actions that were agreed on get done. Prompt circulation of minutes will serve a reminder to team members who have been assigned specific actions or assignments.   

Tools and Techniques for Collaborative Planning: Daily Scrums and Walking About

One helpful way to ensure prompt identification and follow-up of team progress is to hold informal daily “scrums” at a time when team members can get together briefly to share what they are working on, successes, and any potential or real concerns. Depending on the work environment, this might take the form of a quick check-in at the beginning of the workday, or alternatively during the day. 

Similarly, a daily “walk-about” can be an effective managerial technique for building relationships, ensuring awareness of the current state in the workplace, and facilitating prompt follow-up, if this walkabout is done in a non-threatening and non-obstructive manner. It can be an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions and successes of team members and demonstrate your willingness to be visible and transparent to your team. The personal touch, rather than relying mainly on written communication and e-mails, can be a welcome approach for your team.  

Tools and Techniques for Collaborative Planning: Using Technology

The modern age of technology has the benefit of enabling rapid transmission of information. The use of technology can be helpful for individual planning by having day timers, weekly planners, and calendars on-line. It is recommended that written weekly planning with daily adaptations work well for most managers. Technology also promotes collective information sharing among the team. Many documents can be shared with the team. This includes shared calendars, agendas, minutes, and to-do lists based on priorities the team has established. Working documents can be shared so all team members can add their ideas and input. 

One example of a shared document is a work plan. These provide direction and coordinate team efforts by identifying targets, deadlines, resources needed and key tasks or steps, so nothing is missed. They can also serve as the basis for reviewing progress and identifying possible scheduling conflicts. A typical work plan will include:

·       The steps or actions to be taken, in sequence

·       Desired outcome for each step

·       Who is responsible for each step 

·       The proposed and actual start and finish dates of each step

·       Comments or notes

Technology has many advantages and appropriate use of technology can enhance your team’s participation and effectiveness. However, it can become cumbersome and frustrating if used in excess and at the expense of real-time person-to-person communication and connection.

Conclusion

As a first-time manager, your initial efforts to transition to a new role and expectations will be focused on daily management. It is paramount that you start with building trust among your team for full participation. This article has provided an overview of how to begin the journey of building trust among your team and developing tools and techniques for generating full and meaningful input. Collaborative planning will help team members know what is expected of them, both individually and collectively. Everyone on the team shares ideas, knowledge, and skills to support the team’s progress, make better choices and create an effective team. Effective teams produce desired results so everyone wins.  

This is only the beginning of your complex journey as a first-time manager. There is a lot to learn in order to master the knowledge, competencies, and skills to be successful in your role.  

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