Want to change the world?

Get better at ‘Sky to Ground’ thinking

Are any of these familiar?

* Unfinished business projects 
* Initiatives that fail to create the breakthrough that was expected
* Silo behaviour that slows down agility and adaptability

Each of these may well be a sign of the inability of leaders and teams to apply the fascinating and emerging concept of ‘Sky to Ground’ thinking to business challenges.

What is Sky to Ground?

Sky to Ground is the capability to think and act from broad vision and context through to intricate detail and back again on any type of business initiative. That means anything from clear specifications to blue sky concepts.

The need for this style of thinking and action is nicely captured in the comment by the CEO of a Bank, ‘We need to do three things at once: Keep the lights on, deliver the transformation agenda and find a way to leverage and disrupt all that.’

Simple model

The diagram below highlights the elements of Sky to Ground in an-easy-to-understand model that describes the typical activities in four quadrants.

Copyright: Think One Team International

The harsh reality

Most leadership teams need only a cursory glance at the Sky to Ground model to realise why they have uncompleted initiatives, failure to achieve breakthrough solutions and frustrations between technical functions (business units).

The Head of People and Performance at one of the nation’s leading Universities remarked, ‘What else can we expect when treat adaptive challenges as technical, we give protective ownership to experts in silos, and we don’t challenge each other to take our priorities from Sky to Ground?’

It is not surprising that leading organisations are seeking better ways to build the capabilities to think and act Sky to Ground.

Better than a known way

A t least two Universities, some internationally-focused businesses and even Government agencies have launched Sky to Ground initiatives. Most are following a four step approach:

Step 1. Give Accountability to small smart Teams

Form teams of no more than 8 people and give the leader single point accountability to take a selected initiative from ‘Sky to Ground’.

Step 2. Create the Performance and Learning Loop

Set up the team to learn and adapt fast while managing risk and return. Do this by defining an operating framework and rhythm built on a nimble learning loop which includes planning, co-creation, debriefing and adapting.

Step 3. Instil Core Capabilities

People need core capabilities that enable the team to move ‘Sky to Ground/Ground to Sky’ as fast as the business environment requires.
These are capabilities that enable people to expand their capability to move across the four dimensions while leveraging others’ capabilities so they can genuinely work Sky to Ground, such as:

1. Co-creation: How to engage with colleagues and teams to enable genuine co-creation 
2. Problem solving and decision making: How to embed shared language and tools 
3. Self awareness: How to gather feedback that boosts awareness of Sky to Ground strengths, weaknesses and impacts on colleagues. 
4. Fast learning: How to embed action debriefing and reflection into daily activities

Step 4. Drive change in defined blocks of time

Give the initiative in a tight deadline to provide focus on task and capability development. (Most programs are defined in 90 day activities or increments because teams have time to deliver results and to gain capabilities and learnings.)

Provide support from a coach and use engagement platforms such as social business toolkits like Think One Team to support these adaptive initiatives in better ways than currently happens with standard intranets.

Impact and opportunity

Sky to Ground initiatives have substantial impact on organisations because many more people are engaged by the ‘small smart team’ in co-creation activities.

This spreads the methodology and tools in a much faster and potentially more powerful way than current leadership and team development approaches, while delivering business results at the same time.

Here are a few questions to reflect on for your team:
* How nimble is your organisation at moving between the quadrants in the Sky to Ground model?
* What strengths and gaps does this model suggest about your managers and team leaders?
* How can you develop Sky to Ground capabilities by using real business initiatives?

Perhaps it is time for you and your colleagues to spend a few hours working through this opportunity: from Sky to Ground!!

Graham Winter is an Australian Psychologist and best-selling author of Think One Team and First Be Nimble.

To contact Graham, visit www.thinkoneteam.com

This article was first published in the HR Director magazine in March 2015.

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