What’s Third?

Header image for article titled "Leading From Lockdown" by Caleb Moore

Any team can think about what comes next and that’s how a good team should think.  We believe high-performance teams should also force themselves to think about what could come after that.  Teams that think and plan for the tertiary will be on a path toward higher performance than their peers who aren’t looking as far ahead.

Deliberate planning for third order outcomes will reduce stress and improve performance when the future reveals itself.

There continues to be a lot of talk about the “new normal”.  Contrary to some expert opinion in the media, we don’t know what the “new normal” will look like, but we do know it will be different from pre-COVID-19 times.  How different, is anyone’s guess at this point. That’s why it’s particularly important to focus on, what’s third.  This doesn’t come nearly as natural as the subconscious ability to simply determine what happens next.  If I advance the throttle, instinctively I know my vehicle will accelerate until I stop advancing it or I run into something.  So, what happens third?  Will an animal or person step in front of me?  Will I over temp my engine?  Will I arrive sooner than expected and out run my supply chain?  What if our real world “new normal” results in a worst case scenario where we never completely move back into our office buildings, we’re never able to start a job without a two week quarantine, most if not all interactions will be via Zoom or WebEx, or an inordinate number of our team is consistently ill with COVID-19?

The scenarios seem endless and perhaps a bit overwhelming.  That’s why it’s important we push ourselves to think about what’s third.  Currently, most industry teams are in a reactive crisis management mode; focused on minimizing damage while keeping their workforce healthy for whatever the new normal turns out to be.  We believe it’s time to look further ahead and develop plans for some likely sequels.   By discussing worst-case scenarios with our team, we can proactively develop Courses of Action (COA) that define our new normal.  We suggest forming a team that determines what the overall desired goals are in order to meet future requirements and what support will be required to achieve those goals.  We called them Future Plans Teams in the military.  From that point, through “War Gaming”, the future plans team develops COA’s for each likely scenario to pull off the shelf in the event a scenario resembling that prediction materializes as the “new normal”.  This will allow us to create our own destiny in the “new normal” and be prepared for nearly all scenarios.

By discussing worst-case scenarios with our team, we can proactively develop Courses of Action (COA) that define our new normal.

It can be daunting at times to think about “what’s third” in an environment of mainly negative scenarios, the teams that prepare and plan for the worst-case, will emerge far more successful than their competitors regardless of what the “new normal” turns out to be.  Contingency planning on “what’s third” can turn chaos, stress and uncertainty into opportunity for teams that have prepared well for the “new normal”.

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