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This 1 Simple Exercise Can Help You Make Big Business Decisions. All It Takes Is an Empty Box

A simple exercise that will help give your company a voice.

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BY Chris McGoff - 02 Apr 2018

This 1 Simple Exercise Can Help You Make Big Business Decisions. All It Takes Is an Empty Box

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As a leader, you're probably always thinking about your company and its performance. Your focus is on making sure that it's always heading in the right direction and continuing to grow. There are lots of different strategies out there for ways to think about your company's well-being and growth, and many of them are valid. Sometimes, though, all you need is an empty cardboard box to help give you some perspective.

Here is a practical and effective way for you and your team to figure out how to get your company to perform at a higher level and grow fast. Write the name of your company in big letters across the side of one of those cardboard boxes Amazon uses to ship stuff. Set the box on a stool at the front of your meeting room and gather your team around.

Talk to the box.

For the next hour or so, pretend the box is your living, breathing company. Personify it. See it as independent of you and those gathered around. See it as the independent "system of systems" that it really is. See it like we see any living thing -- as a collection of interconnected and interdependent parts. See it as interacting with its environment in taking things in and shipping things out. See it as having too much of some things and too little of others.

The next step is to get truly curious about how the box is doing. With your teammates, you wonder what it is like "being" the box -- being your company. So you begin to ask the box questions like:

  • Where is your current constraint to performance?
  • What is your current limit to growth and scale?
  • What are your current and important unmet needs?
  • What do you have too much of?
  • What do you have too little of?
  • What is frustrating you?
  • What are the conditions that bring you the most joy and happiness?
  • What behaviors are people doing inside you that you really wish would stop?
  • What do you see about our customers and the market that you wish we could see as well?

Play by the rules.

You can make up other questions along the way. It's a simple game. You ask the questions one by one, and you try to answer the question from your company's perspective, not yours. Here are some rules to make the game more compelling:

  1. Assume the company can ONLY answer your questions truthfully, so those who speak for the company can only tell the truth. This will take some courage, so create a safe space with your team so everyone feels comfortable taking the leap.
  2. Players in this game shall surrender their own perspective, opinions, and agendas and only answer the questions from the company's perspective.
  3. Any player can issue a yellow or red card if any other player answers in their own words or from their own perspective and bias rather than the company's. This is all about giving your company an opportunity to talk to you; not for you to talk to it or about it. Players can only talk for the company, no matter where that leads.

Operating from this perspective enables you and your team to probe deeply into the operational realities of your company. You and your teammates are giving your company that effective therapy session that it is craving. With everything out on the table, you have the answers you need to keep your company moving forward.

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