Last year I was attending a conference on management and processes optimization. One of the speakers presented an interesting result of the research conducted in the number of companies. During the study, researchers asked the managers and employees about how they evaluated the maturity and implementation of different processes in their organizations.
The speaker displayed the slide which summarized the gathered data, and the audience immediately started murmuring. The management rated the advancement of processes’ implementation several times higher than regular employees! It was not just one meaningless statistic — all indicators were significantly higher when they compared opinions of supervisors and workers.
I recalled these results a year later when we received feedback from the employees’ satisfaction survey. The results were — to put it mildly — relatively weak, and still, my boss was evidently surprised when he saw them. Even a couple of team members who eagerly left the company last year did not help to build up a shared understanding between the top management and line workers, so we needed to act quickly and do something to improve our situation on our own. We decided to gather our team together and to start from a scratch.
Step 1: Find out what is truly going on
At first, we didn’t even know how to begin. There were no data or reliable information about what our team major problems were, or what we should change to improve the satisfaction among our team members. People were continually complaining about numerous issues, but we couldn’t even precisely name them, not to mention, deciding which ones were the most important.
Being a doer type of person, I quickly convinced our manager that, as a senior team member, I will handle the situation and come back to him with defined action points. I the meantime, I have already figured out what we can do. It was just a hazy vision, but I was sure it can work for us.
In the previous firm, I had the possibility to attend a workshop where other team members and I have created a workable plan to improve the relationships among different departments in our company. During the two-hour session, we became not only crazy creative but also what I call the real team spirit — a priceless asset in team-work. And all of these happened because of one simple acronym — SWOT.
Managing discussions which relate to people’s attitude can challenging, so the professional trainer quickly explained to us how to create the SWOT analysis, and became the moderator of our discussion later on. I never thought that one year later, it would be my part to pick up the gauntlet and become the SWOT evangelist myself.
I organized the meeting and explained in the invitation what is a goal of our workshop. Because having even a brief meeting agenda is vital, I shortly wrote down that we are going to create a SWOT analysis for our department.
Just before the meeting, I prepared a couple of large paper sheets and colorful markers, which I lay down on desks in the conference room. When everyone arrived, people were curious what’s going to happen. Interestingly, even though the idea was new for most of the participants, they seemed to be open to new experience — it was a promising start.
Step 2: Engage employees in workshop
I picked four people among participants, and they received large papers where they wrote the name of each of the SWOT categories (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Our goal for the first part of the workshop was to fill in each of the categories with features connected with our company or our work. In the beginning, I needed to moderate and encourage others to list features, but after first few minutes the papers have begun to fill in rapidly, and the discussion about content became very vivid. The creativity skyrocketed — to some degree at least.
We kept in mind that there are no bad ideas and even if only one person thinks that such an opportunity or issue existed we wrote it down. After an hour, the most filled in sheet was the one connected with weaknesses, and the owner of the sheet had hands full of work to write all of them down. We listed more than twenty obstacles and problems that needed to be solved. Other categories weren’t as popular, but we tried hard to find also the bright side to keep the balance. Eventually, when we felt that we drained the topic, we decided to focus only on addressing fundamental weaknesses.
Step 3: Address the most important issues first
Talking about issues is not the same as solving ones, so we proceeded to the next part of the session.
We prepared an additional sheet where we wanted to name action points that could be taken by other people or us to minimize the impact of the weaknesses which we identified. We quickly scanned the list of problems and noticed that some of them were related to each other, or it was possible to solve them in one go.
To identify these types of relationships, we assigned numbers to each of the weaknesses on additional paper, and grouped the similar issues with each other. Eventually, we reduced the total number of items from about twenty to eight. Next, if we knew how we can resolve the issue, we proposed the solution and wrote it as an action point. We quickly found out that were not able to solve all the problems by ourselves, so to reduce the time spent on discussing topics that we could not influence directly I declared what I will discuss them with the manager just after the workshop.
We assigned ourselves to action points that could be resolved and we decided to meet once again two months later to see what is the progress of our work. We left the room motivated and focused on solving our problems. We felt that we could influence our work and improve our situation.
Step 4: Follow-up
Two months later we met again. We started our meeting from checking which action points were taken and what still needs to be fixed. The results were a bit disappointing. Part of our team didn’t take any actions, because everyday work displaced any possibility of improvements. The other part tried to move the topic forward but results weren’t impressive. We knew that we needed to change something in organization of our work to see any progress.
Once again we got through the entire list of weaknesses and realized that some of the issues were more important than others. This time, we marked only the most important problems and decided to focus on resolving them one by one. We knew that even small improvement but ended with success would give us power get major issue. We also decided to meet more often (once every 2 weeks), to feel that we need to deliver something in shorter periods.
Step 5: Positive ending
After a while, I noticed that people complain less than before. We have concrete actions that we need to take and they depend on only our involvement. Our manager also received feedback about our problems and actively supported resolving issues that were outside our competence. We are still experimenting with SWOT analysis, we repeated it after 3 months to verify if our problems are changing or maybe if we notice more positive aspects of our work. Some of the weaknesses disappeared, some even have transformed into strengths.
Our involvement spread to the other two team which also get through similar workshops. We are planning to exchange our experience and lists.
If SWOT analysis seems to be right for you and your team, try to create one for yourself: SWOT analysis tool