Of the time-wasting, energy-sucking games people play in planning, here is one that I find particularly aggravating. I call it “teeing up the boss.” It tees me off – and if you care about efficient planning , it should tee you off too.  Here’s how it often plays out:As I meet with leaders prior to a session or conduct the planning session itself, a leadership team member approaches me surreptitiously with a really good idea.  I’ll look across and say, “That’s a really good idea!  When we convene with the group, why don’t you share it with everyone.”Right then, I see that look in the person’s eyes. “You don’t understand.  It won’t work if it’s my idea.  It needs to be the boss’ idea or it will never fly.  We have to tee her up.”  How does this look to you?I can’t help looking incredulous at this point.  “You mean, we have to wander around this bush long enough that the nickel drops for the boss – and then we can move on?”You see, I’m usually on very tight timelines when working with leadership teams – they rightly have no patience for my wasting their time with an inefficient planning process.  And some of them often have planes to catch at the end of the day… so this behavior drives me nuts.Why do we play this game? In too many groups, there is a subtle competition between members to see who is the smartest, most influential, most “strategic” or whatever.  Don’t get me wrong, I think friendly competition in planning is important – it spurs everyone to get the best from their efforts.  (For an interesting take on this, see Joni and Beyer’s recent article, How to Pick a Good Fight, in December’s Harvard Business Review).But when the competition isn’t about getting the best ideas but instead about besting others, it becomes personal.  And when the one who constantly wants to best others happens to be the boss, get ready to waste some time as team members jockey, “plant seeds,” “position,” and otherwise try to indirectly influence the boss and the group.There are better ways to play:

  • The boss can explicitly state that, while everyone on the team is capable (or wouldn’t be on the team anyway), no one has all of the answers – including her!
  • The boss can find ways to make brain-storming as inclusive and democratic as possible.  Good group process goes a long way here, with thoughtfully prepared open-end questions and the careful inclusion of all group members (especially the quieter ones).  One excellent tool for drawing out ideas and getting them down to the best few is an anonymous, computer-aided voting system such as The Innovator system designed by my friend Michael Catello.
  • The boss can go on a hunt to recognize and reinforce good ideas from all over the team (and the organization).  This takes humility because it requires us to think that others really do have good ideas – and that our leadership position isn’t dependent on monopolizing the idea pool.  It also takes real listening (not just being quiet until the other guy shuts up long enough for you to talk).  And let’s face it, most leadership teams could stand a little more listening.

Of course, it doesn’t all hinge on the boss.  Team members need to demonstrate courage as well, putting ideas out there even if they aren’t immediately accepted and – tactfully – confronting a boss when they’re unwittingly helping people play the “tee up the boss game.”  If not, you just might wind of missing that plane – or worse yet, that great market opportunity.