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Practice Team Improvisation to Improve Execution
Adapted from a poem by Robert Burns, the saying “the best laid plans” refers to events that have gone awry or have not turned out as one had hoped.
Leaders know this reality all too well. Rarely does execution go exactly as scripted or planned. In real life, execution relies as much on improvising as it does the plan. In fact, leaders and team members who execute skillfully are typically the best improvisers. This is another way of saying they have practiced for all situational contingencies.
In order to execute on any complex task, team members must learn to adapt quickly to unexpected changes and challenges that arise. Unique situations call for unique solutions. But no development is so unique it can’t be unmasked and considered.
The ability to think creatively and develop workable solutions on the fly is the essential skill when executing. Yet, leaders rarely ask team members to practice it. We collectively pour over plans and strategies and engage in full rehearsals or walk-throughs to enhance performance, but only rarely do leaders mention the need to practice situations with improvisation.
This is a big miss.
After plans and strategies for execution are in place and the team has practiced the steps for execution, it is now time to get creative. Brainstorming the possible situational scenarios and how to address them gets everyone’s juices flowing.
The unexpected always happens, so the best leaders talk through the possibilities for response. Improvisation in any arena requires two foundations of knowledge: the conventional actions and the possible choices for adaptation. Through experience and practice, team members can come to learn how to quickly assess an unfolding situation and consider the possible solutions for adapting to it.
Improvisation is not some arcane talent possessed only by great comedians. It is an everyday skill that can be trained and practiced.
When a team member knows the palette of possible colors for a given situation, it becomes easier for them to improvise and paint a possible solution on the fly. Knowing those colors through team discussion and brainstorming is how great leaders prepare a team for flawless execution.
When team members are truly ready to improvise, there is no situation or challenge they are completely unprepared for. How they choose to improvise in the moment an obstacle appears may vary, but that they are ready to do so is what practicing for seamless execution is all about.
If plans are made with good intentions, execution is forged through creative preparation.