The Operational Planning Team Leader Revisited

In the last installment, we talked very broadly about being an OPT Leader and the basic skills required to survive in this capacity. In this article, we’ll talk with more fidelity about your team and provide masterful tools for success on a big staff.

Mecole Hardman Jr. gets a little pregame motivation from Soldier-mentors at the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 9, 2016. (Photo by Cheryle Rivas)

The OPT Revisited. In the last article, we provided a somewhat pessimistic view of the OPT as overworked and undermanned. The masterful OPT leader acknowledges manning challenges but also goes beyond constraints and limitations to create more relevant plans. Though each member of the team brings flawed logic and bias to the table, they also bring unique perspective and experience. This diversity in thinking can produce significantly more depth in planning if given the appropriate time and space for collaboration.

You’ve got a calendar, but how are you maximizing scarce time with your team? In the last article, we described maintaining a calendar to ensure team members understand expectations for each planning event. More importantly, masterful OPT leaders think ahead and set conditions for collaborative planning sessions. There are few things more frustrating than starting a planning session then realizing you don’t have the right people, products, or tools required to continue planning. Talented OPT leaders focus on these conditions.

Start with building shared understanding and revisit the group’s understanding often. Spend adequate time early in the operations process to gain a detailed and cross-functional understanding of the problems at hand as well as the capabilities the organization has to deal with them. How does the end strength impact mobility, and subsequently how will constraints slow the organization’s movement into theater? The OPT leader’s role in the process is to build a coherent narrative, conveyed in the problem statement, and ensure understanding across the staff. One key note – the problem statement isn’t static. Revisit it often as the situation and plan evolve.

Think through the methodology you’ll use to foster collaboration. By default, collaborative sessions usually devolve to running through slides to ensure there is no calibri on them; this is not the purpose of a collaborative session. Are you using intentional failure to look for holes in your swing, or whiteboarding perceived relationships in a wicked problem? Make sure your team knows why they’re coming and what the intended output is.

Collaboration is awesome, but don’t forget the time required for detailed work! At some point in time, your whiteboard dreams have to transition into a useful product for subordinate headquarters. Ensure you planning timeline includes the appropriate amount of time for product build, review, rehearsal, rebuild, and print! Your plan is ineffective if it isn’t synthesized, professional (few errors, no inconsistency), and commonly understood at least two levels down.

Don’t worry about having the right answers – ask the right questions. As an OPT leaders, your job is synthesis. Synthesis across Warfighting Functions, or perhaps even across domains, to identify gaps, opportunities, risk, or inconsistencies. In this regard, your answers or solutions are less important than the questions you pose to the group during planning. Talented OPT leaders ask big questions rather than provide narrow solutions based on their experience.

Which brings me to my final point. As an OPT leader, your primary role is as a leader, not as a doer. Though you may think that building the perfect Powerpoint is essential to the next briefing, it is more important to have a leader who can step away from individual problems and synthesize across the breadth of the planning effort. This is your primary role!

Hopefully these thoughts are helpful to those readers operating as organizational leaders in any headquarters.

Looking for more info on leading the staff? Check out these articles!

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