Strategic planning lessons from The A-Team

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Strategic planning is full of jargon – mission, vision, values, must-win battles, broad action plans, specific action plans.

Let’s take away the jargon and get down to basics, with a little help from the 1980s.

What can the A-Team teach us about strategic planning?

I was born in 1977, and American TV shows from the 1980’s defined a large part of my childhood.

I loved Knight Rider, Airwolf and MacGyver. Most of all I loved the A-Team.

It is one of the most enduring of all the 1980’s series. It managed to fill a space that modern interpretations just can’t. It was light-hearted action, at times very funny. It managed to be violent, without anyone ever actually getting killed or even hurt.

There are a few memorable lines. The great B.A.Baracus saying, ‘I ain’t getting on no plane, fool’. And of course the classic line from Hannibal, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’

The central theme of the A-Team was very simple.

Someone had a problem.

No-one else could help, so they hired the A-Team.

They would investigate the situation, and come up with a plan to fix the problem.

They would then get in some major trouble along the way, and normally end up getting locked in a warehouse, garage or other facility. They would then fabricate some kind of eloborate machine to escape, and complete their plan.

I worked in business for many years before realising that hidden within the TV show I enjoyed as a child was everything you really need to know about strategic planning.

1. Where Are You Today?

Great plans start with understanding where you are today? Take a step back and look at what is going on around you. The World moves fast, so do this regularly. Your mission is the reason that your organisation exists. It rarely changes.

2. Where Do You Want To Be Tomorrow?

This is your vision for the future. Where do you want to be in, say, 3 years time? How will you know when you get there?

3. How Will You Close The Gap?

These are your broad action plans or must-win battles. The 3 or 4 key things that are critical to your success. Getting these right are vital.

You’ll probably need to make some choices, and some of them may be risky. Scenario planning is often misunderstood, but do it properly and you’ll provoke the kind of breakthrough conversations you need.

4. What Barriers Could Get In Your Way?

What barriers have stopped you in the past? What negative patterns does your organisation tend to repeat? As important is to look forward and consider what might happen. VUCA is a good model to use because it focusses on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the World today.

5. How Will You Behave On The Journey?

These are your values. They will define how you get there. Will you be more like the The Wolf of Wall Street or Mother Theresa in the pursuit of your vision?

Next Time You Have a Problem, Who You Gonna Call?

Well that’s Ghostbusters, which is a different story! But the next time you have a problem, take a few lessons from the A-Team.

Assess the current situation. Decide what you want to happen. Work out a plan to get there. Be prepared to overcome some unforeseen obstacles along the way. And stick to your values.

The real lesson from the A-team though is not so much in the ‘what’ but the ‘how’.

They were a team. Each one brought something different to the table.

Together, they were stronger than apart. Although they argued (in particular about air travel), they knew that when they needed each other they could depend on one another.

Sure they had a good strategy, but their collective intelligence and collaboration was what kept them one step ahead.

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