Back in the day (okay, a few months ago), Jim and I would constantly call each other to talk through ideas, ideas for client recommendations, ideas for advice to friends, ideas for industry changing frameworks or thoughts. These days, we are juggling clients across multiple geographies and starting to grow our team. It would be very easy to fall back on the ways most of us have worked in previous consultancies, focused on delivering to our clients and coming together primarily to manage the company, maybe with some more strategic thinking happening in sporadic pockets or centrally from a knowledge management group.

I thought I’d share a bit about what we’ve been doing to build a culture of thinking, since it seems to be working well so far. Now that we have added John and Claudia to the team, we have two weekly meetings, an Ensemble meeting to focus on management of the company and a Thought meeting to discuss ideas. In the Thought meetings, one of us shares an article or presentation with the group for feedback or we just pose open-ended topics. Last week, I was talking a lot with one of our clients about the differences between a software organization and an internal IT department. In past lives, I probably would have done a little thinking myself, maybe with a little research and possibly some conversation with someone from my company. This time, I “hijacked” another less urgent topic in the Thought meeting and we spent the entire hour brainstorming up the different pressures and probable recommendations for an organization trying to make the shift from “internal IT” to “software company” mentality. We came at it from very different perspectives, which I suppose you’d expect from a group of four that includes a couple technology backgrounds, a couple MBAs, a PhD in organizational psychology and many years of varied experiences.

To be honest, we were all grumpy at the start of the meeting. We met at 7 AM (6 AM for Claudia) so as to be done in time to kick off client meetings at 8 AM. Everyone was busy, logistics were challenging that morning, but after five minutes in we were having a healthy debate that started the day off just right. Not only was it fun, it gave me some great additional ideas to take back to my client. I think the weekly meetings also remind us to stay engaged with each other in a “thoughtful” way throughout the week via email, phone and impromptu meetings.

Too often, I think organizations try to relegate innovation or strategic thinking to a small group of people or force it into rare windows of time throughout the year. Meetings are all tactical, without enough room for real thinking. Organizations may have the capability to think strategically, but not the structure and practice. I’m not going to say it is easy, and check with us in a few years on how we are working this with 75 people, but I think these Thought meetings could be onto something ….