Think Tanks may be commonly defined as groups of experts who consider important issues and provide advice on those issues. Although Think Tanks usually provide public policy advice, my company created its own internal Think Tank at the onset of the Great Recession.
Why would a small company need a Think Tank? Small companies do not have the resources of large corporations or governments, but they are just as profoundly affected by economic and technological changes. Smaller companies are also much nimbler than larger organizations, meaning they can implement changes quickly and can more easily alter the direction of the enterprise.
What is the role of a Think Tank in a small company?
In our enterprise, the Great Recession combined with technological change had a huge impact on the business beginning in 2009. Our sales fell suddenly, and we had fewer options to counteract this than in past downturns. Some of our rivals bought out local competitors in an attempt regain sales growth while others hired more salespeople. While both of these options could succeed, we believed that these strategies were not radical enough to counteract the change which had taken place. What we needed was something completely novel. What we needed was a way to change the game.
So, in 2009, we created our own Think Tank, comprised of representatives of various departments: design, production, sales and management. We met each month, and the goal of our 1 hour meetings was answering a simple question: How will we grow profitably in the years ahead?
While our Think Tank did not come up with all of the answers, it provided 3 important benefits to the organization:
1. Shared Leadership
Our Think Tank included some of the natural leaders in our company. This gathering gave them a forum to express not just ways to radically change the status quo, but also ways of improving what we already had in place. Many of these changes were implemented. Since all departments were represented, change had a much better chance of taking place. With everyone in one room, it was harder to resist changes which clearly needed to be made. The Think Tank also empowered each of the members and made them understand that they had a role in our recovery.
2. Revolutionary Thinking
During this time of unprecedented upheaval in the economy and fundamental change in our particular industry, we decided quickly that we did not want to play the same old game with our local competition. If our competitors wanted to play football, we wanted to play soccer! In our particular case, we decided to expand beyond our local roots in order to grow. Our Think Tank supported this type of revolutionary thought process.
3. Systematic Measurement of Our Progress
With the same group meeting month after month, we also decided to review our current challenges quickly each month. We looked at issues we were having and how to improve them systematically. We looked at product redos and their causes. We also discussed improvements to our operating system which would improve efficiency and lower redos. This promoted quality and continual improvement within our organization. It made us a better team.
While creating a Think Tank may not work for all small organizations, in our case it made a big difference. Sales and profitability have improved since 2009, and redos are at an all time low. By starting a Think Tank, you can promote a culture of problem solving and continual improvement. You will also bind your team together with the mission of changing the company for the better. This will make growth and profitability likely for many years to come!