TeamBuild October 2019: Go to the balcony with an organizational scan

In a previous blog (, January 2017), I talked about the technique of stepping back or “going to the balcony” to get perspective on a group. When I start work with a new group I often conduct what I call an “organizational scan” which helps both me and the group get perspective. Some groups I work with now do this on their own, on a regular basis.

What I do

My version of an organizational scan is the following.

  • Interview everyone on the team before meeting as a whole.
    • This is best done in person but can be done by video (i.e. Zoom or Skype) or by phone. Ask three questions, sent ahead of time. Something simple and broad like, “What’s working, what’s not, what do you hope to see out of this process?”
    • Take notes, not for attribution.
  • Draft a summary of what I have heard.
    • Organize data into a Powerpoint presentation.
    • Use neutral language.
    • Start with and accentuate the positive.
    • Provide context for why the team is in the position they are now (note strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).
  • Start the first in-person meeting with the team by showing the slide show. Annotate the slides verbally with quotes from the interviews (that cannot be traced to an individual). Open the room to discussion.

Doing this to start a project with a team serves several purposes. I get to know each person in the room a little and they get to meet me. I begin to understand where each person is coming from and develop a sense of key issues and factions. Individuals are often more honest with me in person than they might be to their colleagues or superiors or in a survey and I am able to name the elephants in the room.

In an organizational scan I can remind people what they do value, name the challenges and factions dispassionately, and give context for why the organization is facing these challenges now. This tends to jump start the work.

What you can do

There is one team that I’ve worked with multiple times for an annual retreat who now does a version of this on their own. Each year they send a Doodle poll to staff before the retreat to get a read on what core issues might be and design the retreat accordingly. Answers are anonymous. This year they chose to present the results of the poll to the team for discussion.

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