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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

What’s better than good old strategic planning?

Updated: May 2

I used to roll my eyes when I heard the words “strategic planning.”

In my experience, strategic planning was developed and imposed top-down. If I was even invited to help shape it, the planning meetings were boring and lasted for months. Those on the front lines tended to resist or ignore the plan because it imposed new responsibilities unrelated to what they did. And, after the first unexpected turn of events, the plan became outdated and was often shelved.

Can you relate?

Then I discovered a planning tool that resolved all my frustrations strategic planning. It’s called Ecocycle Planning, and it can transform both your planning and how you carry it forward.

Barb Bickford pointing to a chart on the wall with an infinity sign and yellow stickies on it.

What is Ecocycle Planning?

Ecocycle Planning is a collaborative graphical planning activity that uses the metaphor of the cycle of life (birth, growth, maturity, and decline) to represent the life cycle of a project, work activity, organization, or relationship. It helps you see the big picture of what you are doing – what’s working, what’s not and even what you’re just dreaming about.

Ecocycle Planning also helps you name where you are stuck, either from a lack of resources or from the unwillingness to let go of things that are no longer working well.

With the big picture in mind and the input from various people involved, you can make more informed decisions about how to get unstuck.

Ecocycle Planning is one of a suite of 33 activities called Liberating Structures that powerfully enhance group work. Liberating Structures were developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless and are available under a Creative Commons agreement. This means anyone can use the Liberating Structures activities as long as they give attribution to Henri and Keith.

Why is this approach better than traditional top-down, drawn-out and static strategic planning? I can think of four reasons:

1) Ecocycle Planning is collaborative

It invites more people to help create your plan, not just organizational leaders. People in all parts of an organization, who are familiar with the work “on the ground,” can not only accurately describe how things actually are, but they also often have considerable insight into how things could be improved.

2) Ecocycle Planning is quick

It can help you develop a reasonably effective plan in just a few hours, not weeks or months. It doesn’t create the illusion of a perfect and linear plan for the long term. Rather, it helps you identify your next right steps, which is all you usually do anyway.

3) Ecocycle Planning is dynamic

When you embrace the natural ebbs and flows of development, you expect and plan for change. You can easily include new information as it becomes available. This approach can make your strategic planning more effective, saving you time and resources in the long run. You adapt your plan to life, instead of hoping or forcing life to fit an outdated, static plan.

4) Ecocycle Planning is seriously fun

As people co-create the Ecocycle, they may playfully argue about where to put their observations, and enjoy the camaraderie of being in the same boat rowing together. They will have “Aha!” moments about what could get them unstuck, and that gives them hope. They feel engaged and energized.

A fifth benefit comes through time. By planning their future together, people start to know and trust one another. This can build a sense of common purpose and cohesion in your organization, which has long term positive effects too many to discuss here.

So, friends, now that you know about Ecocycle Planning, I encourage you to give it a try. Embrace the natural cycles of your organization and make more informed decisions about what steps to take next. And have fun doing it!

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