Menu Close

High speed business planning with Team Action Management


Most senior managers, in both the private and public sectors, find it difficult to develop one activity, let alone two or more. The problem lies more in the area of making and controlling timely changes which are required to update the operations, rather than with the day to day routine management of the operations.

We have found there is seldom a shortage of ideas or people. The problem is to get the agreement and commitment of those people actually working in, or for, the organisation to doing the right things at the right time – and also to ensure that there is adequate attention to the control and quality of the actions of people who must somehow work together to carry out the purposes and objectives of the organisation. Managers are also concerned that employees don't rush off at half cock to make idiot mistakes which cost money and – even more important – lose time.


For years it was hoped that some form of team work methodology or business planning would be the answer to this problem of managing change. This was the motivation which drove the development of a team approach to development planning. It was called Team Action Management and over the past 35 years TAM has been proven to produce major results. Even so this development has been largely ignored in favour of the traditional annual budgeting exercise and the annual executive retreat.

Business or strategic planning is older than oatmeal, and yet it is not clearly understood nor well practised. Understood or not, it still remains vital for individual and organisational success – more now than ever before. This is because of the rapid transportation and communication systems developed over the past two decades. These have created global competition instead of regional competition, and have accelerated product obsolescence and the need to replace existing business with new presentations and offerings.

Perhaps this lack of understanding and appreciation results from presentation of the subject by academics in an academic way. Moreover, those who somehow unconsciously plan strategically cannot connect what they are doing to the theory and practice. In short, they do Strategic Planning but don't call it that.

Managing change and setting realistic objectives which carry the conviction of those responsible is difficult and often results in questionable compromises. The one and only missing link is how to get the management team agreed and committed to a comprehensive set of action programmes.

In 1964 R.F.Stewart of SRI in California led a research team to discover and create a system for getting this management team agreement and commitment to managing change. In 1970 the prototype was brought to the UK, under the sponsorship of W.H. Smith, Peter Bennett and Sir Richard Troughton, and completed by 1973. The operational programme was used to merge the CWS milling and baking operations with those of J.W. French. The process has been used successfully ever since.

By 2005, this system had been fully developed, and proven to cope with today's problems of setting and agreeing realistic annual objectives without depending on outside consultants or expensive staff resources. The system presents a practical way of assimilating internal and external information about the business unit. It delineates short and long-term priorities and allows an easy way to build the management team which can achieve the objectives of profit growth.

This approach captures the collective agreement and commitment of those who will ultimately have to do the work of meeting or exceeding the objectives finally set. It permits the team leader to define and develop co-ordinated, goal-directed actions, which underpin the overall agreed objectives between levels of the business hierarchy. It makes possible setting results-oriented objectives and provides action plans, which can be monitored to ensure that these objectives are reached.

Yet even this TAM system did not operate quickly enough for widespread use. I found myself discussing the hopes and aspiration of an executive who a year earlier had been given the job of turning round a five-company group clustered within a very large conglomerate. In one of the companies, having reduced all costs to absolute minimum, he was now looking to double sales.

A plan to double sales was needed, and we agreed to cut the standard TAM planning process in half. We would ask the nine sales people to come to their pre-arranged monthly sales meeting; we would ask them to remain a second day to develop a plan to double the sales. It was agreed to impose the TAM step-by-step process up to step 10 and quit.

Believe it or not, this gamble created a team planning process which produces quick-fix solutions to solve corporate issues at any level; global, divisional, subsidiary, or departmental. Within a couple of days, the process focuses the energy, attitude and sense of priority of the team to achieve the results wanted.

Working together in this experiment, the concept of a 'mini-TAM' session was proven to work. This experiment opened up an opportunity to deal with a niche problem involving very few people to produce good results without major cost.

We had 63 planning issues which turned into 31 allocated actions and work statements created and agreed by all the members. It all took from 10am Tuesday to 1pm Wednesday: a day and a half. Since then there have been two reviews where positive results were reported. Morale was and remains high, and a bright future is envisioned by all participants.

The business is a subsidiary of a multi-national packaging company . It produced street waste containers for councils and shopping centres using giant rotational moulding machines and agricultural plastic products. There were about 90 people on site after going through a major restructuring to restore profitability. With that completed, the target was now to double the sales volume in two years.

A new sales manager was hired along with three other regional sales people, giving a total of nine. Two administrative staff translated the sales orders into factory production planning instructions. The key issues were poor site-wide communication; a need for teamwork between regions; and (because of the number of management replacements) a real need for a company-wide sense of stability and job continuity.

As the objective was to double the sales volume it was decided to use a reduced TAM programme as the team-building method involving only the sales departments. These nine people were to produce the 'Strategic Sales Development Plan'.

It was difficult to bring the nine together, so we decided to quickly prepare the team to work out the plan on the 19th of July – only two weeks away. E-mail was used to announce the 'plan to plan' and distribute the planning issues, along with instructions. The Purpose and Strategic Analysis were prepared by the Sales Manager along with the keynote speech.

On the 19th all members of the team arrived and met me for the first time as their guide through a truncated TAM process. As noted earlier, 63 planning issues were brought out, read, sorted and converted into 31 action programmes. These were allocated to individual team members who then produced the work statement and work schedules.
Next, the priorities were produced.

The programme started at 10am on the 19th, ending the first day at 7pm with the team adjourning for a team dinner at 8:30pm. The second day started at 11am and ended at 1pm with a short lunch. All members left to go back to their regional offices at 2pm.

There was at first a concern that nothing would happen. That was eliminated by agreement to publish, after the end of the session, the 31 actions alongside the names of those who will do the work. The actions were divided into Priority Groups. The first of these gives a clear idea of the importance and depth of the work (see box).

Every member agreed that the working party was successful in every respect and that they would meet again for a review of progress at the next monthly sales meeting. Each member expressed surprise at the amount of work achieved, the opportunity for a full discussion of issues, the openness of the attitudes of all assembled, including the group chief executive – who also attended the working session. The sales manager reported following the first review meeting. 'We had a very positive meeting yesterday and (in spite of some heavy schedules and the usual holiday delays) we are making some good progress on the most important of the issues.'

Most executives realize that the best way to build a pre-action plan is to use the very people who will do the work to plan the work. But they realize that such an approach is hopeless because of poor group human behaviour. So the executive has to work with woolly, fuzzy and often inaccurate, indecisive or unsupported, pre-action plans which inevitably overrun in budget and time – or, even worse, fail. CARRY ON.

At last there is a method which can be imposed on the pre-action planning team which makes the ideal approach not only practical but actually produces results and almost guarantees success in both achieving the benefit as well as in the time/cost budget.

Never before, could an executive pre-fabricate "team work" for a specific job. Now one can! It is now possible to literally bring a group of people required to get the job done, to a conference room, people who may or may not know each or like each other. And then apply a mini TAM process and they turn into a team, plan the work they will do, and then actually do it… all this because of the TAM process.

All of us, from time to time, need to have a team to work out a problem. Such problems normally are important. It is that very time that the team leader needs TAM® in order to guarantee that he will succeed.

Because instant team work is made possible using TAM, it can give the team the power to produce a development plan in two days. The plan so produced is more reliable. Having produced it themselves the team is more focused and dedicated to getting the results and therefore almost guarantees the results planned for.



Events and Maximum Time Allowance Elapsed Time

Example: 400 Issues 10 Team Members

1. Opening Remarks…. 15 minutes 15 minutes.

2. Prepare Issues for Reading.. 5 minutes 20 minutes.

3. Issues Read Silently Form 1's 68 minutes 1 hr. 28 mins.

4. Read out and sort issues 2 hrs. 16 mins. 3 hr. 44 mins.

5. Form unbiased syndicate teams… 15 mins. 3 hr. 59 mins.

6. Create Actions (Form 2a) 1 hr. 40 mins. 5 hr. 39 mins.

7. Actions reviewed and agreed (form 2b) 3 Hrs. 30 mins. 9 hr. 09 mins.

8. Actions Assigned and Status Recorded 2 Hrs. 19 mins. 11 hr. 28 mins.

9. Action Status Agreed. 2 Hrs. 6 Mins. 13 hr. 34 mins.

10. Action Programme work statements defined
and approved. (form 3a) 59 mins. 14 hr. 33 mins.

End of working session—————–

11. Action Programmes planned- Cost & Schedules
2 Hrs. 6 Mins. 16 hr. 39 mins.

12. Action Programmes agreed by Team 7 hrs. 23 hr. 39 mins.

13. Calculation of Financial Summaries 3 hours 26 hr. 39 mins.

14. Set Action Programme Priorities 2 hrs. 6 mins . 28 hr. 45 mins.

15. What if analysis 4 hrs. 32 hr. 45 mins.

16. Purpose/Creed and Objectives agreed 1 hr. 33 hr. 45 mins.

17. Strategy agreed 1 hr. 20 mins 35 hr. 5 mins.

18. Presentation Rehearsal. 3 hrs. 18 mins. 38 hr. 23 mins.

* Poor group behaviour has been the subject of research since 1940 starting at Bethel Main USA ultimately called "group dynamics".

Establish Customer Data Base
Manage Customer Service Staffing Organisation
Establish Product & Market Training Programme
Improve CRM System
Ensure Adherence to Quality Control Procedures
Create Enquiry Logging System
Create Quote/Tender Admin System
Improve Marketing Activities
Establish AS400 Data Accuracy System
Improve Pricing Guidelines Project

The late Albert Humphrey was Chairman of the Business Planning & Development Corp.