How to Design your Strategy War Room?

  • Design Thinking
  • Design your Strategy
  • Tool
  • Validate & Experiment

As our way of working is evolving, the approach to design strategy needs to evolve too.

Workspaces are evolving along with rapid changes in types of work, with many new collaborative working styles of the future. In our time we are now witnessing an increasing number of independent workers, mobile workers and there are different types of space as “containers” that embrace new ways of collaboration. Just by observing the popping-up co-working space, cafés, new office designs around you. They redefine our expectations of a workplace, i.e., not fixed but movable partitions, a blurry boundary between work and life, more transparent and horizontal settings.

 War room

However, our observations showed that even organizations and companies which have modern types of workplaces still retain their old-fashioned collaborative work ethic, especially in regards to strategies design. When it comes to strategy discussion, we always think about stuffy conference rooms and spending nights and weeks in preparation for the annual plans. If you are lucky, you might be able to find a clue within a load of emails, documents, minutes or PowerPoint slides. A strategy is intangible, not easily accessible and irrelevant for most of the people working in organizations.

Look at the rapidly changing world around us! Organizations must adjust the ways in which they conduct strategy discussion and design. Otherwise, according to Alex Osterwalder, “Business models expire like yogurt in the fridge”. To compete in this changing world, both start-ups and enterprises managers must upgrade their methods of strategy discussion and design.

A space that invite team to join early stage strategy discussion

A war room is set to ensure that a group of people can finish tasks within a fixed time under difficult conditions. To achieve this, personnel, equipment, and materials are all found in this room. In major projects, such mechanisms will be constructed at a specific timing. For instance, national or local authorities will construct mobile command centers for use when typhoons or other natural disasters strike. If you are familiar with IT projects, you might have already experienced the fun time when you worked side-by-side with the team in the war room for days to make sure the go-live is a success.
You can have a war room for strategy design too. A strategy war room is necessary as it will enable your team to design strategies together by inviting them at the very beginning, and also encourage teammates to actively collaborate, design experiments to challenge our own assumptions. Most importantly, they are empowered to be more involved in the process. By doing so, the whole team will share a sense of responsibility towards the successful implementation of the strategy instead of just being a “synapse of a brain”.
A glazed door is used as a war room

Many believed that a physical room is essential to set up a strategy war room, as it is not as simple as a concept. We have also noticed that many companies and organizations leave a spacious venue or even a whole floor for the purposes of creative brainstorming or project discussion with free drinks, sandbags and lots of post-it on the wall. Cultivating co-creation culture within organizations is critical and setting up a welcoming space is only step one. How do we bring this co-creation process into strategy design in a war room?

The strategy war room only needs a wall or a door. It could also be around your working area or the walking area of the company. It is a mobile and flexible space which welcomes your team and allows them to create and design together. It not only reflects reality but also can change alongside strategies and projects developments.

The core principle of a War Room Design: The present and future are able to be observed at the same time.

Based on our experiences of leading strategic discussion and designing innovation process for various organizations, here is the strategy war room design that you can adapt. The core principle for a strategy war room is that the present and future can be seen simultaneously. As we observe, teams always jump into the discussion about the future but neglect to mention their thoughts on the present. What’s the consequence?

In our simple experiment, employees from the same companies, even the same business unit, were asked to describe the business model of “the present” in the form of business model canvas. The results showed that they had a largely different understanding and assumptions of what business they are in now. And these different assumptions are often invisible when we discuss the future, leaving those proposed ideas to remain unconnected.

This strategy war room design can help you and your team to take a look at the NOW quickly move to FUTURE possibilities while making them connected.

A Strategy War Room Design (adapt tools from Design A Better Business)

Construct an “exploration-oriented” and “experimental-oriented” way of thinking.

A strategy war room could facilitate your core team to grasp a clear view of the business context at present, understand how the business works at this moment, and whom the value is created for and why companies exist with its culture and vision. This will lead to all differing design criteria to be able to cohesively focus on the design of future options and maybe a business model blueprint. It’s no silver bullet strategy yet as it’s just canvas on the wall. You will have to assign the workforce as a team to test each of your business model options: to identify the riskiest assumption and create experiments to test, learn and re-design.

As you can see already, this process is definitely not linear. It is a process where relentless explorations, tests, learning, redesign are happening. A room filled with this kind of dynamic thought process can breed creativity and allow teams to explore, dive into and define valuable questions to solve for your business.

Take a look at your workspace, and see which canvas would be good for you to draw out your strategy design. How about breaking down a door, a wall, or a partition? Just turn it into a space that can stimulate your dialogue about strategy!


Need more inspiration? Check out the war rooms at our Creative Village:


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