I sit in many meetings where a startup leadership team tries to figure out a company strategy or product positioning. Everyone is talking similar but different things and it is impossible to bring things to a conclusion.

The first step in these situations is actually to establish what the options are. If you don't know what you are trying to decide about, it is pretty hard to make a decision!

The traditional management theory approach is to draw up some table with the options, and write down what is the difference between them on certain dimensions. This requires some on the spot puzzling to get the column headings of the table right.

Another approach is to try to define the strategy in a simple sentence. Now, when people start writing company strategies in sentences you tend to get woolly, fluffy, statements full of buzzwords. So, the challenge here is to avoid doing that. This is an internal work meeting, not the vision statement on your web site. They key is to catch the essence of the strategy in as little words as possible, including possible uncertainties. For example: "We are trying to acquire as many users as we can with all means (including free product), collect their data, and use/sell that data somehow in the future."

This allows the team to have a good discussion about the options. The discussion will flow even better if you can find catchy 1-word labels for each of the strategic options. 

After the meeting, a volunteer can take all that away, turn it into a proper trade off table and/or word them in the proper way for the next meeting.


Image via WikiPedia