By Bhavya Nand Kishore and Peter Slagt

We’ve talked a lot in these blog posts about what’s involved in launching a series of micro-battles. We’ve discussed how critical it is to align around the goal of reclaiming your Founder’s Mentality® and becoming a scale insurgent. We’ve also explored how to select the first wave of micro-battles and put in place both a Lead-Learn team (to manage the portfolio of battles) and micro-battle teams (to lead each initiative though the Win-Scale cycle).

What we’ve yet to discuss in any depth is the training agenda: how your company learns to run the system while adopting new—sometimes radically new—behaviors and ways of working. Micro-battles are microcosms of the company you want to become and are designed to promote transformational change from the inside out. Consequently, you need to build in training and coaching for everybody from the executive committee to the members of the micro-battle teams.

By design, micro-battle training is an ongoing journey. It is an iterative process that combines both hands-on fieldwork and a set of workshop-style forums. In the field, teams “learn by doing”—solving real problems, facing real moments of truth and trying on new behaviors in a real-world context. As such, field training provides the most powerful and lasting learning experience, especially as leadership and micro-battle teams forge a new style of working together. But forum-based learning is also critical to make sure the effort stays on track. This involves facilitated workshops where people come together to reflect on lessons learned, trade observations, address obstacles and initiate action. Forums also help prevent backsliding into old habits as leaders and micro-battle teams adjust to new behaviors.

Ground zero for this forum-based training is the learning center—a room devoted to collecting and codifying what the organization is shooting for and what it is learning from its micro-battle portfolio. One wall of the room lays out the aspiration (what your company would look like as a scale insurgent). The others track your progress against that aspiration. Every month, the micro-battle teams meet here with senior leadership for Lead-Learn sessions to analyze results, raise concerns, keep track of resources and celebrate victories. It’s also a dedicated space for training both senior executives and micro-battle teams in how to engage in this new and dynamic management system.

Let’s take a closer look at what the initial curriculum for each group looks like (see Figure 1).

The executive leadership training agenda

One specific goal of running a micro-battle portfolio is to change fundamentally the behaviors of the company’s most senior leaders. At its most basic, this means replacing the traditional command-and-control approach with one based on empowerment and trust. Much of this involves learning how to get out of the way—how to facilitate rather than dictate. Top executives need to be role models for new behaviors, listen closely to the micro-battle teams and give energy to those teams by removing obstacles in their way. The goal is to make problems smaller, not bigger, so the micro-battle teams are in the best position to execute quickly and effectively.

Needless to say, this is a major adjustment for many leadership teams. But we’ve identified four key training forums that can accelerate the transition. These are workshop-style environments where leaders can explore topics in two main categories: “hardware,” or the nuts and bolts of setting up a micro-battle portfolio, and “software,” topics focused on the changes to mindset and behaviors that leaders must undergo to make the micro-battle system work. They are intended to occur after the leadership team has done the core strategy work that lays the foundation for the company’s journey to full potential.

Here’s a quick look at what the four forums typically look like.

Insurgency workshop

Objective: To unite leadership around a common “point of arrival” by defining what the company will look like as a scale insurgent and what it will act like as it regains its sense of mission and Founder’s Mentality.

Key topics:

  • As a company, what is our insurgent mission? Who are our target customers, and how are we waging a war to serve their needs?
  • How do we deliver this insurgent mission in the market? What are the capabilities we rely on today? What should they look like in the future?
  • For each of these capabilities, are we truly differentiated vs. our competitors? What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What should we do strategically to address those weaknesses and get us closer to fulfilling our mission?
  • How do we stack up as a leadership team in terms of the behaviors needed to win? Which behaviors do we need to adopt, and which do we need to let go?

Micro-battles selection workshop

Objective: Learning how to define and choose micro-battles while creating the conditions for them to succeed.

Key topics:

  • Based on the key strategic themes identified in the insurgency workshop, how can we develop more precise goals? What are our specific priorities for product innovation, key competitive threats and opportunities to address organizational dysfunction?
  • What is the first failure point for each priority, and how can we define a micro-battle to address it?
  • The launch of these key battles should be phased in according to two criteria: value at stake (How much value can each battle generate by addressing a crucial strategic or organizational issue?) and ability to win (Is the scope manageable? Do we have the resources to succeed? Is the potential solution scalable?).
  • Based on these priorities, what are the three or four key behaviors that leadership should change to set these battles up for success?

Micro-battle mission workshop

Objective: Defining the initial micro-battle mission, creating the micro-battle team and articulating a repeatable model for scaling. The goal here is to give the new micro-battle team a point of departure, including a clear sense of what the first few Agile sprints will look like.

Key topics:

  • Strategy. What is the precise strategic intent of this micro-battle, what is the first failure point and who is the customer?
  • Team. Who should lead this battle, and which functions/roles should be represented on the team?
  • Prototype. What is our hypothesis for the most effective first prototype, and what are the criteria for testing it so the team can begin learning?
  • Repeatable model. Who can help the team translate the prototype into a repeatable model, and what’s the right scaling model to ensure a smooth rollout to other markets or functions?
  • Behaviors. What behavior changes at all levels of the company will be required as we build the prototype and roll it out to the rest of the company? How can we start managing for that change?

Lead-Learn training workshop

Objective: To use exercises and role-playing to help the Lead-Learn team become better at managing the portfolio of micro-battles and governing the Lead-Learn sessions. This is where the leadership team will likely have to stretch the most in adopting new behaviors. As the name implies, it involves both new leadership skills and new learning skills.

Key topics:

  • What is our starting point? Where are we today as a company when it comes to both hardware and software issues?
  • Where do we stand as individual leaders in terms of our ability to inspire and guide the micro-battle teams through trust and empowerment, not command and control?
  • Where do we want to end up? What kind of performance, behaviors and mindset do we expect from ourselves and from our micro-battle teams?
  • What commitments are we willing to make to get there?
  • How will we demonstrate this commitment in each interaction with the organization? This typically involves role-playing that helps leaders recognize the moments of truth in their interactions and coaches them on how to change their responses when necessary.

Micro-battle team training agenda

As we’ve seen, one of leadership’s early objectives is to find the first failure point for each micro-battle and then propose a micro-battle mission to address it. But this is really just a well-informed hypotheses—it’s up to the micro-battle team to gather the hard evidence to prove it. The team’s first objective, in fact, is to confirm (or not) whether it concurs with the proposed prototype and repeatable model. Its task is then to test these hypotheticals in front of customers using Agile principles and ways of working.

This means the initial training for micro-battle teams focuses on how to crack tough problems quickly, using rapid test-and-learn cycles. But the training must also focus on how to scale those solutions and new behaviors to the broader organization. This is the essence of the Win-Scale model, and as our Freddie story demonstrated, it often requires difficult shifts in how the teams interact with leadership.

Two sets of training lay the foundation.

Win-Scale training

Objective: Learning to solve problems using an Agile approach, which requires a very different mindset. Teams need to embrace repeated cycles of trying, failing and learning, while coming together to build on each other’s strengths. This training uses a series of interactive exercises to introduce the basics of working in Agile, while coaching the team on topics like how to make problems smaller and how to solve the specific first, before debating the ideological.

Key topics:

  • Creating and managing the product backlog. This is the set of activities that help define and deliver the micro-battle objective, which the micro-battle leadership owns.
  • Creating and managing the sprint backlog. Once the team defines the product backlog, it pulls those items into the first set of sprints to deliver a minimum viable product that customers can react to.
  • Running Win-Scale or sprint reviews. Using role-playing, the team learns how to capture results from the prototype and measure feedback. Part of the goal is to understand the templates needed for reporting across micro-battles.
  • Defining how team members will interact. Teams need to learn how to draw upon common resources, celebrate learning and hold both themselves and leadership accountable for new behaviors.
  • Identifying individual postures, recognizing moments of truth and committing to act like founders guided by an insurgent mission.

Weekly Win-Scale sessions

Objective: These are less formal, hands-on sessions devoted to ensuring that micro-battle teams turn learning into a habit. The focus is more on the quality of the discussion and insights and less on PowerPoint slides and status updates. Team members practice giving and receiving feedback in a learning posture. They share their work, collect feedback from the prototype and cocreate the plan for the next sprint. They learn to discuss their results objectively and openly, rather than protecting themselves or defending their point of view. They also receive training in how to challenge the leadership team and ask for what they need to make the micro-battle a success.

Key topics:

  • Brief recap of progress on the micro-battle objectives and a quick discussion of what needs to change.
  • Sharing what the team has learned from the prototype and customer feedback.
  • Identifying roadblocks that need to be addressed early. Sorting out which can be handled by the team or the team’s sponsor on the executive committee and which ones need intervention from the CEO or broader leadership team.
  • Outlining the scaling plan and potential actions needed to change behaviors to make the rollout effective.
  • Agreeing on a plan for the next sprint.

There are also a few “watch-outs” to consider:

  • Be prepared to push boundaries. Often the habitual fear of failure results in teams either abandoning an idea too early or not being bold enough to really push the envelope with the first few sprints. Embrace failure as a stepping-stone to success.
  • Beware of the “pilot success story.” Celebrate incremental success with the prototype, but declare victory only after the repeatable model is successful. The ultimate goal is bigger than a one-off, local solution.
  • Focus and time are critical. Teams need to ask for a meaningful allocation of time and the right support from central resources to make the micro-battle a success.

Bringing the teams together

For both leadership and the micro-battle team, the training agenda culminates in two joint workshops—the scaling workshop and the first Lead-Learn review.

The objective of the scaling workshop is to cocreate a plan that enables lessons from the micro-battles portfolio to be scaled to the broader company. That involves looking for common issues and patterns across the portfolio that align with the six design principles of a scale insurgent.

Each company needs to define how it compares to the design principles, where it wants to end up and how it plans to get there. That leads to a scaling agenda outlining how it can use the portfolio to build toward that aspiration. It is also important for the workshops to address the best model for scaling Repeatable Models®, based on how much behavior change those models will require and how big or spread out the target group of adopters is.

In the first Lead-Learn review, both sides model their new behaviors as they evaluate the first prototype and learn from the first micro-battle sprint. The goal is to cocreate solutions to accelerate micro-battle results, while drawing out the broader implications of this learning for the rest of the company.

For one large telco, the first Lead-Learn review was an eye-opener—even for a company deeply committed to the Founder’s Mentality and the journey toward scale insurgency. The CEO and executive committee were clearly aligned on the company’s insurgent mission: Redefining data connectivity through pervasive, high-quality network access and services. Yet putting micro-battle training into action raised a number of important lessons. Here are a few:

  • This company discovered early that changing existing ways of working is the toughest act of leadership. It requires deep commitment from everyone involved, but the change has to start with the CEO. The telco’s top leader was committed to role-modeling new behaviors in every interaction and had called upon the rest of this executive team to do the same. But when you’re under pressure and fighting daily competitive battles, this requires a focused, conscious effort, and the team found it easy to slip back into a command-and-control mindset. To reinforce the need to think instead like a coach, the CEO made the key decision to personally mentor the franchise players who were leading each micro-battle. This meant making time for monthly coaching sessions with them, keeping the CEO focused on the new micro-battle agenda and the key behaviors that would support its success.
  • The company also learned early that the Lead-Learn sessions have to focus on real results, not PowerPoint activity updates. This meant pivoting from the usual internal discussion about how difficult things were this week, to an external analysis of what customers want and how the company can delight them. It also helped leadership maintain a surgical focus on what really matters: how to help vital micro-battles show results in the market.
  • For everybody involved, it’s easy to concentrate on what it takes to win with the new prototype. But each Lead-Learn session is also about learning and scaling the micro-battle outcomes. That’s why conducting them in the learning center environment is so important. The learning center is designed to codify and promote the broader goals of the micro-battle system. Each meeting builds on the earlier ones, and the learning center’s four walls provide space to make results, decisions and commitments clearly visible to everyone. At the end of each meeting, people should leave the room with:
    • Commitments from individual executive committee members on which impediments they will remove in the days ahead.
    • Actions for the micro-battle teams to consider for updating their next sprint and accelerating results.
    • A list of patterns across the micro-battles that require urgent leadership attention.
    • A roster of heroes who made things happen and a plan to recognize their stories more broadly.
  • This leadership team also learned that personal ownership is essential—and that starts with making problems smaller, not bigger. In the first Lead-Learn review, the leadership team discovered that a lot of the challenges raised by the micro-battle leads could have been solved by their executive committee sponsors earlier through cross-functional discussions. It didn’t have to happen in the Lead-Learn review. As a result, the sponsors and the micro-battle leads pledged to initiate cross-functional discussions to solve these relatively easy issues before subsequent Lead-Learn sessions. That way, they could devote precious Lead-Learn time to the truly difficult, unsolved issues.

Every company’s experience is, of course, different, and leadership teams need to structure the training agenda to reflect their company’s unique circumstances. It should be tailored according to the company’s position on its journey to scale insurgency and the context it faces financially, organizationally, culturally and in terms of leadership readiness.

What rings true in the telecom example, however, is that the true effectiveness of micro-battle training results from a rich combination of hands-on field experience and a set of open, facilitated forum discussions in the learning center. Learning about new behaviors is one thing; living them is another. But as the telco discovered, embracing change can improve business rapidly and transform a company’s ways of working. Micro-battles unlock an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm, and that’s the best measure of success.

Founder’s Mentality® and Repeatable Models® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc.