Strategic commentary

How to get your strategy to play ball with the catchball process

Published 3 weeks ago

Now that you’ve set your annual goals and tasks for each area of your business, you’re all set to press GO on your strategy, right? Not quite. Great strategies make use of the catchball process. Here's what that means and how you can integrate it, as James Milsom explores.

The good news is that you're in the right ball park, but for your strategy to truly hit a home run you’ll need to integrate the catchball process. But what is catchball and how does it relate to your strategy? Thankfully, it's a tool that's going to ensure you have buy-in of your strategy, and is often described as a 'driving force of alignment, clarification and employee involvement' for organisations like Toyota. This is what you need to know about catchball and how to implement it…


What is the catchball process?

A logical question to start with, but all too easy to ignore and skip to the process itself.

Catchball is the process whereby a company's vision is broken into individual goals. These are then cascaded through a series of constructive conversations between different organisational levels and units, ending with everyone understanding how they contribute to that vision. You’ll often hear the metaphor that’s it’s akin to a game of toss. Passing from the top down to the bottom, everyone necessary to the process can share their views and opinions on the idea and throw the ball back should the idea fail to stick.

As an element of the Hoshin Kanri strategic approach, it’s a decision-making system that makes for involved, high-quality plans that have the buy-in necessary to achieve your goals.

By deploying the catchball process your business will be in a position where information is shared, reviewed and refined at multiple levels of your hierarchy.

Put another way, it’s like a game of baseball where hitting a home run isn’t necessarily the aim. Instead there’s a systematic approach of passing the ball from one base to another, and, should an idea not stick, throwing it back for refinement.

Yes, an odd thought, but stick with me here.

Process design for catchball

The essence of catchball comes down to collective agreement, however you must establish how this can be reached. This is what is referred to as process design.

There are 3 different methods that can be adopted to create agreement:

  1. Ringi system
  2. Originating from Japan, this approach boils down to unanimity in the sense that all members involved in catchball must reach agreement at each stage. It's great for resolving herd mentality, where our ability to comprehend and form our own opinions is curtailed by pressue to conform. This promotes individual thinking which is then aggregated to a level where all can agree.

  3. Social judgement
  4. Social judgement theory suggests we draw conclusions on the basis of available information. If a Head of Marketing values adding a new communicaton channel to their campaign mix because of its ability to amplify messaging, the Head of Finance may see less value in this, instead focusing on the negatives such as the cost and immediate ROI. In catchball we must ensure that we can understand the points of view that form judgements and use social judgement theory to aggregate them to enable a consensus and buy-in.

  5. Delphi
  6. Emanating from a 1950s US defence research project, this approach ensures that individuals can air their own judgements in a way conducive to reaching a consensus. How? Individual contributions can be made by 'structured communication' such as a survey. This removes any prejudice around someone's role, background or authority, instead focussing on the issue at hand. Of course, this can also run the risk of an endless exercise, therefore it's crucial to select a strong number of participants to result in an agreement.

Now that you've designed the method to ensure proper communication and assessment, it's time to step up to the plate and kick-off our game of catchball.

Stepping up to the plate

As the team takes the field, you’ll want to make sure the key players are able to take position.

From the executive team through to the frontline staff, it’s all about using the strengths of every player on the team to put on a classic game of ball when it comes to your strategy.

Once the pitcher (executive team) has thrown the ball, the idea is now in-flight, making its way to the first respondent – the batter (senior management).

Now, the initial opinion of senior management will be key here. Their response, or bat, is key to finding the next logical person in the process, the catcher (middle management). Their role is to take the initial, somewhat raw idea and have a first stab at assessing it. How did the ball fit in the catcher’s mitt? Was it a snug fit, or did it require some alteration before the ball nestled itself in the mold of the glove?

Not every idea or initiative is perfect in the proposal stage, but that’s why the catcher is so important here. It’s all about social-validation of the initial idea. They need to be able to review and then throw the ball (or idea) out to first base, second and so forth. As the ball transfers from each base, reaching its way to frontline staff, the idea is being refined and improved, finding its way ever-closer to home plate (the end destination).

But what if the idea doesn’t get buy-in from a particular level (or the catcher can’t quite reach for the ball)? That’s where the ball needs to be thrown back to the previous player, and that player then adjusts the idea so that it can be correctly received (bought-in as an acceptable idea) by the next player.

The result is that everyone has participated in the process, aligning and working towards achieving the company’s goals, having given their input on each action and idea. Do this consistently, and the results will pay off. Babe Ruth and the 1927 New York Yankees make way, you’ve put together the greatest series of games, and team, of all time!





Getting the most out of catchball

We all love getting to dissect the perfect game, the perfect pitch, and the science behind it. Well, now is the time to do just that with catchball and a checklist on what you need to do to ensure success.

  1. Leaders are where it starts
  2. All great sporting franchises have quality leadership.

    After all, strong leadership has a trickle down effect.

    There’s a reason why Lou Gehrig and Derek Jeter top most baseball fan’s list of great captains and on-field leaders.

    As a leader, it is your role to make sure that everyone necessary can participate in the game. A healthy, fighting fit team is one that will provide you great results every time.

    It is a leader’s role to ensure in the game of catchball that the batter, catcher, outfield players and everyone involved can participate in a way that proves a great use of their time and abilities.

    That means giving each player the time to investigate the plan and deliver feedback before passing the ball to the next player, or throwing the ball back.

  3. Empower your team
  4. This flows from the first point. Your team is made of players with different talents and points of view.

    They’re part of your organisation for a reason, so you need to make sure they’re empowered to participate in this process.

    Equally, you need to ensure you’ve briefed them on the rules of the game, and they know the role they’re set to play.

    But above all else, you’re all playing for the same result – so every constructive comment should be welcomed.

    And the risk of passing the ball to a dis-engaged, unprepared fielder?

    They’ll disrupt the process or, at worst, accept the idea at face value, which can impact the overall buy-in, and ultimate success of the plan.

  5. Home field advantage
  6. Catchball involves your organisation working on the same page, and it’s crucial that you don’t overlook choosing the right venue. That’s right, it’s your role as the leader to select the perfect location to play ball. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when choosing the field of play:

    • Is your organisational culture one that promotes inclusion and freedom of information?
    • How much time is going to be required from each player in the game?
    • Do those involved prefer team meetings featuring every player, or do they perform better in one-to-one sessions where the ball is passed from each passer to the next in a structured, focused, private location?.

Bottom line, when scouting the right location, make sure it’s one where every player can perform to their best abilities and aren’t left inhibited by culture, time-restraints and the method in which the game is played.

Reviewing the catchball process

Catchball is a process that can have tremendous benefits to your strategy.

As part of Hoshin Kanri, it will help you gain a greater realisation of how feasible your plans are, and gauge the level of success possible via them.

It gives clarity on who's going to be able to execute each element and ensures your organisation can deliver an aligned game-plan.

It provides a 360 degree understanding and affirmation of what will work, and constant re-affirmation of this fact.

So, remember these four factors when it comes to playing ball with the catchball process:

  1. Lead by example and provide an environment where the process can succeed
  2. Encourage discussion and participation
  3. Empower everyone involved in the process
  4. Choose the right location for the game
  5. Rinse and repeat the process for continuous improvement.

Ready to take your catchball game to the next level?

Now that you’re ready to play ball with the catchball process, it’s time to take it the next level. How? With the W process. Watch the video below to learn the 5 step process that’ll make you a master at catchball:



Want to talk about catchball and your strategic challenges?

We’re running a series of workshops designed for people like yourself who want to get the best out of their strategy.

From top tips to real-life examples of success, we’re delivering an educational series to make 2019 the year that your strategy hits a home run.

To learn more about our breakfast briefings across North America, click here.

Itching to learn more?

We have a wealth of resources freely available to digest, all designed to help you achieve your strategic goals. We've hand picked the below to set you on the right track:


About the author

James is i-nexus' Digital Marketing Manager. Bringing a passion for strategy from a marketing angle, you'll find he loves to intertwine sports and strategy. His background covers industries such as energy, broadband, education and employee benefits.

If you'd like to talk more about your strategic challenges, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with James on LinkedIn for more strategic insights.


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