The 5 Things That Mess Organizations Up


We looked back at archives from the last 22 years of doing strategic planning for different groups. Whew! The results are quite startling. In each case they came up with the same basic five things that really stop organizations or teams in their tracks (regardless of sector, type of team or organization; size, mission, length of time in existence, etc.)

We pulled data from clients in the following sectors: government departments and the leadership teams of municipalities, IT, not for profit, education, associations, medium and small businesses and community foundations. They were from three different countries, spanning organizational size and mission types. Collectively we analyzed what they said was really messing them up. And this blog will tell you what they are! And, we share how they got so clear about what the challenges were, that they knew exactly what to do about them. In other words they were able to define the problem so clearly, they easily identified the solutions! That is called being strategic – when your actions are based on solving a problem. So, we will also share how you can use the same process for your own business, organization or team.

The strategic planning process we use for almost every one of these clients is based on the Technology of Participation (ToP). I have found this model to be exceptionally valuable. Even if you don’t regularly do strategic planning, it is extremely important that you know how to do root cause analysis or accurate problem identification. It is THE key to being strategic!

Top 5 Issues – What are they?

1. Marketing, image, or perception
The number one problem or challenge which really surprised us was about marketing, image, or perception. Now this doesn’t really tell us what the problem is. But here’s what they said: people have a negative image of us. Or, their image or perception of us is inaccurate, antiquated, unpublicized, unfocused, neglected, outdated or had little heart or soul attached with it. Notice, once we add on the negative adjectives (E.g., negative fragmented, untapped, perfectionist, undervalued, and so on) that go with the problem, that gives us an idea of what the solution might be. Let us look at other examples to help you even further with this process of clearly naming a problem.

2. Resources, staff, dollars or volunteers
The second most named problem was about resources, staff, dollars or volunteers. Now is it just that they don’t have resources, staff, dollars, or volunteers? No! It is often that they have “untapped” resources, (or even over-tapped) or underdeveloped or inexperienced staff and volunteers. Or, there is inconsistent, unreliable or unpredictable sources of funding. Again we see that by naming it in this way, the answer to solving it becomes more obvious.

The following 3 things were next and about equal in terms of top problems organizations face:

3. Mission, mandate or vision
Most organizations named something about their mission, mandate or vision. Some said there were too many interpretations of the mission, vision or mandate. Or, it was undefined, uncommunicated, unclear or perhaps even that they competed with each other.

4. Structures, policies, processes or systems
The next one was about structures, policies, processes or systems. Most often our groups named the problem as unclear, underdeveloped, weak, unsupported, fragmented or unbalanced structures, policies, processes or systems.

5. Leadership
Another one was related to leadership. In most cases it was often about an underdeveloped or nonexistent succession plan. Sometimes they identified that the leaders were operating in silos or not experienced enough to provide the direction that was needed. Others named it as controlling leadership or unwilling to share the load.

Now, How to Solve Them – 35+ Strategies

So if you look at just the bold headings above, they do not tell you anything about the problem. Right? BUT, if you add the key descriptor words, it looks or sounds like the phrases in the green boxes below. Then your group can easily find just the right broad strategic direction to begin to address this underlying root cause issue. The solutions we note in bullet form below are taken from our clients also. You can just choose a few that might work for you. Please note that some of the strategic directions for one issue might also work for a different issue. Feel free to mix and match! Then we suggest you build a whole range of relevant and timely actions that support that strategic direction or goal.


To start to solve it, you might come up with a strategic direction or broader strategic goal that sounds like one of these:

    1. • Developing an Enhanced Local Profile
    1. • Celebrating and Communicating our Success
    1. • Revitalizing our Message
    1. • Marketing and Promoting Our Vision as a Support Center
    1. • Changing Perceptions
    1. • Promoting our Successes
    1. • Communicating our Identity


To start to solve it, you might come up with a strategic direction or broader strategic goal that sounds like one of these:

    1. • Enabling and Empowering Staff
    1. • Creating and Developing Financial Resources
    1. • Enriching and Inspiring All Staff
    1. • Promoting and Growing the Endowment Fund
    1. • Increasing and Strengthening Membership Benefits
    1. • Ensuring Financial Resilience
    1. • Creating Great Productive Employees


To start to solve it, you might come up with a strategic direction or broader strategic goal that sounds like one of these:

    1. • Affirming Our Purpose
    1. • Reflecting on and Celebrating our Community Interdependent Vitality
    1. • Identifying our Expertise and Filling in the Gaps
    1. • Proactively Meeting our Mandate and Client Needs
    1. • Designing and Offering Collaborative and Developmental Opportunities to the Community
    1. • Communicating our Mission Effectively Amongst Ourselves
    1. • Knowing Who We are


To start to solve it, you might come up with a strategic direction or broader strategic goal that sounds like one of these:

    1. • Continuously Upgrading Support Systems
    1. • Building Smart Systems and Processes
    1. • Creating Intentional Positive Impact Everywhere
    1. • Formalizing the Organizational Structure
    1. • Designing for Livability
    1. • Establishing Relationships with Charitable and Community Partners
    1. • Building Strategic Alliances
    1. • Operationalizing a System That Equitably Empowers All Staff


To start to solve it, you might come up with a strategic direction or broader strategic goal that sounds like one of these:

    1. • Leading by Example
    1. • Developing Programmatic and Administrative Clarity
    1. • Ensuring the Future of the Company
    1. • HR Organizing for Maximum Impact
    1. • Elevating Employee Expertise/Capacity
    1. • Expanding Organizational Capacity
    1. • Solidifying the Board and Staff
    1. • Sharpening the Saw

Want to download a PDF of these root cause problems and potential solutions? When you don’t have time to do a full strategic planning session, you can use it as a draft checklist for your own organization or team!



ToP Strategic Planning


Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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