The meetings of the executive committee of the United States Government National Security Council met over 13 days in October 1962 to make decisions that the future of the world would depend upon.
The meetings were described as ‘disorderly’ - not because of lack of formal organisation, but because President Kennedy did not want to be too quick to suppress analysis by his advisers, or to delegate it to a sub-committee. Kennedy kept the participants on topic, mainly by asking questions, and by keeping his statements short.
The authors of The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, observed that at times, certain members of the committee broke away and left the main discussion in order to attend to specific ‘action’ items. This was necessary if tasks were to get done, yet had the effect of narrowing their focus so that they had difficulty adjusting their contributions back to the big picture when needed.
Decision makers need to be mindful of this ‘narrowing’ effect that experts, specialist sub-groups or other niche contributors risk bringing to decisions. The best way to overcome this is to keep reminding all of those involved in offering advice and analysis of the big picture and to keep them up to date as it changes.
This ‘big picture’ communication applies in the day to day running of organisations as well. Leaders need to give their people frequent reasons and opportunities to lift their heads out of their trenches and to scan the whole battlefield.