Putting Together the Strategy Puzzle

Learning Objectives:

  1. The importance of being explicit about and challenging existing operating assumptions.
  2. The importance of understanding what resources are available
  3. The importance of recognizing & utilizing commonly overlooked resources/expertise within the firm.
  4. The value of big picture vs. in the trenches perspectives.


Requires two 25-piece puzzles. Prior to the exercise, two pieces from each puzzle should be blacked-out with an indelible marker. Additionally, one of the fifty pieces should be placed in the trainer’s pocket prior to the training. Note: I like using the puzzles that have three concentric circles depicting people or animals. The inner circle is the face, the mid-section is the body, and the outer circle is the legs and feet. The circles can be rotated to place a dog’s head on an elephant’s body etc. once the puzzle is constructed.

When participants enter, there should be a few pieces at each of their places.

Group Instructions:

Instructor says:  “Your task is to put all of the puzzle pieces together using all of the resources available to you in the room. You will have 3 minutes. OK, go.”

What happens:

The group eventually figures out there are two puzzles. They often leave the black pieces aside as “not belonging to the puzzle” or figure out their place in the puzzles at the last moment after initially declaring “we’re done.”  The also declare one piece to be missing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was this experience like for you?
  2. What did you assume initially about the number of puzzles?  What made you think the black pieces did not belong?  Remind them that the ir task was to put all of the puzzle pieces together”
  3. What assumptions did you make about what the puzzle should look like?  Why?
  4. What resources did you use?
  5. What resources did you not use?  Who in the room did you not ask for input?
  6. Some of you worked hands-on during the task of puzzle building. What was this like?  What was unique about your perspective?
  7. Others stood back and gave directions from a distance. What was this like?  What was unique about your perspective?
  8. (ask only if your have circular puzzle) If we rotate the sections of the puzzles do the pieces still fit?  Yes… So why did you not construct the puzzle to show a dog’s head on an elephants body?  It certainly would have met the goal I set for you…

Key Lecture Points

  1. Preconceived ideas hurt process. We often have preconceived ideas that may in fact, be irrelevant to the true business goal. Similarly, putting together all of the pieces is more important than your preconceive notion of aesthetics. It’s important to get these mental maps on the table during planning.
  2. Ignoring key expertise. Often people in organizations who can make a contribution of expertise or experience get overlooked because they have not traditionally played a role in strategy development. They may hold the missing piece to a winning strategy.
  3. Time horizons. Inevitably, people on the front lines (e.g., operations) have a very different view than the long-view people (eg. managers and strategists). Firms need both perspectives in strategic management.
  4. More than one way. There is often more than one way to achieve a goal. Firms get caught up in picking the perfect strategy when, less elegant strategies are quite effective (e.g., dog head on elephant’s body).

Contributed by Larry Dressler

1 thought on “Putting Together the Strategy Puzzle

  1. Pingback: Deflategate: Letting the air out of strategic planning | Carpenter Strategy Toolbox

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