Is ‘Sky to Ground’ thinking the way forward?

An expert in organisational psychology outlines how and why HR should be taking note of ‘Sky to Ground’ thinking

‘Sky to Ground’ is the capability to think and act from broad vision and context through to intricate detail and back again on any type of business initiative.

According to Australian psychologist and best-selling author Graham Winter, this style of thinking is often a missing capability for managers, leading to them being strong on vision and strategy but weaker on detailed execution.

Identifying shortcomings

Winter outlined three fundamental points to help explain the notion of Sky to Ground and why it is rapidly emerging as a breakthrough business strategy.

1. Complexity rules

There is a profound difference, Winter explained, between initiatives that are largely technical and can be planned and managed in a linear fashion, and those that are complex and need to be managed through nimble learning and response.

2. Structure is obsolete

“The vast majority of organisations are structured to handle technical initiatives rather than complex adaptive issues,” Winter explained.

“If you doubt this, just reflect on the five biggest challenges faced by your business or team. Do they fit neatly into the organisational structure, or do they demand flexible cross-silo, cross-hierarchy attention?”

3. Capability is limited

Winter argued that few people have the behavioural style, temperament or intellect to think and act ‘Sky to Ground’ at the performance level needed in globally exposed business.

“The range of challenges is not aligned to typical temperament preferences, and the thinking puts great demands on abstract intelligence,” he said.

Finding a solution

Once inadequacies are identified, a solution can be drawn up, Winter suggested. He outlined four key steps to doing so:
  1. Give accountability to small smart teams
  2. Create the performance and learning loop
  3. Instil core capabilities for thinking and acting ‘Sky to Ground’
  4. Drive change in defined blocks of time
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