Overcoming the Air Sandwich

The New How

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Have you heard about the air sandwich? This is what happens when there’s a disconnect between the strategies planned in high level management and the actual execution.

Way above, the details of the strategies are known but those down below who work to get the results ultimately fails.

Why is this the case? Between the high-level strategy makers and those on the ground, there’s a big air of filling – the air sandwich. The strategy and how it should be implemented is lost in the middle.

Those in the upper management would assume that those responsible for implementing it isn’t executing it well.

And those who are tasked to do so assume that the upper management did not plan the strategy well.

Why do this happen?

Tunnel Vision – People in the project would just be limited to what they are assigned to do. It isn’t actually wrong to work within your area of your responsibility but sometimes to get the job done, faster and better – team members need to step up their game.

Through collaboration and willingness to get through this with other teams – this is when things do get some significant progress.

Getting Ahead of Oneself – Doing for the sake of doing. Doing things without the clear details. How exactly will you reach the result without the directions? Exactly. You want to accomplish the task but there is no focus.

Not My Job – Similar to tunnel vision, this is refusing to go beyond the assigned. The reason being, it’s not within your pay. The member would actually know how to help in making the project succeed but won’t budge because of the pay reason.

How can we overcome this air sandwich situation? We now know what causes it and it’s not really ideal to have this going for so long in the company. How can we solve this?


In solving situations, one must ask the right questions. What are we solving anyway? What’s the extent of the situation we are into? We can’t move forward without identifying what the problem is.

Only by knowing the concern will we be able to move forward. This is where we start. Everyone should understand what we are trying to give a solution to.

Next, do some research and ask questions all around the team. Discuss and ask the questions they might be afraid to ask. It needs to be solved, so it needs to be put out there.

Ask and involve all the people in the team. This way, you get to see the issue in different points of view. It would give you a fresh take on the situation.

By this time, you may now have an array of potential solutions. However, choose with care and take into consideration what strategy you should employ.

For each person you talk to, ask them which top 3 persons they think who should be included in this project. This widens your perspective by talking in depth to the persons who know much of the issue.

Here are sample questions that will help you tackle the situation:

• Was this done before? What was been done?
• What’s the outcome then of what they did?
• Why did this work? Why did it not work?

Share your research to the entire team. Don’t let your research be lost in a confusing document or presentation. Instead, organize what you have find out. You can categorize them this way:

• What you know and what was confirmed.
• What you know but you have insufficient data to prove it.
• What makes you doubt, what you are not sure of.
• What does not make sense? What’s does not fit the picture?

Don’t be in a rush to answer these questions. Do your due diligence first on the situation. Understand the concern and get into the details.

Soon enough your questions will be answered. The time you understood the situation is the only time you can move on to the next stage.


Now that you have presented the questions, do you now have a vision of what’s to happen? What are your options in solving the situation now?

In this stage, you should be able to identify the options available and how you will keep them in check. You need to keep track of these options as this will affect decisions.

The entire organization should be involved in the process. You’re now going to fill up the air in the sandwich.

During meetings, emphasize on the possibilities. There are a whole lot out there and encourage to bring them out by asking questions like:

• What if we do it this way?
• Is there a reason why or why we shouldn’t do it?
• What if we try doing it this way?

Explore the possibilities! Guide the team with such questions. Encourage the team to share their thoughts. Don’t shut down ideas, no idea is a bad idea. Make meetings a safe place to share.

You want to gather ideas, not personal conflicts. Some difference in ideas will also happen but this is okay. There’s such a thing as healthy discourse.

A word of caution though, in a team there’s a danger of getting different definitions of success. With the different possibilities, success might differ from person to another person.

And what seems to be a great idea but doesn’t really solve the problem can also overshadow your intent.

Because you work with a team, do make sure that everyone is in the same page. The criteria for success should be the same across all teams. The ideas should be aligned in all areas and the details laid out.


The reality is, we can’t implement all decisions. We can only choose some decisions to use at a time. So it’s essential to choose what strategies to employ or not. How to take the best path?

Think about Nilofer Merchant’s murderboarding. This is the philosophy of eliminating the ideas until you arrive at a decision that matters. Here is the process:

• Decide what matters – Get to the bottom line of what matters. This will define your success criteria. This should be the same across the company. An option will just be chosen when this criteria is decided and finalized.
• Sort – The ideas are presented and its suitability will be judged based on the criteria that has been formed previously.
• Test – The options are hypothetically tested to check how it will probably fare. Feedback will be gathered as well.
• Choose – After all the deciding, sorting, and testing done – it’s time to decide on which strategy to employ.


This is the step where we make things clearer. The responsibilities and defined and can be measured. These are the questions to ask at this point:

• What are the essential details needed to bring the idea into action?
• Is there anything that should be changed in the company that is preventing you to get into motion?
• What should the other teams accomplish first in order for you to move forward?
• Are there risks that we should be aware of?

There’s no cut and dried approach in gathering the points but make it a habit to always know them.


What has been planned can be disconnected to how it has been implemented. Understand and know how to bridge that gap.

It takes also the cooperation of the people across the organization so learn to appreciate them as well. Give credit to where it is due.




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