Why a war room will help you win

Article by: Arjen de Bruin, Managing Director at OIM Consulting

Historically, the term ‘war room’ described a space that was used to strategise, discuss tactics and map out plans during battle.  The war room, as a concept, is said to have been officially introduced in the early 1900s (no doubt there were many unofficial iterations dating back much further), but it first gained prominence during the first and second world wars. Churchill’s ‘Cabinet War Rooms’ specifically – established to navigate World War 2 (WW2) – are particularly well-known and can even be visited today.

Nowadays, many industries – from financial services to advertising – have adopted the term ‘war room’ to describe a central hub where different skillsets might come together to tackle a problem or a project, especially those that are bigger and more complex in nature and require the input of multiple parties. These spaces aim to facilitate effective communication and action.

Within a mining organisation, the war room looks somewhat different, yet its core principles remain the same. It is cross-functional, bringing together people from different areas, whose alignment will move the organisation forward. In mining, we use ‘war room’ interchangeably with ‘bird’s room’, in reference to a ‘bird’s eye view’ that provides an overview of all critical functions.

The intention of a war room is to provide a routine and highly visual perspective of a plan’s execution, as it unfolds in real-time at an operational level. The platform sits somewhere below the business’ strategy and above the execution schedule (or daily planning meeting), ensuring alignment of the two by taking a broader view than the bottom, but a more focused one than the top.

A war room will bring together the various heads of department (HOD) across the engineering, mining, metallurgy, and safety functions, in a daily session that is typically held mid-morning, to allow ample time for the necessary information to flow through to these quarters.

Around 20% of the war room is spent in reflection – what can we learn from yesterday’s performance? How can we avoid or proactively solve future challenges? The balance of the time is focussed on what lies ahead – how do we achieve our targets this week? And how do these weekly targets stack up against the monthly view? It keeps a finger on the organisation’s pulse.

It’s not a deliberation forum, or a platform to manage daily production. Finger pointing is also unwelcome. Rather, it should be treated as a distilled session where the core team can review and share the outlook for the next period pitched against the monthly plan attainment, with decisive action or intervention taken where needed.

One of our clients, Gold Fields’ South Deep mine, is a shining example of what a war room can bring to the table. South Deep sports a state-of-the-art war room encased in glass – fully transparent to all who pass – which acts as a control centre, allowing for effective and efficient communication across all disciplines.

Martin Preece, executive vice president for Gold Fields South Africa, has previously been quoted as saying that this centre allows all areas of the mine to be connected and converge. The objective is to enable management to improve safety, efficiencies and output, as all processes, targets and potential bottlenecks in the value chain will be visible at any given point in time, allowing for quick and decisive action.

The war room is something that is an important part of our coaching philosophy yet separate from the daily planning meeting, which is held at supervisor – workforce level and a mandatory tool that we implement in the mining organisations we work with. The war room is not intended to stand alone, but rather to augment our supervisory development programme (SDP) that tackles productivity, and can accelerate and elevate these results.

When a war room works well, it appears utterly harmonious, with all parties beating to the rhythm of the same drum. This might look deceptively simple, but don’t underestimate the massive impact it can have in promoting cross-functional collaboration.

After all, no one ever won a war on their own. Or met their production targets.