Strategic Planning Case Study: Small Town Leadership Team


In the rugged landscape of the Southwest United States there is a picturesque small town renowned for its vibrant arts scene, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. Even though this town is known for being an amazing place to visit for tourists and providing a great quality of life for all its community members, the community faced a key challenge: lack of cohesive direction due to frequent shifts in local leadership and conflicting visions (and values) for the town’s future.

Recognizing the need for change, this small town’s leadership engaged the expertise of Phil Bryson, founder and CEO of On The Edge, to guide their Leadership Team in developing a Strategic Plan. In this case the goal was clear: to unite the Mayor, Town Councilors, Town Manager, Leadership Team, and other stakeholders behind a shared vision that would propel the small town towards sustainable growth, prosperity, and creating a great place to visit, live and work.

Strategic Planning: Overview

Many organizations – including this town’s Leadership Team – never create a long-term Strategic Plan due to a sole focus on day-to-day tasks and a lack of opportunities for future-focused, strategic thinking. Consequently, the opportunity to craft a Strategic Plan for this town was abundant, offering the prospect of uniting stakeholders, aligning on values, and fostering sustainable growth.

Creating a Strategic Plan for the town offered a dual opportunity. Firstly, it would align the leadership team around shared values and a unified vision for the community's future. Secondly, it would provide a roadmap for prioritizing actions to achieve these goals, serving as a guiding "North Star" for the small town’s leadership.

However, this endeavor would not be without its hurdles. The town’s Leadership Team was divided by historical ideological differences and had experienced fluctuations in leadership priorities, which led to the polarization of local leadership and consequently ongoing changes of direction and focus. Overall, this back-and-forth impeded progress and perpetuated uncertainty with each electoral cycle.

The main challenge for the town officials was the lack of alignment among different factions within the leadership and overall community, resulting in conflicting visions for the town's future. This dynamic, common in politics at all levels, hindered progress and prevented sustained growth for the small town’s Leadership Team.

Recognizing the need for alignment and collaboration, On The Edge emphasized the importance of a Strategic Plan to bridge the divide and foster unity amongst town leadership. Engaging in the Strategic Planning process would naturally align the team around common goals and values, driving positive outcomes for the town and its citizens.

To address the challenge of differing visions, On The Edge facilitated a process with the town’s Leadership Team to establish a shared mission, vision, and values for the small town. This process aimed to unify stakeholders and provide a foundation for long-term Strategic Planning.

To overcome the polarization and unproductive group dynamics within the town’s Leadership Team, On The Edge facilitated a multi-step process. Phil's expertise in guiding collaborative efforts and mediating difficult dynamics made him the ideal choice for this engagement. Equally important, his approach aimed to ensure equal participation from all leadership members, fostering ownership and bipartisan buy-in for the Strategic Plan.

Approach: Overview

Phil proposed a holistic approach to this effort, recommending a two-day team building process to precede Strategic Planning. This approach aimed to establish cohesion and understanding amongst the Leadership Team, fostering the teamwork and energy needed to design a powerful Strategic Plan. Recognizing the importance of collaboration and trust-building, On The Edge implemented a multi-step process to overcome polarization within the group.

This approach began with a Social Styles Workshop, where team members gained insights into their unique work and leadership styles. This foundational understanding paved the way for the Team Challenge Course, a transformative experience that reinforced the importance of creating a high-performance team culture of strong support and trust, leading to individual and collective success.

On Day One, On The Edge staff introduced the Social Styles methodology to the town’s leadership, fostering understanding and collaboration among diverse work styles. This workshop allowed leaders to identify both their and others’ Social Styles along with the different ways each team member related to the rest of the group. These learnings allowed the team to leverage each other's strengths, laying the foundation for a more supportive and understanding culture within the group.

On Day Two, the team participated in a Team Challenge Course, emphasizing mutual support, trust-building, and resilience. This immersive experience aimed to put the newly learned values into practice, fostering deeper relationships among team members. Through challenging activities, they experienced the power of teamwork and broke down barriers, leading to a stronger sense of unity and pride among team members.

In addition, while being on this “mountain climb” together, everyone discovered the amazing character, talents, and strengths each member of the team possessed. This unlocked a whole new level of respect and appreciation for each individual’s contribution to the team.

On Day Three, the town’s Leadership Team, more unified than ever and leveraging the trust and mutual understanding established, crafted a Strategic Plan grounded in a shared mission, vision, and values. This approach emphasized building each other up, resulting in a more effective and streamlined planning process as the leadership rallied around a unified vision for the future of their small town.

The Social Styles Workshop and Team Challenge Course were transformative experiences for this town. These sessions facilitated a paradigm shift, revealing that differences  on the Leadership Team were sources of strength when focused on bringing out everyone’s best. 

Despite initial ideological differences, the team rallied around a common vision for a vibrant and sustainable community, paving the way for collaboration and alignment. Armed with this newfound understanding, they approached the task of crafting a Strategic Plan with renewed vigor and unity.

Initially skeptical, the town’s leadership wanted to devote all three days solely to crafting the Strategic Plan. However, they achieved alignment quicker than anticipated, completing the plan in a single day. This demonstrated the power of collaboration and shared purpose established during the two days of developing the team.

In addition to the Strategic Plan, the town’s Leadership Team adopted new practices and also a Team Covenant to support implementation of the new plan. On The Edge's holistic approach ensured that lessons learned were integrated into day-to-day operations, fostering long-term success.

The Team Covenant: Overview

Inspired by their breakthroughs, the small town’s leadership co-authored a Team Covenant, outlining shared values and expectations for positive team dynamics. Overall this document served as a benchmark for creating a more effective and collaborative team culture, empowering individuals to bring out their best selves.

The Team Covenant provided a framework for intentional positive change of behaviors and ways of relating, challenging the status quo of dysfunctional team dynamics. Rather than resigning to existing challenges, the town’s leadership embraced a new vision for their team and committed to building it together, guided by shared values and aspirations.

Working with On The Edge, the Leadership Team discovered that their differences were not insurmountable. They found common ground, aligning around a shared vision for the lifestyle and economic vitality of their community. This unity laid the foundation for drafting a Strategic Plan and creating a Team Covenant for ongoing guidance towards product, positive team dynamics.

After the off-site retreat, the town’s leadership implemented elements of the Social Styles Methodology and the Team Covenant into their workflows. This led to immediate improvements in collaboration and a renewed focus on achieving the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan.

Recognizing potential challenges, On The Edge engaged in follow-up sessions to assess the team's progress and identify any emerging unproductive behaviors. By refocusing on the Team Covenant, the Leadership Team realigned with their shared values and practices, ensuring they stayed on track with the Strategic Plan.


In February 2024, Phil presented the finalized Strategic Plan to the Mayor and Town Council, who unanimously adopted it. The plan resonated strongly as it blended everyone's ideas and priorities, ensuring each voice was heard. This case study illustrates the power of collaborative and courageous leadership in creating a brighter future for a small town with big potential.