Our 12-person Farm Equipment crew just returned from our two-day annual strategic planning meeting. While we've been doing these annual meetings since 2007, last week's was the first one offsite. Prior to meeting at Birkey's Farm Store's headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., we toured Alamo's Gibson City operations along with 2 Birkey's stores, where we got face-time not only with our customer, but our customer's customer.

I know planning is serious business for many of you, but I wanted to share what meeting - at the customers' place of business - meant for us.

With three facility tours before our meeting, and the ability to "live" in our customer's environment during it, we saw a different dynamic this year. Some on our admin team have few chances to see dealers, manufacturers and farmers in action, so the tours and face-to-face dialog brought a shared experience. And we noticed there were no urgent sound-system pages that commanded a need to jump out and solve.

But the biggest benefit was a by-product of enhanced team development - by leaving our own four walls for a couple of days, passing 10 hours of windshield time and breaking bread together over 5 meals.

The post-meeting feedback from our staff showed high marks for Birkey's larger and climate-controlled conference room (our own cramped conference room is the stuff of legend), but the team dynamic was a close second. Nearly all cited the camaraderie in the car with their teammates, and even progress on action plans inked an hour earlier. And there were others too ... Takeaways from witnessing dealer to farmer interactions ... Conversations that yielded better insight on the market and "color" to the numbers ... And a thoughtful statement from one of our young staffers on the dealer's role in partnering with the farmer - and our need to support our customer in the same way.

We got business done just as we would've at the home office. But the team aspect cannot be understated, nor can the venue. Meeting at a customer's facility quickly got us to framing discussions on the impact our work can have (or not have) on the customer.

FE Columnist George Russell of Currie Management reminded me yesterday of Dwight Eisenhower's reflection on the D-Day Invasion in World War II. I'm paraphrasing here, but Ike said it was not the plans, but the planning, that was indispensable.

I agree. And I'll share a quote from required reading at Stotz Equipment, our large-store Dealer of the Year. In the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni wrote: "It's not finance, strategy, nor technology. Teamwork remains the ultimate advantage, because it is so powerful and rare."

The best strategy in the world lands with a thud if you can't connect everyone to the customer, and that requires knowing their business. We've long prided ourselves about addressing what keeps you up at night, but that's not enough. As our E-Media Director said last week, we must take the next step - of searching our Rolodex for ideas that cure your insomnia. With new approaches and the guidance of our new Editorial Advisory Board, we're eager to put action plans to work for you.

And remember to share your points of pain with us; we promise to seek out solutions that other operations in our industry have made work for them.

P.S. Big thanks to Alamo and Birkey's for throwing the doors open to our entire team. The collective insights gained will provide an even better product in 2014.