Strategic event facilitation
Whether Contingency Planning, team building activities or a full corporate Strategy Session Strategic event facilitation is a specialist skill and should only be conducted by someone who has both the skill in strategic event facilitation and considerable operational experience.
When strategic planning is done right, it is an indispensable leadership tool. There is no one right way to create a strategic plan, but there are plenty of wrong ways. All too often a strategic plan is designed using the latest mishmash of pop culture, motivational slogans and business buzz speak. A strategic plan crafted with such an approach can slow down performance or worse, mislead an entire organisation as the people within it blindly follow the strategic plan.
At NorthCo our original and pragmatic planning methodology has won fans around the world. Whether launching a new product, fighting a war or putting a man on the moon. We help leaders and their teams to create action-oriented strategic plans cutting through overconfident “can do’s” and exposing false can’t do’s.
Whether engaged to facilitate a single meeting or several, our role is to help design and manage critical strategic discussions. To be effective, these discussions must lead to measurable actions and outcomes. Beginning with objectives in mind, we help clients maintain a balance of process, content, and conversation. This ensures that strategies gain and hold momentum.Read More
When your senior management team or board of directors hold a strategic planning session the investment of time and money is significant.
Clearly establish at the outset what the group wants to achieve from the session. We tend to ask this simple question “what is the effect you want to achieve”.
The right people…
Strategic event facilitation is one of our cornerstone skills, we are pretty good at it. But, if you don’t have the right people, then the whole thing will fall apart either during the retreat or, even worse, when you get back to the office. Typically you will want to have an intact management team present at your retreat. If there are other key staff members within the organisation with an in-depth knowledge of the issues at hand, or who will be responsible for executing the strategy, consider adding them as well. You may wish to add them for only part of the agenda, or you may wish to get their input either before or after the retreat.
Never use a strategy session to “reward” someone; this is a time for serious business and should only include the people needed to get the work done.
The right agenda…
Agendas that are unfocused, overloaded, and don’t have specific outcomes stated are an invitation to failure. These agendas try to cover too much in too little time, with the end result being that nothing gets done properly. The lack of focus makes it all too easy for discussions to get “off-track.” Before designing an event, we are very clear about the following:
- “What has to happen for you to consider this session a success?”
- “What specific issues do you want to deal with?”
- “What is not up for discussion?”
- “How are we to document the meeting, including the actions that will be committing to?”
- “If we don’t have enough time to cover everything, which things on the list can wait?”
The right process…
Strategic event facilitation is an art and we are good at going with the flow as long as we are moving forward in the direction of our objectives, it’s a judgement call. However, in far too many meetings we see a host of incompatible activities jumbled together. How often have you seen the following?.
- People involved in action planning or problem-solving in the middle of a brainstorming session.
- Brainstormed lists of ideas that aren’t priority ranked or vetted. (Are all of these ideas really equal?)
- Decision making based on some unwieldy matrix that nobody really understands or believes in
- Action planning that doesn’t capture all of the essential ingredients (who will do what by when.)
- People jumping to conclusions without adequately considering alternatives
- Unbalanced participation with some people dominating and others not contributing
- Cryptic notes on flip charts that make no sense to anyone afterwards
- Facilitators suggesting icebreakers or other activities inappropriate for executive level participants
We use large-scale strategic planning wall charts in almost all of my meetings where a group is involved, in this way people are focused on a pictorial view of the strategy.
The right pre-work…
We put a lot of work into planning before we conduct a Strategic event facilitation task. We believe your team can also benefit from it.
Pre-work is of tremendous assistance in getting the most out of people’s time. We also find that how the pre-work task is defined will have a major effect as to how valuable it is. Asking someone to read a book or article is far more effective if they are also asked to think about what part of it gave them hope or made them worry. Asking them to think about how the author’s observations and prescriptions relate to their company will prepare people for a discussion at the corporate retreat of how to apply what they have learned.
Pre-work that involves brainstorming can be particularly effective if the results are collected in advance by phone and tabulated for discussion at the meeting. Having one person collect the results provides a far more usable list than the ones that we typically see if people are asked to “email” their thoughts. The brainstormed list at the meeting can then be used for discussion and priority ranking.
Sometimes clients provide us with the notes from a previous retreat. It is amazing to see what is (or rather is not) documented in the action plans. In our opinion, an action plan needs to be “checkable” and has to describe who does what by when. By checkable we mean that each action is described in such a way that someone could “check it off” their “to-do” when it is done.
Without some form of scheduled follow-up, we find that in spite of the best intentions many action items do not get completed. We encourage clients to define during the corporate retreat the date, time, and location of a follow-up session. This meeting may be specific to the off-site or it may be a simple agreement to put the corporate retreat’s action items into a regularly scheduled management meeting.
A comprehensive meeting report
It is amazing the amount of territory that a team can cover during a retreat. Making sure that a comprehensive meeting report is prepared and distributed to all participants afterwards will reinforce the decisions made, and help to track of action items committed to.
Finally, an experienced neutral facilitator who has a credible track record of business is a must.