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How To Facilitate A Strategic Planning Session

strategy workshop
How to facilitate a strategic planning session

Holding a strategic planning session is one of the most important things you can do if your business is in need of a business growth revival or facing a pivotal moment of change -  you need to plan.

Ultimately, you may find that you get best results by using an external facilitator for your Strategy workshop.  They can help you have a truly independent challenge and review of your business and ask poignant questions that really get you thinking outside the box. 

Facilitating and hosting a Strategy planning session can be tricky if you don’t know how it works, so let’s take a look together.

 

Why using a facilitator is essential

Appointing a facilitator is an important first step in the preparation of any strategy session. A great facilitator will make sure that the session progresses in the way it should, following the agenda and delivering the outcomes promised. 

You are investing alot of senior time and energy into this strategic planning session so you need to make sure there are some tangible, hard deliverables achieved at the end of the day.

If you don't have a clearly appointed facilitator, your session may not be as effective and almost certainly, you will run over on the agenda timings and possibly even miss important discussion topics. 

An external facilitator for a strategy workshop can also be a very powerful aid where you have disagreements amongst partners and senior team members or bold strategic moves you want to plan for. 

An external facilitator can act as a "neutral" - they can, without any hidden motives raise points for debate and help each side see the benefits and risks associated with plans. 

 

How to facilitate a Strategy Session

If you are ready to facilitate your own strategy session, there are steps that you need to follow.

First of all, it’s important to have a clear agenda. Make sure that you highlight exactly what you want to accomplish from the outset.  Include time for coffee and lunch.  Strategic thinking and planning can be exhausting!  It takes brain power and you are working away from the day to day operational tasks.  Create that space (and location) that allows for this different type of thinking and work. 

Second of all, make sure that you allow time for discussion. You want ideas to percolate, to start growing. There is nothing worse than having an amazing light bulb moment for your business and then not really getting into the heart of how or why this strategic step change can impact your business.  Allow time to follow the flow of the discussion.  Evolve and build on that thinking throughout the strategy workshop

Thirdly, you want to make sure that there is agreement for what you intend to do. You need to start encouraging everybody to agree on a plan, because then you can start making investments of money and resources where necessary.

Ask out loud for agreement and buyin during the session and capture the decisions made in the actions from the session. Take a vote if you need to.  Move everyone towards the same vision and understanding of how you plan to take your company forward. 

If there is disagreement allow time to hear the different points of views, discuss them and find points of compromise or identify where more information is needed. 

Make sure that you encourage participation for the session as well. Everybody should be free and able to contribute without judgement, because this will affect everything if one or two loud personalities just "railroad" over ideas from quieter contributors.  Everyone must have a voice at the table. 

 

Preparing For a Strategy Workshop

Preparing for a strategy workshop takes time. It’s something that requires a full, comprehensive prep process. Ask yourself:

  • Who do you need to be in on the discussion? Work out an attendance list.
  • What type of input will be needed during the planning session?
  • What type of questions or prompts will help encourage that input?

You must identify which members of your team can provide the necessary resources for the strategy workshop, but also what kind of minds would work best - for example if you have someone on your team who is particularly creative balance this with someone who is very pragmatic and detailed orientated. Look for balance in attendees so all opportunities and risks get considered. 

  • Do you need to provide any information about the industry, or about your competitors?
  • What kind of contextual information will help to make sure that the wider strategic options are really considered?
  • What questions can you ask to encourage people to think outside the box?

Make sure you are clear on whether there is any information that needs to be shared in advance so that people are ready for the session. 

  • What reading would you have team members undertake or pre-work should be completed in order to come to the session switched on and ready to contribute?
  • Perhaps information by department might be necessary to have to hand?
  • What about past performance or past achievements? Will you need this data?

It is also vital that you work from a space where you will not experience interruptions from the day to day firefighting of your work.  You will not accomplish your goals if you are constantly pulled out of the session to work on other things or to take calls or answer emails.  Put your out of office responder on if necessary! 

Create the dedicated time and space for this session and ask all participants to respect the boundaries of the strategy workshop.  We want to see Phones switched off and full concentration on the strategic planning task in hand! 

 

Make It Happen In Your Business

At the end of the day, you have to consider how to lead a strategic planning session in a way that is best for your business. Your leadership team will be looking to you to guide them through this important session.  They will want to ensure you all achieve the best use of time and of course an outcome that defines and captures what's next for this pivotal moment in your business journey.

Make sure you have tangible, hard outputs from the workshop - something that not only captures the actions and decisions made but also a document you can all take away with you that reflects the ideas, concerns and discussion in full. 

 

Next Steps:

  • Consider if you would benefit from hiring an external facilitator to help you with your strategic planning process by hosting a Strategy workshop for you.
  • Plan ahead and prepare the agenda carefully to ensure the outcomes you need are achieved.
  • On the day, take the planning process slowly, and allow for the free flow of ideas and contributions from everyone involved.  Don't be too fast to skip to the end with pre-conceived outcomes!  Give your business the attention it deserves by allowing true strategic thinking and fresh ideas to come to the surface. 

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