How to Have Successfull Strategy Sessions

The time of the year when we must hold workshops with our executive team and our directors, to review and establish the direction our company will take, has arrived.  Scheduling it is a challenge, everyone must set aside one or two days out of their busy schedules.  Some are less enthusiastic than others to have to dedicate so much time to this and might see it as a waste of time.  One more year of the same discussions that don’t land on any big decisions, or that don’t make any significant impact on the company’s results.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  On the contrary, participating in a dynamic, participatory strategic session with accurate and interesting content can be a stimulating and entertaining experience.  Executives and directors deserve sessions that are at the level of the challenges they are facing.

To hold productive and successful strategic workshops, after establishing and agreeing on the dates, it is necessary to address several points:

  1. Ensure a facilitation aligned with expectations: There are several types of facilitators, some are educational, which bring a predetermined format, and follow a script that applies to different businesses.  There are all terrain facilitators, that adapt to anything and that follow the design that the company asked for.  On the other hand, there are immersive facilitators that study the company and seek to understand their needs well and, based on the information obtained, design a workshop to meet their needs.  These are three very different types of workshops, and their costs vary significantly, not just because of the methodology applied, but because of the experience of the facilitator.  It is important that the people in charge have clarity on what they want, and choose someone with whom they will feel comfortable. 
  2. Identify key subjects to be discussed: We live in a complex world, much more complex than what it was a year ago, before COVID-19.  Having clarity on key subjects is not as easy as it seems.  Therefore, it is necessary for the CEO or General Manager to be involved in defining which subjects should be discussed and defined during strategic sessions.  Subjects may vary from critical operational decisions to establishing objectives and goals.  There should only be a few subjects, the time is limited, and you should not bite off more than you can chew.  The important thing is to know what needs to be defined to propel the competitiveness of the company.   
  3. Collect information and perform the necessary analyses: It isn´t enough to define the subjects.  Bringing relevant information to sessions to enrich discussions is key.  A workshop where participants don’t receive important information can end up giving more of the same, especially in environments where there can be “groupthink”.  This last case, when people have a lot of time working together and generally have similar points of view, they need new information to take them out of their comfort zones and think about other possibilities. 
  4. Design content: Either it be content designed by the company or by the facilitator, the important thing is that it meets the established expectations.  The content will also depend on the format of the session.  If the sessions are virtual, it will be necessary to use programs such as Miro and Menti to simulate live sessions, and the duration of the sessions should be shorter, since remaining in a sitting position for 8 hours for a virtual workshop is much more draining than being in a live session.  Whatever the format, the facilitator must keep in mind the needs of the client and figure out how to meet them in the allotted time. 
  5. Bring energy and dynamism to the sessions: The design of the workshop is critical for its success, but if the facilitator and the participants don’t have energy, willingness to participate and lack interest, the workshop will not be productive.  In a virtual environment, these aspects can be even more challenging.  Having previous conversations with the participants, generating interest for the workshop, having interesting content and making key questions, help develop strategic sessions with positive impact.  The true value of these meetings is in  way the participants think and in the exchange of ideas that are generated, not in the monologues, lectures or dense presentations. 
  6. Generate commitment: A strategic session typically involves decision making.  But with diverse groups, it is difficult for everyone to agree100% on everything.  Even when there is not complete agreement, it is necessary to generate commitments.  Leading an impartial and objective discussion allows those which opinions are not favored in final decisions to accept them.  For example, one can be 60% in agreement but that doesn’t mean one cannot be 100% committed.  When the session comes to an end, participants should be committed to supporting and executing the decisions made. 

Strategy workshops are a challenge in any company.  But successful strategic sessions are a powerful tool for the successful management of an organization.  I hope these recommendations make your next session easier.

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