Over the past 7 days I’ve facilitated 3 strategic planning sessions, and while the context of each was very different the approach remained the same. The core outcome for all of these sessions was clarity of their current position and focus on individual and collective roles 2018. This article provides you the process we followed so that you can dive in and do it for yourself or your team.

At the turn of the year I put out an offer to a couple of my networks, the offer was for a limited number of free 2-hour facilitated Strategic planning sessions. This was generally targeting executive and senior management levels of organisations and could be taken up 1-on-1 or with their direct reports of up to 10 people.

I’ve been iterating the design of this session through work with startups over the last 2 years and the current agenda goes like this:

  1. (10 mins) Set the focusing challenge: for a team this could be ‘how will we deliver successfully in 2018’ or a more specific ‘how will we grow our portfolio by 30% in 2018’, whatever it is it can be useful to set the parameters for the session.
  2. (30 mins) Where are we now: in the context of the focusing challenge take some time to individually reflect on where you believe we are now, what is working well, and what is not working, what are our limitations, what assets do we have that we can leverage. After reflecting individually, share your perspectives amongst the group.
  3. (30 mins) Describe your ideal future: take a mental leap 12 months forward in time and describe as vividly as possible what it is like being there. What do you notice is different, who are you working with, what new relationships exist, how are you things differently and what has that enabled you to achieve. Again this is worth taking some time to reflect individually before sharing with the group and ultimately synthesising your responses.
  4. (40 mins) What do you need to put in place: with your shared view of a successful 12 month time horizon now you will need to identify the things you need to put in place (people, tools, technology, processes, decisions) in order to achieve success. Ask yourself ‘what are the enablers that will make this possible?’ And begin to sequence these into priorities – I would suggest by quarter-year.
  5. (20 mins) 30 days of action! All this great thinking and alignment is at significant risk of loss if we don’t move to action before leaving the room. In order to speed you into the delivery I suggest looking at your sequenced priorities and identifying the actions you will need to take in the next 30 days to progress these. This avoids getting caught in too much detail while making the plans you’ve come up with real for people. Make sure you identify who will drive progress on each action, we want individual names!

The materials you’ll need for this session:

  • Something for individual reflection – small whiteboard each at best or an A3 sheet and a pen will do.
  • Something for group synthesis – large whiteboard at best or alternatively butchers paper on a wall or table, add sticky notes to whichever option you chose in order to allow flexibility in your capture.
  • A visible timer to keep you moving – Perf timer is great on an iPad.

So as I mentioned the first 3 of these sessions I’ve run this year were all quite different – in context but not approach – let me share a brief synopsis of the sessions and their outcomes.

The first session that landed was a 1-on-1 with a senior leader. It was literally Leanne’s first day back at the office. Having seen the offer while on leave Leanne had asked her assistant to set it up for her return. I do love working with people who decisively jump at opportunities for support. Leanne’s goal was to use this opportunity to gain further clarity on her priorities and challenges for the coming year, setting herself up to lead the team on their return. By the end of our conversation Leanne had distilled the strategic imperatives and opportunities for her team, and she had identified the conversations she would need to have with her team and with her peers in order to drive progress. Additionally, we had identified high level timing for her team to mobilise their own work before coming together for a session such as this as a whole.

The second session was with a senior leader and his direct reports. This group was a collective of technical functions which currently have no dependency on each other, I find these groups interesting as they tend to have the greatest variance in perception of ‘team’; if you don’t depend on each other to get the work done are you really a team? I have found that those who choose not to consider themselves a team are missing out on the positive impact of human connection, of supporting each other with diverse skills and thought, of achieving greater outcomes because of your abilitiy to look objectively at each other’s situations.

Tom shared this perspective and was wrapping his head around whether to focus on ‘how the team can deliver together’ or a topic he feels is relevant right now – creating a binding sense of purpose. While we focused on the former it was evident in the groups language and behaviour that they were building a strong, supportive bond across the team, discovering opportunities to harness their collective skills. The group walked out of the room with clear focus areas to deliver a successful year, these spanned both internal topics and relationships with external units, and they identified specific actions they would be taking immediately to progress this work.

The third session was a group of regional line managers and their focus was closing the gap between executive level strategy and operational plans. Although this group meet regularly to discuss operational topics this was a rare opportunity to step out of the day-to-day, to hear each other’s perspectives on current challenges and future opportunities, and to find that though there may be nuances around their regions, they’re all facing the same situations. I pushed the group a little too far with this one and they identified a future that they believed was not achievable in one year, though we were able to correct the course and focus on the areas of their future vision which they had control or influence over.

So I hope you will see that this relatively straightforward process can deliver fantastic outcomes in 2 hours. 2 hours that is well worth investing your team’s effort whenever you find the need to reset the compass. The more you bring your team on board in the creation of strategic plans, the more committed you will find them in executing those plans.

For those of you who are willing to give this I go – please post a photo and a comment on how it went below.

Let’s accelerate your success,