Aggressive Facilitation for Strategic Planning

Sometimes when clients call leading a facilitated session, they have three days to pull together a strategic plan. Sometimes, it’s a couple of hours. It is possible for a meeting facilitator to facilitate a strategic planning session in two hours using aggressive facilitation. In fact, it is possible to pull together anything in two hours. Here’s how aggressive facilitation for strategic planning works:

  1. Limit the size of the group to maximum twelve participants. More than twelve is too many for effective facilitation in a short time frame.
  1. Do as much advance work as possible. Mainly this involves disseminating the current strategic plan (if there is one, sometimes there isn’t) and any insight on its status – metrics, market research, customer feedback, etc. It’s helpful if participants prepare their own SWOT of the existing organization/plan.
  1. Define the time-frame for the strategic plan. Three years is typical. Annual operating plans fit under the strategic plan consistent with executing the strategic pillars that are defined. Some organizations argue that strategic plans are done on a one-year time-frame. They aren’t. Missions seldom if ever change and some pillars (eg, building new manufacturing capacity) may take years to execute.
  1. Set appropriate goals for the session. Will this be the ‘final, final’ or will the output of this session set the basis for some additional work to verify and fill out what has been developed?
  1. Start the session. Conduct a group SWOT of the current status of the organization and strategic plan if there is one. This is a quick easy way for the meeting facilitator to get the group into the session and get them participating. Capture all input on a digital or paper flipchart. Allow maximum fifteen minutes.
  1. Facilitate a discussion to define or verify (if there is one) the organization’s mission. Use this definition of mission: mission is who the organization serves and how it serves them. Start by defining and agreeing who the organization serves. Then define how the organization serves them. This is THE most important element of strategic planning facilitation and typically it is the most time consuming (you would think organizations would be clear on their mission – surprisingly few are). Elements of this facilitation include group discussion, individual work to craft/draft mission statement options, group sharing and combining of options, some form of consensus defining process to agree on the best option. The meeting facilitator should allow 50 minutes for this part of the process.
  1. Using the mission definition as the anchor, define the strategic pillars the organization will focus on for the next one to three years to achieve the mission. Maximum five. Typically, there is a strong correlation between the strategic pillars and the weaknesses and opportunities identified in the up-front SWOT analysis. Examples of frequently identified weaknesses and opportunities include branding, social media, products and services, distribution, education, governance, customer service and others. Start with a long list then get the group to prioritize the top five. Using criteria for the prioritizing is helpful. Whatever the criteria are they MUST be primarily related to achievement of the mission. Allow 40 minutes.
  1. Identify next steps. What work is required post-session to finalize the plan? Who is responsible, what is the timing? Allow eight minutes.
  1. Summarize and wrap-up. Two minutes. “Today we defined and/or verified the mission of our organization and the five strategic pillars we will execute over the next one to three years in order to achieve our mission. Based on these strategic pillars we need to develop this year’s operating plan for each pillar and the budgets. See you in three weeks.”

Meeting facilitator keys to aggressively facilitating a strategic or any other planning session in a short time-frame:

  • Don’t let anyone run-on or dominate, cut them off (based on the limited time available)
  • Don’t wait for volunteers to input; pick them out
  • Help the group make decisions – use patterns, trends, logic to point the group towards the most likely outcomes (done more aggressively, less objectively here than in typical facilitation)
  • Tell the group how much time is available eg, “two minutes left”
  • If a strong leader helps move the process forward occasionally (eg, “I’m going to save us all some time; branding is one of our pillars this plan”), let them do it (allow more leeway for them to be assertive than in a typical session where too much assertiveness will shut down the group)

Using a facilitated and a strong meeting facilitator to ram through some serious strategic planning into a short time frame has benefits. Sense of urgency results in clarity that frequently seems to mirror longer, more drawn out sessions.

Professional Meeting Facilitation

Professional meeting facilitation provided by Boardroom Metrics is available in Toronto and throughout North America. More information on a Toronto Meeting facilitator is available here.