One of the unavoidable habits of the corporate world is to convene meetings. Management meetings, review meetings, board meetings, departmental meetings, and weekly meetings (usually called Monday meetings) are some established meeting types. A common corporate meeting at this time of the year is the “strategy retreat” – also referred to as “strategy session” or “management retreat”.
These words describe two or three-day meetings which may not yield the desired results, assuming results are defined in the first place. Yet a good number of these executive assemblies do not produce results that match the time, effort and expense involved. This series of articles provide eight guidelines for organizing successful strategy retreats. The first instalment covers four tips.
Success Tip # 1: Define Clear Objectives
This is a make-or-break success factor for a strategy event. The meeting is already destined to fail if objectives are not clearly defined in advance. Think about this: If we don’t know clearly why we are assembling, how can we assess whether the assembly has succeeded?
The rules of professional facilitation specify that you should never convene a meeting without specific objectives. These objectives should be such that they can be evaluated by results at the conclusion of the meeting. Yet, the definition of objectives is either ignored or trivialized by meeting organisers. In this regard, one frequent shortcoming is defining generic objectives such as “to deliberate on the way forward for the company in year…” or ‘to review performance and plan for the year ahead”. Objectives should describe specific and measurable aims or purposes for convening the meeting.
Defining the objectives enhances the thought process for the agenda. The philosophy is simple: If you know why the meeting is being convened, then it is easier to decide the activities for the meeting.
Success Tip # 2: Define Expected Results
Another important component in designing a strategy retreat is defining the expected results or outcomes. This involves starting with the end in mind. Whereas objectives relate to what we will do (aim or purpose), results focus on what we will obtain from what we will do (the outcome or consequence). For example, objectives could include “to define a vision for the company” while a result will be that “a clear vision for the company was arrived at by consensus of the participants”. In practice, a group could set out to define a vision but fail to do so for one reason or another. This means that they had an objective but did not obtain a result. There should be no doubt in the minds of people when a result has actually been achieved.
Success Tip # 3: Design an Effective Agenda
The agenda can be equated to the design of a house which indicates the location, dimensions and use of each space. Designing an effective agenda ensures that the objectives and results are linked to the activities. The word “effective” has been deliberately highlighted. It implies that the agenda directs the meeting to achieve the results that have been indicated.
Contrary to the thinking in some corporate circles, an effective retreat is not about long hours or long speeches. I have heard comments about strategy retreats such as “we were working on the mission statement till 2 o’clock in the morning”. Such a statement usually signals a poorly designed agenda.
An effective agenda is also not about snazzy presentations that generate loud applause but do not resonate with the results! Rather, it is about how the activities on the agenda connect with the results defined at the onset. This connection requires a deeper thought process than is often imagined or exercised by retreat organizers.
An effective agenda should be logical. In a logical agenda, the activities represent building blocks that engage the participants. Furthermore, an agenda for strategy must involve strategic thinking. The objectives and results are the foundation for the thought process that produces the agenda. The blocks of the agenda building must be fitted neatly to each other until the whole house is finished.
Success Tip # 4: Ensure Coordinated Presentations
Presentations should be connected strongly to the objectives and results and not used as digressions. An expert’s presentation can also be useful to emphasise or precede a part of the agenda. Furthermore, there’s no point in having a presentation that leaves the participants wondering what it was all about. Such a situation makes it difficult for both the facilitator and participants to ‘reboot’ their brains.
Presentations can also serve as icebreakers especially if they are made in fifteen minutes and engage the participants. You can also have what I call “strategic learning” presentations. Such presentations would have themes that are relevant to all participants and provide a background or a rider to an aspect of the agenda. Reasons for such presentations include putting everyone on the same page and taking advantage of the occasional assembly.
The rule for presentations is to ensure that they are coordinated with the agenda and build on the process leading to an eventual result.
The final four tips will be published next week. Stay with me.