Eight success tips for strategy retreats
This is the concluding part of the article which started last Tuesday with the first four success tips. The final four tips are described in this instalment.
Success Tip # 5: Limit or exclude speeches by executives
Strategy retreats are not the most fitting events for executive speeches. CEOs should be careful about “opening remarks” which might direct the agenda. It is better for the CEO to close the event than to open it because concluding remarks cannot filter into the process. Here are six guidelines concerning speeches:
1. For introductions, unless absolute necessary, avoid people who are prone to verbose or lengthy speeches. Fortunately, the group will know from experience which colleagues are more likely to burn time.
2. If using an external presenter or subject-matter expert, be specific about time allocation and content. External presenters can kill a strategy event with one irrelevant or poorly delivered presentation. Be clear about what is required from such presenters.
3. Ensure that speeches add value to the agenda and are not ‘for the record’.
4. Bringing a middle manager to the podium can help reduce hierarchical barriers. Presentations should not be reserved for the senior people. Gain audience traction and different perspectives from the mid-level team members.
5. For CEOs, closing has a more positive impact than opening. CEOs will do better by sitting down, listening and observing the interactions. This makes for a more rounded closing note or charge.
6. Videos of famous people can be a substitute for a CEO’s remarks. Quite a lot has been said which can be passed on with short video clips which are easily available.
In summary, speeches, like presentations must be connected to the agenda so that they don’t kill the atmosphere for participants.
Success Tip # 6: Select an appropriate venue
Strategy retreats can be like weddings – the reception venue and guest seating arrangements can make or mar the event. Consequently, you cannot be too careful with venue selection. Although the key considerations are usually cost and space, from a professional perspective, there is far more to venue selection.
Essential factors and details to consider in selecting a venue include:
1. Adequacy of space: The room should comfortably take the number of participants and leave space for bodily movement and easy entry and exit.
2. Flexibility of space: Means ‘easy to rearrange”. For example, if tables are not required, fixed tables in the middle of the room constitute hindrances.
3. Walls: Look for white or pale coloured walls. No green or brown walls or wooden panels! Darker shades reduce the livening impact of lighting and create a sleepy atmosphere.
4. Lighting: Best option is fluorescent lighting. Avoid heat-emitting spotlights and dull light bulbs.
5. Ventilation: Functioning air conditioners that can be easily regulated.
6. Windows: Windows are excellent for letting in natural light but the external view should not be distracting. If air conditioning fails temporarily, being able to open the windows is not a luxury by any means.
A good venue enhances the level of participation and energises the participants and facilitators. It also reduces interruptions and distractions that could negate the expected results. Do not trivialize the selection of a venue.
Success Tip # 7: Use a professional facilitator
Use a facilitator and not an instructor, trainer, speaker or consultant. Trainers and instructors are used to doing most of the talking. They therefore tend to apply a directive approach to a facilitated process, often with adverse results. A speaker is exactly what the word says: he speaks to the audience. A good speaker is not necessarily a good facilitator. In fact, good speakers could be in love with their voices and engage in monologues. A consultant has ideas to share and will sometimes seek to superimpose those ideas on the group. A facilitator understands and plays the role of a process leader.
Roger Schwarz in “The Skilled Facilitator” distinguishes four third-party facilitative roles. Understanding these roles is useful in identifying the right person for the job. The roles are facilitator, facilitative consultant, facilitative coach, and facilitative trainer. A snapshot of each role is provided below:
1. A facilitator is a content-neutral process expert who is not a substantive decision maker.
2. A facilitative consultant is a process and content expert who may be involved in content decision-making.
3. A facilitative coach is a process expert who is involved in content and may also be involved content decision-making.
4. A facilitative trainer is a process and content expert who will be involved in content decision making.
A facilitator is required for strategy sessions but objectives can imply the need for the other roles. The facilitative approach builds consensus and engages participants in a process that leads to results.
Success Tip # 8 (Conclusion): Apply tips 1 to 7
Next time you are conducting a strategy retreat, ensure that you get results from it. Let it not be a mere assembly of executives. These tips have been written to help you improve the quality and outcomes of your next strategy event. Apply them and witness a positive transformation in your results.
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