5 Tips for Your Next Strategy Session

Will your next strategic planning retreat resemble the book title Death by Meeting or be more like another best-seller Good to Great?

Consider the “burn-rate”—the real cost of 8–12 executives’ time over the course of two or three days, plus the hotel, meals, travel, and facilitation fees. The costs are staggering! Sufficient pre-planning will help you maximize the benefits of this investment.

Tip No. 1: Envision your outcomes.

Imagine you’re driving home from this retreat and you’re reflecting on what happened. Ask yourself:

  • What takeaways do I want my team to be pondering as they head home?

  • What core business issues are we in the process of solving?

  • How much clarity was produced?

Tip No. 2: Plan your agenda.

Keep your outcomes in mind. Poll those who are attending and find out their top priorities and why. Come to consensus. Remember you cannot do it all and do it well. Decide what topics are most relevant, what order they will be addressed, and how much time to devote to each area. Agree on who will own each topic and facilitate. Decide if you want to hire a professional facilitator.

  • 3–5 year vision creation or vision update

  • Annual goals and implementation plans

  • Decision-making on new products, marketing ideas, or technology

  • Key business topics to brainstorm

  • Acquisition plans

  • Build teamwork, alignment, and the ability to work together more cohesively

  • Leadership and/or team training topic to increase your effectiveness

Tip No. 3: Have everyone come prepared.

Identify the information and pre-work that will make decisions go smoothly. This will likely include:

External data requirements: trends in the economy and your industry

Internal data: key indicators and all other relevant measures and information

Reading required by each team member attending: This may be a chapter of a book, an entire book, or articles that pertain to the topics being addressed.

Tip No. 4: Choose a great location.

Choose a venue that is conducive for your focus, and your team’s interests and style. Most teams enjoy getting out of town, but do not want extensive travel. An hour- or two-drive from the office is usually ideal. Time away, yet not exhausting and time consuming.

Tip No. 5: Have a method to ensure accountability.

Ninety-five percent of all strategic plans fail not due to poor planning but because of poor follow-through. The last thing you want is for your brilliant strategic plan to sit in a binder on a shelf. It’s a leader’s job to assure that the plan is alive, in action, and visible to all.

One way to assure follow-through is to have a note-taker list all action items, the person accountable, and the “by when.” Review action notes at the end of the retreat to assure these commitments are realistic and on track to the desired results. Decide if any outside resources are needed for support.

Another effective way leaders achieve goal follow-through is to schedule a quarterly all-day strategy meeting to keep it alive and on the playing field. Executives are busy with daily execution and those strategic plans all too often get put on the back burner. Knowing there is a quarterly meeting to review progress increases the urgency. Besides, by that time, there are new strategic topics to address or new developments in the original plans and having a full day to devote to those discussions makes for team cohesion and accountability.

Envision the future.

In summary, the point of your off-site is to envision the future, gain a fresh perspective, build relationships, and come away with true team alignment. If done well, this will change your organization’s future!

Strategy, GoalsElaine Morris