Off-site strategy workshops take you and your team members away from your office routine. They enable you to discuss vitally important strategic matters which cannot normally be discussed in a busy office. They normally last one or two days.
But you are also frustrated. You know that these workshops actually deliver very low returns. How often can you state six months after an off-site event that it made any difference to your company? Life and individual performances just carried on as usual.
Will that stop you from running annual strategy workshops, to think about the coming 12 months to 5 years, the future? The answer is "no" as you have to do some planning. The question is do you want to get more out of your workshops?
Factors defeating the purpose of strategy workshops
- Lack of an energising, motivating scenario planning conversation/workshop as a prelude to creating a Strategic Plan and a Balanced Scorecard
- Lack of a proper agenda
- Lack of proper facilitation and full participation during the workshop
- Lack of a clear decisions and of defining measurable outcomes
- Lack of proper follow-up after the workshop
- Lack of an institutionalised system of planning, execution, review and replanning
ABPLAN offers an approach which gives our clients a proper chance of eliminating, with the help of my clients, all these negatives. This approach is not always popular because one has to learn a new set of skills an one has to set aside time to do so.
Getting results through strategy workshops
Turn the traditional planning workshop into a strategic scenario conversation workshop. You need no special preparation for this workshop. In fact, preparing on topics and especially team members preparing PowerPoint presentations beforehand, just leads to creating entrenched positions which people will defend.
What you want in workshops are open-minded discussions based on common sense, your knowledge about your business and the environments in which you company operates.
A scenario conversation/strategy workshop is a very important means:
- for exchanging ideas in an egalitarian manner
- looking at important trends called "rules of the game" and uncertainties
- of developing four scenarios: global, country, industry and company
- for analyzing external trends (PESTEL)
- for seriously checking your company's strengths and weaknesses, for assessing your capacity to deliver on your strategic and operational objectives, and to grab external opportunities and counter threats (SWOT)
- for developing options and decisions
- for defining outcomes
- for setting direction
A workshop, if not unduly dominated by seniors, could also be an event for discovering leadership among your team members, for getting bright ideas, unified direction, for releasing energy, and for securing commitment. You want a team motivated and determined to move forward to a higher level.
The role of owners/managers in strategy workshops
At workshops owners/MDs have a difficult role. They should know what to say and what not. They should be aware that their reactions, spoken or unspoken, to statements give off signals which strongly influence the participants.
Owners have to listen and evaluate. They should maintain a balance between support and guidance. They have to be fair and respectfully tough. Great MDs ask the right questions and get to the bottom of things during workshops (and meetings). They probe. They summarize. They see to it that matters are properly rounded off and recorded. They see to it that responsibilities are assigned.
Because of all this, it's wise to use a consultant as facilitator who frees the owner/MD to listen, to think and make thoughtful contributions. (Note, the consultant is the facilitator while the MD remains the Chairperson. Often, the MD tends to abdicate his/her role to the consultant. The MD and the consultant should establish a good partnership during the workshop.)
Record everything on flip charts
Ensure that everything is recorded. Do not take minutes. Instead use three flip charts: Two for jotting down ideas bullet-style and one for jotting down Issues for Potential Action (IPAs) as they crop up. Ensure nothing gets lost. Back at the office the consultant will have these notes typed up using the agenda and process as index. ABPLAN always submits a comprehenisve report to its clients and a list of Issues for Potential Action.
Have you been to a workshop where everybody left excited and energised and very little happened the first 10 days afterwards or ever?
Once back at the office, MDs/owners have to take responsibility for tying up loose ends. Have the flip chats typed up. Managers have to think through consequences (cause and effect) of the workshop. At the first weekly meeting thereafter they and their teams have to get to grips with the objectives coming out of the workshop. Then the process of execution, review and replanning starts.
Do not neglect these steps in the rush of a routinely busy week. And ensure that you work through all the results and not only the ones that interested you, as owner, in particular. Your staff is watching your walk. An attentive MD gets results with strong follow-up. Where the returns are low, firstly look at the MD and his/her managers.
The value of strategy workshops
Workshops are an important means for gaining broad participation and support. Participants accept responsibilities concerning objectives and achieving outcomes, as they had participated in the discussions. Clear decisions should be taken about follow-up actions.
Note that any important strategy workshop kick-starts a process which becomes a major invasion in an organisation's routine. For many, change is frightening. Change causes disruptions, anxieties and breaks routines. This might be one of the reasons why few participants see to it that excellent proposals generated at workshops are implemented.
- The value of a strategy workshop lies in the changes that it brings about, in its impact. Review your workshops and decide what action should be taken to make them truly effective.
- Ensure that you heed the Law of Diminishing Returns: Although you might have a long list of Ideas for Potential Action (IPAs), decide on one Wildly Important Goal (WIG) for your company suppored by not more than three WIGs per stratregic theme. Visit... Strategy Maps
- Workshops should be used whenever a major issue requires focused attention. Tackle one issue, if need be, and research and dissect it from all sides. This is time well spent.
- A workshop need not be a one or two-day event. If you need to focus on one issue only, ABPLAN offers a half-day workshop away from your office or in your boardroom.
- Lastly, heed the principles of leading and managing change...leading change
Next go to meetings - great? as it contains important principles which are also highly relevant to workshops.
If you need to effect change in large groups e.g. 50, 100 or more, please also read large workshops.
Also visit leading change.
If you have read this page with a view to holding a workshop for developing a strategic plan , please click on this link.
Last modified: 17-06-2012