At some point in your leadership journey, you will be asked to participate or lead a strategic planning session.
While clearly a compliment from an organizational perspective, it is a challenging task for you personally.
The challenge is inherent in the goal of a strategic planning session. A planning meeting needs to be different than a run-of-the-mill meeting. Ideally, the content is more strategic, the altitude is higher and the time frame is longer term.
Furthermore, there are no “right” answers. The dialogue should have some constructive contention and debate. It is important to raise and work the tough issues.
Leading these meetings can be difficult. You must balance the role of facilitator, participant and leader. Not an easy task. You need to watch and monitor the content, dynamics and progress simultaneously.
My recommendation is to solicit support from the participants. One way of doing so is to institute ground rules for everyone to follow, monitor and support.
By getting everyone aligned on the rules of the road in advance, you enhance the chance of a successful planning meeting.
6 ground rules for strategic meetings:
1. Don’t get caught “in” the dialogue: Stay above the content; watch, listen and probe before responding. Take the extra time to be sure you understand the perspective of your colleagues before jumping in with your two cents.
2. Create a No-Fly Zone: Strategic meetings should deal with higher-level topics and issues. Do your best to keep the meeting (and your self) at a higher altitude. If you need to dive deep – do it with fore thought, purpose and focus.
3. Be Disciplined and Deliberate: Don’t allow random interruptions, personal issues/curiosities and/or random impulses to drive behavior. Stay on point. Work an issue – resist the pile-on of random ideas. Prevent your self (or others) from interrupting the flow with a random, tangential question.
4. Utilize the Socratic Method: Talk 20% to the group’s 80%. This requires, as the leader, you probe, query and investigate the ideas of others. You should not launch into speeches, long opinion statements, stories or monologues simply because you are in charge. Tease out the ideas and perspectives of your team – don’t pretend to be Jay Leno!
5. Avoid Defensiveness: Good planning gets to the real issues. Real issues often involve talking about the functions/departments of people sitting in the room. Strive to maintain a high level of objectivity when giving and receiving feedback. Don’t make it personal and don’t take it personal. Don’t avoid the tough topics because the group can’t handle the conflict.
6. Stitch and Align: If you are talking and listening from a higher altitude you should start to hear themes. You want to begin integrating the themes that surface into broader organizational challenges and initiatives. If you can get the team to this higher level (and stay there) you can begin to create direction and value.
As it relates to planning meetings, Einstein said it best – don’t do the same thing and expect different results!
Planning sessions need to be different. Different is deliberate – not the “default” meeting mode.
Teams maintain their normative behavior unless the leader takes them on a different journey with different expectations and norms.
Be that leader.
While not the end-all, be-all list, these 6 tips help you introduce new norms and expectations into the meeting.