Best Practices for Facilitating Your Upcoming Strategic Planning Session

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Jan 03, 2017

Pictured Above: Arial Harland, HR & Org Development Consultant with PathShare HR Services, helps facilitate a meeting for a customer.

6 Strategic Planning Facilitation Must Knows

Happy New Year! This time of year you’re all hopefully looking ahead and thinking about what you’ll do in 2017 that maybe you neglected in years past. You’re ready to pick up the pen with determination, and put together a strategic plan for your entire organization to commit to.

Whether you’ve been strategic planning for years, or this is your first year focusing in on a strategic plan for your business, here are six must knows for facilitating a successful strategic planning session:

  1. Know the Outcomes – Define and understand the desired outcomes up front for your strategic planning session. If you don’t know what success looks like, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? Ask yourself the question, “What will success look like at the end of this meeting?”

    • Facilitator Tip: Consider having pre-session mini meetings, a suggestion by Cathy Alper, a master facilitator. Speaking to key stakeholders beforehand can help align your goals, and provide clarity of what success should look like. These mini meetings also help prepare you for potential issues that may arise, and paints a clear picture of where the organization stands in terms of past goals.
  2. Know Who – Identify which people are and are not appropriate for the strategic planning session. The right stakeholders and subject matter experts need to be involved, but too large of a group stymies creativity. Make sure you understand all of the participants personalities. Being prepared for the different individuals in the room will help you pick the best methods for extracting their thoughts and knowledge. Know when to utilize a trained facilitator; I know many of us think we can do it all, but sometimes that simply isn’t the case. When key stakeholders are wearing the hat of facilitator and the hat of contributor, it can limit their ability to do either effectively.

    • Facilitator Tip: Consider using the “Think Pair Share technique,” if some participants are less likely to contribute than others. Have individuals write their reactions/responses to the question on paper, and then organize participants into small groups of two to four to discuss. After this, have each small group report out to the larger group.
  3. Know the Content and Process - Plan for each phase of the strategic planning session, and develop a process to achieve the outcome you desire for each. A strategic planning session includes many parts; some parts you want to give information, and during others, you want to illicit information from your participants. When you consider each phase of your strategic planning session separately, think, "What is the outcome, and what is the best process to use to achieve this?" This will enable you to choose a process that will encourage the level of thinking needed to reach the desired outcome. Processes such as brainstorming, decision making, small group activities, and independent activities will yield different results.

    • Facilitator Tip: Avoid Gator Brain (a human instinct which kills creativity) by using Bob Eckert’s POINT method if you need to make a decision after brainstorming. In this method, you review each option by deliberately looking, in this order, for the Pluses, Opportunities, Issues, and New Thinking (POINT) to generate solutions to overcome the most critical issues. This method opens the door for creative solutions by incorporating strong discussion techniques.
  4. Know the Environment – Select the right tools to fit the needs of your strategic planning session. Make room arrangements that are best for the work that needs to be accomplished. Creating an environment that is safe and high in energy is critical to success.

    • Facilitator Tip: Establish ground rules to create an environment that feels safe. This helps the facilitator and the participants gain clarity on how they will work together. My favorite facilitator rule when writing on flip charts in front of the group is, “If it looks like the word, it is the word!” (Hint: Typically people laugh at this, and laughter equals a safe space.)
  5. Know How to Guide – Create questions in advance that focus on key outcomes so you will be equipped to keep the conversation flowing in the right direction during your strategic planning session. Also plan for how you will steer the conversation if it should it get off track (which will happen!). A large role of the facilitator is to be the guide of the content during the session.

    • Facilitator Tip: Give an ELMO card to each participant to use as a good conversation steering tool. It stands for “Enough Let’s Move On,” and it has the added benefit of allowing the group to self-sensor their discussions.
  6. Know How to Adjust - Watch how the event unfolds and adjust as needed; the facilitator’s role is keeping the right pace, time and energy in the meeting room. Have additional questions, activities and processes in your back pocket to pull out if you need to redirect your strategic planning session to get back on course.

    • Facilitator Tip: Being respectful of the participants' time is important. If you find you are running behind, engage the group. Ask the group if they would like to extend the time or adjust the agenda, to empower them, and give them accountability for their choice.

This year, put it on your list to know how to plan for facilitating an impactful strategic planning session. A well thought out strategic plan can be critical to business success, and if done well, it can bring an organization measurably closer to business goals. Rather than simply looking hopeful writing this goal down, look accomplished as you strike a line through, “Plan for Strategic Planning Success” as you close out a rock star strategic planning session.

Need help with your next strategic planning session? Download flyer on Strategic Planning help or contact PathShare HR Services®.

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Category: Business Practices

About The Author

Arial Harland

Arial Harland is a Human Resources & Organizational Development Consultant with PathShare® HR Services Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services, where she enjoys fostering relationships with business owners by helping them with their organizational challenges. Arial joined GreatAmerica in 2014 and she is a certified AVA Analyst through Bizet Human Asset Management. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Sciences and Psychology at Coe College and is currently pursuing a Master of Organizational Leadership through St. Ambrose University.


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