10 Tips for Successful Strategy Workshops

Monday, 11. July 2016

Organizing and conducting workshops is challenging; particularly when it comes to addressing such important issues as corporate strategy development and implementation. After all, the results of strategy workshops can have major impact on the company’s future performance—positively or negatively. New business ideas developed in workshops can lead to continued success in the market place. Half-hearted, subjective analyses, on the other hand, can cause wrong assessments of changes in the business environment and, subsequently, missing out on key trends and opportunities. Therefore, here are 10 tips on how to get the most out of your next strategy workshop.

  • Setting specific goals: Strategy work is a broad field with many facets that can hardly all be discussed during a single workshop. Set yourself specific goals what questions should be addressed and answered during the workshop. Focus on strategy development or implementation. Concentrate on clearly outlined questions such as business innovation, M&A, or the entry into new markets.

  • Selecting the right participants: The selection of participants should be based on the goals of the workshop. Make sure to have a good mix of people that reflect the different perspectives on the topic at hand. Besides internal stakeholders, such as managers and employees from different divisions and hierarchy levels of the organization, you may also want to invite external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and partners. This helps to bring more objectivity into the discussion and gain a more holistic picture.

    Moreover, keep in mind that it is not always necessary for all participants to attend the entire workshop. In the agenda of the workshop which you send out in advance, make sure to indicate who should attend which sessions. Busy managers and executives will appreciate your consideration.

  • Informing participants in advance: A week or two before the workshop starts, email all participants the agenda so they have sufficient time to prepare themselves. Also, let participants know which information about their departments or fields of activity will be needed during the workshop (e.g., SWOT analyses). This way, they will be ready to get to work right away during the retreat.

  • Decision making: Workshop participants should be aware whether they are supposed to make decisions that will be supported by the senior leadership or just recommendations that senior leadership will take into consideration. Both is perfectly legitimate, provided it is clearly communicated to avoid any disappointment or frustration. If participants are to make decisions, it should be also determined whether these must be made unanimously or by majority.

  • Open discussions: All participants regardless of their position within the organization should be given the opportunity to speak freely and to be heard. If necessary, let the participants write down their ideas and views on certain issues on a piece of paper. To assure anonymity, make sure paper and pens are all the same color.

  • Choosing a facilitator: Rather than facilitating the workshop yourself, get help from a professional and experienced workshop facilitator who ensures that the workshop goals and timelines are met. Outside facilitators also have the great advantage that they are able to maintain a neutral position throughout brainstorming and debate and ask uncomfortable questions which people from inside the organization might not dare to ask. Many strategy consulting agencies offer such workshop facilitating services. Use them to ensure that time is used efficiently.

  • Recording the minutes of the workshop: Again, leave the work to someone else who does not participate in the discussions himself/herself and can focus solely on the task of recording the minutes of the workshop.

  • Methods: Avoid giving long PowerPoint presentations that force participants to just passively sit and listen. Instead, apply creative and motion-based methods which require participants to use both their minds and bodies. Role playing, for example, is an excellent way to engage people, make them feel more relaxed, and encourage them to look at issues from different perspectives.

  • Location: If you have the budget to hold your workshop off-site in a quiet rural setting, then do so. It will help participants to fully concentrate on the issues at hand, to reflect, and to think in wider terms. Strategic thinking is easier when you leave your familiar working environment, yet are not overwhelmed by external stimuli, as it is often the case in metropolitan city, for instance.

  • Follow-up plan: At the end of the workshop, your work is not done yet, unfortunately. The results and next steps need to be documented and communicate to all participants (for example, via email or intranet). Everyone should know and understand what he or she is expected to do and until when. Also make sure to inform participants about what happened after the workshop. The participants have a legitimate interest in knowing whether or not their efforts have resulted in decisions and actions by senior management. This will affect their willingness to actively participate in future strategy workshops. Finally, seek feedback from the participants in order to obtain comments and suggestions on how to make your next strategy workshop even more successful.