Short & Focused Makes for Better Strategy

teamIn my experience, leadership teams get together every so often to discuss strategy in dedicated one, two or three day sessions. These ‘events’ are usually fairly structured with set agendas and extensive background preparation.

I’ve come to realize, after conducting dozens of these types of events for various clients, that these sessions clearly don’t enable the best results to emerge. Too often, decisions are made without sufficient information, participants feel rushed to complete the agenda in the allocated time and the added work needed to fully understand various choices is circumvented by the ‘everything done in the room’ factor.

Now, when I get a call asking me to facilitate these dedicated sessions, I try to influence leaders to host these conversations in ‘bite size’ pieces. It just makes more sense to have shorter conversations, making greater use of truly focused dialogue, rather than to try and force results into a lengthier event.

Here are five key questions you’ll want to answer to ensure you get the best results from your shorter and more focused conversations:

  1. What do we want to accomplish? Be crystal clear on the results you want to achieve for each of the conversations. And while an overall map of the way forward is essential, try not to be too restricted in setting outcomes for sessions scheduled down the road. Each completed conversation will naturally set the agenda, format and timing for the next session.
  2. assessments mazeWho must be in attendance for our upcoming conversation? Rather than invite everyone that you think might be interested, or has an informed perspective, be highly selective in choosing those who are essential to the information sharing and decision-making process. Avoid the ‘crowd creep’ phenomenon where a smaller group evolves into a much larger gathering. You can involve others at various stages in the advance or subsequent engagement process but keep the group ‘tight’ to get quality results in the time available. 
  3. What’s the basic information that we need to start our initial conversations? Instead of embarking on lengthy background scans and data collection, identify only those elements relevant to your first few conversations. As decision points emerge, you’ll then want to gather additional relevant information to inform your discussions. Look at the ‘discovery’ process as a continuous effort, informing both current and future conversations.
  4. Where do we start? Begin your strategy conversations by reflecting on your past experiences and highlight where you’ve had real success. Use this information to inform the steps that must be undertaken to move your agenda forward. Try to incorporate your strategy conversations into real work time and space, not secluded far away from the worksite.
  5. What do we need to create/develop to enhance the conversation? Always bring draft materials into your strategy conversations, work that has been developed in advance or your team conversation. Rather than start with a blank canvas, provide actual content to jump start the discussions and allow participants to reflect and comment on something tangible rather than struggle to create ‘real time’ content that lacks any particular depth.

Changing the dedicated all day strategy discussion into a series of shorter, more focused, conversations will bring you higher quality and more actionable results. This in itself is more than enough reason to change the format and content of your next strategy ‘event’.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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