Types of Strategy Meetings
What are the different types of strategy meetings and workshops, when should you use each one, and how can you ensure they are successful?
Not all Strategy meetings are created equal. Each type of strategy meeting has a time and a purpose.
You could just muddle through your strategy process with one or more poorly structured workshops or meetings. But, by understanding the different types of strategy meetings, you can ensure that you use the right type at the right time, and set each up for success.
Divergent versus convergent
Before deciding what type of meeting you want to have, you should consider whether you need it for a divergent or a convergent process.
Divergent processes are used to gather as much evidence from as many different perspectives as you can. They are also used to generate as wide a variety of options as possible.
Convergent processes are used for narrowing things down, making decisions and taking options off the table.
These processes are very different. They may require different groups of attendees, and different processes of facilitation.
1-1 versus group meetings
If you need to meet with a number of people, you can choose to meet with them all together, or one at a time.
1-1 meeting may be more effective for delving deeply into someone perspective or specific area of expertise. Provided you can establish sufficient trust, people may be willing and able to reveal things in a 1-1 session that they would not in a group environment. But group meetings could reveal a group dynamic which may be vital to the development and execution of the strategy.
As a result, you may need to use a combination of both.
There is no definitive list. But here are some typical types of group meetings.
1- Strategy Focus Groups
A strategy Focus Group is useful for collecting a wide range of insights, opinions and perspectives very quickly. (This is a divergent process.)
This information can be captured in free form, or summarised using a range of frameworks like SWOT, PESTEL, FiveForces, etc.
The aim of the session is to get a breadth of views, rather than depth. It is not necessary for participants to agree with each other. Simply surface and capture all of the different views.
It is unlikely that the participants will have the supporting evidence and data with them at the time. So it may be necessary to gather that evidence and/or conduct research into what is discussed after the fact.
Participants can be both internal (experts and staff from all levels in the organisation) or external (customers, suppliers, distributors). It is not necessary for the participants to be decision-makers - only that they can offer a range of views. It may be prudent to segregate different sub-groups into different meetings, so that, for example, less senior staff are not reluctant to speak in front of more senior leaders.
The discussion can range from historic problems to desired future states.
Like all types of focus groups, Strategy Focus Groups provide qualitative input which can (and probably should) be supplemented by other methods and quantitative input.
2- Strategic Option Development Workshops
A strategic Option Development Workshop is designed to generate as many ideas as possible about what the organisation could choose to do moving forward. It is also a divergent process.
It typically takes the form of some sort of brainstorming exercise, where, "there is no such thing as a bad idea". Conversation about each idea should be limited to understanding what the idea is. Not proving or disproving its feasibility, or detailing implementation plans, costs or benefits. That will come later. Specifically, no decisions are made.
Participants should be selected based on their creativity. It may make sense to include people from outside of the normal organisation structure, or even outside of the organisation altogether. They should be given materials, such as the output from Strategy Focus Groups and any subsequent research off the back of these, as input to their work.
After the session, smaller groups can be assigned to explore options in more detail and develop high levels plans. However, overly detailed planning should be avoided because it leads to people becoming wedded to ideas which may still not be carried forward.
3- Strategic Planning Meetings
Strategic Planning Meetings are convergent processes where decision-makers formulate an organization's long-term vision, define its mission, set strategic goals and objectives and priorities and agree on initiatives and action plans.
They will use the output from Strategy Focus Groups and Strategic Option Development Workshops.
However, whilst in these preceding two meetings different views and conflicting options were encouraged, in the Strategic Planning Meeting, participants must make choices. This entails making trade-offs and taking options off the table. In divergent meetings, there is space for all ideas. In a convergent meeting like the Strategic Planning Meeting, some ideas must be chosen and others not.
Whilst experts and supporting staff may be invited to present analysis and plans for consideration, it should be clear who the decision makers are, and how the decisions will be made.
The result of a Strategic Planning Meeting is an agreed strategic plan.
4- Strategy Presentation Meetings
In a Strategy Presentation Meeting, the team who prepared the strategy (usually the attendees of the Strategic Planning Meetings) presents it to another group for approval or ratification. The other group will typically be the next layer up in the governance structure. This could be a layer of management above them, or the Board.
The outcome of the meeting is either approval or ratification of the strategy, or to send the team back to do further work and answer specific questions.
5- Strategy Review Sessions
Once a strategy is in place, Strategy Review Session should be held quarterly at least, if not more often. Their remit should be to review progress against KPIs and Initiatives (See Scorecard and Status report in StratNavApp.com) in order to ascertain if the strategy is being executed and appears to be working as intended, and to signal any early signs of trouble. It is important for the participant to always remain mindful of the original rationale (goals, insights, etc.) behind the strategy when doing so.
The Strategy Review Session should be short and sharp. If any issues are identified, its role is to escalate them to management who may then commission deep dives to get to the bottom of them. They could typically spawn Strategy Focus Groups to get more insight into the possible causes and implications of the issue.
Avoid combining different types of strategy meetings. They need different attendees. The attendees need to be in different mindsets (e.g. divergent versus convergent). Switching between mindsets is difficult and seldom works. You usually need space between different types of meetings to do more detailed work.
It is almost always better to have your sessions facilitated by an objective and experienced professional. They will help to ensure your meeting stays on track and remains true to its intent and purpose.
- Plan and schedule meetings and agendas. Decide attendees. Record minutes and actions arising.
- Provide a structured repository for insights, options, goals and plans to carry the content between meetings.