Now is the time of year during which many teams have offsite meetings to plan strategy for the coming year and beyond. I’m often asked for ideas on how to get the most out of these get-togethers. Here are some thoughts:
I. THE STORY OF THE BUSINESS
As leaders, you know the core metrics of the business and how they have changed over time. Rather than put these into a slick PowerPoint, think about addressing them with a Dry Erase marker and a whiteboard. Draw a set of charts and graphs as part of a high-level discussion.
It’s really important to look at these data sets over time. A single data point doesn’t tell you much, but a series of data point over three to five years tells a story.
Draw the story, and then ask participants to tell the story behind the numbers. What are different interpretations of the story for each data point? Don’t jump to conclusions. Write down the story lines you hear.
II. REFLECTION ON THE MISSION
Ask participants ahead of time to prepare their individual business plans that you as a leader can review prior to the meeting. This should encompass their projections for the coming one-to-three years in terms of the metrics you care about (revenue, new accounts, marketing plan, personal development). Some people will look at this assignment as a chore, and others as an opportunity. Your job as a leader is to make sure they see it as a template for their being in control of their own growth, income and career destiny. Consider giving them a simple template to work from so they can spend their time being creative rather than having to come up with a format.
III. THE COLLECTIVE SNAPSHOT DEFINING WHERE WE ARE NOW
Many offsite meetings include discussion of the company’s mission statement, if one exists. Is it right, does it need revision? I’ve always found this to be a tough exercise because there’s rarely a proper context for the discussion. Rather than including mission statement as an agenda item, think about having large notepads on easels around a room and asking participants to do a live SWOT analysis of the business. Give each person a Sharpie and have them reflect on the team’s/company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. SWOT analysis is old as the hills, but it’s a powerful strategic meeting starter.
Next, pin those SWOT pages on the wall and then re-start with clean pages on the flip charts. On each chart, write a provocative question that’s relevant to your business. Some examples:
IV. CO-CREATING THE FUTURE
Now that you’ve spent some time getting your team thinking, versus what many team leaders do, which is to tell their team members what to think, you are in a much better position to co-create a strategic plan for the next one to three years. Consider having working groups of two or three people do some necessary follow up, things like:
Summarizing the meeting and reminding everyone of outcomes and commitments
Creating dates for deliverables that were outcomes of the meeting
Setting the next check-in meeting of the team to make sure your annual offsite doesn't take place and then become quickly forgotten, but is the foundation for a continuous strategic effort that unfolds all year long.
Usually, leaders and managers do this this follow-up work themselves, but it doesn't have to be that way. This is an opportunity for people to stretch and do things that are beyond their job description -- and that's a great way to build muscle as a team.