Notes from a Strategic Planning Facilitator

Here are some takeaways from two decades of facilitating strategic meetings from strategic planning facilitator.

  • Achieve clarity
  • Design a process
  • Keep the techniques simple
  • Use appropriate technologies
  • Manage the Process
  • Focus on listening

Achieve clarity about why the clients are doing this. Use pre-meetings to undercover the stated and unstated reasons. Play back to clients through conversation, with diagrams and within the engagement proposal, the purpose and the type of outcomes that are expected.

Design a process that can achieve those outcomes, within the available time. Clients can’t be expected to have a realistic understanding of what can be accomplished within a facilitated session.

Keep the techniques simple. Complex facilitation techniques seldom prosper. Our clients have sufficiently complex challenges to address. They don’t need difficult ways of discussing them. I believe in introducing models that provide a structured approach, or a context for discussions.

Use appropriate technologies. If the ROI is worth it, everybody should be in the room. If the ROI doesn’t warrant everybody coming, we should question the need for the session. Because there is always a danger when some of the participants are joining through web connections. It can undermine everybody’s overall experience. And if participants join by conference call, it is generally suicidal for the facilitator. Everyone needs to hear what is being said, see who is saying it, and visualize what is being posted. Having said that, I am a big believer in digital presentations, including video. But in the end, it is hard to beat the utility of flip charts, post-it notes and lots of wall space.

Manage the Process. Clients are relying on us to get the group to an agreed destination, at the right time. We must have confidence in our process, although we need to strategically compress and expand the timing of individual segments. We must resist entreaties from participants like “what if we did it slightly differently….”? Failure to resist these suggestions can result in the process going over the cliff.

Focus on listening. We as strategic planning facilitators are doing a lot of things. We need to present information. We need to coordinate group exercises. We need to document the discussions. But most importantly we need to listen acutely. We need to listen for both content and dynamics. Its our deep comprehension of the process, in real time, which enables us to make appropriate interventions that can be instrumental in our clients’ success.

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