It’s the time of year once again for leadership teams to establish the company’s direction and budget for the upcoming year in a focused strategic action planning session (also known as StrAP).
At this time of year—the “End Of The Year Gear Up” as I call it—everyone wants to wrap up the year as best they can. But before everyone stops what they’re doing to head into that off-site planning meeting, there are a few things that are worth considering:
It’s great to have a roadmap to follow, so everyone can take the journey together. A good way to kickoff any strategic planning meeting is something that bonds and aligns the group, as they reflect about what was accomplished over the past year, and what is the vision ahead. It’s important to prioritize building team chemistry before the planning meeting even starts. At the end of the day…people drive results, not ideas.
The discussion that will ensue will be some of the hardest ones to have. Running a business can sometimes seem easier than actually getting a group of people to be honest with each other and form a consensus.
To ensure everyone gives it the focus and gravitas it deserves, the overall vision should be driven by the founders or the CEO. Beyond that, though, it’s beneficial if there is some aspect of the session that each person will own. This helps build a feeling of collaboration and ownership. As for the actual planning and logistics of the event, if you have someone in charge of people strategy, they would be perfect for this.
When preparing for the planning session, be sure to build in that cohesive team bonding. I like to call it “team chemistry”. Team chemistry is something that people are still trying to uncover and unpack, because it is a new word in the corporate world. Ideally, it’s a new way of looking at culture and engagement.
Like a jigsaw puzzle, while every member of the team is unique, you want it all to fit nicely together to create one cohesive picture. You are not asking each person to change, you actually want them to show up as they truly are. Encourage everyone to open up and talk with each other and address the things they need to discuss. Make sure to carve out time while everyone is together to help each person in the group know and trust each other.
Just getting people together in the same place for recreation, though, often isn’t enough.
For it to have value, there has to be trust, connection and understanding. It’s so important, in fact, that some companies build in exercises around what it takes to build trust.
If you are serious about establishing team chemistry in advance of your planning session, be sure to consider the timeline and logistics involved. Determine how many people are involved, and how many hours out of their day it will require.
About 30 days before the off-site planning session, I give the team an assessment using a vehicle called DISC. This framework provides a new universal language for conversations about teamwork that is both constructive and helpful. I like these types of behavioral tools because they replace opinions with data.
I meet with the team one-on-one to review their profile, and I learn more about them while they’re getting to learn a lot about themselves. Then I take them through a session together about how the team chemistry of their combined profile shows the way this team will work together in one, cohesive view. It takes a couple of weeks to have everyone take it and meet with me.
You want to have these sessions as close to your strategic planning day as possible so it’s fresh in their minds about how their team chemistry is going to help them create better business decisions together. This also becomes a healthy catalyst for dialog about how interactions are going within the team.
In addition to the value this process brings to any strategic plan, it also has a positive impact on everyone’s day-to-day behavior. Each person on the team is learning something about themselves, and—just as importantly—understanding how other people are different. It’s an investment of time with an unending ROI. Once they start to understand it, their whole world becomes easier for them, because they have improved the way they engage and interact with everyone.
If your team has already benefited from a similar process in the past, now may be a good time to schedule a refresher assessment that focuses on specific areas, such as conflict resolution or effective communication. This can reinforce the initial insights gained in the original workshop, but also benefits from having had time to live with the new insights in the real world, and now can be a valuable opportunity to discuss any questions, identify new opportunities for growth, and more.
To get the team excited about an upcoming strategic planning meeting, plan a session that is motivating and inspiring. It should be something that is very people-bonding and cohesive first, before embarking on some of the more tactical and roadmapping discussions about the future. Ideally, it brings people together in a casual, friendly atmosphere so they don’t feel like they’re locked in a room with a whiteboard for days.
This allows people to connect and appreciate each other. They should feel a sense of psychological safety where they can say anything to each other. Otherwise, how do we really know what is working, or not working, if everyone just pretends that all is fine?
In the past, golf has been one traditional way to do this, but many companies are now getting creative with different methods to approach this. For example, cooking has become a very neutral way of getting people to open up and have these conversations.
You are doing the important work of defining the company roadmap for the entire year. To ensure optimal results, consider optimizing the people dynamics, even before the meeting happens. Trust within a team is something that cannot be engineered…it must be earned. It is the willingness to be vulnerable, and say those things to each other that are needed in order to build the right plan.
At its best, strategic action plans have team alignment first, project planning second.