THE POWER OF STRATEGY FACILITATION:
Four golden principles to successfully facilitate a strategy process
Strategy facilitation provides the base for leadership and respective team members to see past internal boundaries and evolves their thinking methods in a purposeful and directional way to achieve a cohesive and structured strategy. As part of effective strategy facilitation, it is crucial to bring your team along for the journey to achieve buy-in and a certain level of responsibility. The power of strategy facilitation ultimately lies in creating the much-needed space, time and structures for open conversations and internal collaboration.
Strategy facilitation can either be conducted by a leader within the organisation or led by an external professional who is considered an expert in the field. Step Advisory has been leading strategy facilitations for the past 15 years. Through this experience, we have pinpointed four golden principles that have proven successful in facilitating strategy across a range of organisations.
The following principles can be used to guide any organisation through strategy facilitation, with the end goal of developing an achievable, realistic strategy document that permeates through the organisation.
1. The power of the thinking environment
“The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking”
– Nancy Klein, Time to think
When conducting strategy facilitation, it is important to ensure that every team member feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas so that an abundant level of mentality can be achieved. In Nancy Klein’s well-known book Time to Think, she talks extensively about the need to create a ‘thinking environment.’ Critical to this is the ability to create a space where team members feel that their opinions are valued and that they won’t be judged or interrupted during their time to contribute.
In every organisation, teams are made up of a variety of personalities. The spectrum of personalities includes team members who talk while thinking and sharing, while others who think through the idea first and only then express their thoughts to the remainder of the team. To conduct effective strategy facilitation, it is important to create a sense of equality amongst team members so that everyone gets a chance to speak openly and freely. Not only does this stimulate an environment where everyone feels that they can share their thoughts, but it also increases the quality of discussion through improved attention and dedication to the conversation.
If team members’ ideas are considered in formulating the strategy, they will inherently gain a sense of responsibility inputting said strategy into action. It is important to emphasise here that time must be given to deciding who, in addition to leadership members, will be included in the session to ensure diversity of perspective. By including team members beyond leadership, a certain level of buy-in and accountability will be created, and leadership project bias can be avoided. Often individuals in the thick of the business have different views on what should be prioritised, and this too should be taken into account.
The power of the thinking environment sits in creating an environment that gives an opportunity to provide input and encourages team members to switch their thought processes to strategic thinking, helping the organisation think better together.
2. The power of preparation
“Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture”
– Amelia Earhart
A ‘typical’ strategy facilitation process can be broken down into two parties. The strategy facilitator and the organisation and both play a role in ensuring the session is as effective as possible. It is vital that both parties are aligned and they have the same goals in mind to ensure that time is used efficiently and effectively. Typically, the strategy facilitator needs to prepare by conducting research on the organisation, setting up one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders to get to know the leadership team, and sending out surveys to respective team members to hear their concerns. The organisation also needs to prepare by taking time to consider their concerns and their goals for the main session.
A team is made up of a variety of personalities, and as a facilitator, to ensure that every member is heard, a variety of tools can be used to create the base that will then be used in the workshop:
To fully understand the leadership team, their concerns and goals – interviews have been found to be the most effective tool. Not only are they successful in creating a sense of trust between the two respective parties, but it is also an effective way to kick-off the process and understand where the core challenges lie.
To ensure that all voices are heard and the power of preparation is achieved, an effective tool used to hear out team members’ concerns is in the form of an anonymous survey. This allows individuals to speak openly on how they feel and provides the facilitator an opportunity to ask difficult questions and confront certain assumptions.
In order to shake a leadership team out of their comfort zone and to really stretch their thinking they often need to lift their heads and understand external market and customer factors that could create challenges or opportunities for their organisation. Some leadership teams do this better than others and so there is not always a requirement for it. Where required we would strongly recommend conducting market research prior to the facilitated workshops, in order to understand market trends and potential future disruptors that need to be considered when setting the strategic direction. To try and foresee some of the innovations that are taking place that are changing the consumer dynamic, even in the short term, would be useful to know when workshopping the key strategic themes for the future. Desktop market research is a valuable input into the preparation for a successful strategy facilitation process.
Review of previous strategies:
It is important to ask the organisation for any previous strategies. This will help provide the necessary context to meet the team where they are currently.
To reap the rewards and achieve the power that sits in preparation, it is vital to truly understand the organisation and the people who make up the team before jumping right in and disrupting the business processes that are effective.
3. The power of time and space
“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters”
Throughout the years of being in the industry of strategy facilitation, we have realised that the more time allocated to prepare and conduct the facilitation, the more effective, relevant, and achievable the final strategy will be. It is important to provide enough time to create the space necessary to think. As with the power of preparation, the responsibility to set time aside to create the necessary space sits both with the facilitator and the organisation.
If the facilitator has spent time understanding the organisation, its culture, how they make decisions and what the business processes involve, he/she will be able to effectively direct the conversation and focus on key-issues that need to be addressed.
It is important to allow everyone the time and space to reflect on the present but also contemplate what the future could look like. By providing the time to do this, everyone will arrive at the facilitation knowing where they stand, what they would like to focus on and what they would like the end-outcome to be.
Facilitator + Organisation:
The aspect of time also includes the number of hours spent with the team in thinking, challenging, and collaborating on the strategy. By spreading the facilitation over two-days, the team is given the opportunity to reflect, reset and sleep on ideas. It also gives the facilitator time to collate all the ideas and present the findings the following day.
4. The power of externality
“Without a compass bearing, a ship would neither find its port nor be able to estimate the time required to get there”
– Peter Drucker
Strategy facilitations are often more effective when conducted by an external professional. In this case, acting as the compass helps to steer the ship towards its end goal. While providing an organisation with direction, often helps to bring in a fresh perspective that has no emotional connection to the organisation and is completely independent of any internal restrictions or possible red tape.
While guiding the ship towards port, placing the team in an external environment, off-site, is an important factor to consider. Through experience, we often find that clients prefer to attend strategy facilitations outside of their everyday structure, away from everyday operations. By placing the team in an external environment, there is an opportunity for leaders and team members to experience a mind-switch and begin to stretch their ideas beyond the four walls of their office space.
The power of externality sits in the ability to create an atmosphere of neutral or unbiased facilitation while being able to ask difficult questions and confront any existing assumptions. It successfully creates an open environment where team members are not scared of expressing their views and where leaders can sit on the side-line and provide an opportunity for their team to contribute.
Trying to define one’s strategy can be a daunting task. Still, if you are able to action these four golden principles to guide the strategic facilitation process, the organisation is bound to end up with a powerful, actionable strategy that is achievable across all divisions.