strategic planning facilitation guide

Strategic Planning Workshop Facilitation Guide

strategic planning facilitation guide

This guide sets out a proven, straight forward approach to facilitating a simple, but effective, one day strategic planning workshop that will quickly clarify the strategic direction of any team or organisation.

At the end of the day, you will have worked your way through a one-page strategic plan that you can use to guide and share with your broader organisation.

This facilitation guide sets out an approach, including supporting documentation such as agendas and facilitation notes, and complements our tool for capturing and communicating the outputs, the Team Alignment Canvas .

Download tags: Free strategicplanfacilitationguide

strategic planning facilitation guide

How to Facilitate a Strategic Planning Session [2024 Strategic Planning Workshop]

By Ted Skinner

strategy planning

Annual & Quarterly Planning

how to facilitation a strategic planning session

At Rhythm Systems, our consultants are trained strategic facilitators who are crucial in strategic planning. They are planning experts who help you get the most ROI from your meeting with their expert facilitation skills. We have facilitated hundreds of successful Strategic Planning , Annual Planning , and Quarterly Planning sessions for our clients. In this blog post, we will share expert insights from these sessions so that you can scale up your company. Strategy planning (and expert facilitation) is vital as the longer-term strategic priorities drive the shorter-term goals, projects, and actions with complete organizational alignment .

Note to strategic CEOs: Along with our ability to educate, coach, and facilitate specific content and methodology during on-site sessions, one of the main reasons CEOs choose to bring us in to run their sessions is so that the CEO can fully participate and implement their 5 year plan template . It is impossible for a CEO to effectively facilitate a session with all the stakeholders and fully participate simultaneously. The CEO's contribution and participation is significant to reach the desired outcome. Session facilitation is an extra burden that is better placed on another team member or an expert facilitator. You should learn to be a good facilitator with tips and tricks or consult with us to see if hiring an expert makes sense.

Free Guide: How to Facilitate a Strategic Planning Session

Rhythm Systems Annual Planning Facilitation Guide

Strategic Planning Facilitation Step 1: THINK Through the Purpose and Outcome of the Meeting

Stephen Covey advises us to "begin with the end in mind." What is the purpose of this meeting? What do we hope to accomplish? Who should attend? What are our strategic objectives for this workshop? What work should the meeting participants get done before the meeting (research and homework)? What are the specific outcomes or outputs we are looking for from this strategic planning session? What is the role of a facilitator in a strategic planning session? Do we need a plan B for a potential 2024 recession ?

Creating an Objective Statement that you can share with the rest of the team in advance is a great way to ensure everyone who attends the meeting has shared goals and expectations for your time together. It will also clarify you as you move into step 2 and begin planning for the session. Make sure that this aligns with your mission statement. This differs from  team meetings ; setting expectations upfront is critical for your strategic objectives. 

An Objective Statement consists of three parts:

Part 1: TO : (What is the action? What will you do? Start with a verb.)

Part 2. IN A WAY THAT : (How will you do it? List criteria, scope, involvement, success measures, specific tactics, side benefits, or any other relevant information. Use bullet points.)

Part 3. SO THAT : (Why are you doing this? Why is it essential? What is the main benefit?)

Sample Objective Statement for one company's Quarterly Planning Session

QUARTERLY PLANNING OBJECTIVE STATEMENT

TO : Conduct a practical strategic planning session

IN A WAY THAT:

  • Brings the Senior Leadership Team together for two full days to develop an effective strategy
  • Highlights the previous quarter's accomplishments
  • Updates and advances our Annual Plan and long-term goal attainment
  • It allows us to discuss-debate-agree critical topics as a team
  • It prepares us to overcome any potential obstacles to hitting our year-end goals
  • Identifies 3-5 Company Priorities, complete with owners and clear success criteria
  • Identifies clear Individual Priorities for each member of the leadership team
  • Prepares us to begin thinking about next year's Annual Plan
  • It allows us to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Answers the key questions facing our company and industry
  • It helps us clearly define and communicate our business strategy to the entire organization
  • Fun ideas for strategic planning are always considered and change up the energy in the room

SO THAT : We finish this year strong and set ourselves up for a solid start to next year.

Professional Strategic Planning Facilitation Video

Strategic planning facilitation step 2: plan all the details in advance.

Anytime you bring your team together for a meeting, whether for a few hours or days, you invest time, energy, and money. The way to ensure you get the most out of your investment is to be adequately prepared. The preparation checklist below will help you.

Download the Meeting Facilitation Guide

Strategic Planning Process Meeting Preparation Checklist

  • Set the date – You will want to determine and set the date as soon as possible so that everyone on your team can attend. The longer you wait, the harder it is to find a time that works. If this is an ongoing, standing meeting, ensure everyone has it on their calendar every time it occurs and actively works to protect the scheduled time with the team.
  • Select the Facilitator – It is essential to pick the right person to facilitate your session. The facilitator is responsible for creating the agenda, preparing content material (slides/visuals), arriving early to ensure setup and materials, testing technology, and facilitating the session. If you must choose someone on your team who will be in attendance, remember to occasionally stop during the meeting and ask their opinion if not previously shared. If you choose someone who would not usually be in attendance, ensure they understand that their job is to facilitate, not offer opinions on discussions they would not typically be involved in. Role clarity is essential.
  • Select a location – A meeting or planning session in your conference room can be ineffective. The opportunity to lose focus and be interrupted by operational issues increases exponentially. This is fine for short, weekly, routine meetings, but we recommend taking your team off-site for 1-2 day planning sessions. 
  • Choose a Meeting Coordinator – This person is in charge of handling all of the logistics for the meeting, making sure participants have made travel arrangements, the conference room (on-site or off-site) is booked and set up for the session, and that all participants are aware of any homework/preparation that is needed for the session. Use someone on your team who is meticulous with details and have them build a strategic planning checklist for future meetings.
  • Prepare the meeting material – You and the facilitator should refer to your Objective Statement when creating the agenda. Be careful not to overload your agenda. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have available. Create a basic time plan to accompany your agenda. This will help you know whether or not you are on track during the meeting. Less is more when it comes to slides. The old rule was no more than 6x6 (six words long by six bullets). In today's Twitter and drive-through world, you're better served to stick to 4x4 or, better yet, 3x3. Consider revealing information one bullet point at a time, especially if you must have more than 6x6 on a slide, and always ensure it is written for your target audience.   Use our AI Goal Coach if you have any questions!
  • Email the meeting agenda and pre-work to the attendees - Communicate with all attendees at least two weeks before the session, sharing the objective statement, agenda, and any pre-work you want them to do. Realize that some people - even with proper instruction - may be in the habit of attending meetings unprepared. If you consider the pre-work essential, let the team know that it's mandatory and require them to return it in advance, or instruct them to bring copies to the meeting and build time to share the output into your agenda. This will allow people to think about the strategic goals for themselves and the company ahead of the meeting.
  • Last minute details - Work with the meeting coordinator to ensure all the meeting details have been addressed: supplies ordered, lunch planned, technology arrangements made, attendance confirmed, action plans, etc.

Remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish in the available time and set the agenda appropriately. The strategic planning facilitator must also keep the team focused on having the proper discussions for your organization. Understanding and working with the group dynamics is essential, especially in a large group. This related article can read more details about a virtual strategic planning session .

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Strategic Planning Facilitation Step 3: Do the Hard Work of Running the Strategy Session

Three definitions of the role of the facilitator:

  • "An individual who enables groups and organizations to work more effectively; to collaborate and achieve synergy. He or she is a 'content neutral' party who by not taking sides or expressing or advocating a point of view during the meeting, can advocate for fair, open, and inclusive procedures to accomplish the group's work."
  • "One who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions. A helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they achieve exceptional performance."
  • "The facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and practice. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding and cultivates shared responsibility. By supporting everyone to do their best thinking, a facilitator enables group members to search for inclusive solutions and build sustainable agreements."

The word facilitation means to make it easy. Too bad actually facilitating a group of people isn't. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, focus, quick thinking, and patience to facilitate a meeting. Following the first two steps in this blog post (Step 1: THINK and Step 2: PLAN), you are set up for a successful session. But there is still much work to do.

Here are 15 Tips to keep the strategy session moving positively.

Download a Facilitator Checklist  Roles and Responsibilities of a Great Facilitator

15 Expert Tips for Facilitating a Great Zoom Strategy Meeting

1. Set ground rules at the beginning of the meeting . Let the team discuss their expectations for full participation, candor, sidebars, interruptions, tangents, and cell phone and computer use. This conversation upfront creates an environment of accountability and high commitment to the meeting. Ground rules will help reduce the stress of group interaction and make it easier to resolve problems when they arise. Capture your ground rules on a flip chart while discussing and post for reference throughout the meeting. To start with some energy, I suggest using one of our Zoom icebreakers to get things started.

2. Trust the process . Remember that you have put a great deal of time into steps 1 & and 2, so you are going into the day with a good game plan. Sometimes, things seem disjointed, or the team doesn't understand where you're going. Tell them there is a method to the madness, and ask them to trust the process with you. When utilizing a slide deck and agenda provided by Rhythm Systems, know that the function and content have been tested and proven to work many times. It may not all come together until the very end, but if you are going in with a clear objective and well-thought-out agenda, the results you're looking for will follow, and problem-solving will occur.

annual planning

3. Give yourself permission to deviate from the time plan if a topic requires more time than you thought it would. As long as the additional time is used for good, healthy debates on important issues and not the beating of dead horses, it will be a good use of time. If you do deviate from the time plan, involve the team in deciding how you will make it up. You may choose to stay late or start early one day, or you may decide to cut or shorten the time allowed for another topic. Involving the team in this discussion and decision increases engagement, energy, and commitment (see #11).

4. Celebrate your progress as you move through the session. Reflect on lessons learned and breakthroughs. Acknowledge someone when they're brave enough to bring up a tricky subject. Check-in with each other to ensure you're all engaged. After breaks, consider restating what's been accomplished and where you are on the agenda.

5. Use icebreakers with purpose. Ice breakers are quick, interactive exercises designed to get the team's brain working and mouth moving. They are usually used at the beginning of a session, after breaks, and after lunch. They can also be great for raising the energy level late in the afternoon. A quick Google search will provide hundreds of ideas for icebreakers. One of our favorites is a quick round of victories or good news. This serves several purposes. It gives team members a chance to share information, allows them to get to know each other better, and starts the meeting positively. We recommend that you start every session with some version of good news.

6. Encourage full and equal participation. A team comprises many individuals, each with their own personality and preferred work style. Some are naturally more dominant and expressive, while others may be more thoughtful and reserved. One type is not better than another, and the fact that they're on your team means you value their input. The facilitator's job is to recognize these different styles and run the meeting in a way that gives each person a chance to contribute. This is a good discussion at the beginning of the session as you set the ground rules.

Set the expectation of full and equal participation clear and give the team a chance to discuss how they will do this. The facilitator may have to step in throughout the meeting, explicitly calling on individuals who have not spoken up. The facilitator may also design the meeting to include specific opportunities to hear from everyone. Examples of this would be small group breakout sessions or employing different brainstorming methods (see #8.)

7. Use visual aids effectively. Any combination of flip charts, whiteboards, sticky notes, posters, PowerPoint/Keynote, and handouts will do. We've all seen the person who used every animation tool within PowerPoint - wiggly jiggly icons, annoying animations, slides swiping in from 20 directions in 5 different ways. Don't overdo it; allow your visuals to distract from the meeting. People have different learning styles; Some are visual learners, some auditory, some kinesthetic, and some experiential, so mix it up and use all aids in moderation. Keep in mind that your body language is one of the most essential visual aids that you have; make sure that you make people feel like they are being heard.

virtual strategy planning facilitator

8. Use different methods for brainstorming. Round robin, freewheeling, group pass, and silent reflection are all proven methods you may try. Brainstorming aims to produce a comprehensive list of potential ideas, solutions, or plans. When done well, brainstorming should increase participation, reduce inhibition, stimulate ideas, increase creativity, and be a group process.

The general rules for all brainstorming methods are:

  • Focus on quantity first and capture as many ideas as possible.
  • Encourage and welcome all ideas - ask the team to dig deep and think beyond the obvious - every idea submitted should be captured.
  • Hold off on judgment, criticism, or reality checks - this should be a "safe time." Ideas will be discussed and debated later.
  • Use short phrases and bullet points, not paragraphs and lengthy explanations.
  • "Piggyback" on others' ideas. Outlandish ideas can be stepping stones to good, workable ideas.
  • Although giving a brief overview of brainstorming rules can be helpful, there's no need to go into an elaborate explanation. "Let's brainstorm annual priorities that will move us toward our 3-5 year strategic plan . Remember, let's not judge the ideas but just capture and understand them first." Then, begin your chosen method of brainstorming. As you move through the process, anticipate that someone will break the rules - that's when the facilitator steps in and makes the correction.

Round Robin

Ask for a volunteer to start the brainstorming process with one idea. The facilitator captures the idea on a flip chart for all to see. Ask the volunteer to choose whether to go to the right or the left, allowing the person sitting next to them to offer one idea. The facilitator continues to chart the answers, going around the room until everyone can contribute at least one picture. You can then try to take a second pass around the room if the ideas are flowing freely, or you may open it up to anyone who has another idea not previously mentioned.

Freewheeling

Suppose you're working with a group where equal participation is not an issue. In that case, you may be able to open the brainstorming session up by asking for ideas and allowing people to offer suggestions in any order at all. Use the participants' words to chart all ideas with short bullet points. This method can go fast, so you may want to ask for a volunteer to help chart answers using a second flip chart.

Each person in the group starts with a piece of paper, writes down one idea, and then passes the piece of paper to the next person. The following person then builds on the original idea, adding a few thoughts. Continue around the room until the owner returns their original piece of paper. You can then ask each person to take a minute to review their original idea and share it with the team.

Silent Reflection

Some people need a little time to think and formulate their ideas. Instruct the team that you give them a certain amount of time (5-15 minutes, depending on the topic) to think and write down their ideas. You can ask them to write their thoughts on sticky notes, one idea per note, or list them on paper. If you use sticky notes, you can ask them to read one statement at a time and place them on the wall, grouping all similar ideas together. If they are written on notebook paper, you can use the round-robin method to share and chart the ideas.

9. Use a Parking Lot. Stay on track by creating a place to capture ideas that are inappropriate to the discussion at hand but that you don't want to lose. Make it visible to all using a whiteboard, tear sheet, etc. This helps you keep the meeting focused without chasing too many "rabbit trails." It is important to honor all ideas, questions, and concerns during a session, and by placing the item in your parking lot, you send the subtle message that all contributions are essential. Refer to the parking lot items while facilitating when appropriate and review any unresolved items at the end of your session, moving them to an action item list. In a strategy meeting, you must keep the team on task; using a parking lot can help you accomplish that.

planning facilitator

10. Deal with difficult people ahead of time. Before your meeting, think about participants who tend to be outspoken, dominate, or argue in meetings. Think also about participants who may have felt bullied or intimidated or have a history of not participating openly. Have a conversation with these people before the session, explaining your concern and asking for their help in creating a healthy and productive environment. When talking to the dominant person, helpful language might include, "Jim, I'm trying to increase participation in this meeting. I appreciate your outspokenness and value your input. If it's ok with you, I'd like you to go last so I may first hear the rest of the team's thinking before you share yours." Be sure to reevaluate and give that participant a chance to share.

This is also an excellent topic to discuss while setting ground rules at the beginning of the session. Discuss the expectations for politeness and tone during the meeting, and ask the team for permission to point it out if things get off track. If a conflict arises during a meeting, the facilitator must be prepared to step in and take control of the meeting. Anytime the discussion becomes accusatory or personal, the facilitator can ask the participant to reword statements so that they are focused on solutions, facts, and business issues, not people and blame. An excellent technique for redirecting a heated discussion is to ask the team to discuss their learnings rather than their frustrations. Be sure to do this whenever the language becomes personal; before you know it, your team will police this behavior themselves. Conflict resolution is the central role of the facilitator.

11. Keep the energy high. Enthusiasm is contagious - and so is negativity. Some people need to doodle while they think, some need toys like a Koosh ball or rubber Gumby, others need talk time with other participants, and others need to stand up or walk around the room from time to time. Think through your meeting day and plan ways to keep the energy high for the entire time to keep the group paying attention.

Have participants work in pairs, write something down, work together on puzzles, make mini-presentations on topics assigned before and after breaks, schedule group breakout sessions, etc. Remember that the room's energy is often a notch or two below the facilitator's, so it is vital to keep your energy high. Try to get plenty of sleep the night before, eat well, have plenty of water on hand, and take breaks as needed, as group facilitation is challenging!

12. Get to a consensus. Many discussion topics require moving the group from several individuals, independent ideas to one agreed-upon group decision. Consensus can be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution everyone on the team can support. It does not mean that everyone on the team has to agree that this is their number one favorite resolution, just that they will support the decision in the future. Supporting a decision means that you will speak positively about the decision to others and do everything in your power to ensure the decision results in a positive outcome. You will not say," They decided."

Explaining the definition of consensus and support to the team at the beginning of the discussion can help resolve the issue. An essential step in reaching a consensus is ensuring that all ideas are evaluated, and everyone's perspective is heard. This is important in getting buy-in for the conclusion and generating the best ideas and solutions. Structuring a process for team decision-making is a critical facilitation skill.

Here are some tips to help team decision-making:

  • Use the brainstorming tips above to identify all viable solutions (see #8)
  • Combine and link similar ideas
  • Use structured methods, like The Six Thinking Hats, to help take the emotion out of the discussion.
  • Set a time limit for discussion on each potential solution
  • Make sure everyone is participating in the debate and, make sure everyone is actively listening and applying their listening skills
  • Work to narrow the options down to as few as possible
  • Don't be afraid to call for a vote to see how close the group is to completing the agreement
  • If there are just one or two holdouts, seek to understand what and how firm their objections are
  • Engage the group in troubleshooting to minimize the potential negative impact identified by any complaints or concerns raised
  • Restate the most popular resolution, adding one or two points addressing the concerns raised, and ask the holdouts if they can support that decision
  • Sometimes, people will get caught up in the moment and continue the debate just to argue. Ask the holdout if they will lose sleep if the group moves forward with the proposed resolution. Refer to the definition of support and ask if they will support the decision.
  • With consensus, there is often compromise. Only some get everything they want out of the final decision. However, because you created an environment where everyone has had an opportunity for input, the conclusions reached will often be very successful and highly supported.
  • If you are running a virtual strategic planning session,  visit the link to learn some additional tips to help you get the most out of your planning session.

annual planning

13. Document and publish the Who-What-When. Who-What-When action items are leading indicators of successful meeting outcomes. How often do teams meet, discuss, and debate critical topics, then set the next meeting date only to discover that no progress has been made at the next meeting? As the facilitator, it is essential that you make sure that every critical discussion ends in a documented action captured in an action list of Who is accountable (one person only), What they will do, and When it will be completed. Create a habit of ending meetings with a review of the Who-What-When and beginning discussions with confirmation on completing the actions assigned.

14. Finish strong. People won't always remember what you do or say, but they will never forget how you made them feel. And what they will remember most is how they felt at the end of the meeting. Whether you completed every objective you laid out or worked through the agenda, it's essential to recognize the team's accomplishments and celebrate their focus, contribution, time invested, and hard work. Finish the meeting by recapping the decisions, reviewing the actions committed, and confirming the next steps. We also recommend allowing everyone to share how they feel as they leave. You can go around the room and ask each person to share a one-word/one-phrase closing statement or share one takeaway or breakthrough they gained during the meeting.

15. Ask for feedback. Great facilitators are not born overnight. They develop and improve over years of experience. And the most experienced facilitators know that asking for feedback is the best way to improve. You can ask the team before they leave to write down one bright spot from the meeting and one area to work on or do differently next time. Please feel free to email everyone after the session, asking for feedback. Or, you can ask for a quick one-on-one conversation with a few trusted advisors.

You would like to encourage feedback on the agenda, pre-session communication, design of the day, homework, and how you performed and handled difficult situations during the session. If you want to receive feedback, please take it seriously. Don't take it personally or complain to others about it. All feedback, even negative feedback, is a gift. Thank the person who shared with you, and I'd like to make every effort to incorporate all helpful suggestions into your next session. Stay encouraged and stick with it. You will improve every time you facilitate, so please volunteer and look for opportunities to practice. Over time, the tips in this blog post will become second nature. Good luck!

This blog post shares tips and tricks for facilitation from the Facilitator guide written by Chris Cosper and Barry Pruit and adapted to a blog post by Ted Skinner. If you'd like to download the manual, please click here . We hope you enjoy the facilitation techniques outlined in this article to keep group discussions positive and productive. We hope this answers your question about how to lead a strategic planning session; if you want to get the best ROI on your investment of time and energy, please feel free to  drop us a line , and we'll see if it makes sense for you.

Learn More About Rhythm

Read our other strategic planning and facilitation articles below:

Annual Planning: 9 Tips to Focus & Align Your Team with a Great Plan

Annual Planning Playbook: 5 Steps to Create a Winning Annual Plan

How CEOs Can Avoid High-Cost Mistakes in Annual Planning

Best Practices for Annual Planning

16 Strategic Planning Tips to Keep Your Strategic Plan Alive

The CEO Strategy-Execution Gap...And How To Fix It

Choose Your 3-Year Strategic Growth Initiatives Wisely With This 4-Step Process

5 Steps to Getting Started on 3-Year Strategic Plans with Winning Moves

Have you been able to validate your 3 Year Strategic Plan?

Robust 3 Year Strategic Plans to Grow Revenue and Stay Competitive

Don't Confuse Strategic Thinking And Strategy Execution Plans

9 Steps to a New Revenue Growth Strategy [Infographic]

Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

Ted Skinner

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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DIY: Facilitating a Strategic Planning Session

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I used to moonlight as a professional facilitator. A few months before I was trained and certified, I never knew such a job even existed, but I stumbled upon the opportunity to do it professionally and I found it incredibly rewarding. It was right in line with my natural tendency to generate alignment and consensus in my leadership roles and guiding others through the same process was new and fun. I mostly facilitated strategic planning sessions but also had several engagements that involved organizational assessment and design and team building.  I worked with people in industries I didn’t know anything about, ranging from party equipment rental to non-profit organizations and everything in between, and in doing so I learned that the basic principles that guide the process are nigh universal. I also found it to be very exciting work because the team dynamics and the behaviors and even the occasional dysfunctions were always unique to each team. Perhaps the most interesting story I have in that regard is that I once had to pause a strategic planning session for a family business, because I had to conduct an impromptu private marriage counseling session for a couple who held key positions with the company before we could get back on track.

In the process of learning to navigate the unique dynamics of each session, I ended up developing a robust process, several variations of which I have used for many years with much success in my own organizations, as well as for others who have brought me in as a facilitator. I recently realized that what I take for granted as second nature and common-sense when it comes to strategic planning may not necessarily be very commonly understood by those who have not have had that much experience with it. So, I thought I’d share my process in this post, along with a few suggestions to make it work for you. Before we get into the process, let me say that a great deal of the success of this process depends on the facilitator’s ability to relate to the participants and conduct a session that not only achieves the objectives, but creates a sense of alignment and commitment to the outcomes. If you or your internal resources are not naturally inclined to be effective facilitators, I’d encourage you to engage a professional who is. Good facilitators are usually not cheap, but the fees they charge are miniscule compared to the returns they produce.

Now back to the DIY strategic planning process. This process can be used for a new or existing team that is looking to create or renew their mission, vision, and action plans and/or priorities. It also contains suggestions for steps you can take should you choose to add in more team-building exercises. Generally, this exercise works well for teams of 8-12 people. Larger teams may need to modify the approach in some of the steps to best suit their group dynamics.

The main steps are shown in bold with bullet points under each detailing a few suggestions on how to have each step most effectively serve its purpose:

Alignment (prior to the session)

The meeting owner and facilitator get aligned on the objectives and desired outcomes of the meeting.

Identify the dynamics of the team to ensure that the facilitator has the ability to identify potential problems that may arise and address them effectively.

Welcome and introductions

Review/Generate objectives

First, review the stated objectives of the session with the team. These could include items like mission, vision, action plans, etc.

Next, ask the participants to come up with their objectives and state them out loud while you capture them on a flip chart. This gives everyone a chance to express their desired outcome and feel some ownership in the process. If any of the objectives are clearly outside the scope of the meeting, go ahead and call it out and ask if you could place it on a “parking lot” list that will be reviewed at the end of the session when the team will decide in what forum and what timing the item gets addressed. Post the objectives on the wall in front of the room.

Establish the ground rules

Rather than making a list of the standard items like, “Respect each other,” and, “Don’t use your cell phone,” ask the participants to shout out characteristics of great meetings they have been to and bad ones they have attended. Capture those on a flip chart in two columns and, when you’re done, ask the participants if they are willing to hold themselves and each other to the standards of the great meetings. Also, ask them if there are 1-2 additional items they want to add to the list. Post the list on the wall in front of the room.

Break the ice

An ice-breaker is always good to get people to loosen up and bit and be ready to participate. The activity could be purely a fun exercise or it could involve more sharing to get to know each other better. This depends on whether you would like to add in a team-building element or not.

Celebrate accomplishments

Before jumping into planning for the future, it is always good to pause and celebrate what has already been accomplished.

One way I like to do this is to divide the group into two smaller groups and ask them to write down as many accomplishments as they can think of on post-it notes, and then have the two teams alternate and, one at a time, have each member put a single post-it note up on a flip chart in front of the room while reading it out loud and having everyone cheer them on.

The team that has more ideas left over when the other team has posted all of their ideas on the board is the one that “wins,” but everybody gets present to just how much the team has accomplished.

Best case/worst case

Put two flip charts in front of the room. One titled “Best Case” and the other “Worst Case,” and ask the team to think about what the best and worst case would look like 3-5 years from now.

Divide the team into two groups, and have each group work on one chart for 5 minutes and then switch so both groups have the opportunity to input to both list and become familiar with them.

Give the team a chance to reflect on these lists and why it is important to avoid the worst case and make the best case happen.

Mission Statement

The mission is different than the vision. The mission is the purpose of the organization and why it exists. It is not a point-in-time image of the results or the culture, but a statement that describes the unique purpose that the team aspires to serve.

Break the team up in groups of 2-3 and have each team generate ideas and put them on post-it notes and stick them up on the wall. One idea per post-it note, written in sharpies so they can be read from a few feet away.

Have the team sort the ideas into categories that go together. This may be a messy exercise with everyone at the wall moving post-it notes but it works well.

When the sorting is done, assign each category to a small group of 2-3 and have them write a short bullet point on that part of the statement.

Have each team present their statement and generate some discussion but leave the wordsmithing of the details to be done as follow-up after the session.

Vision Statement

The vision describes the state of affairs at a certain point in time, usually 3 years out. It is stated in present tense and it involves qualitative and quantitative measures.

In preparation for the visioning exercise, you could highlight the difference between change and transformation or do an exercise on lateral thinking vs. linear thinking so that the participants get into the mode of envisioning the desired future rather than focusing solely on solving the existing problems.

Similar to the mission exercise, have the team brainstorm various elements of the vision and post them on the wall and categorize them.

An optional exercise to guide the visioning process is to list all the stakeholders and divide the team into small groups that begin to work on what would be important to each of the stakeholders at the beginning of the exercise.

Current state

Have the team describe the various aspects of the current state and capture it on a flip chart. This helps highlight the gap between the current and desired state, per the vision, that will guide the action planning process.

SWOT Analysis

Before getting into identifying strategies and action planning, it is important for the team to get in touch with the internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats.

Post four flip charts around the room, one for each of the SWOT elements. Divide the team into four small groups and have them rotate between the sheets and develop a list for each. Then, have the team come together and go over each of the sheets briefly and discuss them for understanding and alignment.

Action Planning

This step can either begin with identifying key strategies necessary to close the gap between the current and desired state, or by brainstorming all the actions that must be taken to create the desired future and categorizing them under strategies that each group of activities represents. The approach can be selected based on the specific situation and preference of the team.

Either way, have the team brainstorm all the actions they think should be taken, irrespective of the sequence or timing of those actions.

Have the team check the vision statement, the mission statement, and the SWOT analysis to make sure they have captured all the right actions.

Then have the team move the post-it notes around and organize them according to the desired sequence and timing. Sometimes it helps to have the team do this for a few minutes without talking and debating. This gets the 80% of the actions into the right sequence and timing before the team starts debating and discussing the other 20%.

Assign names to the actions in the session or as a follow-up to the session.

Go over the objectives and identify the ones that were met.

Review the list of open issues that need to be addressed and assign names and dates.

Identify and agree on the next steps for the team to continue to move forward with the process and establish specifics of the action plans and review processes to keep the work on track, etc.

Ask the team to critique the session and identify what went well and what didn’t.

This framework should give you enough to go on and have a successful session. There are plenty of specific techniques and approaches that can be incorporated in this framework. Depending on the response I receive on this post and the questions I get, I am happy to share more details and possibly an FAQ to your facilitation questions. Please comment below or wherever you read this post and let me know if you would like more information on any aspect of designing or facilitating this process for your team.

Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!   I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges . Please leave your comments below or send me an email at [email protected] .

Ps. We're offering free shipping on my book, The Transformative Leader , for the holidays. Only valid here on my website, so head over and grab your copy before the 24th! Copyright © 2016 The Ghannad Group, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

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What is Strategic Planning Facilitation? (& How it Will Help You Have a Great Strategy Meeting)

By Anthony Taylor - May 02, 2023

strategic planning facilitation guide

Are you getting ready for an upcoming strategy meeting? If so, you might want to consider the advantages of strategic planning facilitation. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know, whether you're planning a virtual or in-person meeting and whether you prefer a DIY approach or professional assistance. We'll help you discover how to have an effective strategy meeting, no matter the circumstances.

Table Of Contents:

Exploring strategic planning facilitation and its role in a successful strategy meeting.

  •  How to Run Productive Strategy Meetings for Small Organizations

Facilitating Successful Strategy Meetings for Large and Medium Sized Organizations

  • 15 Questions to Ask Your Team Before Your Next Strategy Meeting

Does Strategic Planning Facilitation Save Me Money in the Long Run? 

Diy facilitation: how to successfully facilitating your strategic planning meeting.

Effective strategic planning facilitation can be a game-changer for any organization, no matter its size or industry. As strategic planning consultants , we understand that successful strategy meetings rest on three crucial pillars: Strategic Thinking, Leadership, and People & Operations.

Before your strategic planning meeting, it's essential to take all three pillars into account, so you can gain a comprehensive understanding of your organization's present state, as well as the condition of your people and systems. This way, you can create action plans and measurable metrics that can truly drive results from your strategy meeting.

Utilizing a strategic planning facilitation approach is crucial to ensure your strategy meetings achieve the desired outcomes and do not waste valuable time and resources. Unfortunately, we have observed organizations waste tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on strategic planning meetings that end up with plans that are never implemented due to insufficient facilitation and support.

But what exactly is strategic planning facilitation, and how can it help you have a great strategy meeting? Strategic planning facilitation is when an outside facilitator is hired to work with an organization during its strategic planning meeting (and to possibly assist with implementation coaching and management development training ).  It's important to clarify that strategic planning facilitation is not the same as other related terms like process consulting, business strategy consulting , advisors, mediation, or group work. Our focus here is on strategic planning facilitation, which specifically involves guiding your leadership team through a successful strategic planning process .

For many organizations, especially those with over 100 employees, it can be challenging to get optimal results from your strategy meetings. With a large organization, there are numerous moving parts, teams, strategic projects, communication interdependencies, and data to consider in order to have successful strategic planning meetings that translate into effective action plans. Without proper facilitation, your organization may fall into the multiple destination trap  leading to wasted time and effort.

That's why it's crucial to make the most of the 2 or 3 days you've set aside for your strategy meeting. Time is a valuable resource, and with so many variables to consider, it's essential to optimize your strategy meetings to ensure they are effective and result in actionable plans that move your organization's strategy and business forward.

Free Sample Strategy Meeting Agenda

How to Run Productive Strategy Meetings for Small Organizations

As you gear up for your upcoming strategic planning meeting, it's crucial to have a skilled facilitator in place to lead the session. However, if you find yourself without a designated facilitator,  You Are the Facilitator."

Leading a meeting may seem like a simple task, but when it comes to strategic planning meetings, where you're charting the course for the next 3-5 years and shaping the future of your business, the stakes are high. These meetings require deep discussions, attention to detail, and the courage to challenge the status quo, allowing your team to bring forth critical ideas and shape the direction of your business for years to come.

There may be various reasons why you might not be able to hire a facilitator for your business, such as running a smaller organization, facing budgetary constraints, or having an in-house specialist like a Chief Strategy Officer. However, with proper planning, you can still successfully lead your own strategy sessions and achieve desired outcomes.

Organizing an offsite meeting can be a powerful tool for your team's success, but without careful planning, it can quickly become frustrating and ineffective. Have you allowed enough time to gather all the necessary information? Have you ensured that your team is fully prepared? Have you planned the session details, logistics, and set ground rules? Failing to do so can result in misalignment and lack of focus. Establishing clear expectations and guidelines before the meeting is crucial to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Having a well-defined strategic planning agenda is a good starting point, but it's equally important to establish a set of ground rules that support effective team building, decision making, and strategic thinking. These rules can cover logistics and behavior, but paying attention to the latter will create a meeting culture that promotes follow-through and implementation of ideas. If you're struggling to come up with ground rules for your strategic planning meetings, we have 12 meeting ground rules that we use when facilitating such sessions.

It's also important to provide everyone with ample time to come prepared for the session. Avoid springing the meeting on your team randomly or giving them only a few days to prepare. As the facilitator, your role is to draw out inputs and expertise from everyone in the room, especially when dealing with diverse personalities. Being skilled at having difficult conversations is crucial to creating a positive impact and fostering constructive discussions. 

Remember, as the facilitator, you are responsible for creating a conducive space for meaningful conversations.

So, if you find yourself leading a strategic planning meeting without a designated facilitator, don't fret. With proper planning, clear expectations, and effective ground rules, you can still steer the meeting towards success and achieve the desired outcomes.

When it comes to holding a strategy meeting, the ultimate goal is to create a well-defined plan that outlines how your organization will achieve its objectives and goals. In larger organizations with multiple departments, gaining alignment and making breakthroughs can be critical to moving the business forward. However, obstacles such as leadership or performance barriers can impede your progress. This is where a strategy facilitator can be immensely helpful.

Here are some scenarios where a strategic planning facilitator can provide you with much more value than leading the strategic planning process internally:

You're new to the process and may benefit from a seasoned expert guiding you and your team.

You want to participate in the planning process alongside your team members.

Your leadership team lacks the expertise or experience to effectively manage a large conversation with many sub-conversations and themes.

Your team isn't trained on how to recognize body language and non-verbal clues.

You don't know the right questions to ask to get to the information you want.

Your team may hold back information because they are worried about what might happen after.

You know what you want from your strategy and want to open it up to other people in the team in the most effective way possible (but you don't know how).

You want to get everyone on the same page and don't know how to do it.

Here are some of the quotes we've gotten after working with clients on their strategic planning sessions:

 "I can't believe that we tried to do this ourselves"

 "I'm happy you did this and not me"

 "This has been our best meeting so far"

"I can't believe we did so much in such a condensed amount of time"

We facilitated the strategy meeting so that the team could focus on getting what they wanted out of their planning session.

Creating a strategic plan that is achievable and actionable requires input from all members and functions of your business, because each function plays a crucial role. Unfortunately, in many businesses, systems fail, communication silos form, and group dynamics suffer. This can result in some teams feeling marginalized or left out, departments becoming overwhelmed, and people quitting, ultimately leading to unmet goals. That's where strategic planning facilitators come in. Facilitators go beyond just focusing on processes and systems or creating a strategic plan. They also address the behavioral and psychological aspects of your team dynamics , which are essential for propelling your organization forward. They can help your team challenge assumptions, think creatively, and explore new possibilities, making them invaluable for organizations seeking to innovate or find growth opportunities. Using a facilitator might sound like an unnecessary cost burden, but the costs of not accomplishing your strategic plan can be much higher. A facilitator serves as an objective guide, subject matter expert, process manager, and catalyst for change, ensuring that the planning process is inclusive, productive, and effective. One of the most significant advantages of using a facilitator in strategic planning is their ability to provide an outside perspective. This is particularly valuable for larger organizations with diverse activities or those dealing with complex issues like digital transformation, DEI strategies , or employee productivity . A facilitator can help identify key issues from past strategic plans, conduct stakeholder engagement , scenario planning and provide guidance on how to achieve your organization's goals.

strategic-planning-questionnaire-15-questions

Frequently Asked Questions about Strategic Planning Facilitation:

Does Strategic Planning Facilitation Save me Money in the Long Run? 

After your strategy meeting and the creation of your strategic plan, it will dictate all the actions of your employees. Your strategic plan needs to create focus, team alignment , and buy-in, so that your entire team can work together to implement it successfully.

Having someone to work with you and your team on your strategic plan will allow for:

Everyone to participate in the meeting. (If you're leading, you can't participate)

More focus, because there is a structured agenda, and a person who's main job is to keep you on time, and keep the conversations on track.

Better execution, because your plan has been built on a business strategy framework that is proven to be effective.

NOTE: Whether you work with us or someone else, a strategic planning facilitator has a process, and it's their only job:  to lead strategic planning.

You COULD do it, but if it's not something you're used to doing, then you have to spend a bunch of time learning how to do it, and practice doing it well.

The facilitator will provide notes and an implementation plan. If you do this, then you have to take time out from your normal day to day activities to connect your strategy to your operations.

Accountability to do something instead of having a plan that doesn't move forward

How Much Does a Strategic Planning Facilitator Cost?

We've already covered the costs of a strategic planning session in a past video, but if you're just looking at the cost versus the benefit of using a strategy facilitator, One of the most significant costs can be the facilitator's fees. So, how much does a strategic planning facilitator cost, and is it worth the investment?

A good facilitator can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars a day, to upwards of ten thousand per day.

First, let's look at pure labor costs of your strategy meeting.

1) How much is the average daily salary of all the attendees of the meeting? (You can use this handy calculator )

Multiply the cost of one day salary for each of those people: 

If your team makes an average of $150,000 per year, multiply the number of attendees by  $576.00

If your team makes an average of $200,000 per year, multiply the number of attendees by  $769.00

What's your total cost? ______________

Does it make sense for you to invest in a facilitator to make sure you don't waste their time with an ineffective meeting?

Now let's look at the revenue and costs of your whole organization on a yearly basis.

How much revenue does your organization generate now?

What are the costs for all your labor organization-wide?

How much money do you think is being wasted because your organization is not aligned and is moving in different directions?

How much money would you create (Additional revenue, or decreased costs)  if your team was 10-20% more effective?

What about the long term cumulative benefits of getting better strategy and execution now, and then next year, and the year after?

What about the costs of lower turnover, hiring, and training because you've been able to create a more aligned culture?

What about the happiness that you can't even measure because everyone on your team is happy and engaged while at work? What would that look like for you and your team? Ultimately, the decision to hire a strategic planning facilitator should be based on a careful consideration of the costs versus the benefits. While the upfront cost may seem high, the long-term benefits could be significant in terms of increased revenue, decreased costs, and a more aligned and engaged team. Read more: What are the Costs for a Strategic Planning Session?

DIY Facilitation: How to Successfully Facilitating your Strategic Planning Meeting:

Leading a strategy meeting soon? Managing diverse perspectives, navigating complex dynamics, and ensuring team alignment and buy-in can be challenging, even for seasoned leaders. But with the right skills and strategic planning tools , you can successfully facilitate any meeting in your organization, and even enhance your leadership capabilities.

One effective approach is to learn a tried-and-true process. There are plenty of resources available online, such as our strategic planning course , which follows our approach to leading strategy for over 13 years. This comprehensive course offers 8 hours of video instruction, along with strategic planning templates , guides, and worksheets to support you through the entire process.

With this course, you'll learn how to align your team around a common vision and mission, develop achievable strategic goals , and create a specific action plan to drive results. You'll also gain valuable skills in effective communication, facilitation, diplomacy, and adaptability, which can be applied to any meeting or situation in your organization.

Buy it here: How to Create a Strategic Plan .

We believe that facilitating a successful strategy meeting should be a painless and valuable experience. Imagine a workplace where everyone is aligned and working together towards a shared goal. Our proven 5-step process can help your organization achieve that vision. Learn more and let's have a conversation.

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7 essential tasks for a strategic planning facilitator.

Businessman beside productivity concepts drawn on a board

As the strategy leader, you have seven activities to which I recommend you pay close attention to build a strong strategy that has full buy-in and commitment.

Gain your team’s commitment and buy-in to the process

If your leadership team members are like most with whom I have worked, they are stretched for resources and have more on their plate than they can likely accomplish with the time they have. Therefore, for many of them, the prospect of taking valuable time and resources to develop a plan that will come up with more to add to their already over-loaded plates is NOT a welcomed idea.

So how do you gain their commitment to planning and their buy-in to a planning process such as The Drivers Model? With a management briefing, you will have your team identify the most critical issues facing the organization; then they will make adjustments to the planning process as needed to ensure that the process addresses those issues. The management briefing increases commitment to planning by providing your team with a road map that shows how what is important to them will be covered during the strategic planning sessions.

Ensure All Voices Are Heard

The fundamental secret of facilitation indicates that you can increase buy-in and commitment by having those impacted by the plan involved in the creation of it. However, everyone in your organization will be impacted by the strategic plan. Does that mean everyone should be at the table creating the plan?

No, of course not. Nor is it necessary. Involvement does not necessitate being at the table. There are several ways to provide people the opportunity for involvement in the plan as described in the table that follows.

  • For some, just giving them a chance for input through a survey or a suggestion box will be adequate.
  • For others, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or other methods for gaining in-depth input may be more appropriate.
  • And for others, their responsibilities, influence, expertise, or perspectives are so important that it will make sense to have them seated around the table.

One of your important roles is to determine who should be at the table and to put in place other avenues to ensure all voices are given the opportunity to be heard. Providing the opportunity for input is essential to a facilitative approach and to gaining the level of buy-in needed for successful implementation across the organization.

Ensure key information is brought into the room

You may have been in the room when a team has made a decision based on the best information available, only to discover that if they had been aware of other information that had not been brought into the room, they would have likely made a different decision. Sound familiar? Well, part of your role is to ensure that this doesn’t happen with your planning activity.

My company’s work in the area of consensus building has shown that one of the primary reasons people disagree is due to a lack of shared information. Many disagreements can be resolved, and even prevented, by making sure all parties have the same information.

With the Drivers Model, the briefing book serves the purpose of ensuring all your team members start with a common set of information

Get your ideas on the table without overpowering the group

As indicated earlier, it is important that all voices be heard, and that includes yours. Unfortunately, if you are like most leaders, your voice comes with considerable baggage. When the boss speaks, people listen. And they listen differently from when other people speak.

Sure, there will likely be some people in the room who treat your voice like every other voice in the room. Whether the idea comes from you or a first-year manager, these people will state their agreement or disagreement with the idea in the exact same way, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the case for most of the people at the table. When you speak, most may be quick to respond when they agree, and very, very slow to respond when they disagree – so slow, in fact, that sometimes they may never get around to it!

As a result of the lack of challenge, many leaders experience within their own walls, the views of the leader can easily overpower the group. And even when someone dares to challenge with a question, some leaders, often without knowing it, respond with statements that belittle the questioner or not-so-subtly communicate that challenging the boss is not welcome.

Ensure that the plan components meet the quality checks

With the Drivers Model, each component is dependent upon the components that came before it. So, for example, if you do a poor job of defining your mission and vision, your goals and objectives will reflect this. Likewise, if your goals and objectives are misaligned, your critical success factors and barriers will also be off. If your critical success factors and barriers are inadequate, your strategies and action plans will be inadequate as well. Therefore it is essential that you do a quality job every step of the way through the planning process.

The Drivers Model is designed to help you do this. From vision and mission to strategies and action plans, the Drivers Model provides a specific quality check for each component of the strategic plan. These quality checks help ensure that your plan is comprehensive, robust, inspiring, and implementable. As the leader, it is your role to ensure that each component of the plan passes its quality check. Below I have summarized one or two key elements from the quality checklist for each of the components of the plan.

Follow through and hold people accountable

If you have been involved in strategic planning processes, you know that far too often it is a game in which considerable energy is placed in developing a plan that is then put on the executive’s shelf, only to be looked at when it is time to do strategic planning once again.

The Drivers Model strives to end this game. Assemble a detailed process for aligning the organization and ensuring monthly check-ins, quarterly reviews, and an annual update to the strategic plan. This structured monitoring process is intended to help ensure that the plan moves from paper to implementation.

Decide if an outside facilitator would be helpful

With an activity as critical as strategic planning, it is essential that the effort be facilitated by someone who is skilled in facilitation but also has considerable experience guiding a team through strategy. Some organizations have internal resources with both facilitation and strategy expertise. However, others choose to bring in outside professional facilitators with years of training, experience, and proven results.

When should you bring in an outside facilitator? It is your role as the leader to make this call.

__________________________

Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., “The Facilitation Company” and author of Amazon best-seller “ The Secrets of Facilitation ”, “ The Secrets to Masterful Meetings ”, and the brand new “The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy.” Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning , issue resolution, process improvement, and others. They are also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.

strategic planning facilitation guide

Michael Wilkinson

strategic planning facilitation guide

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