Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with directors and executives at a range of organizations, from technology startups to large enterprises, and I have heard one thing consistently: they want to learn how to get the most out of their strategy and planning retreats. We have facilitated dozens of strategic and product planning workshops and retreats for clients including technology startups and higher education institutions, and here are a few things we have learned along the way:
- Preparation: Take the time to prepare for your workshops and retreats, and make sure that each session on the agenda has a facilitator and a measurable result.
- Participation: Make sure you invite the right people to each session. It is frustrating to discuss a topic, and then find out that the right people are not in the room to make a decision.
- Active listening: Ensure that everyone is actively listening throughout the meeting. This means no cell phones or email during the meeting, and everyone is expected to participate.
- Visualize the results: All decisions and action items should be written down where everyone can see them. I suggest using white boards and flip charts, so that these are visible throughout the meeting.
- Write on the walls: Consider using only white boards and flip charts during your workshops, and not allowing projectors or PowerPoint slides. Presentations can be done in the office: workshops and retreats are more effective as working meetings where the goal is to work together to develop a new strategy or plan, and to actively get ideas on the table: this is easier to do if the participants can draw on the white board or flip charts.
- Action items: Develop specific action items at the end of the meeting, and make sure every action item has an owner and a due date. If there are no action items, then nothing will change as a result of the workshop.
- Follow-up after the workshop: The workshop is not over at the end of the session: there must be follow-up to ensure that the action items are completed and the plans are implemented. Determine who will be accountable for implementing the change, and follow up to make sure it happens.
Let us know what is working well for you, and feel free to contact us to learn more about how we facilitate workshops and retreats for our clients.