Strategy Meetings No Longer For ‘Angry Birds’

Using the phrase ‘Strategy planning session’ as a reason to hold another meeting has become an event causing major eye rolls and grumbling from the masses.

People walk into the meeting, smartphones in hand and laptops under their arms fully ready to NOT contribute ideas, but instead kick ass on the next level of Angry Birds.

These meetings only benefit a counted few:  The dude who is ditching calls from his ex-wife, the lady who hasn’t updated her Facebook status and the manufacturers of Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy Drinks because everyone needs one after the strategy-turned-predictable-snooze-fest.

And it’s time for this to change …

Let’s talk about scheduling successful strategy meetings and how to optimize the time spent discussing it and engaging those in attendance. If the strategy behind the strategy meeting is executed well and is painless for those involved, then the outcome of the meetings themselves will reflect that.  It’s the ultimate trickle-down effect and even the smallest details matter.

Here’s how you go about thinking through the first stages of strategy meetings:

When Should Strategy Be Kicked Off and Discussed?:  If putting a strategic plan in place is new to your company, WELCOME to the smart side!  You should begin your strategic planning for the next fiscal year about six months before the current year ends.

Decide Who’s In Charge of Strategy:  As with most companies, directives or end results come from the top down. Rarely does a CEO actually plan the strategy for meeting these goals.  Quite often, the Marketing Department, along with other department heads are tasked with coming up with a plan.

If this isn’t the case, and the strategic leader isn’t appointed, step up!  Don’t be shy.  The mark of a great leader is appreciating initiative and being able to recognize potential.

Determine Who Should Be Involved:  There is a fine balance between too few people and too many people in strategy working sessions.  Most of the time, a department head and one or two of their brightest should attend.  You want a well-represented group of people who are creative, can work together and who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

A strategy session is no place for being shy.  Start with a number representative of how many departments you have and go up from there. It’s easy to add people, but kind of a pain and if ever so awkward to ask people to STOP coming to your meetings.

When Should We Have These Meetings?: There is a strategy behind planning when the strategy meetings should be. Studies have shown people are at their most chipper right after lunch or right before lunch.  So common sense would tell us lunchtime sessions would indeed be the most productive.

If you do choose to go for meetings around this time, you’ve GOT TO BRING IN FOOD!  Growling stomachs will not contribute anything to your meeting and frankly, a meeting running over the noon hour without food is just plain rude.  Also, as far as days of the week are concerned, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to have meetings. Research has shown Monday and Fridays to be the worst — regardless of time of day.

How Often Should We Have Strategy Meetings?  For the first few months of meetings, once a week is perfectly acceptable.  In the early stages, any more than that is too much and your team members will fizzle out flat.  Also, make sure you book a room that is suitable to the meeting size and capable of hosting the working lunch.  You want everyone to have room to listen, discuss, eat and take notes.

How Long Should Our Meetings Be?  There is a delicate balance here.  Meetings running too long are tedious; meetings that are too short are anti-climactic.  Since you’re more than likely to have food in your meeting, it’s perfectly fine to schedule two hours.  Also, ask people to leave their laptops at their desk (except for the person taking notes) and to switch their cell phones to vibrate.  Don’t ask employees to leave their cell phones at their desks.  Parents might have kids in school or other unforeseen circumstance and really, asking people to abandon their cell phones AND their computers might cause a mutiny.

How Should I Phrase the Invite?  This isn’t your normal meeting invite.  It’s exciting.  It’s cutting-edge.  This team holds the future of the company in their hands … AND, there will be food.  When you write this invite, don’t get too wordy but convey the excitement of the process and how important it is for everyone to come ready to talk, listen and explore ideas.

Again, ask them not to bring computers — but state plainly you will be bringing one as you’ll be taking notes to send out a recap afterwards. And also write a few ideas down in the invite to get your team to start thinking about it. Lastly, give people an out.

Let everyone know they’ve been chosen to be a part of this exciting process, but if they don’t believe they can really commit to it, as it is a long-term thing, then to let you know and to also suggest an alternate representative to take their place.

What Should I Do To Prepare for Meeting?  The day before your meeting, send out a reminder to get the team thinking on the upcoming gathering.

The day of your meeting make sure you have your laptop, your power cord and a pen and paper.  If your room has a whiteboard, make sure the markers and erasers are handy.  If not, get some of the giant paper pads to use for brainstorming.  Also make sure there is a clock in the room and it is working.

Write out any end goals or directives you’ve received from management where everyone can see them.  When conversation veers from topic, focus your team back on the directive currently on topic.

Prepare yourself mentally to be very deliberate in how you speak, present and manage this meeting.  Make sure there are notebooks and pens/pencils on the table for your team members in case they forget them.

Double-check on your catering order and again make sure the room is ready.  If you are projecting, make sure the tech in the room is ready to roll and lastly, BE PREPARED TO LEAD!  Good meetings are well thought out ahead of time, so take the time to ensure that details matter!

Any In-Meeting Tips?  To set the tone for your meeting and to get everyone comfortable, have your meal first.  Let everyone talk and socialize for about 30 minutes and then, very authoritatively, but not intimidating, call the meeting to order.  People can still eat while you meet, but get everyone focused on the job at hand.

Talk about how your session is geared towards putting a strategy in place to meet the end result set out by management.  In addition, how you want to brainstorm and employ a plan to meet these goals should be discussed.  Your team’s job is to thoughtfully and practically evaluate this through a strategic lens and then set forth the marching orders for the company so the goal or goals can be met.

Every session the team will carve out, and further design, a process to implement and achieve this goal.  You are all responsible for its success, failure or anything in between.  This is a learning process.  This is a growing process.   Most of all, it is a strategic process.

On a very practical note, keep an eye on your team members.  Watch if they are yawning, seem anxious or if the conversation has run stale.  If anything alarms you, just take a ten minute break!  There is nothing written into “meeting law” saying you have to sit in the room the entire time.

How Do I Wrap It Up?  Ending your session on a good note is very important.  About ten minutes before your meeting time is up, go ahead and start winding down and tell everyone how much their input is appreciated.  Mention a few of the ideas that really hit home and also talk about what you’re going to need to focus on in the next meeting.

Let your team know you will compile notes each week and send them out no more than 48 hours after the meeting and they should be read, reviewed and then ready to expand upon in your next session.  Dismiss your crew and let them know how much you look forward to your next meeting.  Also, watch the group as they leave.  Are they carrying the conversation with them as they’re walking out or are they acting like they can’t wait to escape?  Tuck the info away and try to adjust for next meeting.

Any Post-Meeting Tasks?  Of course there are!  Before you have to turn around and do almost all these tasks again for the next meeting, go home, relax and have a glass of wine.  You did it!  You are well on your way to strategy success.

When you get into work the next day, type up your notes, send them to your team and also send them to your boss under separate cover. It is very important to keep him informed of all that is taking place and of the progress your team is making.  Also, you can get his or her feedback on the direction the team’s heading.

OK.  So now we’re on the right track for successful strategy meetings.  There is a lot that goes into planning and executing these but the work product will more than make up for the toils.

… And you can also feel a special since of accomplishment when you notice your teammates’ Angry Birds scores have not improved on your meeting days. …

Happy planning!

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