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Facilitating strategy workshops and robust strategic thinking

Strategy facilitation workshops Our clients come to us with various reasons for wanting a strategy workshop. We mainly work with the Chief Executive and their Management Team, or the Board of the organisation, and in larger organisations with Functional Directors and their teams.

Some principles we apply when facilitating strategy workshops

 You never walk into an empty room – there is material on the wall already:

We always interview and prepare your material before a strategy session or away-day.  Your thoughts about your strategy are on the wall when you first walk in. Why?  Well if there is nothing to start with two things happen.

  1. First you have eight hours and eight people, then at most they get an hour each to speak and contribute.
  2. The first to speak on a topic will often determine the tone and nature of the rest of that conversation.

Instead, we use your existing strategy material.  We supplement this with details, structured interviews about the strategic thinking with the team.   This means, given a management team of 8, you will already have at least 16 hours of material on the walls.  This means we can discuss where you agree and disagree. As a result, the conversation changes from contributing and responding to others remarks…   to commenting, exploring and understanding each other’s points of view.

You see where you agree, as well as where you disagree

One problem with discussions is that people tend to focus on where they disagree.  They rarely discuss where they agree. Our experience is 85%/10%/5%.

  • The 85%: Our experience is that a management team will probably agree with around 85% of their view of the future, their strategy, or a list of issues.  This 85% is rarely discussed. However having it on the wall so you can see that you agree, is important.  It provides a basis for the discussion over where there are disagreements and differences.
  • The 10%: There will be around 10% of the topics where there are differences and some disagreement.  Our experience is that these can usually be resolved, in the workshop or soon after, with a good quality of conversation and good argument.  These might have been discussed beforehand.  Getting them out in teh open, aired, and resolved is what creates a lot of value for a team.
  • The 5%:  These are the difficult ones.  The real thorny issues where there are severe disagreements.  In extreme cases they are the undiscussable or the elephant in the room.  Sometime they are operating from a completely different belief set.  Often the protagonists are framing and diagnosing the issue quite differently.  If that is the case, the important strategy facilitation piece is to get these contrary opinions, evidence and differences out on the table.

It is important to recognise where we agree, and disagree.  As a result….

…We actively encourage disagreement and arguments – robust discussions

There is no point you leaving the room with disagreements, or leaving the elephant in the corner of the room.  We want to get them on the table and explore with each other why you believe different things.  As Peter Drucker says, “If there appears to be universal agreement, then delay the decision and encourage dissent” because quick consensus leads to bad decisions. High performing teams know how to disagree and have a constructive argument.  Our role, as facilitators is to help this happen, constructively.

We give you time to talk to one another

For each strategy session we will have a plan and an agenda set out, agreed with the Chief Executive or senior Director.  However we do not sacrifice quality of conversation to hit an arbitrary timescale.  The important piece is having the conversations.  If that requires some time, unexpected in the agenda, then have them.  We can always catch up later.  The Quality of conversation amongst yourselves as a team, is key.

Some quotes from our clients

Some examples include:

  • UK Water company: Preparation for bid submission to OFWAT for around £6bn of funding for business over next 5 years. Help us pull the story of our strategy and how it delivers the outcomes we need for our customers

”The work you did with us meant that we could have much more substantial discussions about the outcomes for our customers and the themes of our strategy” Price Review Director, UK Water PLC”

  • European Ethical Bank: Working with Executive team to develop umbrella strategy for the whole bank.  Working with the management teams of individual countries to develop their specific regional strategy within the wider bank’s context.
  • Modular building manufacturer: Developing the five year strategy for the management team of an innovative modular building company.

“We achieved more as a Management team in a 2-day strategy session with you on your own, than a pair of consultants achieved in four days. They were really effective days for the whole team.” Lindsay Stratton, Managing Director, Unite Modular Solutions

  • City Council: Developing the strategy

“This is the first time we have really worked together as a team, rather than in our silos, on an overall strategy. You really made a difference to how we think, work and now act.” Gillian Beasley, Chief Executive, Peterborough City Council

  • High profile fund giving charity: Linking the disparate views of strategy together.  Helping the management team work through how they could leave a legacy for the charity sector as a whole.

”I like to have you facilitate our strategy discussions, because you have empathy with the team and understand how we work.” Dr Helen Bonfield, Chief Executive, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund”

  • UKWIR UK Water Industry Research: Developing a strategy so the organisation can deliver research and solutions that solves the problems the industry faces today, and the problems the industry will face over the next 25 years

”That was a really effective strategy day with the Board. Two years later we are still focused on the four strategic themes that came out of our strategy workshop, and they are making a real difference to our longer term view and approach. ”Hans Jensen, CEO UKWIR”,

We also work with the Directors and management team of a specific function such as Finance, HR, IT, or Operations.  Sometimes this is part of a wider strategy programme: sometimes to help that function develop its part of the strategy. Examples of Strategy facilitation for functional teams includes:

  • National water company: Asset Management Strategy for a water and wastewater assets.  Key question: How do we explain our innovative asset management strategy, socialise it, and implement it during our £4bn investment programme?

”You have given us a sound basis from which we can help to integrate innovation and socialise our strategy across the whole organisation” Innovation Manager, Anglian Water”

  • International insurer and re-insurer: Developing the strategy for positioning, managing and delivering finance in their Financial Services business.  Key question: How do we bring together the finance heads across different countries, to work as a team, developing the Finance function and its strategy, as a whole?

”You have helped us come together as a team and helped us to deliver finance better, across the business.” Scott Kirk, CFO, Aspen Insurance”

  • International oil company: For the Health & Safety team, facilitating their analysis of their strategic issues and developing a strategy with clear objectives & deliverables.  Key question:  How do we develop a coherent and consistent Health & Safety Strategy across three business units in differing African nations?

”That was simply the best session on strategy we have ever had. It was really productive for the whole team.” Health & Safety Director, Addax Petroleum”

More principles…

It is your strategy and your story to tell

As the session progresses, we expect the team to be contributing and presenting their ideas.  We are the facilitator of the strategy discussion.  Our role is not to own the content. We want you to be testing, exploring and ultimately telling the story of your strategy.  We often stand aside and let members of the Executive team lead a session or review a piece of work. That way you get to test and internalise it for yourselves.

Reconcile components

An important part of your strategy is reconciling the parts to ensure they fit together.  For instance,

  • After you have identified external risks, it makes sense that you review where, in your strategy that you will address these.
  • When you have set a pace of change to respond to the outside world, it makes sense to look at the performance gaps and see if the rate of change is realistic.

Strategy is different to strategic planning

We get fed up with people calling strategy, ‘strategic planning’.  Strategy and planning are differentA strategy document is different to a strategic plan. When we are doing strategy we have a clear model of what constitutes a strategy.  We bring that to the room and help you as a team work through that model. If a team want to do strategic planning, that is planning the implementation of their strategy, that is usually in a second or third workshop, or on a second or third day.  In the strategy part we will have done a high level first cut of timescales and achievements.  That strategy planning workshop is dedicated to the planning of how the strategy will be implemented.  The resources, programmes, projects, and plan. How you will communicate and socialise your strategy.  The overall philosophy and specific strategy to achieve cultural and behavioural change. Often we will run a separate 30 minute session with the team discussing what is a strategy and what is not.

To find out more, simply contact us using the form below and we can have a conversation about your circumstances and what you want to achieve, or be different by the end of the workshop…