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Strategy meetings: rocking ideas or rolling eyes?

Does the mention of strategy meetings, away-days or brainstorming sessions elicit deep sighs and rolling eyes from your employees? Or do your people leap at the opportunity to generate new ideas and engage in meaningful discussion? If, like many organisations, yours falls into the former category, it may be that meetings in your organisation are characterised by one or more of the following pitfalls:

  • Lack of an agreed and focused agenda
  • Getting bogged down in ‘organisational politics’
  • Circular discussions centred on well worn points of view
  • A failure to challenge established ways of doing things
  • Personal and organisational 'baggage'
  • Failure to translate discussions into tangible actions

Every time such pitfalls occur, the chance of generating rocking ideas diminishes as the eyes turning skyward multiply. Rather than harnessing people’s best thinking, the organisation instead channels their indifference.

So why are strategy meetings so notoriously ineffective? Frequently, the answer lies in the skills of the facilitator. In many organisations managers attempt to play the role of facilitator while also contributing to group discussion. The risk of this approach is that the facilitator's lack of independence compromises the group dynamic and therefore the success of the process. A facilitator’s role is to guide the group process and harness it's potential in order to achieve the best outcome. As anyone experienced in facilitation will tell you, in most meetings this is a full time job!

Some businesses shy away from using an independent facilitator because of the cost involved, but in most cases the highest cost of any meeting is in employee time. Failure to achieve the maximum return on this investment is detrimental to both the productivity of the business and to employee engagement. Few things disengage employees more than the feeling that they have to waste their time in ‘yet another pointless meeting’.

Investing in a facilitator can ensure that the sunk cost of employees' time is not wasted, through holding meetings that actually deliver the required results. A skilled facilitator will:

  • Build participation and engagement
  • Ensure people focus on the ‘real’ issues
  • Surface underlying blockages that are preventing progress
  • Provide a space for honest constructive discussion
  • Supportively challenge participants to innovate and stretch their current thinking
  • Support the development of a shared responsibility and commitment to action

Interestingly, creating an environment where these things happen will also impact positively on productivity and team-working following the meeting, as employees have a clearer sense of direction, are more engaged with decision making processes and collaboration is enhanced.

So whether your aim is to develop new business plans or strategies, build team cohesion and enhance performance, or create space for 'blue-sky' thinking and the generation of new solutions and approaches, engaging a skilled facilitator is always a good investment to get those ideas rocking!

Diarmid Lee