Strategy meetings are critical to business success—and they’re also one of the most difficult things to get right.
Who should attend? How can you effectively pull people away from day-to-day operations to focus on the bigger picture? And how do you make sure that strategic decisions are made collaboratively and efficiently?
So many questions! But fear not. You’ll find all the answers (and more) in this guide: Your one-stop-shop for designing and executing an awesome strategy session.
Here’s what’s in store:
First up, let’s get clear on why strategy sessions are so important.
What is a strategy session and what’s the purpose of running one?
A strategy is a plan of action that helps you to achieve your long-term, overarching goals. From a business perspective, it looks at where you want to be (i.e. competing successfully in your market) and how you’ll get there.
Let’s take the example of Uber. Uber’s business strategy consists of four pillars:
- Providing a wide range of services to cater to the needs of different users. When you use the Uber app, you now have the choice of Uber X, Uber XL, Uber Pool, and more, depending on what you need.
- Ultimate convenience for the user. In a few clicks, you’ve got a ride. And, once you’ve reached your destination, you don’t waste any time paying the fare—it’s all done ultra-conveniently through the app.
- Innovating in order to cut costs. Uber leverages technology in order to provide the aforementioned user convenience while keeping costs down.
- Achieving growth through acquisition. Uber has achieved high growth rates by acquiring adjacent businesses, such as artificial intelligence company Mighty AI which they acquired in 2014, grocery delivery app Cornershop which they acquired in 2015, and geospatial software platform deCarta, also acquired in 2015.
Within these four pillars, we can see the vision Uber has set in terms of where they want to be in the market, as well as the actions they have taken to get there. That’s their strategy.
Every business needs a strategy—and, by extension, every business needs effective strategy meetings or workshops.
So what exactly is a strategy meeting?
A strategy meeting, session, or workshop is a dedicated forum which takes you away from day-to-day operations to focus solely on strategy. You can use strategy meetings to define a new strategy, to review the path you’re currently on, to brainstorm ideas for how you’ll reach your goals, and to establish benchmarks for how you’ll measure progress and define success.
The exact purpose of a strategy meeting depends on what you want to accomplish. A strategy meeting with board members and CEOs to define the overall business strategy will have different goals than, say, a strategy workshop held by the marketing department.
Whatever the goal, a strategy workshop is a collaborative session where stakeholders get together to contribute to the strategic direction of the company in some way.
This poses the question: Who should be invited to a strategy meeting? Let’s take a look.
Who should be involved in a strategy meeting?
Who you invite to your strategy meeting will depend on your desired outcomes.
If you’re running a workshop for the overall business strategy, you’ll want to invite C-level representatives as well as department heads. You’ll also want to involve project managers who are responsible for overseeing strategic initiatives. And, if your meeting involves reviewing and discussing data, invite those who have collected the data and can discuss it fluently.
However, strategy-focused workshops aren’t always about the very top-level business strategy. They can also be held at a department or team level to relate what different teams are doing to the overarching company goals. In that case, you won’t invite the CEO or every department head. You’ll keep it focused on those involved at the team level.
For example, you might hold a workshop with the marketing department to define or review the current marketing strategy. Depending on how the department is set up, you might invite relevant team leads, such as the social media lead, editorial/content lead, performance marketing lead, and so on. If you’re zooming in on a specific marketing area, such as social media, you’d tailor your guest list accordingly.
Ultimately, you want to invite all relevant representatives who are involved in overseeing and/or executing strategic initiatives. As you write your attendee list (and your agenda), remember that the meeting should focus solely on strategy and optimizing the team’s efforts to work towards the overall vision. It’s not the time to discuss day-to-day tasks or operational issues.
Think about the goal of your strategy workshop, and ask yourself who can contribute to those strategic discussions. That’s your guest list!
What’s the desired outcome of a strategy session, and how can you ensure it’s actioned beyond the meeting itself?
When holding a strategy meeting or workshop, the goal is to combine strategic thinking with execution planning. What is it you want to achieve, and what actions will get you there?
You’re not necessarily looking to come up with specific day-to-day tasks, but rather, an overarching plan of action that outlines how you’ll use your available resources to move in the right direction.
For example, if you’re holding a strategy meeting with the marketing team, you’ll want to set a vision for your marketing activities that aligns with the company’s overall strategy. This might involve defining quarterly goals for the team and identifying success metrics, or brainstorming new content or campaign ideas.
Plan your workshop with a clearly defined goal in mind, as well as the tangible outcomes you want to achieve. From there, turn your outcomes (i.e. strategic initiatives and ideas) into action items with a clearly designated person of responsibility for each, as well as a proposed timeline.
Here’s what you want to come away with:
- Action items that turn strategic initiatives and ideas into implementable tasks, as well as a designated person of responsibility for each
- A proposed timeline with milestones for when these actions will be carried out
- Clearly defined success metrics. How will you determine if your initiatives are successful/effective/on track?
We’ve covered the “What” and the “Why” of strategy meetings. Now for the “How.” Here are five key steps to follow in order to plan and execute a successful strategy session.
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How To Plan & Run a Successful Strategy Meeting: 5 Key Steps
1. Define a clear goal for your strategy workshop
Every successful workshop begins with a clearly defined goal. Before you can plan any further, it’s essential to establish the following:
- Why are you holding this strategy session?
- What do you want to achieve?
- What outcome(s) do you want to leave with?
- Who is this session for?
For example, your goal for the session could be to develop a marketing strategy for the upcoming launch of a new product. You might break that broader goal down into specific outcomes, such as marketing initiatives and how you’ll implement them, what metrics you’ll track in order to measure success, and a roadmap with milestones and timelines.
The end goal will shape your entire workshop agenda, and it ensures that participants know exactly what they’re working towards.
2. Write your agenda
A well-designed agenda is key to keeping your strategy workshop focused and on track to achieve your desired outcomes.
So what makes for a good agenda?
- Clearly defined objectives for the workshop
- Precise time-boxing for each exercise/activity (with buffer time built in)
- Icebreaker activities and energizers to keep the group motivated
- A dedicated slot at the end to summarize meeting outcomes and outline clear action points and next steps
You can learn more about how to write an agenda here, and we’ll share some of our favorite strategy workshop exercises later on in this post.
3. Prepare the necessary data and materials
Based on the goals of your strategy session, you’ll need to have any supporting data and materials at the ready.
If you’re reviewing performance in the last quarter against the current strategy, you might prepare a presentation of key metrics. If you’re coming up with new content ideas, you might want to share some examples of what competitors have done—or showcase the content initiatives that have been most successful so far.
This step also includes your general workshop setup. Consider the exercises and activities you’re going to run and the materials they require—be it a virtual whiteboard, Post-it notes, pens, or any other kind of props you might need.
Run through your agenda and note down everything you could possibly need for each segment of your strategy session, then tick it off as you prepare it. Organization is key!
Did you know you can charge a 4-figure day rate just by mastering a few “workshop recipes?”
4. Invite key stakeholders and set expectations
You’ve got a clearly defined goal for your strategy session, a solid agenda, and you’re in the process of gathering all the tools and materials you’ll need to get it off the ground. The next step is to invite your participants and set expectations.
Make sure your invitees know exactly what the session is for and why you’re running it. The more clarity they have on the goals and purpose of the meeting, the more motivated they’ll be to attend and contribute. Share an outline of the agenda, let them know how much time the session will take, and encourage them to come with their strategic hats on.
If you can get stakeholder buy-in from the get-go, you’ll be in for a productive and enjoyable strategy workshop.
5. Outline clear takeaways and action points
We can’t overstate the importance of this final step. The purpose of a strategy meeting is to ensure that day-to-day tasks are contributing to the overall vision, so the last thing you want to do is forget all about the outcomes of the workshop and just return to business as usual.
End the session with a clear summary of the outcomes and key takeaways, as well as action points for how your strategic initiatives will be implemented. What are the next steps? Who is responsible for carrying them out? Can your participants expect some kind of follow up from the workshop?
Make sure everybody leaves with a clear idea of what you’ve all achieved in the session, as well as what will happen next. In fact, that’s the golden rule that applies to any meeting or workshop!
5 Exercises to run during a strategy workshop
The type of exercises you include in your agenda depends on the specific goals of your strategy workshop. If you’re not sure where to start, consider one (or some) of the following:
- Retrospective exercises for reviewing past initiatives and capturing learnings from what’s been done so far. We’ve compiled the best retrospective exercises in this guide, including the classic retrospective, the starfish method, and the 4 “L”s.
- Problem-framing exercises to make sure you’re tackling the right challenges in your strategy session. You’ll find eight useful problem-framing exercises here.
- Icebreakers to get the group warmed up at the beginning of the workshop. Check out our favorite icebreaker activities here.
- Ideation exercises for coming up with new ideas and approaches. These exercises are especially useful for problem-solving and developing new strategic initiatives. For a quick ideation exercise, try the 10 for 10 approach.
- Decision-making exercises to help the group reach decisions collaboratively and efficiently without all the usual circular discussions and back-and-forth. Some of our favorites include dot voting, heatmaps, and the effort/impact scale, which you can learn about in this post.
That just about concludes our strategy session guide. We hope you find it useful and feel better-equipped to plan and run your next strategic workshop. For more workshop tips and tricks, check out our ultimate guide to workshop success. Happy strategizing!