Strategic planning sessions often fail to be either strategic or helpful in planning for the future. The expense in time, energy, and dollars can be significant. And yet, often the process leaves people frustrated and unfulfilled.
Why? What to do?
In my experience, the most effective offsites benefit from utilizing a mental model or framework that bounds the discussion, defines the assumptions, and helps people with a common lexicon and method for discussing issues and deriving answers. The absence of a framework or model for decision making and discussion and the lack of a common lexicon to discuss issues results in people talking past one another and endless loops that lead nowhere.
I am always amazed how varied peoples perceptions are to issues and the degree to variance can only be overcome if a common vocabulary and framework is agreed upon. This is especially true when you bring people together from completely different functional backgrounds.
For example, I recently served on the strategic planning committee of my church. Ten very smart people, well maybe nine, were asked to come together and define a three year plan for the church and its ministries. The first few meetings were pure hell. We talked endlessly about how to organize the committee, what the deliverable would be, and others simply jumped in and attempted to solve "key" issues. We got nowhere and lost energy.
We finally saw real traction when we all read a book that provided a framework for the process - with templates, a timeline, a sample deliverable, and a model for discussing the issues at hand. As soon as we adopted the model and the associated language, context, and logic, we made amazing progress and finished in no time at all. A shared approach that defined the problem and provided a path to deriving a solution allowed the group to think as one and it provided a baseline that made each individuals contribution additive.
In business setttings, the same lessons apply. Unless people buy into a mental model or construct of how to define, discuss, and solve the problem(s), conversations are endless streams of non-sequitors and serve only to frustrate the people involved.
Accordingly, I am a firm believer in
- defining the problem to solve
- agreeing on a model or framework for discussing the problem and deriving a solution
- ie defining the logic path and process that result in an answer
- defining a timeline
- getting team member buy-in wrt the above