How to Hold Great Strategy Sessions

You might struggle to improve business strategy and operations without effective strategy sessions and planning. Nobody wants this struggle, so we have put together some essential practices for conducting great strategy sessions and avoiding stagnant operations and stale, unproductive strategy meetings.

by 

James Moffatt

-

May 10, 2024

Henry Mintzberg stressed that "strategy is not the consequence of planning, but the opposite: its starting point." For you therefore, it is critical to carry out strategic planning before you embark on any form of planning meeting. How exactly do you do this? It is about choosing what not to do more than what to do, and this planning should be done via strategy sessions. You might struggle with this decision making if you aren't holding sessions of high productivity and engagement, so let's make sure this isn't the case by working out exactly how to hold a strong strategy session.

First off, I want to point out that strategy sessions should be tailored to you and your team, and included within this is choosing how you communicate best and getting your strategic conversations done in that way. If you prefer to iron things out in person, then hold these sessions in an office or collaborative space, but if you prefer and find virtual meetings more efficient, then do your strategic planning via video call. For our team, we prefer the latter, and therefore, we have some quick tips that we have found effective in achieving consistently great planning meetings.

  1. Abide by virtual meeting etiquette. People don't give this the attention it deserves, but by doing so and setting a few ground rules, you can begin to meet better, something that filters all the way down to strategy execution.
  2. Record your virtual meetings. I would tell you to take notes, but what is the point when you can get an AI notetaker to do this (and more) for you. Use a tool like Bubbles Notetaker, which will record, transcribe, and summarize your strategy session, before distributing it to all participants with their tailored action items.
  3. Keep the conversation going. Keep iterating the strategy where necessary and don't be a rigid, stubborn team. Choose your method of asynchronous communication and keep discussing outside of meeting time. If you choose to use Bubbles Notetaker per tip 2, then you will be pleasantly surprised to know that within your meeting recording area, you will have a comment section where you can type or record responses and further communication.

Those were some tips about the meeting itself, so let's now focus on the strategic element of the meeting and how to hold great strategy sessions.

Don't be alarmed though, because in reality, the strategic planning process should not be over-burdening. Jack Welch, who we have heard from before on this blog, says this best - "pick and general direction and implement like hell". However, we need to know how to pick this direction so that we can achieve strategic goals and make sure team members are aligned and motivated, which is what we will cover below. We will also create a strategic agenda that you can follow in your sessions.

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Facilitating a Strategic Planning Session

How to Facilitate a Strategic Planning Session

The truth is that you cannot just expect a strategy session to become great by creating a comprehensive agenda and being committed to leading discussions. We wish it was that easy but in reality, it requires a deep understanding of your business and the market, challenges you may face, as well as opportunities and knowledge of areas that you can fit within and find great product/market fit, for example. You must also have the ability to engage and inspire all of the participants of the session, which is something tougher. Generally, full commitment and enthusiasm towards your strategy from your end can go a long way towards instilling this into others, but here are some other good tips.

  1. Preparation is Key: One of my favourite sayings is "I wish you good preparation, not good luck". Before your strategy session, dedicate yourself to gathering relevant data and insights, and add them to your arsenal to bring up in the session. An example of this pre-work might include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to get this thorough understanding of the current market conditions and therefore any opportunities you have internally at your company.
  2. Choose the Right Facilitator: Do not hesitate to acknowledge that you aren't the best person to lead the meeting. The role of a facilitator is pivotal and communicative and leadership qualities should be the leading factor when choosing someone to steer discussions constructively and keep the team focused on strategic objectives, not whether it is a senior leader, manager, or external consultant. Remove hierarchy and focus on the discussion.
  3. Create an Inclusive Environment: You won't get a good round-table discussion without everyone being comfortable, so set some ground rules for the session that encourage open communication and respect for everyone's opinions, no matter whether they are a long shot or something obvious. We want people to actively contribute in these sessions.

Goals for a Planning Meeting

What Are the 3 Goals for a Planning Meeting?

All of our strategic planning meetings should have clear, defined goals - we know this. However, these typically center around three core objectives:

  1. Alignment of Organizational Goals: Everyone must be on the same page for it to work. Drum the goals home and ensure there is a clear understanding and agreement on the organizational goals, as well as how strategic initiatives that are already in place align with them, and how the ones you are about to discuss should too.
  2. Finding and Prioritizing these Strategic Objectives: Once everyone knows what the goals are, it becomes far easier to cherry pick some strategic objectives that will help you reach them. Discuss extensively, and try to determine the key strategic objectives that will drive the company forward towards becoming a resounding success. This involves identifying what needs to be accomplished first and as a priority, and setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals.
  3. Creating of an Execution Plan: No point having a strategy if you don't know how to execute it! Make sure each session ends with a clear execution plan that outlines action items, assigns responsibilities, and sets deadlines. The beauty of holding your sessions virtually and using Bubbles Notetaker is that these action items and responsibilities will be assigned to you automatically post-meeting, removing any confusion and creating accountability.

Writing a Strategic Agenda

How Do You Write a Strategic Agenda?

Writing an effective strategic agenda requires serious and thorough consideration of the session’s objectives and the key issues that need addressing. At Bubbles, we are focussed on optimizing meetings, and we know just how important good agendas are, so we wanted to create an outline for your strategy session agenda here:

  1. Start the session with a Vision Statement: Set the goals straight by opening the agenda with a brief overview of the organization’s vision and strategic goals. You will set the tone instantly and give some context to the discussion.
  2. Outline Key Discussion Points: Don't let there be any confusion. List the main topics for discussion, such as strategic goals, scenario planning, and the strategic planning process, giving them a category of prioritization so that they can be covered first.
  3. Include Interactive Elements: The occasional brainstorming session, SWOT analysis activity or scenario planning session can be great for boost engagement and encouraging participation and generation of creative ideas.
  4. Allocate Time Wisely: Time is money, so make sure you assign specific time slots for each agenda item, including the discussion and debate that will happen for it. You need to enforce this too to avoid having the meeting go off track and missing any agenda items.
  5. Conclude with Next Steps: We have already covered this briefly, but make sure the next steps are crystal clear. Use Bubbles for this if you need help making sure next steps, action plans, and timelines are never forgotten!

Best Practices for Strategy Sessions

  1. Use Templates: Use any tools at your disposal to ensure success. For example, making use of a strategic planning template will help your in structuring your session well every time. These templates may also remind you of elements that get overlooked but are critical for great strategic planning.
  2. Engage Every Single Stakeholder: Remember, everyone on your team is from a different background, and therefore likely has a fresh, new insight from their perspective that may not have been considered. Get every relevant stakeholder involved in the strategy session, including leadership teams, key employees, and even some external stakeholders where applicable to your team and company.
  3. Follow Up Regularly: Bubbles is great for helping with follow up, due to the capability to set respond-by-times and continue discussions asynchronously but within the context of the meeting recording. Strategy execution can derail without proper follow-up, so make sure you keep the conversation going and assess progress or challenges to help iterate strategy when necessary.
  4. Measure and Adapt: OKRs need to be set to give you the ability to regularly measure the outcomes of your strategic initiatives against the set KPIs. This will also help you to adapt and continuously improve and be successful.

And just like that, we have reached the end and we are experts on strategy sessions. Try to remember each of these tips as you head into your next strategic planning meeting, and even share insights with teammates. Also, on the note of remembering - make sure you are using Bubbles Notetaker in any virtually held meetings. It is crucial to stay focused on the strategy and discussion, so don't distract yourself unnecessarily by scribbling notes - you will inevitably lose track, and we don't want that!

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More from Bubbles

Collaborate better with your team

Get your point across using screen, video, and audio messages. Bubbles is free, and offers unlimited recordings with a click of a button.

Get started free

Make your
meetings matter

Use AI to record, transcribe, and summarize meetings into actions. Bubbles is your home for after-meeting collaboration.

Try it free in < 2 min