Laying the Foundation for a Successful Strategy Session

It was a “mountain top” session

As a Compression Planner, you know every session is different. We frequently get asked “How do you evaluate a session?”

Evaluating how a session goes is sometimes tricky. At some point in the future, you have to ask “Did that time we spent together make a difference?”

There are things you can do with every session that will lay a solid foundation that facilitates long-term success.

I wish we could do a “case study” on every session we facilitate. Most are done under a confidentiality agreement. There are “foundational” lessons I hope I can identify and share with you that will help you with your planning.

Jerry and I recently facilitated a two-day offsite strategic session.  It was a “mountain top session” with everything falling into place perfectly.

The following lays out some of the items that led to the success.  They are things you can do for your next session.

Pre-Session: Setting the stage and laying the foundation

  • The clients personally visited participants and laid out the long term reasoning for why they were assembling as a group to tackle their topic.  This had never been done before with this particular team.  The time investment was certainly larger but each participant knew what was expected from them.
  • The clients were available for multiple design consultations. They made themselves accessible to us.  We worked multiple versions of the design until we were all comfortable that the end result would deliver what the clients needed.
  • Since most participants were making a long distance drive, they selected an off-site retreat center that was central for most participants.

During the Session

  • The client did a nice job setting the stage in the beginning.  They answered questions about the design to get grounded to be able to participate.  The participants didn’t challenge the design but decided to “go with the flow/process.”  I believe the group didn’t challenge the design because they knew ahead of time what was going to be asked of them. They were ready to immediately start working.
  • There were lots of appropriate artifacts the group could reference.  There were demographic charts as well as maps of the regions that served as background for different parts of the session.
  • The client didn’t overplay their role.  There was participation and guidance but the group felt free to share their ideas and did so.

Post Session: Follow-through and commitment

  • The clients distributed the report to all participants.
  • Feedback from our client is that some commitments, based on consensus, are being completed ahead of schedule.
  • Feedback from participants is that the time spent together was incredibly valuable and everyone appreciated the time invested by the client to make their topic achievable.
  • This session set the bar high in terms of future expectations.  Everyone knows what they committed to and they are making forward progress working through any hang-ups they may encounter.

My Top 10 Lessons Learned from this session:

  1. Always do a design.  Follow the Design Questions that are laid out in your Blueprint book on page 25, no matter what.  You won’t use all of the questions, but you must address each section!  For a copy of the questions, click here.
  2. Get copied on all correspondence from your client that goes out to participants regarding the upcoming session. It is helpful to know ahead of time how the foundation has been laid for the session you are about to facilitate. Also, be prepared to give guidance on how they should set the stage. Be ready to “consult” and set them up for success.
  3. Get appropriate artifacts. I saw a funny saying recently that said “a picture is no longer worth 1,000 words.  Due to inflation, it is now worth 437.”  But still, that’s a lot of bang for your buck!  USE ARTIFACTS to help tell your story and set the stage.
  4. Set up your space the night before using it. This is just common practice. You will sleep better knowing that everything is already set up and ready for you to show up and be with your client and participants.
  5. I was the printer for this session and Jerry was the facilitator. When you bring along a printer, recruit someone to sit next to your main printer to serve as “backup.”  When I print, I capture 95% of the cards and the second person really is mostly freed up to be a participant. There were times when I needed someone to “translate” some of the language so I could document it. I was luck in that I had someone I have known for years by my side!
  6. If you are unsure of how the process is unfolding, check in with your client.  Use your client as the ultimate judge to ensure you are taking the group down the right track.
  7. For multiple day sessions, be comfortable “being uncomfortable” at the end of day one.  A lot gets stirred up and people need their “soak time.”  It will come together on day two.
  8. The absolute ideal is facilitating in pairs where you have someone trained in Compression Planning leading, and someone else trained in the role of lead printer. When we facilitate off-site retreats, Jerry is the lead facilitator and I do the documentation. We bounce things around during the evenings about how the day’s session has gone and any discuss changes that might need to occur the next day.
  9. Have enough of the right equipment and materials – storyboards, easels, pushpins, pushpins, pushpins, index cards and most importantly, space. I remember pushing someone who wanted to diagram on a whiteboard to use the storyboard and cards. At the end, she said she never would have been able to do what she just accomplished on a whiteboard.  There was too much manipulation of information and recategorizing of cards and the storyboards were the perfect medium to capture what she was trying to accomplish.
  10. Trust and follow the process from beginning to end. This recent session was textbook perfect in following all of the steps.

The time you invest upfront with your participants lays the foundation of success for your session. It makes everything easier…for you, your client and your group.

Best Compression Planning Wishes,

Patrick McNellis


One Response to Laying the Foundation for a Successful Strategy Session

  1. Jim Jezak November 13, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Hi Pat,
    I always find the Compression Planning session reports very interesting.

    I still value so much the times we worked together, and the great times I and your dad were able to share.

    Because I had the opportunity to work with you and your dad, I today use the process on a continuous basis in every business transaction.

    Please mention to your Dad Jerry, and to your wife Stephanie, also your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

    Hope all is well with the entire McNellis family.

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