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Virtual Strategic Planning Sessions: 7 Tips for a Great Strategic Planning Session

By Jessica Wishart

    Fri, Oct 30, 2020 @ 11:03 AM Annual & Quarterly Planning

    If you are like many of our clients, you may be considering adjusting travel plans for your team in the virtual strategic planning meetingsmidst of the concern surrounding COVID-19. This will obviously have a big impact on most businesses, which makes it more important than ever to prioritize your team’s quarterly planning meeting. You’ll need to spend time thinking about the impacts to your team and your business, so even if you are canceling travel, don’t cancel your session!  This is likely to be the most important virtual strategy session in the history of your company - even if you can't meet face to face.  You need to be agile to respond to the ever-changing market conditions while creating your 3-5 year strategic plans.  

    Here are some tips for having your next quarterly planning session if some (or all) of you team members have to join remotely:

    1. Use video. Even if some of you are in the same room, have everyone join the virtual meeting with a webcam turned on. This will keep you all more engaged throughout the meeting and make it less tempting to multitask.  This will allow you to read the body language of the participants and be able to encourage participation. The large group should feel as personal as it can be as it will help facilitate problem solving, which is the main reason you've invited the leadership team.
    2. Rethink your meeting agenda. Don’t just push through the agenda as planned. Give the session more thought, and adjust the agenda to maximize the time and effectiveness of your team. You might decide to spend more time on the discussions portion of the day to work through opportunities and threats related to COVID-19 and less time on another agenda item that’s not as pressing (maybe you finish that Core Customer discussion next quarter, for example). If the thought of doing two straight days virtually is just too daunting, can you break your meeting up over the course of the week? Maybe plan multiple 2-3 hour blocks for virtual planning instead of two straight days to break it up.
    3. Take more frequent breaks. In an in-person meeting, it’s easier to look away from the screens, stand up when you need to, take a quick coffee or bio break. Your remote participants need more structured breaks. If you need to, remind everyone to stand up, do some stretching, and walk around a little every couple of hours at least.  This is important for a successful virtual meeting as it will keep the energy up for the team.
      Download Guide: Questions to Consider  for Go-Forward Planning 
    4. Start with virtual participants. If you are going around the room round-robin style to share something as a group, always start with the virtual participants first. This ensures they aren’t forgotten and feel included and tuned in to the meeting.  It is always best practice to ask open ended questions to encourage them to open up early.  We often recommend opening up the meeting with sharing a story of one of your core values.
    5. Consider the visuals. If you have people joining remotely, do not rely on white boards and flip chart sheets. The virtual participants cannot see them and will be frustrated and distracted. Use online collaboration tools instead, like Google Docs or Rhythm software, where everyone can see, follow along, and add their input.  Video conferencing and screen sharing help, but you must make sure to be prepared with the proper visuals to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  If you have some of your team in a conference room and some in a virtual meeting room, encourage all of the people in-person to bring their laptop so virtual participants can feel more engaged in real time.  
    6. Read the room. The facilitator should keep an eye on the virtual folks as well as the people in the room - are people checking out, glancing at emails, getting antsy? Be aware of when you may need to call everyone back to attention, take a break, or mix up the format of the discussion. If you have two days, be sure to get feedback at the end of day 1 so you can make adjustments for day 2.  Virtual planning meetings require you to be constantly reading the room and making adjustments.
    7. Mix up the format. To keep the team engaged, try some different formats. For example, maybe you can break the team up into smaller sub-teams of 2-4 people for some of the exercises (like writing Red-Yellow-Green on Priorities or voting on top Start, Stop, Keep ideas for the quarter). Some virtual meeting tools, like Zoom, offer “Breakout Rooms” where you can divide virtual participants into smaller groups for small group discussions, which is like having a virtual planning session within your session, and then share the findings with the full team. For the portion of the meeting where the team is working on individual Priorities and Red-Yellow-Green, ask everyone to physically get up and move to a different location to do this individual work. Maybe even ask them to print a paper tool and go outside to fill it out.

    Strategic planning sessions can be exceedingly difficult to run on your own in person, let alone a virtual strategic planning session.  Our thirteen years of experience have allowed us to work with thousands of plans and we know the best practices that help your virtual team get aligned.  The strategic planning process is often best left to the experts, especially if you are under pressure to hit the targets outlined in your business plan.

    If facilitating a remote planning session seems daunting, let us help you! Our experts can facilitate virtual strategy sessions as well as in-person planning to help your team navigate success in these times.  Learn how to facilitate a strategic planning session with this great blog post, or this article on how to prepare for virtual strategic planning.

    Download our virtual planning process infographic below:

    Virtual Planning Process Infographic

    Learn More About Our Strategic Planning Solutions

    Additional Virtual Strategic Planning Session Information:

    5 Best Practices to Manage Remote Employees

    Learn More About Virtual Planning Sessions and Facilitators

    How to Engage Remote Employees

    How to Use Daily Huddles to Stay Aligned with Remote Teams

    5 Steps to Having a Productive Virtual Monthly Meeting

    The Anatomy of a Great Quarterly Plan (Infographic)

    Rhythm Systems Quarterly Planning Resource Center

    Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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