How to Train a Team Member to Facilitate a Quarterly Planning Session

By Alan Gehringer

dateFri, Feb 27, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

Our next Valentine's Day contest winner is Cara R. Here's her question: "What is the best way to train 10806723256_f198e30f8d_zsomeone on our team to facilitate a 90 day planning mtg? You have a lot of resources on your website regarding the agenda for the sessions, but how do we get a facilitator to really help the team focus on the most important questions? What should be the facilitator's objectives during this time? The things that will lead to an even better plan?"

Cara, thank you for your question. 

Specifically you asked:

How do we help get a facilitator ready to focus on the most important questions?

What should be the facilitator’s objectives during this time?

What are the things that will lead to an even better plan?

These are all great questions, so let us dig in and I will do my best to answer them.

First, as Stephen Covey guides us, always begin with the end in mind. Determine what the most important take-aways from the session are. Have a conversation with the CEO to determine what would make it a great session and what they want to walk out of the meeting with. Confirm the objectives up front, as you prepare the agenda and confirm them again when you kick off the session with the team. There should be two or three clear objectives stated. Parking lot any conversations that come up that do not fit with the primary session goals so they can be addressed at the end of this meeting or in another meeting.

We like to start by having the team do some pre-work before the session. I use an advanced pre-work form that has each participant in the session answer the following question:

  •  Top 3 things to Start doing next quarter
  •  Top 3 things to Stop doing next quarter
  •  Top 3 things to Keep doing
  •  What were your Results, Bright Spots and Lessons Learned this past quarter?
  •  What Opportunities and Threats do you see on the horizon as we enter the quarter?
  •  Are there any priorities that might carry over into next quarter?
  •  What might your top 3 priorities be for the coming quarter?

This gets the team members thinking before they show up for the session. I also encourage people to do any research needed around their functional area and bring any relevant data they have to the session so we can have robust discussions and make decisions. The facilitator should read and digest all of this information before the session and use it to guide the discussions. This information will also be used to help develop the priorities for the quarter.

Choose someone who is good at facilitating meetings and enjoys doing so. It is often easier to choose someone from outside the organization so that everyone on the team can participate. You might also hire someone to run your first session so that someone on the team can learn the best way to facilitate these meetings. We have a great Facilitators Guide that you can review to prep the person running the meeting. We have also written some other blogs on this subject, which you may want to read. You should also ask for help from the team to make it a great session. It is not all on the facilitator to do so.

So, back to beginning with the end in mind; the main goal of a Quarterly Planning session is to determine the handful of priorities that will drive your longer term strategy forward. What are the most important things the organization needs to accomplish this quarter? In order to answer this, I like to first review the past quarter’s performance. The pre-work will help you accomplish this in an efficient manner. Next, review your long-term goals and annual priorities to see what you have established as the most important things to accomplish this year and how you are progressing on those. Your quarterly priorities should be aligned with and supportive of these. We always recommend three to five priorities for the company and three to five priorities for each individual on the executive team. Two or three of the Individual Priorities will support the Company Priorities while the other two or three may be special projects or priorities that support the person’s functional area. Red-Yellow-Green all priorities so that they have clear success criteria to guide you and keep you on track throughout the quarter.

Focusing on the long-term goals and limiting the number of Company Priorities for the quarter will help to ensure you are focusing on the right things that will drive profitable growth for the quarter and bring you thirteen weeks closer to reaching your long-term Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

Another VERY important point is to keep the meeting at the fifty thousand foot level and focused on the right things. Do not get into the day-to-day issues or spend time problem solving or dealing with issues. Set good ground rules and hold the team to them. You may want to appoint a Sargent at Arms to help with keeping the meeting on track. I always ask permission at the start of the meeting to push the team and hold them accountable while keeping them focused in a respectful manner. Keep referring back to your objectives throughout the one or two day session to see if you working toward accomplishing them.

Remember, the facilitator’s job is to ask questions, not provide all of the answers. Make sure you are drawing everyone into the conversation. We use the “Five Why” exercise a lot to keep asking why until we get to the true essence of things.

I hope this helps. Remember to focus on the big picture of what really needs to be accomplished in the upcoming quarter to move the company one step closer to reaching their long-term goals.

Good luck and plan well, Alan 

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Alan Gehringer


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