Value of Professional Facilitation for Quarterly and Annual Planning

By Cathy McCullough

dateThu, Jan 23, 2020 @ 09:00 AM

Unfortunately, I’ve seen leading companies spend (aka “waste”) time in a one or two-day Annual Planning or Quarterly planning facilitationQuarterly Planning Session. The time is wasted because once they leave the room, they get back to what’s normal (i.e., they get back to putting out fires on a daily basis). As one CEO recently said to me, “We plan, but we never seem to get very far with implementing our plan.” What’s lost when this happens is not only time but focus, productivity, and discipline.  To improve your return on time you need to consider hiring an annual planning facilitator or quarterly planning facilitator to create a winning plan.

For this CEO, it was at this point in time when he contacted Rhythm Systems to inquire about having a facilitated onsite session.  The session went really well, and the team commented that it was one of the most productive two days they’d spent together in a very long time.

Feeling the pain of poor Annual or Quarterly Planning facilitation?

Here are some tips as well as why you might consider working with an experienced outside facilitator.

  • Planning doesn’t happen “on the fly.” Effective Annual and Quarterly Planning facilitation is a rhythmic event that happens every single year in preparation for the year or quarter ahead. It shouldn’t be the last thing you think of; it’s important and as such, it deserves everyone’s commitment. Therefore, get the dates scheduled as soon as you can. You’ll know you’re a step closer to being a disciplined organization when your executive team anticipates the Annual and Quarterly Planning Sessions. In addition, since your team will be away from their offices, they need to make sure that deadlines are met, customers are satisfied, etc.
  • Location…Location…Location! It’s not necessary to spend lavishly on the location, but you need to make sure that it can comfortably accommodate your entire executive team while also allowing privacy so that open and honest discussions can take place. Get out and away from the office if at all possible to encourage open and honest discussions.
  • Speaking of “open and honest” discussions. Prepare your team. Without openness and candor, you limit your company’s ability to succeed. In one recent Annual Planning Session, two peers got involved in a discussion that was a “hot topic” for the team (regarding a process one of them had started without anyone else knowing about). The tension in the room was mounting. Finally, one of them said, “Okay…never mind! This isn’t why we’re here. We’ll just talk about this later.” Many times, these types of uncomfortable discussions vanish into thin air, as this one would have done without an outside facilitator in the room. The facilitation guided the discussion toward a fruitful end while also asking a set of questions that others would not have asked. It was a breakthrough moment for the team.
  • Become a part of the conversation. If you facilitate your own sessions, that’s fine. However, it’s important to recognize the value of being a direct part of the conversation. That’s hard to do if you’re also responsible for the many aspects of effective facilitation. Plus, is your time best spent doing all the prep work necessary (which is required for a viable session) and then facilitating that session and then doing the follow-up needed to pull everything together…or is your time best spent being focused on other aspects of what you do for your company?
  • A Confidant. Another advantage of having a facilitated Annual or Quarterly Planning Session is that you and/or your team have an outside voice. It’s a voice and perspective that’s outside the walls of your organization and the blind spots your leaders exhibit just aren’t there. That’s of value.
  • The “Difficult” Discussion. This important point relates to #3 above. Another key reason to consider having an outside facilitator is so that your team can have a facilitated discussion about crucial (and usually confidential) topics. In one session I facilitated, a member of the team “blew up” at the CEO. To say these two got into a yelling match would be an understatement. As an outside facilitator, I shared my observation (which was: Is this how you solve your problems? Let’s talk about this for a bit.) In the end, I commend this team as they navigated through a set of issues that they hadn’t touched in a very long time.
  • Incorporation of Team-Building. When appropriate, building in some time for an executive team to bond at a higher level can be a valuable exercise toward building higher levels of trust and respect. In a recent Executive Retreat, the CEO asked for three days (instead of two) because, “I want this team to bond!” It was a strong team to begin with, but there had been a few ripples of insecurity and desire to not change some processes that needed to be changed. This had caused stress, which in turn was causing some distrust. Coupled with two dinner conversations, this three-day event was a huge success. Without an outside facilitator, this type of “bonding” is much harder to achieve.

You may think you’re saving money by facilitating your own planning session, but when you consider the investment made in pulling your most expensive people together and the opportunity cost of not getting full value out of your time together, you may find that this is one of the best investments you’ll ever make.  

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Cathy McCullough


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