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Strategic Planning Without
Strategic Planning. A term that often sends shivers down the back of the most stalwart executive. Just the terms can be intimidating: strategic intent, white space opportunity, core competencies, and co-evolution.
Today, strategic planning is touted as something in which companies should involve teams of line and staff managers from different disciplines. It advocates bringing customers and suppliers together. It talks about bridging the gaps between business operations. It's about getting people together from different disciplines to look at the entire ecosystem and, as a result, encourages people to think out of the box. It is oriented toward making strategic planning part of each manager's day-to-day world.
Companies are taking the advice of the new-wave strategic planners to heart in implementing the restyled strategic planning methodologies. They are dedicating significant numbers of all levels of employees to the strategic planning process to discover ways to get more out of their operations.
One can't argue with the intent, purpose, and ideals of the re-invented strategic planning process. However, the strong advocacy for cross-functional, multi-level teams, if used by organization as recommended, could hold the potential to destroy the multitude of benefits that could result from the strategic planning process. The primary reason is that, while corporate America has talked about teams for a number of years, most organizations have teams that do not understand the basics of teamwork nor how to effectively conduct meetings. The end result may well be that the teams end up accomplishing the goals of the strategic planning process, but in a longer period of time and with more dysfunctional conflict than is necessary.
If you are going to hop on the strategic planning bandwagon as companies such as Sears, Searle Pharmaceuticals, Philips Electronics, AT&T, and Hewlett-Packard have, you need to consider HOW the team functions in addition to providing it with the new strategic planning skills.
This article is designed to look at one often overlooked aspect to ensuring that your strategic planning effort pays off: effective meeting management.
The cost of ineffective meetings
Too many meetings are poorly run and consume significantly more time than is actually needed to accomplish the necessary tasks. Look at just a few of the statistics:
With statistics like these it's no surprise that meetings are getting in the way of meeting organizational priorities and achieving its tactical and strategic goals. Meeting attendees are getting frustrated, distracted, and irritable just thinking about having another meeting to attend. As a result some individuals have advocated the elimination of meetings.
Unfortunately, the reality is that meetings are critical in today's business environment. Business is more complex, it is global, and it is highly competitive. In many instances, the only way to get the best solution to a situation is by involving a number of people at different levels and in different disciplines throughout the organization. Strategic planning is such a situation. In lieu of abdicating meetings, it makes more sense to improve the effectiveness of meetings.
One of the best ways to do this is to provide meeting attendees with meeting skills training. This should include, at the very least:
Let's look at each one of these.
Do team members know, in advance of the meetings, what is on the agenda and what needs to be accomplished with each agenda item? If I don't know what's on the agenda, I have no way of being prepared for the meeting. The chances of having an unproductive meeting start right at this point. People need to know - in advance - what's on the agenda for the meeting.
An effective agenda is specific and planned. Instead of a meeting starting at 8 am and who knows when it's going to end, a specific meeting start and end time are determined based on the contents of the agenda. Components of the agenda are:
Obviously, with this kind of detail, the agenda cannot be handed out at the meeting. If you want people to be prepared for a meeting, and to be able to use the assigned time effectively, they must have time to prepare for the meeting. The detailed agenda should be sent out to participants a minimum of three working days before the meeting.
The first reaction to this kind of specificity in an agenda is: "I don't have time to put that much work into an agenda!" The question, in reply, is, "But you have hours and hours of time to waste sitting in an unproductive meeting after unproductive meeting?"
By sending the agenda out ahead of time, people can begin to prepare for the meeting and get their the creativity processes going prior to the meeting rather than during the meeting. They have at least three days to run the creative juices through the mill and come to the meeting with their thoughts and ideas well in order. The ones who will always be against a structured meeting are those whose greatest thrill is hearing themselves speak. However, the structured agenda also allows for control of these individuals by allowing the meeting facilitator to ask the speaker how his/her oration contributes to the accomplishment of the end result desired for the agenda item.
Does everyone on the team keep their own notes during the meeting in addition to the meeting secretary taking notes? Keeping the minutes of the meeting has to change, too. The established methodology of having a single person write a record of the meeting on a piece of paper that only their eyes can see is right out of Robert's Rules of Order which dates back to 19th century England.
One could make a good case for saying that the needs of people in business have changed at least a little bit between then and now! So, why are we still using this methodology? The answer is simple: People take notes during meetings so they have an "accurate" record of the meeting. Unfortunately, while a team member is making notes, the person is not an active participant in the meeting. The individual may miss vital information, miss an opportunity to make a contribution, or slow the team down by asking that something be repeated. All of these things work against the overall effectiveness of the team.
Instead of this antiquated process, a recorder should be used whose responsibility it is to record the key points of discussion on a flipchart in front of all the team members. As each piece of flipchart paper is filled, it should be posted on the wall for each member of the team to see. There are multiple advantages in this approach. First, there is no reason for any team member to take notes as all the information is displayed for the team to see. If there is an error or omission, a team member can point it out immediately, ensuring an accurate record of the meeting. Each team member is, therefore, able to concentrate on participating in the discussion on each agenda item. Team members know that they have been "heard" because they can see their point written on the flipchart paper. In addition, if a team member comes in late or must briefly leave the meeting, a quick glance at the posted flipchart sheets enables the individual to quickly catch up with the team without wasting the team's time to update him or her as to what has occurred. Finally, and very applicable to the strategic planning process, anything which needs to be diagrammed out can be done on flipchart paper allowing easy viewing of the process or diagram as the team discusses related issues on the agenda.
Is your team leader wearing too many hats? The leadership of an effective team needs to be different from that which we commonly see. Generally the team leader runs the meeting. That requires that the team leader split his or her attention four ways: being an active team member, addressing process issues, addressing content issues, and handling "problem people" situations. This kind of division of attention almost always results in something getting shorted. In most meetings that is usually the process and the "people problem" issues. Again, we are looking at a situation that means delays in the team accomplishing its goals.
The ideal situation is that there are multiple people throughout the organization who are trained as facilitators. A facilitator is neutral third-party who is responsible for addressing the process and people issues during a team meeting. This frees the team leader up to be an active team member and to handle the content of the meeting. The team leader and facilitator work in harmony, both playing key roles in ensuring that the meeting stays on time and accomplishes what needs to be accomplished. These trained facilitators would then be responsible, as part of their job, for facilitating various meetings throughout the organization. An alternative is to have each team member trained as a facilitator and have each of the team members facilitate a meeting. This is a less desirable solution, as the facilitator is a neutral person. It means taking an active team member and putting him or her into a noncontributory role during a particular meeting.
Are there "problem people" on your team? Think about your team meetings. Do you have whisperers who impair your ability to concentrate on the meeting? Does your team's know-it-all constantly disrupt the meeting with his or her "expert advice"? Is there someone who is constantly interrupting others and getting away with that behavior? Does a team member get away with speaking for other people (as in, "What Joan is trying to say is...)? Do you have a member who pops in an out of the meeting?
If you have these kinds of problems on an ongoing basis, you are wasting precious time by allowing individuals to get away with these dysfunctional meeting robbing behaviors. These kinds of behaviors should be properly addressed so that they team is able to concentrate on it's business rather than being sidetracked by unacceptable behaviors. This requires training and practice to become a skilled observer of "people problems" and an effective solver of those problems. But unless they are addressed, they will continue to destroy the team and limit its overall accomplishments.
Team member responsibilities
Do team members feel that their "role" on the team is simply to show up at most of the meetings? Team members rarely think of themselves as having more responsibility than simply being a team member. This could not be further from the truth. Each team member is responsible for a number of things:
For many organizations, strategic planning is the logical next step in its development. The "fat" has been cut from the organization and it has been restructured or reorganized to be more effective. Now it is time to begin the process of strategic planning to focus in on customer service, increased revenue and profit, developing new products, expanding existing business, and developing new markets. But it can only be accomplished with effective teams who possess the knowledge and skills to conduct effective meetings that drive - rather than hinder - the strategic planning process.
Many more articles in More Effective Meetings in The CEO Refresher Archives