How to plan and run strategic meetings

Love them or hate them, meetings are an inescapable part of modern workplaces. Need proof? Consider this: businesses in the United States hold approximately 55 million of them every week. That means 11 million meetings are running daily, and over one billion get held each year.

However, as most people can attest, not all meetings are made equal. While some are well-organized and produce meaningful outcomes, many leave attendees twiddling their thumbs and watching the clock. That’s never ideal, but it can be catastrophic when you’re organizing a strategic meeting. These ones are pivotal to business success, so it’s crucial they run smoothly from the outset. Keep reading for all the insights you need to make that happen.

What is a strategic meeting?

At its core, a strategic meeting (or “strategy meeting”) involves looking at where the business wants to be and how it plans to get there. Relevant parties meet to discuss the company’s goals, review any progress that’s been made toward them, and/or decide an appropriate course of action for making further headway.

In practice, these collaborative sessions, workshops, or forums happen outside the team’s usual day-to-day roles. The focus is strictly on strategy. Attendees analyze past data, brainstorm new ideas for growth, define outcomes they wish to pursue, and decide how to measure progress.

Strategic meetings happen at every level of an organization, too. For example, while the CEO might meet with board members to discuss the business’s overall long-term strategy, the sales team could meet to strategize on increasing close rates next quarter. This is important because it highlights how the purpose of strategic meetings ties into a) who is attending and b) what they’re trying to accomplish.

What is business strategy?

To shed further light on strategic meetings, it’s worth defining “strategy.” According to the dictionary, it’s “a detailed plan for achieving success.” So in a business context, you a) look at the long-term goal (to establish market share and beat the competition) and then b) decide what actions you must take to get there.

Consider Amazon, for example. The business strategy of this giant multinational tech company boils down to four constituent parts:

1. Entering new niches on a regular basis

Amazon began as an online book store. These days, you can buy almost anything. Likewise, Amazon Web Services, Amazon Home Services, cloud computing, and supermarkets are just a few of the new niches it’s entered over the years.

2. Improving the current Amazon ecosystem

Unlike other companies that fit neatly into a single industry, Amazon’s better described as an ecosystem that’s achieved a remarkable level of synergy. It works hard to generate as much benefit as possible from each element of the ecosystem while also strengthening relationships between them.

3. Making customer service central

Amazon aims to “be Earth’s most customer-centric company.” It sacrifices short-term profits and doesn’t worry too much about the competition, choosing instead to focus on improving the customer experience.

4. Focusing on leadership values

Another reason Amazon maintains a competitive advantage is that it’s so focused on maximizing the contribution of its employees. Despite the well-reported challenges of working for Amazon, the company has strong leadership values based on 16 key principles that help it achieve this.

Can you see the vision Amazon has for where it wants to be? It isn’t here to muck around! Nothing short of dominance will do. Likewise, the four cornerstones of its strategy reveal how it’s achieved such success. All businesses need to establish their own strategy, which is where strategic meetings come in.

Why Are Strategy Meetings So Important?

Why should you add another meeting to the long list you already attend? What are the benefits? Ultimately, a strategic meeting is a valuable opportunity for teams to step back from the distractions of daily operations and take stock of where they are.

Think of it like a navigator stopping to check their map and compass. If they just kept walking, they’re more likely to take a wrong turn. And if they don’t check regularly, they could keep going for miles after a mistake until they’re totally off track.

These meetings stop something similar from happening in a business. They keep the company’s objectives at the forefront of the management process. As a result, you’re constantly making decisions and taking action that aligns with the mission – and what the data’s telling you. You can identify obstacles, correct course, and stay on track to get to wherever you want to go.

Who Should Attend Strategic Meetings?

As we alluded to earlier, the “guest list” for strategic meetings hinges on what they’re trying to accomplish. For example, if you’re focusing on the overall business strategy, then attendees will usually include:

Yet a department-level meeting won’t need such high-level folks present. Instead, you might stick to relevant team members and leaders (plus anyone involved in the data-gathering process). You’d refine the guest list even further for strategic workshops on something like a specific marketing area, such as email marketing.

As a rule of thumb, start with the meeting’s goal and then invite anyone who’s well-positioned to contribute to the discussion. Just remember these meetings should be restricted to strategy. Don’t waste time talking about anything else.

How to prepare for a strategic meeting

As the old saying goes, failing to prepare is like preparing to fail. If you don’t plan your strategic meeting properly, you risk wasting time with yet another fruitless work meeting. Avoid that fate with the following three steps:

1. Schedule it and gather data 

A popular expression in corporate circles is “If it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” Once you’ve decided the purpose of your strategy session, set a date for it in your calendar ASAP. Next, share it with everyone who needs to be there so it shows in their calendars too.

On that note, be restrictive with your invite list. These meetings tend to be more effective with a limited number of attendees. Oh, and make it clear that attendance is mandatory. You need the right people present for the meeting to be worthwhile.

With the meeting scheduled, you can now also request accurate data from relevant departments. Setting a date far enough in advance gives you the best chance of receiving it in time. When you do receive that data, you should go through it and summarize it in a report on noteworthy trends. Using consistent charts throughout the analysis will make it easier for the other meeting attendees to interpret it.

2. Set an agenda

We could write an entire article on creating an agenda. For now, we’ll summarize the main points. Firstly, you need one! Agendas are pivotal – they help you efficiently use your limited time in the meeting, making you much less likely to deviate from whatever you’re there to discuss.

Just make sure that discussion isn’t the primary outcome. While there’s always talking to be done in strategic meetings, the focus should be on decision-making. Likewise, skip any conversation about business operations. Your agenda should revolve exclusively around strategy and only include items of genuine value.

Here’s a basic structure for an agenda:

Remember that not all strategy meetings will involve big decisions and problems. Your agenda may only include a brief review of your business objectives and initiatives alongside a validation of your current strategy and approach. That’s perfectly fine. Just make sure that whatever agenda you create has the following:

3. Share relevant materials

An agenda’s like a map that guides the meeting from A (the start) to B (the end). But for best results, you still need to prep people on the journey beforehand! That’s why you should share relevant materials with attendees in advance.

It’ll give everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with the content, consider points they want to raise, and formulate questions. Expect the strategic meeting to flow better and suffer fewer holdups or confusion as a result.

In reality, the only materials you need to provide are a copy of the report/analysis and the agenda. As for the report, we also recommend including any decisions you recommend taking having reviewed the data. Emphasis on “recommend,” though. It isn’t saying decisions have already been made. It’s simply an option that attendees can consider and potentially respond to at the session.

How to run a strategic meeting

Okay, the big day has finally arrived. Everyone’s present, and they’ve been through the materials. All that’s left to do is run your strategic meeting! Here are a few tips that should make it a success:

Provide advanced training

In organizations unfamiliar with strategy meetings, it’s worth providing training to explain why they’re important and how they’re run. Of course, this should happen well before the first actual meeting takes place! You’re more likely to enjoy the desired outcome if everyone turns up with a solid grasp of what these meetings are and also what they’re not – as well as things like performance measures. Even something like sharing this article with the team could help.

Set the right tone

A meeting’s tone plays a big role in its success. In forthcoming strategic meetings, strive to set a tone of teamwork and trust. You’re in this together – a fact that should be apparent from the outset. How do you build that trust?

One approach is to work together to establish certain principles. For example, after providing a framework for the meeting’s review process, you could work together to agree upon principles for how that review will take place.

Encourage respectful candor

Don’t let people sit in silence. Encourage participation and openness; prompt engagement and dialog. After all, people need to talk for the session to be a success – something teams can struggle with when they’re new to strategy meetings.

On a similar topic, try to encourage attendees to speak candidly. They shouldn’t be rude, but there’s nothing wrong with raising negative points. While most people prefer to dwell on the positives, discussing problems is the real secret to a productive session. The caveat here is that conversation isn’t enough. Those negatives must be accompanied by action points to address them.

Be similarly candid when it comes to keeping meetings on track. You don’t want to waste people’s time, so if you notice the conversation’s gone too far off-topic, do what you can to reign it back in. More on this next.

Stick to your agenda

Having an agenda is one thing. Sticking to it as another! Keeping your meeting on track is easier said than done. Using facilitation techniques will make a difference.

For example, you could prepare questions in advance that facilitate transitions between items on the agenda. You should also make a concerted effort not to talk for too long! Make your point and move on, ignoring the temptation to add further clarification. Of course, the same applies if someone else does the same. Don’t hesitate to interrupt them in the interest of moving the meeting along. Asking a guiding question, like “What do you recommend?” is one way to do this. 

Take notes

The most enlightening conversation in the world means nothing if you can’t remember what you discussed! That’s why someone at the strategy meeting must take notes throughout the meeting – especially for things like action items and any decisions you make.

Having captured the key points from the meeting, make sure you review those action items together at the end. Double-check everyone’s in agreement and aware of who must do what by when. You can then return to these notes at the next meeting to review people’s progress.

Summarize the session

Don’t just review the action points. When the meeting’s through, everyone should leave the session knowing exactly a) what you’ve achieved and b) what’s going to happen next. You want to provide a clear rundown of the key outcomes and takeaways. If there’s going to be any sort of follow-up (more on this next), then people should know about that, too.

Follow-up on actions and outcomes

In some ways, what happens after the strategic meeting is more important than what happens in it. The goal is simple: follow up with attendees to ensure they take action on any decisions made in the session. If there’s no follow-up, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the expected outcomes, which would mean the meeting was ineffective. 

For that reason, it’s also sensible to find a way to track those action items over time. This should improve the likelihood of them being done by their respective due dates (and stop anything from falling through the cracks).

Remember those notes we told you to take? Now the meeting’s over, you should distribute a copy to everyone who came, as well as anyone else in the business who may need or benefit from them. It’s worth doing this within 24 hours of the session. That’s when it’s still fresh in people’s memories, which should make them more likely to follow through on their action points.

Let Surf Office organize your strategic meeting

Our final tip regarding strategic meetings is to consider holding them offsite.

Having arranged hundreds of offsite meetings and retreats for companies around the world, we’ve seen first-hand how stepping away from your usual work environment can boost everything from focus and participation to creativity and productivity.

It makes sense for strategy meetings, too, where participants are already taking a break from their day-to-day operations. Going offsite allows everyone to stop thinking about their to-do lists and really enter into the session instead.

Want to learn more about the benefits of going offsite for your strategic meeting? Or would you like professional support organizing the session itself? Surf Office is here to help. Contact us today to speak to one of our experts and get the ball rolling.

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