Facilitation

 

Your next strategy workshop could be one of the most important management events you’ll ever run. Things are tough out there, but there are incredible opportunities too. So you need a clear view about what to focus on—and a detailed plan to get it done without wheelspin. 

Having facilitated hundreds of workshops with top teams in leading firms, I know how to surface the right issues, identify the key levers of success, and get buy-in for immediate action.

My way is simple, sound, and practical, and will help you get to a strategy that’s also simple, sound, and practical—exactly what you need in today’s difficult environment.

1. CUT TO THE CHASE!

To be effective, a strategy workshop must have a clear purpose and focus on a specific problem or challenge. This defines what must be discussed, and also determines the best process.

Preparation is key, so we need to agree on what outcomes you expect. In addition to briefing meetings, I should have access to any documents or presentations that will give me a fuller understanding of your firm’s situation and challenges. And I might also use a customised questionnaire to get the insights, opinions, and ideas of everyone who’ll participate in the workshop—and of other people too.

Based on inputs from your teamplus my own knowledge and experienceI usually develop a “strategy snapshot” that captures the essence of your current situation and future possibilities, and  focuses discussion on the decisions essential to your successIt’s a revealing tool that both kick-starts your strategic conversation and keeps it on track.

All this ensures that we avoid flailing around trying to figure out why we’re meeting, what to talk about, or how to deal with various topics. It also gives people across your organization a sense of inclusion—that they “have a voice”—even if they won’t be at the breakaway.

Producing a snapshot requires a lot of thought, and can take me even longer than the workshop itself. But clients consistently point to it as a key factor in the success of their event. They value the way it rapidly cuts through the jumble of issues that confront them, the clarity and direction it brings to their deliberations, and how it makes strategic thinking effective.

2. NO ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL ANSWERS

Your workshop will be designed to meet your unique needs. Unlike many facilitators, who rely on a favourite framework or tired process (think vision, mission, values, SWOT…), I won’t lock you into a packaged methodology that’s not right for you. I have an array of proven strategy tools, so bring out only what’s appropriate.

There’s no such thing as a “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3” approach that’ll automatically get you to a good strategy. Strategy is a complex and often convoluted thinking process involving multiple factors, many actors, and massive uncertainties and risks. 

Strategic conversations seldom progress in a straight line. Trying to force them to neatly fit your meeting agenda or a favorite template will never yield the best results. They’re crafted by human beings, through a social process. So they always involve facts and feelings, decisions and discovery, certainty and serendipity. Firm opinions and tentative comments collide in messy, iterative debates. Ideas bounce around. New issues constantly pop up, scream for attention—and take the process in new directions. Sensitivities hamper rational thinking, and emotions smother logic. And there are inevitably patches in which arguments break out, things get bogged down, talk goes in circles, and everyone gets frustrated. This is reality, and best you accept it and use it rather than fight it.

Discipline is essential in a strategy workshop. But flexibility matters even more. Sensing when to let discussions run and when to rein them in and summarise what’s been said and what it means, is a critical skill. Things must be orchestrated in whatever way works at the time. The process is always adaptive. The outcomes are what count.

3. MORE THAN A SLICK MEETING

Many facilitators are in effect little more than “meeting managers.” With scant knowledge of strategy or of business, they might toss in the odd buzzword or refer to some fad, but mostly just ask innocuous questions, ensure that everyone gets to speak, write up comments on flipcharts, and keep time. Cracking jokes and playing games is their stock-in-trade.

Now, consider the benefits an expert outsider can bring to your workshop. First, and most important is the knowledge, experience, and judgment that in turn enable them to offer sound and relevant advice, insights and ideas. Second, is a practical approach based on common sense and a deep understanding of how things work in the real world. And third, there’s objectivity—thanks to the fact that they’re not burdened by your history or culture; their thinking is not skewed by your biases; they don’t have to worry about challenging sacred cows, treading on toes, raising sensitive issues, or asking difficult questions.

I’m a strategist with facilitation skill, rather than a facilitator with a superficial grasp of business realities and strategic know-how. My no-holds-barred approach to challenging and inspiring top teams produces results and not just warm feelings.

Far from being a passive observer or merely a note-taker, I always play an active role from start to finish. So I balance clear direction and sound advice with empathic listening. I get people to speak up, and make sure that their colleagues understand the importance of what they feel, and not just what they say. I encourage them to fully express their opinions, but at the same time, I push and probe and test their views, and confront weak arguments, toxic comments, and defensive positions head-on.

From countless encounters with tough characters, I’m ready to deal with the politics and power-plays that are ever-present in organizations. I ensure that no-one dominates the conversation, and that personal agendas don’t get in the way of positive outcomes.

Along the way, I highlight the good stuff and weave it into your strategy story. I add valuable insights, ideas, and suggestions—about local and global trends, what competitors are up to, what customers want, how your strategy should change, and how to do it. And I constantly provoke teams to think about their business in new and more productive ways.

But there’s more.

My workshops are educational too, as they equip you and your team with useful knowledge and skills. As I guide you through a uniquely simple and effective way to craft the strategic conversation you need, you gain real-life experience of an approach you’ll want to use in the future. And at the same time, based on my ongoing research, business school teaching, and authorship of multiple books and countless articles, I share with you the latest thinking in management—and specifically, in strategy.

In the process of developing your strategy, you acquire a new strategy toolkitand practice using it. Plus, you sharpen the “Strategy Mindset” of your senior people—a vital capability for keeping your firm ahead in the battle for sales and profits.

4. INTO ACTION—WITH 30-DAY PLANS!

Clients often tell me that their previous workshops ended with no meaningful decisions, no clear action plans, no assigned responsibilities. They had a good time (some call it “teambuilding”), but went away with unfinished business.

This is an appalling waste of time and money.

In contrast, I always push for clear decisions on every key issue. And to reduce intentions to bite-sized chunks—to 30-day actions with specific people responsible for each. This makes work do-able; puts pressure into the system for rapid results; and gives you fast feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and how people are performing—and who is not. A simple idea with multiple results!

When I work on your strategy with you, I add insights, information, and ideas; provoke deep introspection; ensure that you test all your assumptions… and push for results that matter. Clients come back because they get what they need.

5. KEEPING YOU ON TRACK

Developing strategy today is more difficult than ever. But the really hard work comes when you have to execute it. Some firms want me to come back once or twice to assist in review meetings, and ensure that the process is properly embedded. Others prefer a longer relationship. But that’s up to you.

I’ll help you craft and conduct your strategic conversation in a way that gets you to a strategy that’s simple, sound, and practical—exactly what you need in today’s difficult environment.

6. THINK ABOUT THIS!

Strategy is a serious matter. Strategy workshops are surely the most vital management events in your year, as they can radically impact the future of your business. Yet many firms confirm venues, menus, and fun stuff before they hire and brief a facilitator who’ll make the process worthwhile. They treat strategy as an afterthought—so no-one takes it seriously.

Strategy is about what you will do and what you won’t do in future. It always requires choices and trade-offs. So you have to be confident that your facilitator can help you make sound decisions. And you have to trust their advice

 

Tony Manning book cover 2015 IMG_0602

Contact me today to start a new strategic conversation

Phone +27 82 800 5862

[email protected]