So, you know what you want to discuss, you’ve pinned down your list of attendees, and the meeting room is booked.
But in an often fragmented workplace, where various departments have varying opinions and goals, it can be challenging to get everyone on the same page and make strategy meetings productive.
What’s more, it can be even more challenging to make sure your objectives are seen through once the meeting has run its course.
Luckily, there are a few steps we can take to make sure we get the best outcome possible, through active participation from all parties.
Strategy sessions require an interplay between a structured agenda and original, spontaneous ideas. By sharing your main discussion topics a week before the meeting, you can allow all attendees to suggest additional points and think through those you have proposed.
Furthermore, you can communicate in advance to all attendees where their participation is required. This helps shape the attendee list too, as it provides time to consider whose attendance is vital to the desired outcome of the session.
One helpful idea from Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ is to ask all attendees to write their thoughts down prior to the meeting. This could be their opinion on a proposal, their ideas for a content marketing campaign, or even some difficulties they foresee for the coming year. This provides insight into what people really think going into the session, and makes for a useful reference point once the meeting has run its course.
Meetings are notorious time drains, so it is important to make sure you have a clear reason for holding yours, and some anticipated outcomes. This should be stated prior to the meeting, but also at the session’s outset. Establish your ground rules and be specific on the framework.
Open this up to the floor, too. One way to do this is to pose the simple question: What would make this a successful meeting for you?
Note the responses to this question, as this allows you to bookend the meeting quite neatly. At the meeting’s close, return to your agreed objectives and go round the room to ask if everyone feels their aims have been met. This makes it easier to set up subsequent sessions too, if an important topic requires further discussion.
The temptation for those of us on the agency side of the table can be to run the meeting at all costs. That’s what we’re paid for, after all.
However, there is a lot of validity in ceding the floor to the client, whose business we are ultimately there to assist. This isn’t a dereliction of duty from the agency; it is a good way to hear invaluable information from a reliable source. Just be sure to listen, ask questions, and incorporate the information into your plans.
Don’t be afraid to separate the meeting into smaller working groups either, some of which exclusively contain employees from the client’s business. Creating these sub-teams can allow new ideas to arise through conversation – whether the agency team is there to add strategic input or not.
When planning a quarterly strategy, for example, there will likely be a wide range of stakeholders in the room, all with informed opinions to share. The facilitator of the meeting is charged with extracting this information, ensuring that everyone has their say, and also synthesizing these viewpoints into a cohesive plan.
Go through your agenda and highlight the areas that you know require discussion in this particular meeting. It may be the only chance you will get to speak to these attendees at once; or there may be a shelf-life on an idea, for example.
Manage your time effectively and, should the meeting dwell too long less important points, bring the conversation back to the agreed agenda.
One person dominating the meeting is rarely to the benefit of the session’s purpose. As such, it is essential to know when to probe further into relevant topics and when to divert the conversation back to the main focal point of the session – but be courteous, of course.
All attendees will most likely know the client’s business inside out, and they will be experts in their respective fields. But sometimes, familiarity breeds contentment, and a hampered ability to see new possibilities.
This is where the concept of making the familiar strange can be vital in bringing new ideas to bear. Asking seemingly disparate teams to work together on a task can encourage different departments to pose questions they might not otherwise ask. It is often from these interactions that we can gain new perspectives.
It can also be helpful to introduce some outside market research, taken from consumers who have never heard of the brand in question.
When working with a company every day, one’s horizons can become narrowed; hearing an outside opinion can be a helpful reminder that opinions beyond the meeting room are often rather different to those inside it.
It can be surprising just how often people leave meetings with differing – at times opposing – ideas of what has just happened.
So make sure to share your summary before the meeting runs its course, and go back round the room to ask if everyone’s objectives have been met.
If you asked everyone to write down their opinions in advance of the meeting, use this as a reference point to see how opinions have changed.
Have people changed their mind during the meeting? If so, why? This is often a positive, if it shows that the meeting’s discussions have led to new concepts and ideas. If they have all stayed the same, perhaps an adequate forum for free, challenging discussion has not been created.
Either way, it is essential to wrap up the meeting with a clear summary and a list of actions – suggesting follow up sessions where needed.
It can be all too easy to let all the positives from a great meeting slip away once everyone leaves the room.
That’s why it is essential to follow up within 24 hours with a list of notes, action points and responsible parties.
But it is equally important to keep the conversation going. Try setting up monthly check-in meetings to ensure that everyone is on track with their actions and has a forum to share any challenges. Set measurable objectives so that, at your next strategy meeting, you can assess the effectiveness of the previous one and make changes where necessary.
Hopefully the above will serve as a useful guide next time you are planning a client strategy session. Oh and one more tip: no laptops.