Strategic Planning Offsite

Last week, our leadership team went to a strategic planning offsite.  I know the perception of these meetings is often negative: they’re boring to attend, their results are fleeting, and (wherever the offsite is located) it’s a boondoggle to travel there.  None of those has to be true and, for us, none was true.

Our meeting took place in Crescent Bar, Washington – about a three hour drive from Seattle.  Our team of twelve met for two very full days.  In addition, our Group CEO flew in from the UK, along with our Group CTO from Amsterdam, for the second.  I think it’s a tribute to the importance of this kind of meeting those both of them were willing to invest the time (and the personal wear and tear) to endure 18 hours of flying plus more than 6 hours of driving for a single day of meeting.

So, what made our meeting successful?  It’s no secret: with preparation, focus and active participation, any team can make its meetings successful.

The first half day of our meeting was focused on about half a dozen small operational topics.  Each was led by an owner who had prepared in advance.  Most of the topics had some lively conversation, but we stayed closely on track.  Topics ranged across Sales, Marketing, Product Management, and Professional Services, so the variety was pretty broad.  The afternoon of day one focused primarily on one larger topic: the evolution of the social enterprise industry and our position within it.  Mark and Dennis, our CEO and CTO, arrived that evening.

The second day’s agenda was primarily centered on the product roadmap, presented by me.  However, we expected that we would veer off-topic frequently.  Mark frequently has that effect on meetings – he’ll ask pointed (and insightful) questions and they’ll need to be addressed before circling back to the main presentation.  Although we sometimes wandered far away from the product roadmap, we always came back on track fairly quickly.  In the end, we covered a lot of ground, answered some critical questions (about both the roadmap and other subjects), and identified a lot of actions for each of us to take.

In the end, the success of this meeting won’t be measured by the time spent in the meeting.  It’ll depend on our follow-up.  We’ve identified a lot of actions.  As leaders of the organization, it’s our job to make sure we complete them.

Finally, what about the “boondoggle” perception?  It’s true that we mixed some fun in with the meeting.  We went boating and rode jet skis.  Several people played golf.  We drank more than a little bit of wine and beer.  However, I sincerely believe that sharing those experiences helps us work better together as team.  When we have meetings in the office, typically we all go home to our families at the end of the work day.  That’s not bad – it’s just reality.  Going offsite (and sharing in some fun activities) helps bring the team together – shared experiences help build camaraderie and common understanding.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Strategic planning meetings (and offsite meetings) are just like other meetings: their value depends on preparation and execution.

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