Virtual Strategic Planning Meetings: 7 Tips for a Great Strategic Planning Session

If you are like many of my clients, you may be considering adjusting travel plans for your team in the midst of the concern surrounding COVID-19. This will obviously have a big impact on most businesses, which makes it more important than ever to prioritize your team’s quarterly planning meeting. You’ll need to spend time thinking about the impacts to your team and your business, so even if you are canceling travel, don’t cancel your session!  This is likely to be the most important virtual strategy session in the history of your company – even if you can’t meet face to face.  You need to be agile to respond to the ever changing market conditions.

Here are some tips for having your next quarterly planning session if some (or all) of you team members have to join remotely:

  1. Use video. Even if some of you are in the same room, have everyone join the virtual meeting with a webcam turned on. This will keep you all more engaged throughout the meeting and make it less tempting to multitask.  This will allow you to read the body language of the participants and be able to encourage participation.
  2. Rethink your meeting agenda. Don’t just push through the agenda as planned. Give the session more thought, and adjust the agenda to maximize the time and effectiveness of your team. You might decide to spend more time on the discussions portion of the day to work through opportunities and threats related to COVID-19 and less time on another agenda item that’s not as pressing (maybe you finish that Core Customer discussion next quarter, for example). If the thought of doing two straight days virtually is just too daunting, can you break your meeting up over the course of the week? Maybe plan multiple 2-3 hour blocks for virtual planning instead of two straight days to break it up.
  3. Take more frequent breaks. In an in person meeting, it’s easier to look away from the screens, stand up when you need to, take a quick coffee or bio break. Your remote participants need more structured breaks. If you need to, remind everyone to stand up, do some stretching, and walk around a little every couple of hours at least.  This is important for a successful virtual meeting as it will keep the energy up for the team.
  4. Start with virtual participants. If you are going around the room round-robin style to share something as a group, always start with the virtual participants first. This ensures they aren’t forgotten and feel included and tuned in to the meeting.  It is always best practice to ask open ended questions to encourage them to open up early.  We often recommend opening up the meeting with sharing a story of one of your core values.
  5. Consider the visuals. If you have people joining remotely, do not rely on white boards and flip chart sheets. The virtual participants cannot see them and will be frustrated and distracted. Use online collaboration tools instead, like Google Docs, where everyone can see, follow along, and add their input.  Video conferencing and screen sharing help, but you have to make sure to be prepared with the proper visuals to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  6. Read the room. The facilitator should keep an eye on the virtual folks as well as the people in the room – are people checking out, glancing at emails, getting antsy? Be aware of when you may need to call everyone back to attention, take a break, or mix up the format of the discussion. If you have two days, be sure to get feedback at the end of day 1 so you can make adjustments for day 2.  Virtual planning meetings require you to be constantly reading the room and making adjustments.
  7. Mix up the format. To keep the team engaged, try some different formats. For example, maybe you can break the team up into smaller sub-teams of 2-4 people for some of the exercises (like writing Red-Yellow-Green on Priorities or voting on top Start, Stop, Keep ideas for the quarter). Some virtual meeting tools, like Zoom, offer “Breakout Rooms” where you can divide virtual participants into smaller groups, which is like having a virtual planning session within your session, and then share the findings with the full team. For the portion of the meeting where the team is working on individual Priorities ask everyone to physically get up and move to a different location to do this individual work. Maybe even ask them to print a paper tool and go outside to fill it out.

Strategic planning sessions can be very difficult to run on your own in person, let alone a virtual strategic planning session.  My thirteen years of experience has allowed me to work with thousands of plans and I know the best practices that help your virtual team get aligned.  The strategic planning process is often best left to the experts, especially if you are under pressure to hit the targets outlined in your business plan.

If facilitating a remote planning session seems daunting, let me help you!

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