The strategic direction that an organisation sets largely determines its future success. Yet, despite having the data and intent to make good strategic decisions, when the process used to define this strategy lacks engagement; is not rigorous; or lacks context, poor choices can still be made.
“Organisations may choose to manage strategy development internally, outsource it to a consultant, or work in partnership with a specialist facilitator to guide this process,” explains Barry Bloch, Global Partner for Board and Executive Leadership. “While failing to design strategy effectively can be costly for an organisation, approaching it in the right way mitigates this risk and improves organisational outcomes.”
Here we explore the benefits of strategy facilitation and of choosing the right approach for your organisation.
What is real time strategy facilitation?
“To design a strategy development process that is effective for an organisation, the facilitator must understand the team dynamics, culture and how the organisation thinks,” says Barry. “Equipped with this insight, the facilitator then asks the right questions of the Board and Executive team to identify the longer term challenges and opportunities for the organisation, and to guide the strategy development process.”
“It’s important to note that real time strategy facilitation is not the same as consulting, outsourcing decision making, or strategy design and implementation. And it is not to be confused with annual business planning,” says Barry. “Strategy facilitation involves a specialist facilitator working closely with the CEO and Executive team as part of a rigorous, ongoing and collaborative process.”
What are the benefits of strategy facilitation?
Engaging a skilled and experienced strategy facilitator can enhance strategy development by:
- Creating an effective framework
- Guiding goal setting
- Maintaining focus and engagement
- Actively listening to all contributors
- Building consensus in the leadership team
- Creating a safe, respectful and inclusive environment for open and honest internal participation
- Managing time to ensure all goals are reached
- And guiding reflection
When is strategy facilitation the right approach?
Navigating team dynamic
A facilitator can be helpful when team dynamic gets in the way of analysis and decision making processes.
“When strategy design is managed internally the CEO will often step into the role of facilitator, but doing so can prevent them from fully participating in the process,” says Barry. “Engaging a specialist facilitator enhances strategy design by freeing up internal leadership to engage, discuss, challenge and debate their strategic choices, without being encumbered by group process and dynamics.”
Challenging the process
Effective strategy design requires openness, honesty and engagement. And while an internal facilitator might be skilled at facilitating the people dynamic of this process, they may find it difficult to put in the challenge.
“Facilitators are often described as the ‘grit in the ointment’ because part of their role is to be a catalyst to ask the tough questions that others don’t want to, or may find too difficult to ask,” says Barry. “Good facilitators also create a safe environment that encourages open and honest input from all participants.”
Context and ownership
Organisational context and ownership are other critical factors in effective strategy design.
“External parties can’t be expected to understand an organisation as well as internals, so although outsourcing strategy design in its totality might deliver a neat document or perfect solution, if it lacks context the execution will likely fail,” says Barry. “Working with an expert facilitator to develop organisational strategy inhouse can help to harness the insight that can only come from within.”
“Ownership is equally important, as strategy is not about the quality of what's written on paper but the quality of the commitment to action. And if the leadership of an organisation does not engage in the process and own the strategy, it will never leave the page,” he continues. “A specialist facilitator works closely with the Board and executive team to ensure not only strategic context but also leadership alignment.”
How to get strategy facilitation right
Barry describes strategy development as much more than ticking boxes or writing the annual business plan.
“Strategy development is necessarily hard work because it is takes time and is not a linear process – it requires robust discussion, openness, and learning to really focus leaders on the future,” he says. “The goal of strategy design is to acknowledge and plan around the wider issues and future challenges that could render an organisation obsolete, and just because you have a good product or service today, doesn’t mean that factors beyond your control can’t quickly change that.”
For a strategy to be effective, the Board and Executive must own the process and regularly revisit the strategy in ways that go beyond simply workshopping it once a year.
“Maintaining the strategic direction of an organisation requires leadership teams to rigorously work together to solve the big questions in a structured and ongoing way, using the appropriate facilitation people and process,” says Barry. “A quarterly, fact-based facilitated review is one methodology that can be used to keep the strategy discussion live and flexible.”