Avoid These Costly Facilitation Mistakes in Strategic Planning Sessions

Every successful organization needs a strategic plan. Planning sessions are a key component, and an experienced facilitator can make or break the process.

The Right Facilitator – The Key to Every Successful Strategic Planning SessionAn illustration of people meeting around an conference room table to facilitate a strategic planning meeting.

A company has to have the right facilitator run each of its strategic planning meetings. This person has to be able to get the best ideas out of each participant. They also need to guide the participants to formulate a plan to implement the best ideas from the session.

When an inexperienced facilitator runs a session, there are too many opportunities for things to go wrong. The right participants may not attend the meeting. They may not share their ideas. The company may end up implementing suggestions which turn out to be harmful. Settling on and implementing a half-baked or poorly conceived strategy can do much more harm than good.

Avoid These Eight Mistakes

Mistake 1- The company chooses the wrong facilitator.

The president of the company should not conduct the session. They may have a great business mind. However, they may not be skilled in facilitating. Many of the meeting participants may be reluctant to share their ideas because of a fear of looking bad to the president.

Likewise, an employee of the company should not be the facilitator. The participants in the session may object to the person chosen. They may feel hurt they weren’t selected. They may also be reluctant to cooperate fully and share their ideas.

The ideal facilitator is someone from outside the company.

Mistake 2 – The facilitator does not have a good knowledge of the participants.

The most successful strategic planning sessions are those where each participant shares their best ideas.  It is much easier to get people to open up when the facilitator has some knowledge of each participant’s skills, strengths and weaknesses.

Mistake 3 – The strategic planning session takes place in-house rather than offsite.

When a strategic planning session is held onsite, there is a high risk of interruptions —especially when some of the participants are on the executive staff. Employees not in the session may interrupt with questions. These disruptions destroy any creative flow and kill any productivity immediately.

Mistake 4 – There are too few or too many participants in the session.

The ideal assembly has between five and ten participants.  When you have less than five you don’t get enough ideas.  When there are more than ten, there may not be time for everyone to give their input or to explain it in detail. Sessions with more than ten participants can certainly work, but the risk of failure generally increases as the session size increases.

Mistake 5 – The facilitator loses control and nothing valuable comes from the session.

Certain people may monopolize the session. They may express views which may not be worthwhile. Others may have legitimate comments but don’t have the opportunity to express them. A good facilitator sets up rules before the session, and calmly and patiently enforces them.

Mistake 6 – The facilitator has a preconceived notion of what the final strategic plan needs to look like and what the main points should be.

An open sharing of ideas is critical to a great strategic planning session. This cannot take place in those sessions where the facilitator has determined in advance what the outcome of the session should be and steers the conversation in that direction.

Mistake 7 – The participants do not develop a concrete plan to implement following the session.

One reason for a strategic planning session is to determine how a business will move forward to achieve certain desired outcomes. If the participants don’t develop a plan to accomplish this, the session did not accomplish its objective.

Mistake 8 – The plan does not specify who is to follow through on the items to be done and by what date.

One goal for any strategic planning session is to make sure participants work together to strategize and develop a plan. Another goal is to specify who will follow up on each aspect of the plan and how frequently.  When both are done, the likelihood of success is increased.

The Bottom Line

Very few facilitators make all of these mistakes. However just one mistake can compromise the integrity of the strategic planning process. Every facilitator should plan each session carefully to make sure none of these mistakes are made. Knowing in advance what to avoid helps the facilitator do a better job with each session they facilitate.