In the last blog we discussed the serious side of taking association board strategy sessions seriously. This blog will focus on the tactical tips to achieve the same goal. We have run nearly a thousand strategy sessions over the past 15 years and learned many valuable lessons…some the hard way.
Here are a few basics to running a great strategy session:
- Hire a professional facilitator. While the wrong facilitator can backfire terribly, some due diligence can ensure success. This is simple: do not hire a facilitator for an important session without glowing references from another association.
- Take your meeting off site. You must separate your session both physically and mentally from day to day operations if you want to get strategic. Make sure the session doesn’t become all about the venue…just take it off site.
- Set ground rules up front. This is as simple as it sounds and yet almost never gets done: ask your planning team how they will conduct themselves and what they hope to accomplish before you start. For example, if you can’t get your group to agree to keep the discussion confidential, you have a low likelihood of real success.
- Conduct individual interviews in advance. Your facilitator should do this and it is critical to session success for many reasons. Many people don’t do well in a group setting and will provide a wealth of insight in a one-on-one phone call. The facilitator can use this to stoke the session. Volunteer board members have day jobs and just don’t give a lot of thought to your strategy, but interviews within 2 weeks of a session will get them thinking strategically and make them better participants.
- Use simple tricks to drive real participation. Some people think, speak and perform well in strategy sessions and some do not. Facilitation tricks need to ensure your strategy isn’t based entirely on the views of your eloquent board members. Give lots of time for thinking and list making individually, in pairs and in small groups before opening conversation up to the larger group. This will help keep people awake too.
- Use pre-reads for good not evil. Too many association managers use pre-reads and existing strategy documents to drive a predetermined conclusion…their conclusion. We also see irrelevant pre-read materials pushed just to appear effective. Use pre-reads only if necessary and then only to educate and prepare. Be open to the wisdom of your board.