There is no single best way to facilitate a business strategy workshop but having conducted many of these sessions with small, local brands, and large, global brands over the years, we’ve learned a number of strategies that raise their chances of success.

1. Interview key stakeholders: Key stakeholders are those people who have an invested interest in the outcome of the workshop for driving the overall direction of a brand or company. Their inputs are critical for a number of reasons. 

Not only do they provide valuable perspectives, but they also help to identify where there’s wholehearted agreement and where there may be juicy tension points to resolve.

Most importantly, by interviewing key stakeholders ahead of time, facilitators gain a head start on pulling together the puzzle pieces that will form the basis of the strategy.

Keep in mind there is a great skill in asking the right questions to gain deeper insights. Don’t underestimate the preparation involved at this stage.

2. Pre-reads matter: Workshop time is precious. Once all the key stakeholders are in a room together at one time, every minute needs to be used in the most advantageous way possible. And that doesn’t mean wasting time reviewing trends, financials, and competitive performance.

A high-quality pre-read containing all of this information and issued ahead of time will lead to high-quality discussions and the ability to make better business decisions. Don’t worry if it feels too long or detailed. This pre-read should lay out the conversation and stimulate new thinking. 

3. Draft then workshop: Similarly, don’t wait until the workshop to spend time creating from scratch. In many cases, facilitators will have some sense of what the best opportunities are based on stakeholder interviews.

If thought starters are prepared in advance, workshop time can be spent more wisely discussing and building on initial ideas.

4. Storytelling matters: When preparing the pre-read, and really any part of the workshop, transforming complex concepts into simple and concise concepts might be hard but it is absolutely worth the effort. This will ensure that everyone understands the concepts and challenges in the same way. Do not leave any room for confusion or misunderstandings.

5. Anticipate politics: Any time you work with a large group of people, not everyone will be on the same page. Some people won’t read the pre-read. Some people will be happy with the status quo. There will be internal politics that interfere with your ability to facilitate a smooth work session. And that’s okay. Great facilitators know how to read the room. Always have the end goal in mind and work towards it. 

6. Provoke when necessary: Skilled strategic planning facilitators are hired not to ensure 

meetings stay on time. Yes, they do that as a tangential role, but their key skills lie in their ability to envision a company’s threats and opportunities with an outside perspective.

Great strategic facilitators have unique insights based of years of experience in strategic planning. They have rare interpersonal skills that help them gain trust and elicit underlying thoughts and opinions.

When facilitators have a unique insight that might disrupt the industry, the company, the brand, the product or simply make someone uncomfortable, it’s their duty to share it in a way that will make a real difference. Be bold. Be helpful.

7. Strategy must translate into action: Aligning on a tight strategy is an accomplishment but if it doesn’t translate to an action plan, then all that effort will be undermined. Take care to allocate sufficient time to turn the strategy into actionable plans.

8. Always over-communicate: Self-explanatory, yes?

9. Create the elevator speech: Before closing the workshop, be sure to leave time to develop the elevator speech. The key stakeholders who’ve spent several days, or even a week with you, are now the advocates for the process and outcome. Arm them with a clear, concise and consistent story about the session and what was accomplished.

Ready to learn more? Download our Sklar Wilton BrandPrint™ for a template that will help you articulate the key elements of your brands on one page, delivering a clear and concise brand expression. Or, learn how we helped M&M Food Market breath new life into their brand by understanding who to win with, defining a compelling, differentiated brand promise, and overhauling the customer experience.