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Written by Natacha Wilson

How to make the most out of your strategy day

Are you planning a strategy day or retreat?

Getting everyone together to discuss the future of your research group, department or organisation can be a touch challenge. And yet, strategy days or retreats can be very powerful to engage with senior leaders and wider teams. In recent times, we have been able to use technology to our advantage and encourage participation through a range of methods, including virtual events or hybrid models.

You might be wondering though, what happens when we all get together? How do we ensure discussions will be fruitful and we gain strong insights? How do we show that taking that time out of the day-to-day work was worth it? In this article I will share 3 key insights to make the best out of your strategy days.

1. Be inclusive throughout the process

Make sure to invite everyone that could contribute to the session well in advance. This will increase participation levels and make individuals feel valued.

It is likely that not everyone will be able to make it due to conflicting demands and for this reason, I would encourage you to provide an alternative option to gather insights and general feedback. I use short online surveys with 3 to 4 strategic questions which I ask all participants to respond to before the workshop. This is helpful for contributors who cannot make it to the live session but also for others who can prepare for the topics in view of the context set, or for individuals that prefer to respond anonymously, hidden from the eyes of peers!

I use the data from the survey to inform some of the topics that will be discussed during the live session but also to gather some insights, success stories and more that have been shared in the survey. I also make sure to thank everyone who contributed and provide a clear process on the way they will receive a summary of contributions/insights.

This is important to get this right – the thinking power of all individuals contributing to your strategy day is phenomenal and yet, the dynamics on the day can make or break the magic in the room! 

2. Work with a facilitator that can make sense of what is happening

Facilitation is an art form. It requires a breadth of skills, presence, and compassion to help everyone in the room be at their best. It is probably close to working with musicians in an orchestra and taking on the role of a conductor!

In my recent article on the thinking process, I have mentioned the importance of the “Blue Hat”, the person responsible for managing the thinking process and helping everyone to contribute in the most efficient and effective manner. The “Blue Hat” is, in effect, the chairperson. Their role is to facilitate the discussions and navigate the session towards a pre-agreed agenda with some room for flexibility and adaptation.

The aim is to create energising, forward thinking and purposeful conversations which will lead to a strategy and priorities for the years to come. Many of us can acquire good communication skills and facilitate meetings but when the stakes are high, group dynamics are different. I have learnt to develop a powerful skill which is about making sense of what is happening in the room and amongst participants to aid discussions and reach a higher level of insights.

3. Share the key insights and actions after the session

Much of the effort is spent on planning and running the strategy day. We are often too busy to prepare a timely follow-up and share the key insights and actions with contributors. This can be detrimental to the trust built up during the session. Contributors are keen to make an impact and often eager to read the outputs of the session. This helps with clarity and ensures that everyone is working from the same sheet.

I tend to provide a high-level summary of all the key insights, observations, and actions. This helps my clients keep momentum and send the report, or an adapted version, to all the contributors shortly after the live session. 

Create a lasting impact

Your strategy day is designed to get everyone thinking about the future of the research institute, department, or organisation. It is looking at “what could be” and helping contributors move away from their day-to-day firefighting mode. The output of the strategy day will act as a compass and help everyone together towards a shared goal.

If you are interested in my approach and want to find out more about my work, please get in touch to arrange for an online Zoom call.


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About Natacha Wilson

Natacha Wilson, founder of Cambridge Insights, is a learning and development consultant and coach. She creates tailored development programmes, which combine 21st century skills, mindsets, and wisdom, to boost leadership capabilities and nurture innovative cultures. Her mission is to support transformational leaders and  “leaders in the making” increase their postive impact, solve global challenges and create a greater world.

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