Yes, it’s a little crazy out there under this Covid-19 uncertainty. The level of adaptation we are seeing at a frenzied pace is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. The pace of movement necessary to re-align a business deserves a huge shoutout to both entrepreneurs and their teams! And while so much of the activity right now is tactical, it’s critical for companies to not abandon leading with a strategy… and strategy takes planning.
As my business partner likes to say, “It’s very time consuming to be busy.” His point is that motion and action, even if misguided, can make a team look really busy. What matters is whether they are busy with the right things. And right now, it’s easy to be busy in the commotion but as a business owner, aligning the team toward a shared plan is what will create more control and confidence. Lack of planning is a risk but how do you create a plan with a team when people aren’t together?
The virtual strategy session is something we developed at Stride because we are a virtual company. We needed to create a vehicle to embrace the Wisdom of the Group (our #1 principle at Stride) and be able to do so in an efficient, online environment. I’m sure many of you have been to these day-long strategy sessions with facilitators, whiteboards, sticky notes, pens, voting, and of course, snacks. Right? Well, we have figured out how to replicate that in an environment where team members are working from home (also known as WFH). Here is how we do it:
Time Needed: 2.5 hours (a lot less than a full day or multi-day offsite)
1. Get Miro
Miro is like a virtual whiteboard and you can do anything on it. You can make mind maps, org charts, put sticky notes, move boxes and collaborate to your heart’s content. It’s real-time so you can see people flying around on it like bees and not physically bumping into each other which can happen in a real-world environment. We start with a blank board and construct it ourselves.
2. Set up the Board
The way we set up the board is by having the whiteboard in the middle with all the participants’ names around the board and 3 sticky notes per individual. The sticky notes are where each person will document their comments to the questions posed by the facilitator (see step 4 below).
3. Lay Out the Goal
Hello CEO! Yes, the mountaintop is yours to tell. Your goal is to tell us what the mountaintop is and why we’re going there. Your senior team’s responsibility is to figure out how, but they need to understand it clearly and clarify any ambiguity. You can explain the goal in a PowerPoint or a document and it should be pretty clear, measurable, and have a timeline (short term or long term). You can’t build a strategic plan without a clear goal so don’t miss this step.
4. Talk Dangers
Once the goal has been well understood, the facilitator (preferably not the CEO but certainly someone that can drive a meeting) poses the question, “Please write down on your sticky notes the three greatest dangers that will keep us from achieving our goal.” Give the team three minutes and then go around the “room” and have each person share their danger and pull it into the whiteboard. As the cards come onto the board, the facilitator is moving them around to combine into categories or stack together where there is overlap. The objective here is to have all the big dangers out on the table.
5. Discuss Opportunities
After the dangers of exercise, move onto opportunities. At this point, we know the goal and have communicated and classified the dangers. Next, what are our greatest opportunities that will drive us toward our goal? Each person writes down their three answers and then as they present them, they pull them into the board. If it’s a duplicate of what has already been said, leave it off the board.
After the opportunities have been put on the board, each person has 5 green and 5 red stickies to vote on what they believe to be the top highest-impact opportunities and the lowest impact opportunities. This is where it gets awesome. Stickies will be flying everywhere and it’s amazing to observe!
7. Take a Position
You may have opportunities where some people think it’s high impact and others believe it’s low impact. This is where spirited discussion occurs. “Does someone want to make a high impact case? Does someone want to make a low impact case” The idea here is to flush out strong convictions. After this session, you can re-vote or get a feeling there is general agreement on which way the voting leans on an opportunity that originally had both reds and greens.
8. Pull Down Your Highest Green Vote Getters
The facilitator then pulls into another board the opportunities with the highest number of high impact votes. Those become the highest priority in service to the goal. What about the items that didn’t get a vote? Well, in some cases, you know that stuff is going to get done anyway as a matter of ordinary course. In other cases, it goes into the “parking lot” for the future.
9. Take Ownership
After the projects are identified (stick to less than 6), there is a discussion around ownership and the team that will be working on the project. Owners are identified and the intention is to move to get a plan in place within the next 5-7 business days.
Are these projects getting executed? What’s the status? It’s critical to maintain transparency here which can be done by using software like Asana. Structure your weekly leadership calls in service to what you said were the most important projects identified in your strategy session.
Remote work does not mean that strategy is hard to create but it does take a little creativity to make it happen. We have figured out how to do that at Stride in significantly less time, in a way that captures people’s points of view and is quite efficient. If you are interested in learning more about how we work remotely and some of the practices we have put in place, please email us at email@example.com.