Recently, I worked with a new client that was older than most — approaching its centenary. Its leaders, managers, staff and other stakeholders wanted to figure out how to remain relevant and cutting edge for another hundred years.
This post shares one of the steps we took together en route to figuring out their strategy. It’s a useful exercise if you need to blend respect for a significant legacy with some fresh thinking about the future.
Timing: Less than 1-hour.
Group size: This works well with groups of twelve or more people. There is no real upper limit — though with a group of over 100 you would need to more time, materials and perhaps an additional co-facilitator or two.
Materials needed: Markers (one or two per small group — 8 is enough for a group of 20), plenty of flipchart paper, notebooks and pens for participants.
Preparation: For a group of about 20 participants, prepare four flipcharts. (N.B.: If your group is larger — e.g. 30+ people — you may need three, or even four charts for each question. And you’ll need to adapt the procedure below a little.)
On two of the charts write:
- What aspects of our legacy must we hold onto?
Number these with a large #1 and #3.
On the other two charts write:
- What might our future business model look like? (Or what are some of its key ingredients?)
Number these with a large #2 and #4.
(Do substitute appropriate questions for your group and their desired outcomes.)
Post these flipcharts on the walls of your meeting room with plenty of space between them. Next to each, stick up a few blank flipchart sheets and some markers for people to write with.
1. Get the group ‘warmed-up’ and connected to the issues.
Do this in plenary. And be sure to pick up on the themes of ‘legacy’ and ’future’ as you do so. There are many ways of doing this… You might play a video about the organisation’s achievements. Or have a brief warm-up discussion about ‘what we value most about the organisation and its work.’ And perhaps explore the question: ’What needs to change and why?’ to connect people to the drivers of an impending change.
2. Count people off to form groups.
If your total group is 20 or less, count to four. All the ‘ones’ will start at Flipchart #1, the ‘twos; at flipchart #2, and so on.
Refer participants to the flipcharts on the walls. Explain that everyone will have an opportunity to contribute to both questions and to look at everyone else’s responses.
3. Ask them to go to it!
The small groups should discuss the question on their chart and capture their ideas on the accompanying blank sheets. Ask them not to exclude minority views, but where possible to summarize their ideas. Also, ask them to write legibly — others need to be able to read their notes.
After about 5 minutes, shout, ’Stop!’ Once you have their attention, ask them to move onto the next flipchart… i.e. move from #1 to #2, from #2 to #3, #3 to #4, and #4 to #1. They will repeat the same process with their new question for the next five minutes.
Once 5 minutes is up, invite them to move on again. They will now be looking at a question they have already responded to. Ask participants to read their colleagues’ responses and make any additions that occur to them (no deletions allowed!). They’ll have 2-3 minutes for this.
After 2-3 minutes repeat this last step.
4. Individual processing
Bring people back into plenary and check how they found this exercise — interesting, challenging, etc. Then invite people to spend 10 minutes in silence, wandering from chart to chart. ‘Read each set of responses and make some notes for yourself in your notebook: ‘What feels most significant and important in all of this material?’
5. Plenary processing
Ask people to share what was most significant for them, first in relation to the legacy, and then in relation to the future. Capture their responses on flipchart as they emerge. Notice and name points of agreement and emerging consensus. At the end of about 20 minutes, you should have a fairly clear sense of what is most valuable from the past to carry into the future, and what that figure might look like.
I found this a very efficient and creative way of beginning the process of strategic thinking. Feel free to use or adapt — and, if you do, let me know how it goes! You might also be interested in this article about strategy and strategic planning.
Or if you’d like to discuss these ideas get in touch directly or via social media.
Wishing you a great rest of the week!