Ways to Lead Virtual Strategy Sessions and Win in 2021

Wipe the sweat of your brow; this year has been a doozy! As we enter the final quarter, 2021 is closer than ever. And this means your executive team is gearing up to define the upcoming year’s strategy. However, how do you get everyone on the same page when you can’t even get your team in the same room? How do you lead virtual strategy sessions that yield a killer plan for winning in the new year?

The challenge with developing next year’s strategy is it’s filled with tremendous uncertainty. The Business Roundtable, a trade group that includes CEOs from the U.S.’s biggest companies, believes COVID’s wicked impact on operations will likely affect business beyond 2021. In fact, 27% of the group believe the recovery will linger beyond the end of next year. That’s a sizable number. However, nearly three-quarters of the top executives say recovery will last until the end of 2021. The ambiguity is cause for the disparate viewpoints.

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No matter what the opinions may be regarding a full business recovery, they are predominately influenced by doubt and concern. The downsides often eclipse any optimism for returning to a familiar business environment. That said, company leaders must be prepared to navigate their strategic roadmaps, rally the workforce, all while watching costs, managing risks, and achieving meaningful outcomes. This is why your 2021 strategic plan is likely to be one of the most important ones developed and implemented. It can provide some level of clarity in a murky business reality.

The Tricky Reality of Bringing Remote Leaders Together

Bringing executives together in one room is tricky. They are often double-booked and prone to distraction. I know this after over a decade of facilitating offsite strategy development sessions with executives and senior leaders. So, how on earth are leaders supposed to make sense of their strategic landscape when they can’t be together in the same room?

The team will go nowhere fast if they rely on Zoom or other video conferencing solutions. Zoom fatigue has become a barrier to progress. And the next time someone shares their screen during a meeting, count how many people turn off their cameras. They are likely reaching for their phones. They are choosing to be distracted over engaging in another endless stream of video meetings and viewing, yet again, another PowerPoint presentation.

For those working from home, distractions abound: kids need help with homework; the router needs to be restarted again; the TV beckons the procrastinators who hate remote work.

Leading Virtual Strategy Sessions

Remotely working is not a reason to define how your company will win in the new year. Here are some tips and techniques to make the most of your virtual strategy sessions.

Avoid all-day video strategy sessions. It is cognitively taxing to be in back-to-back video meetings. Imagine being in one all day for multiple days. Instead, schedule shorter sessions over a three- to five-week period.

Assign pre-work. Have participants review all data and collateral assets before each meeting. Require everyone to prepare their thoughts and write down their questions for each session before coming together. What’s more, any necessary analysis should be done before the meeting.

Use a Virtual Work Platform. Another disaster waiting to derail strategy meetings is finding the volumes of material. Spreadsheets, presentations, marketing assets, campaign documents, and on and on and on are scattered across personal laptops, saved in the cloud, and even on mobile devices. “I can’t find the latest version of the market analysis” is the kiss of death for progress. Instead, collaborate and store every content type in a virtual work platform.

Rotate Facilitators. It may not be feasible or desired to have an outside consultant facilitate your strategy sessions. In which case, rotate responsibility to each executive to lead virtual strategy sessions. He or she finalizes the agenda, the desired outcomes, and sends the pre-work before the next session.

Establish a No PowerPoint Presentation Policy. Want to lose your momentum quickly? Then allow others to present their ideas. A presentation will suck the energy out of your planning. Instead, hold firm and don’t allow team members to present their ideas or justification for them. Instead, for example, if your CMO wants to implement a go-to-market strategy, she could upload graphs and images into the virtual work platform. Within the platform, the team can interact with the content, post questions and ideas, and then decide the merits of the approach. Presentations are boring. Discussions lead to actions and outcomes.

Lead virtual strategy sessions with confidence. The five tips above will help establish a solid foundation in creating one of your companies most important deliverables. You don’t need to sacrifice quality and thoroughness because everyone’s working remotely. Some simple adaptations to your method is all that’s needed. 

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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