Viable strategy through facilitation

Dynamic change processes are a part of everyday business. Facilitated strategy workshops at management level are an efficient means of initiating these change processes. The facilitator must be a master of his specialized methods and have knowledge of the domain-specific challenges in order to meet the objectives of the strategy workshop. They can help to generate new approaches, rethink alignments, overcome conflicts and set commitments for objectives and processes.

THE ROLE OF STRATEGY FACILITATOR

The participants are usually a heterogeneous group with differing perspectives on the specific problem. Hiring an external and neutral strategy facilitator, who can select the appropriate methods in order to assist and support the group in finding solutions, is therefore very beneficial.  A skilled facilitator leads the workshop in such a way that each participant is taken seriously and encouraged to make an active contribution. The facilitator collects the different viewpoints and creates connections between the different topics. He also functions as a mediator between the participants in the discussion.

The facilitator summarizes the ideas and presents them in a manner which is tailored to the target groups. Often, “visual facilitation” is very useful in this context (see Fig. 1). This is when simple images and symbols are drawn by hand on posters in order to help participants visualize the results more easily. Straightforward illustration of complex relationships also helps to ensure that nobody loses sight of the bigger picture.

Visual facilitation

Fig. 1: Visual facilitation

SUCCESSFULLY LEADING A STRATEGY WORKSHOP

Customer insight and domain expertise are critical assets for every strategy facilitator. He is able to optimally coordinate the processes within the workshop only when he has sufficient knowledge of the company, the industry sector, the market trends and competitors. This knowledge provides a platform to assign priorities for the creation of critical content.

Strategy workshops usually take place under time pressure and often comprise of a range of controversial issues. Only experienced facilitators can steer the focus towards the right issues, ask the right questions and reinforce critical content. He also ensures that the discussion stays on track which is crucial for achieving workshop goals and establishing a basis for joint action in the short term.

REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE: IDENTIFYING OPTIMISATION POTENTIAL

An industrial company has grown rapidly. The head of development wants to analyze the dominant development processes in a series of workshops involving line and project managers. His objective is to identify optimization potential. He therefore assigns some accomplished external facilitators to support him with this. These external facilitators have the right domain expertise and are experienced in the field of agile development in the phase-oriented environment.

Whilst preparing for the workshops, the facilitators realize it is also necessary to invite experts from the marketing and product management teams. Only this approach will allow all the dependencies in the product development process to be completely identified.

In the end, experts from all relevant fields take part in the series of workshops. The group succeeds to identify improvements in the development process. They also define common visions, objectives, fields of action and appropriate timing for implementation.