How To Design A Good Strategic Conversation
You probably already know how to run a pretty good meeting. You know that you need clear objectives that are reasonable given the time you have. That you should invite participants who can help meet those objectives. That your content — presentations and reports — should layout the issues clearly. That the venue should be the right size for your group and contain the necessary equipment and supplies. That your agenda should end with next steps, roles and responsibilities.
This basic model works well for the vast majority of meetings: routine check-ins, formal board meetings, planning sessions and the like. But not when it's time to have an important conversation about critical yet ambiguous issues. That's when you need a more powerful tool. It's critical to recognize early on when you are facing an adaptive challenge, call this out explicitly, and start designing your session as a strategic conversation.
The Five Core Principles of a Well-Designed Strategic Conversation
Designing an effective strategic conversation requires that you cover all the basics of a well-organized meeting –– and a good deal more. Designing a strategic conversation means creating a shared experience where the most pressing strategic issues facing an organization are openly explored from a variety of angles. An experience where all the assumptions that make up your mental maps about how the world works — and how it is changing — are examined.
An experience where new stories about your future success are explored, tested and refined. An experience that engages a group in a deeper level of discussion than they thought possible. The five core principles below are the main components of designing strategic conversations.
1. Declare the Objectives: Define the Purpose. A well-organized meeting requires that ... you start with a clear set of objectives and desired outcomes that make sense and are realistic given the time available. A well-designed strategic conversation also requires that ... you develop a clear sense of the change that this group of people needs to make together — and how this conversation will advance that process.
2. Identify Participants: Engage Multiple Perspectives. A well-organized meeting requires that ... you identify the most appropriate participants for a given session and prepare them well in advance. A well-designed strategic conversation also requires that ... you dig deeper to understand the views, values and concerns of each participant and stakeholder group. Ultimately, it requires that you find ways to create value from the intersection of diverse perspectives, experiences and expertise that live inside any organization.
3. Assemble Content: Frame the Issues. A well-organized meeting requires that ... all content be highly relevant to the objectives and clearly communicated. A well-designed strategic conversation also requires that ... the content and issues are framed in a way that illuminates different aspects of the adaptive challenge you’re wrestling with, including how the various parts relate to the whole. A good frame helps makes insights “stick” and thus accelerates progress on tough issues.
4. Find a Venue: Set the Scene. A well-organized meeting requires that ... you find an appropriate venue given the size of your group and the nature of the meeting. A well-designed strategic conversation also requires that ... you make thoughtful choices about all
elements of the environment — from the physical space to artifacts to aesthetics. Like a great theater production, all the parts should come together in a seamless and integrated way.
5. Set the Agenda: Make It An Experience. A well-organized meeting requires that ... you follow a logical sequence of agenda items, typically starting with some form of orientation and ending with next steps. A well-designed strategic conversation also requires that you attend to the emotional and psychological experience of participants. A great strategic conversation is not just an intellectual exercise — it’s an exhilarating and memorable experience