6 Tips for Successful Strategic Planning

By Maximillian Seunik & Sonika Kainth in Toronto

On Sunday, July 8th the Toronto Hub of the Global Shapers Community convened its 2018/2019 Strategic Retreat. While most Torontonians were out enjoying Cherry Beach, the city’s many ravines, or a languid summer festival, young professionals from the Toronto Hub were hard at work coming together to think through the best ways to serve our community and set the strategic priorities to best enable that objective.

In this article, we will reflect on our experiences in the hopes you might learn from our approach in organizing your own retreat or annual planning session.

About the Global Shapers Community

Born out of the World Economic Forum, the Global Shapers Community is a network of inspiring young people under the age of 30 working together to address local, regional and global challenges. With more than 7,000 members, the Global Shapers Community spans 376 city-based hubs in 156 countries.

The Toronto Hub of the Global Shaper Community is as dynamic as the city it represents. Brought together by a dedication to community service and global issues, the Hub serves as a nexus point for the world at large, with young leaders from Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean transferring in as the city grows. With active and ongoing recruitment efforts, we are also a young Hub: in July 2018, only 13 of 36 (~35%) members had been in the Hub for longer than twelve months.

What’s the value of a Strategic Retreat?

In early July, we assumed a one-year Curatorship (i.e. leadership) of the Toronto Hub. With a growing membership and many new faces, we identified our key challenge as building consensus on how best to proceed as a community — ensuring fresh voices, perspectives and ideas are woven into the fabric of our strategy and not tacked hastily onto something preexisting.

While few would argue with the importance of consensus, the actual “how” is often more elusive. Transitioning from a group of passionate young professionals devoted to service to a well-oiled team ready to execute requires foresight, some strategy, and the mobilization of appropriate resources.

Our Strategic Retreat had three primary objectives:
⇨ Bring the community together
⇨ Define annual priorities
⇨ Build consensus & designate leadership roles

Tip #1: Set aside the time

Proper planning and consensus-building takes time. Be comfortable with asking Shapers to dedicate a half- or full-day to a strategic retreat. The returns on several hours of time invested on a weekend morning are quickly made up over a year of greater clarity, direction, and group unity. Another take-home: getting to 100% attendance is difficult and unlikely. Explore other techniques to engage team members who cannot be present in pre-work (explained later).

Tip #2: Find the right space

Not all venues are suitable for facilitating the introspective, long-term thinking that defines success. Make sure your venue works for and not against you by taking care of the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: access to washrooms, comfortable seating, writing instruments, etc.

Think comfortable, startup office— not 12 Angry Men.

12 Angry Men (1957) portrayed twelve men sequestered for hours in a hot, tense jury room.

Tip #3: Call in outside reinforcements

Many Hubs including Toronto have Shapers who are highly skilled facilitators. Consider, though, that facilitators face limitations on their own participation in planning activities. Our solution? We engaged an external facilitator: an Agile Method expert who works in Toronto’s tech scene. Bringing in someone from outside the Hub not only lends gravitas to the meeting, but also provides the opportunity for all Shapers to fully and freely participate. For Hubs where finding an external facilitator might be difficult, consider approaching an Alumni, local Young Global Leader, or outgoing Curator.

Tip #4: Get everyone comfortable

This is a crucially important but often undervalued step of team building. Comfort is a precondition of success. In other words: you must lay the groundwork to create an environment that feels safe enough for members to take interpersonal risks and share honestly without fear of recourse. Improv games are particularly effective at building initial familiarity and lead naturally to discussing group norms. Challenge yourself to go beyond convention (e.g. “Say your name and a fun fact!”) and focus on participatory activities that require full participation (e.g. Clap FocusRed Ball).

We also asked Shapers to submit interesting — but hard to guess — facts about themselves in advance of the Retreat (e.g. I was once a professional cricket player; I lost my cellphone at a party with Rwanda’s President). Upon arriving at the retreat, the facts had been anonymized and arranged on a bingo template. While the stated goal was to arrive at bingo, the primary objective was to forge connections between the group and create a space for fun, unstructured conversation.

Tip #5: Make room for the personal

A community is only as strong as the individuals it comprises and each individual has their own objectives, dreams and personal development journey. As the Curatorship, our objective is to ensure membership of the Toronto Global Shapers Hub holds significant value. To increase that value it is essential to have visibility over how each Shaper perceives their participation and goal-setting. Encourage Shapers to speak to their goals outside of the Hub and reflect on how the skills they want to develop can be actioned through Hub activities and networks.

Tip #6: Plan for organic consensus

Arriving naturally at group consensus helps ensure maximum buy-in and ownership. On topics of strategic direction, this requires careful planning — finding the happy medium between curation and chaos.

Before arriving at the retreat, Shapers received an email asking them to prepare responses to three questions:

⇨ What do you want us to do as a Hub this year?
⇨ What can I contribute to the Hub?
⇨ What are your personal goals for the year?

Sitting in a circle, each Shaper wrote their answers on colour-coded sticky notes. After fifteen minutes, everyone was invited to share their thoughts individually, placing stickies on a large piece of paper affixed to the wall. (Curation)

Following, the group was asked to approach the board and interact organically with the ideas, clustering stickies by colour, theme, and priority areas. With some moderation (and much discussion) the groupings became more and more discrete and distinct priority areas clearly emerged. (Chaos)

Shapers were asked to self-select into the priority area of greatest interest. Breaking into thematic groups, each grouping was asked to:
⇨ Define what success looks like for the priority area
⇨ Set objectives for the next quarter (3 months)
⇨ Decide on immediate deliverables (1 month)

Allowing Shapers to self-select based on interest had a number of benefits. For one: leaders emerged and were assigned naturally. Second, with a number of diverse backgrounds, nothing feels forced or imposed. Instead, individual are allowed to make decisions based on their skills and objectives.

Merging this activity with personal goal setting also allows unique skill sets to emerge and be incorporated. For instance: a Shaper with a background in project evaluation will now be involved in drafting a standard set of Project impact metrics. Another, with an equity background in Indigenous issues, will help serve as a Hub ombudsperson — a position that would have otherwise never existed.

Consider the opportunity cost: several hours on a Sunday morning delivered results that would otherwise have taken several meetings, far more organization and a much larger lift. In other words? Time well spent.

Reflecting & Next Steps

Effective planning requires follow-up. In the Toronto Hub, we will return to the priority objectives set at the Strategic Retreat at a follow-up meeting in August, revisiting them on a quarterly basis after that. Most importantly: we are open to iteration and the notion that our priorities will grow, evolve, and transform over time as our team matures.

The 2018/2019 Strategic Retreat built a real sense of energy and momentum around our activities as a community. It brought us together, unifying the team around mutually agreed upon priority areas, and charting a path forward.

We look forward to continuing to reflect on this process as we progress through our mandate. Follow our journey on Twitter.

Please get in touch with us to ask any questions, share your own technique for strategic planning, and reflect on our process.

We’d love to hear from you.

Max Seunik & Sonika Kainth
Curator & Vice Curator 2018/2019
Toronto Hub of the Global Shapers Community

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