The new CEO of Disney began a new series of breakfast meetings. At each meeting, everyone would be invited to join in a discussion of the direction, performance and strategy of the company. The main way this was done was through stories and ideas. People would share stories that brought strategy to life. Stories about what they wanted the strategy to be, ways in which they were delivering and what wasn’t working. These stories allowed people outside the room to be represented in the strategy discussion and so the strategy and action levels of the company were powerfully joined together.
You want a meeting of minds (not a mindless meeting). The bad news is that people have often fallen into bad habits. The good news is that people want great meetings and very rarely (if ever) have attended any. They are waiting for something worthwhile and want you to succeed.
Get enough time for the session so you will be able to make progress with strategy questions. If it’s your first new-style session, get a couple of days together. Stay in a hotel. Or meet in a playground. Go outside. Make it feel like the start of something important. Done right, it will be a hugely valuable turning point in the history of the company. You will be shaping the future of everyone involved.
Timing is important to strategy and to strategy meetings. People (particularly doers) seek an agenda so that they have structure but can then use structure to avoid really engaging with the substance of the discussion. You need something that matches (and challenges) the rhythms of the people in the room. Some are future focused (thinking in terms of years and longer) and find deadlines difficult to take seriously. Some are now focused and experience frustration with thinking about anything beyond the week or month. Get it wrong and they simply take turns ignoring each other. Get it right and creative breakthroughs are the reward.
The brilliant strategy meeting comes from blending the tensions and contributions of doers and thinkers, now and in the future. Move from long term (in concrete yet inspirational style) and back to short term (with practical steps, names, dates and criteria). Produce something short and direct that shares the essence, the genius of the ideas produced so that there is a minimum gap between what the group experienced (in the room) and sharing that experience with others (who were not in the room).
And remember: Thinking like a strategist is demanding intellectual work so they may be tired during and after a very productive session. Pointing this out allows people to prepare and to recognise the signs of a great session – the fatigue of a job well done. A great session balances such demands with laughter. Strategy can be a lot of intellectual and emotional fun. Done right it should involve a sense of relief, an easing of pressure as progress is made. Enjoy creating the future together.
Max’s new book: The Innovation Book: How to Manage Ideas and Execution for Outstanding Results, is out now! “It’s your roadmap to create powerful innovations that deliver success in a competitive world”.
Picture: President Reagan holds a oval office staff meeting 1981 (public domain).