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Strategic Planning: Virtual or In-Person?

By Anthony Taylor - February 21, 2022

SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help align your team with our strategic planning and implementation services.

Strategic planning - should you do it virtually? Should you do it in person? What are the pros and cons?

So at SME Strategy, we facilitate strategic planning, we facilitate stakeholder engagement, and we support teams with the implementation of their strategic plans. And one of the big things that's coming up with teams these days, especially because of the variant and COVID-19 changes and restrictions for travel, is the pros and cons of doing strategic planning online.

Since COVID, came to be in about March 2020, we've shifted all of our programs online, and we've actually had really great results - I would argue better results being online. But it was mainly out of necessity. Now that we have the option of either meeting in person or virtually, you as the leader, you as a meeting organizer have to decide which of these do we want to choose? And what are the pros and cons for each? So that's what we'll cover in today's video.

So, starting with virtual. What are the pros of doing virtual strategic planning sessions? To start, shorter sessions are more engaging. So instead of doing your typical two or three day off site, what we're doing is three hour sessions over a series of weeks. So for a typical strategic planning session, we would do it over five weeks, three hours for each session. And what's really great about that is that we condense the content. And then people can focus for a short amount of time versus being burnt out after two full days.

The other benefit of doing it virtually is it's a lot easier on the calendar. So if you've ever participated in an offsite, you had to basically be away from your phone or email for two full days or three full days. When you come back, everything is backlogged, you feel overwhelmed, you're sitting at the desk, and you're wondering about all these emails coming in. So you're not actually fully present. When you do it online, it's a lot easier for people to find a three hour block over a series of weeks. And it's easier to schedule in for most people.

One of the huge pros of having a virtual strategic planning session is that you save on costs. You save on travel costs, you save on flight costs, you save on food costs, and you save on room costs. And if you've ever had to plan one of these meetings, it can easily be $20,000, $50,000 - depending on how many people you're bringing in. So there's significant cost savings, meaning you don't have to lose the upside of doing the planning, but you don't have the associated costs to support all of those people.

Another pro of doing a virtual strategic planning session is equity of voice. So when you have a good facilitator who can manage the room, like us, everybody has the same Zoom square. So whether you're the CEO, whether you're the VP, whether you're a manager, you have the same size square on Zoom. And it's a lot easier to manage the conversation - it's not monopolized by one or two people. So if you're looking to have equity of voice and hear from everybody, having those little squares actually makes it really supportive.

>> Read more: How to Defeat Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue

Plus, digital tools can be used to solicit feedback. So we use JamBoard, Mentimeter, Google Docs as a means of pulling out information. And then people can take the information for what it is versus the weight of the person sharing it. Now, of course, there's always going to be that like slight consideration. But if you want to be able to have balanced perspectives and hear everybody's perspectives, then virtual is a great option for you.

The final pro of having virtual sessions is the time between the sessions. So I mentioned earlier that if you do a full two day strategy session, your brain is burnt out because you've just been going for 16 hours straight. Plus, there's usually some activities after. What's great about the virtual sessions is you get to have a three-hour chunk. And then you have a week as a team to talk about it, discuss it and unpack it. So if there's anything in the session that needs to be realigned on, refocused on or clarified, you have that time. Especially for SMEs, small and medium enterprises that are looking at developing their capacity for strategy work as it might not be in their DNA currently, it's a great way to build that muscle up. Hey, we have our session, we've got an hour homework, we've got that session, we've got an hour homework. So you get into the habit of building strategic conversations. And those five weeks, six weeks, seven weeks of practicing are going to really support the two three years of strategy execution moving down the road.

So I love virtual sessions - we get a lot done. It helps us help a lot of people because we can scale it and get across from Canada to the US and other countries. And it might be a great option for you, mainly because of the cost savings but also the outcomes are very, very high. And everything is way more focused. You're getting the best of people every time and they're not getting distracted.

>> Watch more: How to Re-think Your Virtual Meetings & Communication

We can help you align your team around a clear vision, mission, values, goals and action plans,

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Now some people say Hey, if I'm gonna have a meeting, if I'm gonna have a strategy meeting, it needs to be in person. With COVID, and all of the restrictions that might be happening, you might be pushing off those meetings for 6 to 12 months. So keep in mind that's a consideration as well. But a lot of people are saying Hey, it's time we can get back in-person. Why would you want to do that over a virtual?

Well, there is definitely the case for stronger in-person relationships and deeper connections. You really do get to understand a person better when you're sitting next to them. There's the non work time, going for dinners and chatting with people. But just getting to know the people that you're working with is great for building trust. So definitely a pro out of that - sharing mealtimes together. That's the informal conversation that adds the sort of meat to the bones of the strategy. You get to unpack some things, you get to talk about personal things, it'll really support the sort of team building camaraderie component of organizational development, which is important.

Another pro - you get everybody's full attention. So I want to say it's easier than being distracted. Because on your computer, even if you're focused on your computer, you may have alerts pop up, you may have your phone pop up in-person. It's a lot easier to sort of mandate and support - you do not check your cell phone, you do not have any other devices, you don't have anything that will blip and beep, you just have a pen and paper. So you do get greater attention. The flip side to that is after 12 hours, people are kind of burnt out, and you sort of lose their attention.

Next - conversation flows more naturally. This is one of the big things that teams have been struggling with for the past 18 months. You can only have one person talking at a time on Zoom. So when you're online, you want to be really conscious of not interrupting or not talking over somebody. Or if there's lag, it can be kind of awkward. In person, you have a lot better understanding of when that person's done a point, you can talk over them if you want, you can get a little bit more energetic or heated. And so that does have benefits because it can move faster. Downside of that is that you get a lot of multiple conversations at once. So pros and cons to that.

And the final benefit of in-person sessions is you get more of an opportunity to do the nonverbal communication. You get to see how people are feeling. You get their truest communication, mainly because some people just aren't that comfortable communicating through Zoom - they just don't find it as effective. 93% of communication is nonverbal. So you'll have a better chance of seeing people's body language, shoulder movements, head movements, and nods yes if you're in-person.

So it really comes down to the in-person session is about understanding those little intricacies - the trust building, the relationship building, and then the sort of banter side part of team development. Ultimately, you got to do what works best for you and your organization.

The pros for virtual - cost savings, time savings, flexibility. Plus, it's a little bit more resilient, given the fact that everything that's going to happen with COVID over time. You won't have to delay your strategy work, which is critical team building work, you don't have to put it off. Just because you can't meet in-person, it's important work you need to do. I would argue you need to do it now more than ever. So don't wait to have it in-person.. do it virtually.

The flip side is, if you really want to build that trust, you really want to have some tough conversations, and if you have to have tough conversations, most would rather do it in-person. In that case, put up the extra cost, and use it as an investment for your team building in the long term.

So, strengths of virtual - you get to do it fast, you get to do it more easily. And I think you get great outcomes from it. Plus, it saves a lot of money. Benefits of in-person is that you get to have that interpersonal peace, you get that team building, you get those casual conversations, and sometimes you get to have more honest conversations because you're not so worried about how it comes across (thanks to that nonverbal communication).

Ultimately you've got to look at what's works best for you. But I want you to keep in mind you have to do it. So for me, if it was a choice between not doing it at all, or doing it virtually - pick virtual. We've been doing it great, and having the right facilitator is key for that.

So if you are looking to align your team, move that forward in-person or virtually, be sure to click this link for a no obligation consultation. We'll just talk to you about your options, what the process could look like, and how it would fit best for your team.

So if you enjoyed today's video, be sure to like and subscribe to learn more management and strategy tips. My name is Anthony Taylor. I'm the Managing Partner at SME Strategy. We hope we can work with you in the future to help you get to where you want to go, along your One Destination journey.

Thanks so much for watching, and we'll see you next time.


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