Strategy workshops will deliver effective results for the company and for team development only if purpose, preparation and participation are soundly thought through, says Petra Cook

Strategic planning processes are rarely inclusive and all too often ideas are not sought from across all levels of an organisation, according to research published by the Chartered Management Institute and the Advanced Institute of Management Research. The problem is that when a key manager leaves, gaps might appear due to an over-reliance on the views and experience of one person. And beyond that, it means that organisations are failing to take into account the knowledge and expertise of managers who may be closer to the customer.
One thing is clear. Organisations recognise the importance of strategic development and, as the research, The Role and Importance of Strategy Workshops, shows, these strategy workshops or corporate away days have become increasingly common in the past 20 years. But the question that needs to be addressed is, how can they be used to your advantage? As a leader you need to ask yourself whether strategy workshops can further your organisation’s aims and, at the same time, improve career prospects and personal development for you and your team.
In short, if they are managed well and organised properly, they undoubtedly can. But the problem remains that many people believe away days fall short of expectations. Ten per cent of research respondents said the workshop they last attended failed to meet its objectives and more than 40% reported either no or a negative impact on a range of measurable outcomes. So what can you do to change these perceptions?
You need to consider three things: purpose, preparation and participation. Is the main goal to
generate new ideas and solutions to attract customers? Perhaps you need to formulate a new strategy or achieve buy-in to some existing ideas. Whatever the reason, a day away from the workplace is only worthwhile if people know what is expected of them. So it is up to you to provide a clear purpose and direction. After all, how can you or your team move forward unless they are aware of your expectations? And how can you progress unless you deal with issues in a planned and concerted manner?
One of the best ways to develop your own capability as a leader and the skills of your team is by encouraging others to be creative and innovative. Doing so will give you the chance to guide people towards a common goal, allowing you to communicate a vision that team members can follow. It is also a way to generate trust and respect because, by ensuring colleagues express their opinion in a workshop environment, they will feel their views are valued, giving them a sense of purpose in the work they do. Bear in mind that the Institute’s research shows that only one fifth of workshops are attended by junior managers, despite evidence suggesting that participation can improve relationships and boost morale - something you want to achieve.
But you also need to make sure that you and your colleagues prepare for workshops. Worryingly, the amount of time spent in preparation is limited, suggesting that participants rely too much on experience. To be successful you need to make use of the information and resources available so that strategic discussions are informed and based on fact.
How else can you create improvements that are customer-driven and focused?
And of course, after the event, you must communicate and seek feedback. It is vital that you ensure others in the organisation are aware of the outcomes so that you can achieve buy-in to the ideas. Without that your chances of developing ideas or being recognised for them are considerably reduced. With that in mind, the end point is the need to measure results. If you implement changes, you must test how well they have worked so that you can manage change and adapt as necessary.
Ultimately, one way to ensure your career progresses is to demonstrate an ability to lead others and manage change. The key is to show that you have the ability to focus on the business and build on what you have achieved already.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute