Back in September, in a blog post titled "Your Guide to Bringing Strategic Leadership to Life," I explored the opportunity to engage senior executives in a key strategic initiative and discussed best practices for design. Today's blog post is the second in this series in which I will focus on the day of your executive session: the delivery of the experience.
The heavy lifting is complete. Your team is prepared with highly customized, engaging scenarios that will help executives see where the strategic initiative shows up in their business and, even more importantly, how their leadership of the initiative will shape business results.
You are also likely prepared with a team of experienced facilitators who are ready to bring this experience to life. Even the most practiced facilitator can fumble a large-scale, fast session with their top executives in the learner seats. These sessions don’t call for presentation, and they don’t allow for traditional facilitation. Through our own experience here at Insight Experience, delivering highly rated sessions like these, we developed the following set of best practices to support your delivery.
Think About Delivery During Design
These first tips are delivery-focused but need to be considered during the design phase.
- Use short decision rounds: It is incredibly easy to lose control of a group of hundreds of people, especially when their decision-making happens at a different pace. Keep decision rounds short—30 minutes or less—and include just enough activity in each round to keep leaders very busy while not feeling overwhelmed. They should feel time pressure but still be able to finish. We recommend you allocate seven to 10 minutes per scenario.
- Omit exercises that require a lot of direction and oversight: Your instructions should be simple and not require leaders to remember multiple steps. It only takes a few leaders to lose track of the direction, and start asking others around them for clarity, to create distraction in the room. In one of our earliest sessions, we designed a multipart role play that required different leaders to focus on different information while at the same table. We made it through, but not without several stopping points and clarifying questions. The agendas of these sessions are typically tight, and you cannot afford to lose precious minutes to confusion. You may be tempted to include some of your favorite activities that work well in smaller cohorts; be careful to include only those that scale to hundreds of people in the room.
Keep Logistics Simple
- Keep everyone in the same room. Speaking of hundreds of people in the room, you want to contain the session to one ballroom or web-conferencing session when possible. It is important that you don’t lose time in transition between main room and breakout locations.
- Make logistics easy. Think through how leaders will know their team assignment and where to sit. Supply each table with all the technology, power cords, and supplies they will need throughout the exercise. We have seated up to two teams at the same table by using a monitor or other divider to create two workspaces. You are running a training session but typically in a space that is designed for social events. You will be at the mercy of the host when it comes to table sizes, etc.
Engage Leaders in the Discussion
- Include C-level executives on the simulation teams. It is important for them to share in the experience and will give them context for the decision patterns you share in the debriefs. Most of our clients choose to keep all C-level executives on one to two teams, rather than disperse them across other teams. Make this decision based on the culture of your organization.
- Keep the audience involved. Although it is true that you won’t be able to have the full-group discussion you enjoy in a session of 20 to 30 people, you can ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and they can participate. We use live polling technology to ask questions throughout the debrief discussions and employ team members to roam the room with microphones to hear from the audience.
- Insert real company conversation. Your large group debriefs should focus on themes that they practiced in the previous decision round. Follow them with table-group discussions about how these topics apply to their real work. Assign these discussions enough time in the agenda to make them meaningful. They are often the link to each leader’s individual action plan.
Partner with Executive Sponsors
- Pair up with executives for debrief discussions. Identify senior executives who champion the key themes of each debrief discussion and ask them to join you on stage (physical or virtual). You can debrief the practice scenarios and results, and they can offer examples of how those situations and decisions show up in the business. Their presence adds credibility to the learning points and is another link between the practice scenarios and the business.
- Include a call to action: Ask a member of the C-suite to wrap up the session and provide a clear call to action for the leaders to take with them. This will end the session with a strong summary and confirm the relevance and accountability for everyone in the room. This is also a good opportunity to transition to other parts of the meeting such that everything feels integrated.
What happens after the event? In the final blog post of this series, I will discuss how you can support your leaders in their execution of the strategic initiative with insights, application, and reinforcement ideas. Stay tuned!
And, as always, if you are interested in more detailed insights about our approach to custom leadership scenarios, submit a request here and we will schedule a conversation.
Karen Maxwell Powell
Karen Maxwell Powell is the General Manager of Insight Experience, an award-winning global leadership development company with an expertise in business simulations. We develop and deliver group-based learning programs that grow leadership skills, develop business acumen, deepen relationships, and reinforce culture.