Planning a strategic event



Time frame for planning

The nature of the event

Objectives for the event

Detail planning

Facilitation of the event



It is surprising how often important events, such as strategic planning discussions, are poorly planned.  This is all the more surprising when the costs of the event (the venue, attendance by a number of senior people - some  from far bases - and loss of routine time) and the long-term impact of the discussions are considered.  This article offers some pointers on how to ensure that the strategic event is well-planned and effective.


Planning for an event should commence well before the intended date.  The following factors can influence the time required to finalize the event:

In general, the shortest possible planning horizon for a purely internal event where the participants are in one physical location (or relatively close by) is probably of the order of two weeks.  At the other end of the spectrum, an event drawing on a variety of participants (possibly internationally) may require planning to commence up to one year before the intended date.


The nature of the event has an influence on the planning process.  Consider whether the event should be:

The nature of the event determines the composition of the participants.  If it is to be a strategic planning event, issues of participation arise. Who are the stakeholders to the planning?  In general, a stakeholder may be defined as:

Any individual or group who will be influenced by the decisions taken, or who may influence the nature of the decisions.

Stated differently, stakeholders hold authority, power and influence over the decisions, and should be made participants to the process in some way.  This creates the difficulty of escalating numbers of participants.  A serious planning meeting within a single organization should ideally have no more than 30 participants (10 - 20 is an ideal number).  If the stakeholders exceed reasonable numbers, subsidiary events or follow-up events should be considered.

The nature of the event also determines the physical arrangements required for the event.  A strategic planning meeting should ideally be held in a private space, with U-shaped seating so that the participants may actively interact with one another.  Events which are aimed more at conveying information than on interaction, would typically require auditorium-style seating where the emphasis falls on the effective use of audio-visual aids and on speaker visibility.


There is probably no single issue of greater importance than defining adequately the objectives for the event.  Robert Mager, the great guru of instructional objectives in the 'sixties and 'seventies, used to say that "if you do not know where you are going, you are likely to end up somewhere else and not even know it".  A variation of this is: "If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there".

Objectives for an event should be specific, and should indicate the expected outcome of the event.  A statement such as "to discuss strategic issues" is not specific enough.  A more specific set of objectives might be the following:


A set of well-defined objectives for an event will:


Prior planning should include consideration of the following details:


Most organizations prefer to engage an independent Facilitator for strategic events.  This has a number of advantages, including the following:


In our experience, a deep level of wisdom and insight exists within an organization.  A strategic planning session is a fairly quick and inexpensive way in which to tap this insight, and to design strategies and approaches which have a good chance of success, since they tend to be viewed as "our solutions" and not as "their solutions".  However, considerable planning is required to make the session productive and positive, and if planning is poor and execution of the event is flawed, it can have a surprisingly negative impact.  We trust that this short article has given you some pointers in the right direction.

StratFac offers a comprehensive and professional strategic facilitation service, from conceptualization of the event through to planning follow-up actions after the event.  We can be contracted to handle any project from a simple one-off facilitation, to a complete strategic planning exercise, including planning events and organization redesign in support of strategy.
Contact us.

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