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We facilitated a two-day innovation strategy workshop for an industrial company. The company wants to make significant changes to a major production process. During the innovation strategy discussions, we addressed the production process changes from five different perspectives. In each of the five mini-innovation strategy workshops, we had a group of core team members, plus people familiar with each perspective. The overall group sizes for each innovation strategy workshop varied from fourteen to more than twenty-five people, depending on the topic.

From a facilitation standpoint, it was the most arduous couple of days of going through strategic thinking exercises I recall.

With groups changing out every few hours, there was a continual, tight window to get all the input we’d need to build out a strategic plan and timeline for our client’s strategic initiative.

As I described it to an associate, facilitation may look easy. You stand there, ask some questions, and crack a few jokes to keep things light.

11 Things Running through a Facilitator’s Head

Strategic-Thinking-Brain

In reality, I shared these eleven things going through my head at all times relative to the strategic thinking exercises we were using with the group:

  1. How quickly can I read the dynamics of this new group, even though I don’t have time for them to do meaningful self-introductions?
  2. Who are going to be the active participants?
  3. Am I able to keep up in writing down all their ideas on sticky notes?
  4. As we progress, is everyone participating? If not, what can I do to get laggards to actively participate?
  5. If I become the bottleneck on recording ideas, at what point do I split them into smaller groups to work independently?
  6. If we split into smaller groups, what structure can I put around each small group to help them perform successfully even though I have no time to manage the group composition to maximize their input on innovation strategy?
  7. Are we on schedule, and if not, what do I need to do to adjust?
  8. What questions or exercises can I eliminate to save time while still getting enough input in all the areas we are covering for each innovation strategy?
  9. Are the people having fun with the strategic planning activities, or do I need to do more funny stuff to keep their heads in the game?
  10. Do I have time and room to experiment with the group to take them into new areas of innovation strategy?
  11. Are we done yet? And how much time do I have to get ready before the next workshop?

Yup, those questions were all running through my head nearly continually. Add to that the constant headache I could not shake, and it was a two-day mental crunch, without a doubt.

But when we look back and see how we pushed the thinking on the initiative, it’s clear all the challenges were all worth it!  – Mike Brown

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