How often does your team get a chance to look at the bigger picture together? It’s likely that you’re often all so busy delivering work, meeting deadlines and handling customer needs, it’s a challenge to find the time to step back and take a look at the overall direction you’re going.

A strategic discussion with your team can be valuable in many ways, providing the time and space to learn from each other, share ideas, and reconnect with your team’s purpose – a great way to improve motivation.

A while back I covered how September is a great time to do this (although you can run these types of sessions at any time you feel your team needs some fresh thinking). You might use a structure like:

  1. Review: what did you set out to achieve this past year and how did it go?
  2. Insights: what have you learned about your work/business/customers this year?
  3. Trends: what is happening in industry, outside of your business?
  4. Wish list: what would you do if time, money and resources were unlimited?
  5. Ideas generation: what if you were to…?
  6. Actions and next steps: what are the biggest insights from the session?

There are many ways to run a ‘big picture thinking’ session, and the outline I’ve created is just one example.  It’s good to run it as a fast-paced session – perhaps 2-3 hours.The aim is to initiate a discussion and leave you all feeling motivated for what’s next. Remember that the follow-up after the session is just as important as the workshop itself.

Here are some of the principles behind a “big picture thinking” workshop:

Create a journey

When designing a workshop, you’re also creating an experience for the participants. This includes the journey they will take throughout the workshop, and how an activity will flow into the next. The exercises in this workshop fit into three main areas – looking back at the past (review and insights), looking outwards (trends), and looking forward (wish list, ideas generation and actions).

Use the first exercise as a warm-up

The first exercise needs to ease participants into a collaborative and creative mindset, and emphasise that it’s different from a typical meeting. Some people like to make this a fun icebreaker exercise, but for a session like this, it’s a good idea to relate it to your project. Allocate more time for your team to warm-up and switch their brains into gear. Asking the right questions will gather some ‘top-of-mind’ insights, and you might identify the areas that are taking most of your team’s attention.

Provide an opportunity for your team to reflect on their experiences

While quantitative data is important for making good decisions, the value of this session is in gathering qualitative insights from your team. Consider personal experiences, feedback from customers, and observations about the way you work. You’ll alternate between individual thinking and group work to make this happen.

Maintain the pace

To maintain the fast pace of this session, you’ll need to monitor the depth of the discussions. In one of the activities outlined in the template, you’ll ask your team to share projects or ideas they would love to pursue if they had unlimited time, money and resources.

When asking people to feedback their ideas to the rest of the group, ask them to do so using a ‘one-sentence pitch’ so they don’t go into too much detail. You can get around the room quite quickly and keep attention high this way. You might be surprised by the number of interesting ideas your team have been sitting on.

Stimulate creativity by combining ideas

The session is designed to kick start thinking and further discussions for the year ahead. To keep your team in divergent-thinking mode, discourage them from either getting too attached to, or shutting down ideas too early. The content that your team creates from the various exercises can be used as stimulus and combined to generate new possibilities. Some of the best ideas come from unlikely connections.

Ask your team to present their new ideas as a question, using the format “what if we were to…?”. This will open up more thinking around new opportunities and generate more questions, rather than closing the discussion too soon by critiquing ideas. Although you won’t be able to pursue every new idea, it will encourage your team to think differently.

Actions and next steps

As with any workshop, you’ll want to finish with identifying actions and next steps. You can facilitate this by giving your team a few minutes to think individually about their main insights from the session, and finish with a final quick-fire round of sharing. This might include what the team should focus on, or action they might take as a result of the session.

Make sure to note these down, and who said what.

After the session

From this short session, it’s likely that you’ll have more questions and big themes to explore further. Some of the next steps for follow-up could be:

  • Another collaborative session to fully explore an identified problem
  • Setting priorities with your team for the coming year
  • Selecting ideas for prototyping and testing
  • One-to-one meetings with team members
  • The outline of a strategy to be filled in with more discussions and thinking

Tip: schedule time in your calendar to review, analyse and write-up the notes.

The follow-up of the workshop will be just as important as the workshop itself, and you will need to do work afterwards to keep discussions going. The session is designed to kick start thinking and further discussions for the year ahead, not to fully develop ideas or make final decisions. Set these expectations with your team.