The best team strategy exercise is one everybody loves and that delivers a great result!

Getting your team together for a strategy day takes time and effort. And if you consider the total number of people-hours locked away for the day, no doubt you’ll want to get the most out of each strategy exercise.

There are plenty of exercises to help your team collaborate and come up with great ideas. But one of the most overlooked areas in achieving strategy day success is how to get the most out of your team in every strategy exercise.

Here are 6 steps to collaborative team strategy exercise success:

1) Clearly explain the context and purpose of each team strategy exercise

People perform better if they understand the purpose of the exercise. Tell them what it involves (and how long it’s going to take).  Just as important is how the exercise fits within the context of the whole day.

Tell the team how the particular strategy exercise will contribute to the ultimate outcome of the day.  This may be something like “we’re doing this visioning exercise because it’ll help us all work out what our ultimate goal is. Then the rest of the team exercises today will help us map a path to this goal.”

One of my favourite visioning exercises is called ‘On the Cover’ (based on the Grove Consultants International’s ‘Cover Story Vision’ exercise). It asks teams to suspend disbelief and come up with a story about their company that makes to the cover of Time magazine. It’s a very powerful and valuable strategy exercise.  But, if it isn’t couched right it can be brushed off by a team of (say) busy professionals who ‘haven’t got time for silly games’.

When everyone understands the ultimate purpose of the exercise you’ll get better input and a richer outcome.

2) Get people to work on the problem by themselves first

Start by asking people to work on the problem by themselves (in silence…and without looking over shoulders) for no more than 2-3 minutes.

This allows each person to generate their own thoughts first without the influence of the team. It means that a 12 person team (for example) will generate 12 ideas before they even start collaborating.

This also helps reserved members of the group to make a contribution.

3) Then work in pairs

I like to get people to ‘share in pairs’ to share and refine their ideas. This allows them to test and tweak their response with one other person before they reveal it to the group. It allows for some early collaboration before you reach the group collaboration stage.

Ask each pair to pick or combine their best answers for presentation to the group.

(Note: make sure you don’t throw away discarded responses and ideas from any session.  I’ve found nuggets of gold among discarded ideas!)

4) Work in groups (collaborate)

After the pairs have collated, tweaked and shared their responses with the team, split the team into a number of sub-groups.  Each sub-group is then to come up with a single response to the exercise.

I’m big on splitting teams into two or more groups for the duration of a team strategy workshop rather than running a single group – especially if the team consists of 8 or more people.

I’ll ask the sub-groups to work on each exercise in parallel and then present the outcome of each exercise to the whole team and encourage discussion across sub-groups.

Getting the team to work by themselves, in pairs and then in a group means that by the time everyone gets to the group stage they’re warmed up and contributions come in thick and fast.

5) Get groups to present their findings to each other

I preempt the group stage of the team strategy exercise by asking each sub-group to choose a presenter. I tell them to choose their presenter wisely because they’ll have to ‘sell’ their concept to the other groups. This approach evokes a light-hearted competitive environment and adds to the energy in the room.

Group-to-group presentations are a great way to share and discuss different proposed solutions. Considering alternative solutions generates discussion and gets ideas flowing.  It also helps to flesh out and solidify ideas and issues. Roadblocks and new ways of getting past them are also uncovered in this process.

Note: it’s important to leave ample time within each exercise to allow groups to present their findings and for discussion.

6) Dot vote

Dot voting is a great way to get everyone to vote individually on the best ideas that come out of each team strategy exercise.

Voting helps clarify and highlight the ideas and components of each strategy exercise that resonate with the whole team. It gives the team a sense of where the real focus needs to be and where the real opportunities and roadblocks are.

Final thought

Picking the right team strategy exercises to run with your team is critical for a successful strategy day outcome.

It’s just as important to develop a process for how the team engages in the strategy exercises. So give this waterfall approach a go!

free team day strategy infographic