Great organisations create the opportunities for their senior leadership team to come together, build strong relationships and solve problems. Epiphanies often happen when everyone is in the room. There is something about the collective intelligence and energy of everyone being together for a period of time.
While it is critical to bring your entire leadership cohort together, it is a risky undertaking. First, its expensive. Often leaders have to fly to a central location and having your top 50-100 leaders effectively offline for two days is a big commitment. Second, and more important, the messaging has to be right. Un-inspiring your top leaders simply isn't an option.
I've had the privilege of facilitating more than fifty gatherings of senior leaders over the years. These have ranged from the executive leadership team to the top 3 levels of the organisation. Sizes have ranged from ten to well over a hundred. Here are my insights on how to ensure your event is a success.
The most powerful gatherings are united visually and emotionally with a theme. Having a logo designed is particularly powerful as it demonstrates to the leaders that the organisation is serious about bringing them together and serious about the outcomes. Keep it simple - one or two words at most - and have it nicely designed.
2. It’s the little things that count
People feel valued when everything goes smoothly and all the details are looked after. Dietary requirements, packs of useful information, table seating etc. The only way to do this is a huge amount of preparation. It never ceases to astound me how much work goes into designing these. The smoothest senior leader forums I've been involved with have these characteristics:
(1) start planning at least 3 months out;
(2) have a small team of 4-7 people as the organising SWAT team;
(3) have an awesome administrator/organiser in the team;
(4) involve the facilitator from the beginning;
(5) have fun along the way. Laughter is non-negotiable.
3. Less is More
I probably should have put this as number one. I spend most of my time in the early stages negotiating to take stuff out of the agenda. Leaders need to have the time to be together. Time is as important as the content as this is where new connections are built and existing relationships are strengthened. Morning and afternoon teas should be half an hour with an hour for lunch.
4. Flow is as important as content
I place equal importance on these three things: Space; flow; and content. The flow of the 1-2 days ensures that the content is able to be digested. It goes without saying that the forum should never be boring or overwhelming. Each topic and activity should build upon the previous one to lead the group toward the agreed outcome.
Senior leader forums are a sensemaking experience. A well designed and delivered forum leaves everyone with a shared understanding of the issues at hand, a clear path for the future, and a palpable energy and enthusiasm to tread the path together.