To build an action plan that transfers ownership and accountability to your meeting participants, begin with the right questions, in the right sequence. Be one of the few facilitators who understands that ownership transfers instantly because participants offer their own “WHO does WHAT by WHEN,” the primary components of any action plan. Consequently, whether you’re planning includes strategies, initiatives, projects, activities, or tasks, when thoroughly completed, an action plan answers the following ten questions:
(Please note in the sections that follow, the highlighted terms link to tools that facilitators may use to build the activities that comprise action plan).
1. Why are we here?
First of all, find the passion. While many MBA textbooks refer to this first step as Mission, much of the military-industrial complex refers to it as Vision. Yet both answer the same question first, which is why do we show up? Therefore, responses to this question fill in the blank landscape and provide rationale for subsequent team actions. For example, why are Marriott employees in the hospitality industry? They could be in financial services, energy, etc. Capture the passion for showing up here and now.
2. Who are we?
Frequently referred to as Values or Guiding Principles, answers to this question describe the accouterments that describe or weigh down the participants. What do they carry with them? What do they wear? How will they treat each other? Different types of people may share similar passions, such as mountain climbers, yet are very distinctive in their personalities (eg, climbers using ropes versus trail walkers).
3. Where are we going?
People sticking together amplify their chances of success. Many teams prudently select a common view that guides their direction. While most MBA textbooks refer to this step as Vision, some refer to this as Mission. And yet both approaches answer the same question of direction by agreeing on where the group will go.
4. What will measure our progress?
No proactive endeavor succeeds in a complex marketplace without measurements. While some consulting firms define Objectives as SMART and Goals as fuzzy, other firms use the exact opposite definitions. We are not biased by the term used, but promote the concept that there are three different types of criteria: namely, SMART (ie, specific—frequently referred to as KPIs or Key Performance Indicators), fuzzy (may be subjective, such as a “a great view at the top of the mountain”), and binary (such as, “reach the summit”).
5. What is our current situation?
Frequently viewed as four lists, robust SWOT actually contrasts two dimensions. The first dimension captures stuff within the group’s control, frequently referred to as strengths (plus) and weaknesses (minus). The second dimension captures stuff the group cannot control and is referred to as opportunities (plus) and threats (minus). A weakness that can be mitigated is NOT an opportunity because it is controllable. A group of mountain climbers might be agile (strength) and resource thin (weakness). Addtionally, they face a break in the weather (opportunity) or an avalanche (threat).
6. To reach our goals and objectives, what must we do?
To generate consensus when prioritizing hundreds of options, SW-OT begins to transfer ownership when participants own their analysis. While typically much can be done, groups and teams only have time and resources to manage the most important stuff. As a result, our quantitative approach to SW-OT simplifies complex situations and ensures consensual understanding.
7. To what extent will these actions guarantee our success?
Alignment ensures the proper balance of WHAT is being done to reach the objectives (created to ensure reaching the vision). Use an open-ended approach, as in asking, “To what extent does this WHAT support reaching this objective?” and NOT the traditional, close-ended approach that suggests, “Does it?” Consider using the Book-end method to prioritize which actions have the greatest impact on reaching the objectives.
8. WHO does WHAT?
Frequently called Roles and Responsibilities, over seventeen varieties of RACI models, all promulgated by different consulting firms, answer the question WHO does WHAT. Our approach appends each assignment with WHEN it will be done, how much FTE is required, and what type of resources will be requested—resulting in a consensually owned Gantt chart.
9. What should we tell others about our progress?
Wouldn’t it be great if we sounded like we were all in the same meeting? Most call this step a traditional communications plan. We call it Guardian of Change because of the bias found in some organizations where the best ideas are NOT approved; rather the most charismatic “Champions” obtain approvals (a scary thought if you are a stakeholder).
10. Who will report back on open issues?
In your professional “Wrap” review your work, manage the “Parking Lot” or open issues, confirm a quick communications plan, and get feedback on how you did as the facilitator. Consequently, if you facilitate these ten questions, the group will understand, own, and live by WHAT it agrees to do.
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