I’ve been running businesses for almost twenty years now. Whilst it scares me to think where the time has gone, I’ve learned a heck of a lot along my journey – and the greatest takeaway has been how much my approach to leadership has had to evolve over time.
How leadership has changed
Back when I started my first recruitment agency, ‘leadership’ for me was essentially ‘head down, get the job done, compete and lead by example’.
But scaling the business was proving hard with this strategy and I soon found out the reason why: ‘Bad internal communication’ was my biggest employee complaint. I was always thinking six months ahead of everyone else and forgetting to fill in the gaps for my team.
Since then, I’ve made employee communication top of my priority list, and our award-nominated bi-annual monthly Focus Days have become an integral part of this strategy.
So, I thought I’d share some insights on why Focus Days have been so effective for us and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
4 lessons we've learned from running stratgey days
Lesson 1: You need to let your team make some of the decisions
I used to think that as a leader, I had to have all the answers. But this little thing called ’the internet’ has created a world where people are a lot more independent in what they think works and what doesn’t - they don’t need you to provide answers to everything. So not only was this way of thinking completely impractical and very stressful, but totally off the mark.
The whole reason you hire people is to bring the right attitude and expertise to help push your business forward, but are you creating an environment that actually allows this to happen?
A company strategy day is a great way to give your team an opportunity to have their say. To show you how this works, here’s a rundown of how our Focus Days are structured:
- 10:30am – Wendy’s update
- 11:00am – Team brainstorming
- 11:30am – Brunch
- 12:30pm – Each team provides a 15-minute update on goals reached since last Focus day and goals for the next 6 months
- 2:15pm – Leave the office for activity!
As you can see, aside from the first half hour of the day (where I set the scene on how the company has performed in the last six months, how the market is looking and reinforce the company’s vision) the rest of the day is about creating an environment for the team to shine, set their own goals and take ownership for what they’re going to achieve in the next six months.
Lesson 2: Only focus on one goal every six months
At the end of my update, I also set the picture for the next six months in the company by introducing our main goal/theme of the Focus Day.
This goal should be challenging yet achievable; broad enough for different teams to visualise how they can contribute but should still always be linked to your company’s overall vision.
For example, Firefish’s BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) is to provide a software service that’s able to ‘change the way our customers recruit. Forever.’
So, for the last four focus days we have aligned the company around...
Sept 2017 – How to highlight our value to our customers
Feb 2018 – How to turn GDPR into a competitive advantage
Sept 2018 – How can we become more effective as a business?
Feb 2019 – How can we be working better together?
Choosing just one main goal/theme every six months is really important – if you try to do too much, you’ll achieve less and your team won’t stay motivated.
Lesson 3: You need to make time to share the results
If you’re asking your employees to engage with your brand, they need to be able to see the results of their hard work. This is a really important part of Focus Days – giving your team space to show off their results to the wider company and get motivated for the next stretch.
I’ve constantly been blown away by the ideas that my teams come up with and how they move these ideas forward when given the space to do so.
However, we did make some mistakes in the early days...
The first time we ran a Focus Day, the teams were totally bursting with ideas (46 in total!) and this was totally impossible to monitor, never mind implement!
This is why we now ask each team to pick their top three or four ideas to bring forward after brainstorming. And we all know having great ideas and actually implementing them are two very different things – which is why we ask managers to work these ideas into team meetings and personal development reviews to ensure they actually get done.
Lesson 4: Having fun is good for business!
This is one lesson that I took a little longer to understand. I walked into the idea of a biannual Focus Day thinking the important thing was to ensure I maximised the ROI of a full day away from the never-ending list of business tasks.
But what I realised was that the fun part was just as – if not more – important to the company than the business part. The experience, the team comradery and the memories you create have been an awesome investment for the culture of our company and I’m really proud of how it’s turned out.
So far, our Focus Days have taken us white water rafting in the canal that runs by our office, go-kart racing, crazy golfing and mystery touring around Glasgow in mixed teams to encourage people to spend time with employees they don’t always get the chance to speak to. I’ve realised how important days like this are to a team and how good this can be for business.
We started our Focus Day concept just over three years ago now and it has far surpassed my vision of what it would do for the business. As a company grows, it’s easy to become less and less effective as you end up looking inwards instead of outwards and throwing people at problems instead of giving them as space to work out how to solve challenges themselves.
And when a team of fish are all swimming in same direction - the results are awesome.
Have you tried running a strategy day at your business? Or have you had success with a different team-building strategy? I'd love to hear about your experiences!
Wendy McDougall is Chief Fish of Firefish Software. In her spare time, you'll find her playing squash or feeding her inner geek with the latest technology!