How to facilitate a collaborative session to build an internal communication plan

Batter up! It’s that time of year again: internal communication planning season. But before you step up to the plate and build your plan, collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure that your plan meets employees’ needs.

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What’s the best way to gather fresh ideas and perspectives for your plan? Get everyone in a room for a collaborative, face-to-face planning workshop. Here are some tips to make your internal communication planning session a success:

Before the session

Decide who to invite. Before you field your players, think about the skill set and knowledge you need to create your communication plan. Consider including:

· An employee who will be impacted by the plan

· A communication colleague

· Subject matter experts (For example, benefits or compensation team members, who can share details about initiatives)

· Regional representatives, who can shed light on global perspectives

While there’s no playbook for how many participants you should include, we find that a group of eight to ten participants brings a variety of perspectives without being too difficult to manage.

Schedule the session. Invite participants at least two weeks in advance so they can commit their time and come prepared. Here are some meeting logistics you’ll need to figure out beforehand:

· Time. How much time you’ll need for the session depends on the complexity of the information you’re mapping out. But we find that the “sweet spot” is about four to six hours; participants are engaged without feeling rushed or fatigued.

· Location. When it comes to communication planning, playing on the home field isn’t always an advantage. Sometimes going offsite is best, since there are fewer distractions. If that’s not possible, then find a conference room with plenty of space to move around.

· Snacks. Just like baseball players, your team needs fuel to perform. A well-fed team has more energy and generates better ideas. So, bring your participants treats to sustain their energy throughout the meeting.

Create a detailed agenda. Your game plan should begin with a warm up and end with your desired outcome — a win. For you, a win means having clear next steps and enough information to draft a great internal communication plan. Create a detailed agenda that generates the best thinking possible, expands participants’ horizons and gathers fresh ideas for key plan components. Here’s how to create your lineup:

· Warm up the team. Make participants feel comfortable by beginning with a quick icebreaker.

· Mix it up. Instead of using a flip chart to capture ideas throughout the session, mix it up by using materials that make the meeting more engaging — like Post-It notes, scented markers or magazine clippings.

· Share details. For each activity in your agenda, include the purpose and instructions so participants understand what they’re expected to do and how it will work.

· Create a facilitator’s version. Keep everyone on track by creating an agenda just for you that includes timing for each activity. Of course, it’s okay if you don’t stick to the schedule, but this will help you manage your time more effectively.

During the meeting

It’s game day! Now that you’ve got your lineup and game plan, you’re ready to take the field. Achieve your objectives by:

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· Getting everyone on the same page. You drafted these players for their unique skills and expertise, but everyone needs to be focused on a win. Participants need to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and what they need to do to help. So, take time in the beginning of the session to warm up your players.

· Having a backup plan. If brainstorming starts going south and participants are fatigued, look to your bullpen. Make sure you have a backup plan to motivate team members when energy levels go down.

· Managing the room. In this case, you’re the coach, and it’s up to manage the field. If participants go off-topic, or get antsy during the planning session, it’s up to you to shift gears and go with the flow, or pull in the reins.

After the session

You’ve successfully facilitated your planning session! Now you’ve got a big pile of notes with great ideas. Here’s what to do next:

· Organize your notes. Immediately after the session, organize the output — Post-It notes, flip charts, etc. — into your plan components (objectives, key messages and tactics).

· Don’t lose momentum. While you’ll want to take some time after the session to regroup and switch gears, don’t wait too long to begin drafting your plan. Think about what you heard, make sense of it, reach out to participants if you need clarification and get to work.

These are just some tips to help you facilitate a collaborative internal communication planning session. Visit www.davisandco.com to learn more about creating an internal communication plan worthy of the hall of fame.

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