Picture this: You’re running a company that is just a few months old, and while there are ideas abound and funding is there, it’s not quite meeting its goals. You’re a bit stressed – if you keep coming in under your goalposts, will you be able to move your business forward? You might respond by trying to get your team to create more output without any substantial changes in resources. Doing so might not solve any problems, especially when your team isn’t the problem – it’s your strategy.

Even the most robust business plan can lead to a new company that simply gets off on the wrong foot. That foot might be one you thought would be right but isn’t working out – you can’t know for sure without analyzing your data. Once this data is analyzed, you can gather your leaders and managers for a strategy review meeting and pivot in a more fruitful direction. These meetings are as important for new companies as for longstanding ones.

No matter your organization’s industry or age, looking at the big-picture with the people who shape it can prove make-or-break for long-term success. To that end, we’ve assembled this guide to productively running strategy review meetings. Read on to know when an approach isn’t working – and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

What is a strategy meeting?

A strategy meeting is a discussion of how well your organization is (or isn’t) meeting its largest goals. Where your weekly team meetings get everyone on track, your monthly strategy review meetings make sure the tracks you’re choosing are meaningful.

You can better understand the distinction between strategy meetings and other types of meetings if you look at the questions asked in each. Knowing who should be in the room should also help distinguish the two.

Pro tip

Set your team up for success by having organized, collaborative meeting agendas during your strategy review meeting to have everyone on the same page by using a tool like Fellow.

Why strategy review meetings matter

Where weekly meetings help you ensure you’re staying the course, strategy review meetings help you confirm that the course is indeed a viable one. During your strategy meeting, you’ll analyze all data regarding your current strategy to see whether you’re reaching your goals and whether those goals are worthwhile.

Think about it like this: How many times have you set lofty goals only for you and your team to fall back into old habits? Strategy review meetings help you keep moving in your new direction instead of accidentally digging your heels into the mud. This way, when you and your team say you’ll do something new and different, you’ll actually commit.

A concrete example should help explain the strategy review vs. weekly meeting distinction. Let’s say your company started the new year with plans to shift its newsletter from monthly to weekly. This strategy is tailored to the goal of driving customer engagement. The strategic assumption here is that a greater number of customer touchpoints corresponds to more purchases and revenue.

There’s just one problem. Your increased communications are leading to a greater unsubscribe rate. As such, with every day your team spends checking all the boxes to send weekly newsletters, your operations are actually suffering, not improving. Without the robust data analysis of strategy review meetings, you might entirely miss this trend. You’d then be pouring resources into an approach that just doesn’t work instead of reassessing and restrategizing.

Whew, that’s a lot of reasons why strategy meetings matter, right? We’ll take a brief moment to sum it all up before continuing on.

  • Strategy review meetings matter because they create the paths you’ll walk during your weekly meetings. 
  • You can only shape these paths during strategy meetings, not weekly ones.
  • Strategy review meetings help you determine whether your current goals are meaningful and devise new ones if not.
  • Data and analysis are key to strategy review meetings, whereas weekly meetings are purely managerial and oriented around managing tasks and setting deadlines.

Who should attend strategy reviews meetings vs. weekly team meetings

As their name suggests, weekly team meetings should include your team. That means the people actually doing the work, not the higher-ups with leadership or management roles. Those folks will instead attend your strategy review meetings. After all, strategy planning is a key leadership function, and managers bear the primary responsibility for making that vision a reality. 

Questions to ask at strategy review meetings vs. weekly team meetings

Weekly team meetings are often focused on short-term progress. Questions that might be asked include: What are you doing this week? What resources do you need to complete your tasks? Will you make your deadlines? 

Strategy meetings instead typically focus on the long-term value (or lack thereof) of the tasks discussed at weekly meetings. Questions to ask include: Why did our team focus on these tasks this month? Did we need to do all these things? What else should we do? Are we performing to our goals? What issues will our success hinge upon in the coming months?

What to avoid at strategy review meetings

As you can probably tell by now, strategy review meetings aren’t the time to ask who’s doing what and by what dates. You should focus entirely on strategy execution. That means ditching “What did your team do this month?” for “What are our results?” Avoid operational questions – now is the time to take a generous bird’s-eye view.

9 tips for the best strategy review meeting

We’d like to wager a guess here: If strategy review meetings bring one word to mind, it’s either overwhelming or ambitious. The latter is certainly accurate, but the former doesn’t have to be! With the below nine tips – which are all pretty simple – your strategy review meetings should feel far less nerve-wracking. After your first strategy meeting that these tips guide, your remaining meetings should be a total cakewalk.

1 Establish how you’ll collect and pre-analyze data

The first step to a successful strategy review meeting is deciding how you’ll gather all the relevant information. All attendees should come in with robust knowledge of the relevant data to efficiently refine your strategy in a meeting setting. It’s on you to establish that knowledge.

To build this knowledge, you could collate data from your tracking software. You could also have each department head send you all relevant metrics. It’s then on you to analyze this data (though you should ask for help from your team as needed!). 

Once your data analysis is complete, you’ll want to write a report summarizing it and send this report to all meeting attendees. Your attendees should read the report before the meeting and use what they see to come up with questions or ideas. This way, attendees arrive with the necessary background rather than spending precious meeting time fully learning about the situation. 

2 Prepare a meeting agenda

A successful meeting hinges on the preparation of a robust meeting agenda. Strategy review meetings are, of course, no exception to this rule. Your agenda should open with a review of meeting action items from previous strategy review sessions. It should then continue with an overview of key goals and data, followed by a discussion of the status of each item mentioned. 

You’ll then open the floor to conversations about how you should shift your strategy based on this data. This portion of the conversation is ideal for setting meeting action items and voting on decisions to be made as a group. You can then end the meeting with a final review of all new action items.

Once your agenda is set, you should distribute it to all your meeting attendees. Before you do so, you should think about who exactly should be present.

3 Limit attendance to only those who need to be there

As mentioned earlier, strategy review meetings are for leaders and managers. This point bears repeating, as it can substantially affect how your meeting proceeds. 

You should keep strategy review meeting attendance to solely the people who can influence your strategy and perform top-level analyses. These people will be more prepared to efficiently and clearly present arguments and suggestions for acting on them. Other team members might not boast the full understanding of your ecosystem needed to address everything under discussion.

To take this logic a step further, you could invite solely department heads and executives whose work is pertinent to strategies you should change. For example, maybe your R&D department could use a shift away from batch production to more hands-on quality analysis. Perhaps you expect this shift to increase your customer satisfaction rates. This strategy doesn’t pertain to your HR team’s continued effectiveness, so you can let your HR head sit this one out.

4 Mandate attendance

Slimming down your invite list means choosing solely guests whom you truly need present. You can ensure that presence if you make attendance mandatory. Sure, you could argue that all team meetings are mandatory, but we all know that, sometimes, super busy team members skip them. Make it clear when setting up your meeting that attendance is absolutely mandatory to ensure that everyone whom you need present shows up.

5 Request data early enough to give yourself time to interpret it

You can mandate attendance and request data from your department heads in one fell swoop. To do so, send an email announcing your meeting to everyone who must attend it. This audience will include executives and department heads, and the latter are prime sources of key strategic data. So when you inform them of the meeting, you can ask them for data at the very same time. It’s about as efficient as meeting planning gets.

That said, you’ll want to announce your meeting with enough time for your department heads to gather data and send it your way. Seriously – there’s no such thing as too much time here, as data can take a while to obtain and organize. If you know you’ll be holding strategy review meetings monthly, you can announce your next one the moment your current one ends. That gives your department heads plenty of time to get you data – and for you to analyze it.

6 Encourage candid conversations

Strategy review meetings can be intense. You’re doing far more than making sure boxes are checked. You’re setting the foundation for all company operations for at least the next month. With this intensity comes a true need to hold nothing back. No idea is too out-there, and no criticism is too sharp. For the sake of ensuring your organization commits to the best possible objectives and key results, you’ll want to encourage candid conversations.

Your strategy review meeting should be a setting where attendees can feel unafraid to say, “Are we sure this is a good idea? Why aren’t we thinking about this instead?” Sure, it can be nerve-wracking to ask these questions. But the toughest questions – the ones that lead to real change – are rarely easy to put out there.

7 Be (constructively) critical

Tough questions demand tough answers. That’s why strategy review meetings fare better when you aren’t afraid to take a critical view of yourself and your organization. Are your goals proving poor because your industry just isn’t in a good place right now? Or are they faring poorly because you’re avoiding challenges and thinking big?

Look, we get it – judging yourself with this little of a filter can be incredibly difficult. To counter this obstacle, ascribe your organization’s current conditions to an entirely different company or small business owner. Then, analyze this “imaginary” figure from a third-party perspective. What would you do differently? How? The answers to these questions are what you should do. They should form the basis of your own strategy.

8 Keep the conversation moving

Complex, abstract topics lend themselves to conversations that lack structure, lead to tangents, or result in people talking for too long. Any of these issues could lead to you running over your meeting time before you know it. As the meeting leader, you’re responsible for keeping conversations relevant and avoiding these frustrating occurrences. 

To keep things on track, you should reel things back in when off-topic subjects arise. You can take these topics entirely off the table, save them for future meetings, or hold them for later in the current meeting. The last of these options is best when the topic fits into an upcoming part of your agenda. The other two options should be your go-tos in all other situations. Most topics are suitable for future meetings if they indeed pertain to strategy rather than tasks and deadlines.

9 Always stick to the agenda

A proper agenda establishes your strategy review meeting’s topics and the time reserved for each. It’s basically the road map for a successful meeting. And just as deviating from a map while driving can get you lost, drifting from your agenda can quickly get your meeting off-track. Don’t be afraid to cut conversations short if that section of the agenda is about to pass its allotted time. You can always come back to it later if you have extra time.

Strategy review meeting agenda template

A great way to build an agenda you’ll really stick to is to use a template. To that end, here at Fellow, we’ve developed a strategy review meeting template. You can customize the template’s headers and talking points to reflect the conversation you hope to facilitate. That said, you may want to keep the problem statement, SWOT analysis, “define goals,” and executive summary sections relatively intact. These sections form the meat of your planning.

A more effective strategy is just a meeting away

We know, we know – when you have so many tasks on your plate, it can feel ludicrous to even think long-term. But you probably realize now that monthly strategic planning meetings aren’t quite optional. And the good news is, you’re now fully prepared to hold effective strategy meetings thanks to the tips in this guide! Plus, with Fellow, you can create and organize meeting agendas, action items, feedback, and notes that help you turn your strategies into action.