How Do Strategy Workshops Drive Strategic Decisions?

Strategy Workshops such as war games and scenario planning sessions are unique tools for companies to gain new perspectives on their competitors and relevant markets. Companies across all industries use Strategy Workshops as a tool to help reduce uncertainty in turbulent times – whether it be a pending change in the regulatory environment, a new product launch, or a way to understand the motives behind their competitors’ actions.

Fletcher/CSI facilitates several strategy workshops per year, including the Strategic Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) annual conference Strategy Workshop simulations. In Strategy Workshop sessions, teams work off briefing books and wear the hats of their competitors to determine the most likely outcome. Looking back on the past workshops, it turns out that the results have been very accurate. In most cases, teams predicted how each competitor would act, to the point that in many of the sessions, the competitor has adopted the strategies presented.

So what makes for an effective Strategy Workshop? There are many elements, some of which are obvious, and some that are more about personalities and flow. Among the obvious elements are well-defined briefing books that allow participants to get deep into the competitor’s strategy, capacities, and intentions. Mastering the briefing book requires balancing the need for depth of analysis with brevity of content.  Next is a structured flow. Typically, in the first round of the Strategy Workshop, participants use the briefing books to build an understanding of the competitor’s current strategy. In the second round, they deduce what the next steps of the strategy will be. It’s in the third round when it becomes essential to focus the Strategy Workshop on scenarios that are highly anticipated. Keeping it on track is about the event’s flow and the facilitator’s personality.

Where a Strategy Workshop really shines is when it breaks through perceived notions and challenges assumptions.  For this, the Strategy Workshop must move beyond the scenarios that everyone is familiar with or that derive from the usual suspects of four of Porter’s Five Forces (rivalry, new entrants, substitutes, suppliers, and buyers).

Often, companies engage in Strategy Workshops to assess how a competitor will react to what the company hopes, rather than fears, will happen. However, the greatest threats are what companies fear the most or come when a substitute changes the entire market. This is an area where a Strategy Workshop can offer the greatest insight and have the highest impact on strategy.

In Strategy Workshops, the goal is to leverage the existing competitive knowledge with new insights and better understand both the competitor and its potential actions. This is why it is important to use the Strategy Workshop to challenge assumptions, which makes the stakes higher and increases the importance of a proper set-up of the game and the follow-up.

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– Erik Glitman, CEO