Meeting Number One

The first action planning meeting with the Senior Management Team was a full-day retreat, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, at an offsite location.

The superintendent felt that holding the meeting outside of the schools would help enable team members to focus on the discussions of the strategic plan and would minimize distractions. Team members were also encouraged to dress comfortably and casually. We wanted the overall tone of the retreat to be warm and welcoming, so that everyone felt free to share their thoughts and opinions with their teammates.

We created a “workbook” for this meeting that provided extra information as well as a space for team members to use to record notes throughout the day. The focus of this first meeting was on developing what we termed “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” or “BHAGs” -- or the 3-5 categories of goals into which we could reorganize the work team recommendations.

Agenda Overview & Introduction

  • Purpose: Ensure that all meeting attendees understood the focus of the day's activities. The illustration of the agenda showed graphically what the group would be accomplishing that day.
  • Activity: We started the day with an overview of the agenda, including a graphical illustration of what the day’s discussions and activities would entail. As shown below, the activities on our agenda consisted of removing the work team divisions, identifying “BHAGs” and mapping the various goals to each BHAG, mapping the strategies to the new BHAGs, and finally, mapping the strategies over time.  

Icebreaker Activity

  • Purpose: Ensure that Senior Management Team members adopted a sense of self-awareness in the meeting and tried to push themselves slightly outside of their comfort zone in terms of the role and disposition they were bringing to the meeting.
  • Activity: This icebreaker activity mirrored the one we used in our very first meeting with the Senior Management Team at the beginning of the strategic planning process.

    In the first meeting, a collection of postcards with different images were spread out on the table and Senior Management Team members were asked to select one that represented their answer to the question, “How do you hope your personal role in this school district will effect positive and lasting change in the district and community?

    During the first action planning meeting in April, Senior Management Team members were presented with the same collection of postcards from which to choose. They were reminded of what their responses were from the first meeting (we shared all of their responses on a page in the workbook) and this time they were asked to respond to the following prompt: “Pick a different postcard that represents a role somewhat outside of your comfort zone. What perspective/role will you bring to today’s conversation that might be different from what you chose last year?”

Affinity Mapping Exercise

  • Purpose: Identify 3-4 new categories of goals (i.e., what we called "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" or BHAGs) by determining areas or topics to which many of the goals are related.
  • Activity: Following the icebreaker activity, Superintendent Ruiz reminded the team of the revised vision for the school district, asking the team to use it as a guiding light for their action planning conversations.

    With this foundation in place, the New Profit team then facilitated the first part of the action planning agenda. First, Senior Management Team members were given about fifteen minutes to read through and familiarize themselves with the recommendations submitted by the work teams. They had also been emailed these recommendations as a pre-read, but we still allowed time for review at the beginning of the meeting, knowing that everyone has busy schedules and may not have had time to review prior to the meeting -- and also knowing that each team member needed to have a solid knowledge and familiarity with the recommendations in order for there to be a successful outcome of the day’s activities and conversations.

We then facilitated the team through an “affinity mapping” exercise to identify a set of 3-4 BHAGs. In our framing of the exercise, we emphasized that while the work team divisions were useful for developing a diverse set of recommendations in many different areas, for purposes of the final plan we wanted to ensure that we had a cohesive set of recommendations in a smaller number of categories. In the workbook that we created for the day, we included all of the goals from the different work teams in random order as a way of encouraging Senior Management Team members to start to think outside the constraints of the work team divisions.

For purposes of this affinity mapping exercise (as well as other exercises to come in the series of action planning meetings), we purchased two “sticky walls” -- large pieces of sticky material that can be hung up on a wall and allow pieces of paper to be stuck to them and then moved around (purchase your own sticky wall here). We also printed each goal and strategy on an individual card. This way, team members were able to stick goals and strategies on the wall and re-arrange them as they discussed what the potential BHAGs could be. The process we used for this exercise was the following:

  1. Three groups of 3-4 people will take turns going up to the sticky wall and spending 10 minutes each doing the following
    • Group 1: Organize. Move the goals next to other goals that are similar or related.
    • Group 2: Refine. Look at what Group 1 did and make adjustments as needed.
    • Group 3: Articulate/Name. Look at the categories that are emerging and name 3-4 “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”
  2. While the other groups are at the sticky wall, the other Senior Management Team members were encouraged to observe what they were doing and jot down notes/comments in the space provided in their workbooks.
  3. Finally, after all of the groups were done, the full team was asked to take a step back and discuss the following questions:
    • Are there any goals that should be added?
    • Is there anything else that needs to be adjusted?

Deep Dive on "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" (BHAGs)

  • Purpose: Allow all team members to become familiar with the new draft BHAGs and provide input on the goals within each one, with the goal of identifying which goals to keep, which goals to eliminate (for example, goals that did not align with the new vision statement), and determining whether there were any goals that needed to be added.
  • Activity: After the affinity mapping exercise, the next step was for the team to take some time to review each of the BHAGs and the goals that fell under them in detail, keeping the new vision for the district in mind. The team did this as a full group, spending 30-40 minutes on each one of the new BHAGs that had just been created. We felt it was important to have this conversation as a full group so that the team could have the benefit of all team members’ perspectives.

While we initially budgeted 15-20 minutes per BHAG for this activity, it became clear soon after the team started its discussions that this would not be sufficient, so we let the conversation continue. We knew that the successful outcome of the meeting -- and the entire series of action planning meetings -- depended on coming to an agreement on a set of BHAGs that made logical sense, so we felt that it was worthwhile to take additional time for this part of the agenda. As facilitators, we responded to the thoughts and ideas voiced by team members, asked questions designed to help the group reach consensus, and moved and added cards on the sticky wall as needed. As in other meetings during the strategic planning process, we made a point not to share our opinions unless directly asked. Our role was primarily facilitative.


Lunch: Short Video

  • Purpose: Lighten the mood in the room and help bring some fun and humor into the room.
  • Activity: During lunch, we shared Key & Peele's "Teaching Center" video, a parody of ESPN SportsCenter.

After lunch, we continued our discussions about the BHAGs. It was important for us to get to a place where the team felt comfortable with the categories. We did not reach consensus, but our discussions were deep and extensive enough that we felt we made sufficient progress and could take what we heard and bring back a potential categorization to our next action planning meeting.

Discussion of Strategies

  • Purpose: Allow the team members to engage at a deeper level with the strategies, and understand where there were gaps and overlaps that needed to be addressed.
  • Activity: Once the team felt that it had spent enough time discussing the BHAGs, we shifted focus to the strategies that fell underneath the goal statements. We brought individual cards for each of the strategies and placed them on the sticky walls underneath the goals with which they were originally associated (i.e., as submitted by the work teams). We split the team into 4 groups by counting off by 4s to create groups. The 4 groups rotated so that they spent ~20 minutes at each BHAG, discussing the following questions:
    • Are these the right strategies to accomplish these goals?
    • What’s missing?
    • What would you eliminate?
    • What would you move?

We placed sheets of flip chart paper with these questions next to each BHAG so that groups could record their answers to the questions as they rotated through and we had a single list for each question with all groups’ input by the end of the session. After each group had rotated through each of the four new BHAGs, we allowed some time at the end of the meeting for the full group to discuss their reflections on the categorization. This was important to ensure that all Senior Management Team members had their voices heard by all of the other Senior Management Team members.

Closing & Post-Meeting Work

We then closed the meeting and let the team know that we would be reviewing the notes from the day and putting together two scenarios of different BHAG categorizations, based on the team’s input, that we would then share for feedback at the next action planning meeting to be held the following week.

In between the first two action planning meetings, we worked quickly to develop two potential scenarios. One scenario was based on what we heard during the meeting and represented a significant reorganization of the recommended goals and strategies from the six work teams. We shared this scenario with the superintendent first, and she suggested that we present the Senior Management Team with a second scenario as well that kept each work team’s recommended goals and strategies largely intact, but simply grouped with one another to create four new BHAGs. We put together this second scenario in collaboration with the superintendent. It was critical for us to do this interim work with the superintendent rather than coming up with something on our own and sharing it with the Senior Management Team at the next meeting. Working in collaboration with her helped ensure that we would be sharing two scenarios with the Senior Management Team that would be compelling to them, and that the superintendent had a sense of familiarity with and ownership of the two scenarios. This was in alignment with the collaborative, behind-the-scenes approach we utilized throughout the strategic planning process.



Big Hairy Audacious Goals
A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.