By popular request: A blog post summarizing the many reasons you might choose to do “big room planning” (BRP) sessions. The secret is that practicing together creates powerful experiences that can change beliefs, actions, behaviors, results and, ultimately, your business culture. What additional benefits has your team experienced from big room planning? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

What is Big Room Planning?
“Big room planning” is the term for a very particular type of facilitated, interactive meeting focused on helping a diverse group of people collaborate to make decisions and achieve critical outcomes. Although the group of people changes based on context, we’re always bringing together a relatively large group–20 to 100 people–from multiple departments (silos) and layers of your organization. (Hence the big “room”.) BRPs are designed to facilitate transformative transparency, systems learning and alignment by bringing multiple perspectives and voices into the room.

The specific outcomes driving an organization to want to hold a BRP vary widely; see this earlier post for some examples of BRP types and supporting agendas.

The Obvious Benefits: Improve Quality, Time to Market and Customer Experience
Most frequently, big room planning is selected as a mechanism because leaders need to improve customer experience, speed time to market, and improve quality of their products and programs. It’s used as part of any significant transformation–be it customer experience, agile, lean, devops, or digital–where collaborating more deeply is critical, and needed to effectively change customer engagement, employee behaviors, and business structures and processes. Big room planning leads to better plans–because we handle negotiations, prioritization, dependencies and risks better by being “together” to plan. 

We won’t delve into how BRP and these associated transformations and ways of working deliver these three improvements because they’re so extensively covered in transformation marketing and literature. Instead, we’ll delve into some benefits of big room planning that aren’t as well-known or immediately obvious. 

Hidden Benefit #1: Rapid Culture Change
When you want–or need–to change your company culture, modeling and practicing the behaviors that form the basis of your desired culture–with multiple layers of leadership, over multiple days–creates a powerful experience. But a BRP provides more than just modeling of the new culture. It’s also 

  • inviting facilitated practice, where the very design of the meeting supports changes to individual and organizational habits
  • explicitly making space and giving permission for others to change behaviors and processes
  • providing training on and modeling of new mindsets 
  • creating positive peer pressure, making the meeting  a safe place to practice failing to model the new behaviors, or slipping backwards… and picking yourself back up to continue the practice

Each BRP includes creation of working agreements that reflect the desired culture changes. As part of the meeting, each participant agrees to hold themselves and each other to these agreements, and the facilitator helps everyone practice. For example, a working agreement might be to make an effort to hear from everyone. If some people are staying quiet, anyone can invoke the agreement to make space for those people. And if no one does, the facilitator can make explicit that she is about to facilitate a discussion in a way to make space for more voices.

It comes down to this: What you model as a leader and leadership team becomes organizational habit and forms the foundation of your culture. Whether you’re leading your business to continuously improve, or leading a transformation, your words and behaviors create experiences that shape others’ beliefs and actions, and ultimately your results. Change your culture by practicing changing your behavior…together. 

Hidden Benefit #2: Powerful Clarity and Alignment
We often underestimate the amount of misalignment that exists for a given set of objectives and key results (OKRs). Different people have different context and different levels of engagement with the underlying problem, root causes, and solution hypotheses. By no ill intent, leaders and their teams have vastly different understandings–and so take actions that are duplicative, cause friction for other parts of the business, or don’t meet intent. John Cutler’s blog The Beautiful Mess recently provided a wonderful, simple example of different leaders’ takes on a single set of OKRs.

Each BRP provides time to engage deeply with the problems, root causes, and potential solutions. We ask participants to explore information and strive to understand all the other perspectives in the room. The result is deep systems learning, an expanded view of the business system, and a shared view of problems as well as potential solutions and the next steps forward.

Hidden Benefit #3: Improved Enterprise and Product Roadmaps
A common part of BRPs is transparently sharing what work is currently in progress, and what work is currently slated to be completed in the next one to three months (barring adjustments). 

As participants plan and lay out their work over the coming weeks or sprints, timing and capacity realities become starkly visual. Dependencies on other parts of the business can more easily be seen and negotiated, and redundant efforts can be combined. It’s common to realize where we’re tackling the same or similar problems in different parts of the business, where we have introduced competing technologies, and where we have put other efforts at risk. 

These visualizations and adjustments create benefits beyond the near-term plan; the group practices applying the same views and thinking to longer-term plans and strategies as well. Product and enterprise roadmaps are rationalized to maximize focus, collaboration, and results.

Hidden Benefit #4: Growing New Leaders
There are few things more powerful than seeing a leader model behaviors, and then giving others space and license to practice, engaging with the same information and helping weigh in on the decisions and paths forward. Similar to desired cultural changes, the BRP key stakeholder team decides which leadership behaviors they want to emphasize and model as part of each session.

Your next generation leaders get to start practicing, with your support.

BRPs also often provide a small amount of training such as writing great OKRs; this is a perfect way to introduce skills and behaviors and then immediately practice together. The repeated practice over a couple of days deepens the learning. Importantly, when new (or rusty) skills are practiced together while doing the most critical work of the business, it’s not thought of as a separate effort: It’s just how we work together to get our most critical work done.

Hidden Benefit #5: Inclusion
Many companies are striving to help all their humans feel included and valued for their unique strengths and perspectives, and able to effectively contribute leveraging those strengths and perspectives.

Each BRP leverages multiple facilitation methods designed to engage diverse styles of thinking, interaction and engagement preferences, experiences and backgrounds, and conflict styles.

With BRPs, inclusion of different perspectives actually starts well before the BRP session with empathy interviews. Ten to 15 participants are asked to actively engage by providing design input, sharing what they know about potential elephants, and discussing what training (or reminding) might be helpful during the session.

BRPs feel amazing and produce better outcomes because we actively include more of the humans, hearing their ideas and perspectives. The inclusion makes a huge difference.

Hidden Benefit #6: Reduced Burnout
Organizational friction–and even burnout–is reduced when humans get to know each other and make time to connect.  “Research has demonstrated the link between social support at work, lower rates of burnout, and greater work satisfaction and productivity.” (HBR, Burnout at work isn’t just about exhaustion, it’s also about loneliness)

How often do you include intentional connection in your daily, weekly, quarterly interactions? BRPs leverage several facilitation mechanisms to increase human trust, engagement, and connection, and often include ice breakers that help deepen understanding of perspectives, skills, and how the organization really gets work done. 

Hidden Benefit #7: Changing Beliefs about What is Possible
Sometimes we get stuck in our beliefs. We don’t believe our organization can really change: “That’s just the way things are done around here.” We don’t believe we can create innovative products or inspiring results: “That will never work here.”

With BRPs, we’ve seen that multiple levels of leaders practicing together not only creates all these improved outcomes, but also the shared experiences needed to change individual and collective beliefs about what is possible to accomplish together