Strategic Planning with Remote Teams Part 3: Crafting the Vision and Mission Statements

Sep 22, 2015 by Anna O’Byrne in leadership & facilitation, remote work, meeting design (7 minute read)

This post is the third in a series. You can find the whole series in our Complete Toolkit for Strategic Planning with Remote Teams.


Have you ever tried strategic planning without first getting your vision and mission right? What did you find?

If you were a small, cohesive group, maybe you breezed through goal-setting based on complete unity. It happens, but it’s rare.

For everyone else, here’s what typically happens:

  • You generate ho hum goals: goals that just don’t stretch the team.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re writing a to-do list, rather than a strategic plan.
  • You sign-on for strategies that are far-removed from what you see as your core business.

In short, strategic planning takes far too long and feels anything but strategic. You look at the end result and fear you’ve created a Frankenstein: pieces from here, pieces from there, with no final coherence.

And the challenges don’t end at strategy. Teams that operate without vision and mission feel the effects everywhere.

How? Here are some everyday signs you need a vision and mission:

  • Your branding feels disjointed or superficial.
  • People outside don’t get what you’re all about.
  • People inside don’t see their work as meaningful.
  • You zig and zag to meet opportunity, but you get no closer to your dream.

If a vision and mission are this important, why would anyone skip it?

First, we’re all pressed for time. Vision and mission sometimes feel like the extras we’ll get to when we have space to breathe...or when we hold our next retreat.

Second, we make assumptions. Many teams believe they’re on the same page when it comes to where they’re going, but when they sit down to plan strategically, the gaps become glaringly evident.

Finally, we misunderstand the value of having relevant, vivid, fully thought out vision and mission statements.

Let me clarify.

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Topics: leadership & facilitation, remote work, meeting design

Strategic Planning with Remote Teams Part 2: Preparing to Plan

Sep 17, 2015 by Elise Keith in remote work, meeting design (5 minute read)

This post is the second in a series. You can find the whole series in our Complete Toolkit for Strategic Planning with Remote Teams.


When I worked at larger companies as a product manager, I LOVED to get invited to strategic planning sessions. These were usually held at a nearby hotel or corporate meeting/vacation center.

Snacks and lunch were provided, drinks afterwards, and I felt ever so important to be a junior team member invited to sit with the executives.

Best of all, they never asked me to prepare a thing or even make any overt commitment to the resulting plan.

It was like a luxury vacation from email, with chocolate, and I loved it.

Of course, I have no idea what the strategic plans actually said afterwards, because down in the trenches, we never used them again.

Let’s not do that here.

This post is the second in a series discussing a process for running strategic planning with remote teams designed by Upstream Meetings. See the first post here:
An Intro to Strategic Planning with Remote Teams.

With this process, you’re aiming for a strategic plan that’s rooted in a clear understanding of your current situation, and that lays out a framework for moving forward that your whole team understands and embraces. As Steve Blank so clearly stated, Strategy is Not a To Do List. This leaves no room for chocolate-snarfing freeloaders in the process; everyone must actively contribute to building the plan for it to succeed.

To run strategic planning with a remote team, you must increase each participant’s individual responsibility for preparing and working outside the meeting. It’s the only way to get through planning within the time during which people can effectively engage online.

The happy side-effect: when your team does get together, every person will come with key insights and will actively contribute ideas that shape the resulting plan. When people are this involved in the process, they will also buy-in to implement the plan! This plan will be their baby, not some execu-garblety-gook destined for the round file.

4 Questions to Answer Before You Begin Strategic Planning

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Topics: remote work, meeting design

An Intro to Strategic Planning with Remote Teams

Sep 15, 2015 by Elise Keith in remote work, meeting design (6 minute read)

This post is the first in a series. You can find the whole series in our Complete Toolkit for Strategic Planning with Remote Teams.


Do you need to create a strategic plan, and wonder how to go about the strategic planning process? Concerned whether that process can even work with remote teams?

Meet Anna O’Byrne.

Anna O’Byrne is the founder and Chief Conversion Copywriter at Conversion Copy Co. 

When Anna contacted us about a blog post, we starting talking about her unique past experience of leading strategic planning with remote teams.

We decided to explore the topic further by collaborating on a series of meeting templates that a could be used to guide a remote team through the strategic planning process.

Working Together to Bring Strategic Planning Online

Anna, who’s the expert here on strategic planning, outlined a series of meeting agenda templates and instructions for running those meetings. We then set these agendas up in Lucid Meetings, and tested out each process for ourselves, making small adjustments along the way based on our expertise in online meetings. We even ran one of the meetings twice, with Anna facilitating late at night from her Australian outpost.

This blog post is the first in a series about our experience building these strategic planning meeting templates together. The templates themselves are available in the template gallery.

Today’s post provides the context: what the strategic plan looks like, who these templates are for, and the problems unique to online planning they’re designed to solve.

In the following posts, we’ll go over:

  • How to prepare for strategic planning.
  • The 5 meetings that make up the real-time part of the strategic planning process.
  • Online software options that make the brainstorming part of the process easier (think sticky notes on the web).
  • Our experience walking through this process with the team at Lucid Meetings.

Along the way, we’re looking for your ideas and feedback. Strategic planning may be old, but planning like this with people all over the world is pretty new, and we definitely don’t have all the answers yet.

Ingredients for the Essential Strategic Plan

There are five parts to this plan, and five templates that run you through how to create them. When you’re done, the entire plan should fit on one or two pages when printed out.

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Topics: remote work, meeting design

3 Keys to the Best Project Meetings with Remote Teams

Aug 12, 2015 by Brad Egeland in remote work, project management (3 minute read)

Meetings come 3 general forms:

  1. The traditional face-to-face meeting
  2. conference calls, and
  3. video conference calls

There are probably some variations you can think of on these three based on different technology, but this about covers it.

Now, consider you’re working with a remote team – you’re the project manager and your team is geographically dispersed so you’re never co-located…you may never be throughout the entire project engagement.

I’ve worked several projects like this where I never even met any members of my team face-to-face during the entire project.

Related: 4 ways to run status meetings with your remote team that actually work

How do you keep virtual team meetings cohesive and focused during such a project? How do you make sure everyone is working their respective tasks and you’re consistently getting closer to a working end solution? Are meetings important?

Communication is always critical and meetings are probably more important than ever on an engagement like the one I’m describing here.

When you’re running meetings where everyone is remote and may never meet face-to-face, there are three things you need to ensure are always happening…

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Topics: remote work, project management

How to Assemble Great Virtual Teams for Remote Work

Jun 15, 2015 by Tricia Harris in remote work (7 minute read)

We are living in a digital  world, and it’s likely that every manager has thought seriously about hiring remote workers. 

Remote work is no longer a thing of the future – it is here, now.

In fact, it’s been around since the dawn of time - how else do you think armies were able to navigate world wars, or multi-national corporations were able to set up remote offices in far-flung locations? Examples of distributed teams are everywhere if you look for them.

After all, even if your team works in the same office, they are basically working “remotely” already - they are just across the room in front of their computers. Since everyone is digitally connected, what’s the difference if we are on a different floor, across town, across the country, or on the other side of the world?

As we have demonstrated before, there are not a lot of down sides to working remotely. Once you embrace a few basic principles of managing employees virtually, you'll be on your way to building a highly competent team of remote-working professionals.

Related: How to Make the Case to Your Boss to Work Remotely

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Topics: remote work

4 ways to run status meetings with your remote team that actually work

Apr 28, 2015 by Elise Keith in remote work, meeting design (8 minute read)

Hint: Download the PDF facilitator guides for all 4 meetings at the end of this post.

Most teams run status meetings because they always have. Because someone told them to. Because that’s what they did in their last job. Because the client asked for them.

Just because that’s what you do.

The result? Almost 50 percent of respondents in a recent poll said they would rather go to the DMV or watch paint dry than sit in a status meeting.

Is this your team in a status meeting? For shame.

Which reminds me of this old joke.

“A more frightened than injured young electrician was brought into the hospital suffering from electrical burns. Shortly afterward his instructor, a chief electrician, arrived. “Why on earth didn’t you turn off the main power switch before you tried to splice the wires?” asked the chief.

“I wanted to save time, chief, and I’ve seen you stand on one leg, grab the wires and splice without turning off the power.”

“My God, kid,” exclaimed the chief. “Didn’t you know I have a wooden leg?””

Source: http://www.snopes.com/weddings/newlywed/secret.asp

The status meeting is dead, long live the stand-up!

So if most people hate them, why not just cancel all the status meetings? Lots of people have tried this, and that can work ok for some teams. But more often, those teams run other meetings to fill in the gap: the team update, the individual check-ins, the stand-up – all basically synonymous with status meetings, but without the bad press.

This happens because status meetings are actually really effective and efficient (yep, I said it!) at keeping a team informed and connected. In many situations, this is the absolute best way to keep a group on track IF you know why you’re meeting and how to do it well.

With that in mind, here are 4 approaches to running remote team status meetings that work. Each one emphasizes different team values and work goals. Use any of them and you’ll get a project status meeting that sure beats the shiznit out of watching paint dry.

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Topics: remote work, meeting design

How to Make the Case to Your Boss to Work Remotely

Mar 23, 2015 by Tricia Harris in remote work (7 minute read)

Why Work Remotely?

There are some real benefits to working remotely, and if you value them (like we do), then maybe the time has come to approach your boss about the idea.

One big reason employees choose to work from home is so they don't have to commute. A drive (or metro, bus, bike) into work each morning can sometimes put you into a negative frame of mind - especially extra heavy traffic, ice or snow on your car, a construction detour, or heaven forbid, an endo on your bike, for all you bike-friendly city readers (you know it happens). 

Another reason for telecommuting is schedule flexibility. If you have kids and they need to be shuffled to and from school, or your aging parents need a trip to the doctor, or even if the day is so completely beautiful and you just need a few hours to get some precious vitamin D, you can usually do all of the above when you work remotely.

This isn’t to say that you are skipping out on the work that needs to be done, you would just be shuffling it to a more productive time to achieve the same results.

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Topics: remote work

10 Tips for Running Online Meetings with People in Other Countries

Oct 16, 2014 by Chris Higgins in meeting technology, remote work (6 minute read)

We meet with international teams all the time -- our own company spans three timezones and two countries, and we work with clients around the world.

When you host international conference calls with people living in different countries, you run into special challenges. Here are 10 tips to help you plan and run international meetings successfully.

1. Use an Online Meeting Scheduler

If you live in one country but have participants from others, it gets very messy trying to figure out all the holidays, weekends, timezone "work day" overlaps, and so on.

Your best bet is to use an international meeting scheduler that allows participants to mark which meeting times work for them. Lucid Meetings includes the option to ask participants to select good times from a list; that's useful even if your team doesn't span countries.

If your meeting software doesn't support this kind of "ask the participants" function, try the World Clock Meeting Planner. It requires you to plug in the locations of all your participants, but gives you a reasonable idea of what might be a feasible time (or set of times) for your meeting.

2. Share the Inconvenience

I occasionally meet with a team including participants in these locations: the west coast of the United States, Israel, and Taiwan.

If you plug these locations into a timezone calculator, you'll see that there is no "good" time to meet. Inevitably, somebody on the team is up very early or very late to attend the meeting.

When you encounter this situation, rotate the meeting times so that each participant gets a "good" time slot once in a while.

In other words, if you're on the U.S. west coast, go ahead and schedule a meeting for 10pm Pacific Standard Time, so that the other participants will be in their offices during normal work hours. Then rotate it next time so you won't be in your pajamas.

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Topics: meeting technology, remote work

5 Icebreakers for Distributed Team Meetings

Sep 30, 2014 by Chris Higgins in remote work, tips & techniques (7 minute read)

When you run online meetings with people who are located in different parts of the world, it's crucial that you help your team make a human connection. "Icebreakers" are just the ticket: short team-building exercises conducted at the beginning of a meeting.

Because you don't have a physical way to get people moving around the same room, you have to adapt traditional icebreakers to work over distance.

Here are some practical tips for introducing an icebreaker activity into your next meeting... and a little advice on pitfalls to avoid!

When to Use or Not Use an Icebreaker

Icebreakers fit into a larger strategy of team-building and establishing team culture. Knowing your team, and knowing your plan to build team culture, is crucial to succeeding with any such exercise. Here are some scenarios in which icebreaker activities may be a GOOD idea:

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Topics: remote work, tips & techniques

The Highs and Lows of Working Remotely (+ What We’ve Learned) 

Aug 6, 2014 by Tricia Harris in remote work (5 minute read)

A few years ago, a coworker said to me, "Don’t you think it’s strange that this office is so quiet? It’s a little depressing."

I used to work for a small company in a huge office with high ceilings, no cubicles, large windows and big, beautiful plants.

We had weekly deliveries of groceries, free (really good) coffee and soda, great travel budgets and the company was profitable.

Yet, it was eerily quiet every day - uncomfortable, even. There was no camaraderie that the open office environment was supposed to promote.

It was like there was some sort of unspoken agreement that we were there to just do our jobs and go home.

The point of this is to illustrate that although you may have a great office space, you may not always be able to create a great place to work.

Fast forward to today, where even though my home office is still quiet, there is a genuine sense of mutual trust and friendship that exists among my coworkers.

We’re a virtual team, and we’ve created a working environment as good as or better than any team in an office.

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Topics: remote work