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If you had told me one year ago, conducting a workshop remotely will be the new norm, I would have had my serious doubts. A few months into home office due to COVID-19, however, has truly changed my perspective: In global and virtual settings, well-prepared OKR Workshops can be conducted very effectively in a remote fashion.

In this series, I would like to share with you some best practices that may also work for your OKR workshops. The tips are primarily meant for OKR coaches operating in virtual and global settings with groups of 10 to 15 participants. Adjustments may be required for smaller or bigger teams. Today I will start with my top five steps to consider for successful preparation of OKR workshops.

If you are not yet familiar with the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"

1. Collect strategic priorities from overarching vision, mission, and company goals

Your first OKR workshop may run in somewhat of an experimental “greenfield” approach and very much focus on exploring methods and tools – and that is totally OK. Your second workshop going forward, however, should embrace a broader company picture. Since one key aspect of OKRs is about operationalizing company objectives across different levels in an iterative top down and bottom up stakeholder-aligned approach, I recommend collecting all relevant context information and to share or re-cap these essentials with the participants in the goal drafting workshop. This is to ensure that all participants start off on the same page for quarterly goal drafting.

2. Align with the team manager on the overall workshop expectations and required participants

Though OKRs are not to be defined solely top down but should also reflect a bottom up team perspective, it is essential for you as an OKR coach to know the manager’s view. Your manager may already have a perspective on certain topics, he may know about strategy updates or can assess the boundary conditions for OKRs based on specific management insights. Considering these topics will help you as an OKR coach and the team to set a good framework for goal ideation.

3. Arrange for pre-work when appropriate

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There are pros and cons for requesting participants to do pre-work prior to the workshop.
An example for pre-work: The workshop participants are requested to silently brainstorm on the 5 key themes they consider to be relevant from a team perspective in the upcoming quarter and note down their ideas in a prepared MURAL board.

Requesting pre-work may be appropriate if the overall context for goal setting is well framed and easily understood by the participants. This may be the case for goals that run across different cycles and primarily require adjustments on the key results. In this case, pre-work can be a very effective means to attune the participant to the workshop agenda and to reduce the overall workshop time. When sending out pre-work, it is decisive that you provide precise instructions outlining what is expected to avoid unnecessary effort.

If, however, new strategic priorities are to be introduced, if you expect major discussions around a topic prior to goal ideation, or if you conduct OKR workshops for the first time, I would clearly refrain from sending out pre-work. The same applies if you feel pre-work instructions may get too complex, are worth explaining and leave room for ambiguity. In this case, rather allocate some time to the respective activity in the workshop itself.

4. Pre-think the overall setup and the technical support required

I organized and conducted my first two on-site OKR workshops myself. With the team growing beyond a group of 10 people, I decided to engage a second coach in order to better support parallel group work. Organizing breakout sessions may at first seem a bit complicated to do – but with MS Teams and ZOOM, for example, you now have adequate applications at hand. The challenge: Since groups may form dynamically in the goal drafting workshop, you cannot always set up the respective breakout rooms prior to the workshop. The solution: You team up with a technical host to support you during the workshop. If you cannot find an additional resource, I recommend the following: If the participants are to enter the breakout session, ask the respective objective owners to organize an instant virtual meeting for his/her sub team. And let them know in advance when to return to the plenum in the main session to guarantee everyone will be back on time.

5. Block OKR workshop slots early enough

It sounds like a no-brainer but this actually is important. The higher you move up the management ladder, the sooner you will find calendars blocked. But even at an operational team level you will nowadays find people in back-to-back meetings with little time for anything else on short notice. As an OKR coach, it is important you schedule your workshops with enough lead time and try to avoid unnecessary shifting of appointments and meetings. The solution: Send out blockers at least two to three weeks in advance. I also recommend using existing team infrastructures, such as team meetings, which you simply extend for an hour or two. In doing so, the outlined approach will also help to drive acceptance for OKRs in the team.

I am confident that these tips will help you to better plan your OKR workshops. In part two of this series, I will share some practical experience on how to best organize the execution of OKR goal setting workshops in a global and virtual setting.

Doreen Baseler is a program and portfolio manager at SAP SE who oversees the SAP Continuous Influence for SAP S/4HANA Cloud program and the OKR program for the SAP S/4HANA Product Management unit.
Doreen additionally has long-term experience in product and project management in the areas of Supply Chain and Manufacturing as well as in SAP Solution Manager and SAP Customizing methodology and tools.