Managing a strategic planning session is HARD. It requires a number of different types of thinking, coordination and collaboration at different stages of the planning process.
It tends to generate a ton of ideas and information that are hard to keep organized – especially when they’re anchored to whiteboards or flip chart sheets.
Plus, it forces executives out of their comfort zones and thrusts them into the unknown:
“Strategic planning is hard because it asks people to think and work beyond the scope of their defined roles;it requires that departments work with other departments in new and cooperative ways; it means people who previously did not consider consequences beyond their scope of responsibilities do so; and it forces thinking of possibilities far into the future,” explains Mary Kelly from Productive Leaders.
No wonder it’s so hard!
Mind mapping software to the rescue
During the last decade, strategic planning has emerged as one of the most powerful applications of mind mapping software. Why? Because it enables multiple types of thinking and planning. It’s perfectly aligned with the needs of strategy design and implementation.
Here are 10 ways in which mind mapping software can help you focus and generate better results from your next strategic planning meeting:
1. Group brainstorming with a mind map is powerful
First and most importantly, there’s the dynamic of group brainstorming with mind maps. If you’ve been in a session where a team has employed a laptop running mind mapping software and projecting it onto a screen at the front of the room, then you know it changes the dynamic of the room – often dramatically.
2. Team members can see their ideas in context
It’s positively energizing for team members to see their ideas appear on screen in the context of other ideas. This tends to spur greater participation, even from normally quiet team members. Plus, once an idea is added to the mind map, it often serves as a stimulus or stepping stone for additional ideas.
In other words, team members can build upon each other’s ideas quite easily.
3. Capture now, organize later
Because you also have a great deal of freedom to move and rearrange topics at will, mind mapping software enables you to capture ideas immediately, without worrying about where they are within the structure of the map, and then organize them later. It also provides an infinite canvas, unlike whiteboards and flip charts.
If you’re the facilitator and the ideas are coming at you fast and furious, you will appreciate this capability more than you know!
4. Freedom to group ideas as needed
Mind mapping software gives you many ways to visually group ideas. Not just the traditional radial map format, with topics fanning outward in all directions, but also right facing maps, org chart or downward facing maps and timelines.
Icons and symbols can be added to topics to visually group them. Related ideas can have a boundary placed around them to give them extra emphasis. And related ideas that are not next to each other can be connected via relationship lines.
In other words, mind mapping software gives the facilitator and the team a tremendous amount of freedom to group ideas in ways that make the most sense to them.
5. Focus, focus, focus!
A wall full of notes can be a big distraction for team members. Maintaining focus tends to be a BIG challenge for many strategic planning teams.
Fortunately, mind mapping software enables facilitators to prevent information overwhelm by focusing in on one map branch at a time (the rest of the mind map temporarily disappears from view) and filtering (which enables the facilitator to show or hide map content based on various criteria – such as “show all tasks” or “show only priority 1 items”).
In addition, map branches can be collapsed to reduce the amount of information on screen.
6. Mind maps break down siloed thinking
Another part of the mind mapping dynamic in a group setting is that it helps teams to move from “me” to “we” thinking.
Mind maps tends to break down barriers between team members who may be trapped by limiting perceptions such as “silo thinking” and “us/them thinking.” It can provide a safe space for breaking down barriers to trust, a key to a successful planning session.
The result? Mind mapping software often helps teams reach consensus faster.
7. Mind maps enable multiple types of thinking
Mind mapping software enables teams to engage in multiple types of thinking exercises, including focused brainstorming, SWOT and PEST analyses, what-if exercises and future visioning. Templates provide frameworks to guide these exercises, focus the team’s thinking where it needs to be and can save facilitators time.
8. Mind maps support divergent AND convergent thinking
Mind mapping software also supports divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is needed to come up with a wide variety of ideas when brainstorming. Convergent thinking helps to rope those wild ideas back in so they can be further developed into more practical, actionable solutions.
In other words, mind mapping software can be used for both creative AND analytical thinking – within the same map.
Also, it engages both the logical and visual parts of the brain – it’s a whole-brained approach to thinking and planning
Mind mapping software enables you to discern patterns in your information, prioritize and organize it, identify areas that may require further research or discussion and to move the team toward greater clarity. It’s an awesome sense-making tool!
10. It’s an end-to-end thinking and planning tool
Finally, mind mapping software is useful from planning to execution. It can serve as a framework to guide the strategic planning process. But it’s not a rigid tool that circumscribes and limits the process. Rather, it can flexibly capture and organize the team’s output.
It can help with project design and brainstorming on the front end, as well as serve as a lightweight project management tool throughout the course of project implementation.