So you’ve just been at a life-altering, hope-inspiring team offsite. You went in jaded and grumpy about your dysfunctional team and, by 5:00, angels were singing and you had all confessed the error of your ways. Have you been to a session like this?  As a team effectiveness expert, I’ve presided over hundreds of these days.

It’s my job to get you to that 5:00 high.  It’s your job to sustain the feeling and the new behavior once you’re back at the office.

I was facilitating a session with a leadership team last week.  By 5:00, the team had some pretty big insights about how they would need to show up differently to fulfill their very challenging mandate.  That’s when the team leader asked a great question: How do we sustain this?  How do we make it last?

Here’s what I told them.

Hold yourselves accountable

The most important thing each and every one of you can do is to hold yourselves accountable for behaving differently.  You are the ones who can align your actions and your energy with the most critical priorities of the team—and resist the urge to divert resources and energy to your own pet projects.  You are the ones who can listen more open-mindedly to the input and concerns of your teammates.  You are the ones who can resist the temptation to let conflict get unhealthy. At least 75% of the team’s ability to sustain the change will come from each of you holding yourselves accountable for more productive behavior.

Help each other succeed

Even if each and every one of you shows up making a concerted effort to be effective team members, there will be inevitable moments where things slide.  You need to pay attention to your teammates’ behavior and help them when they don’t live up to the commitments the team has made to yourselves and one another.  You have an obligation to give them feedback.  You must have their backs.  That support from one another will contribute significantly to sustaining the changes you made today.

Let the leader manage performance

In some very small percentage of cases, individuals will not change.  Even with feedback and support from your team, their destructive behavior will persist.  These situations are no longer about team effectiveness and no longer the purview of the team.  In these rare cases, the responsibility falls on your team leader to manage the individual’s performance to reflect the gravity of the situation.  But no more than 5% of the success of this initiative should rest on the shoulders of the team leader.

That 4:30 feeling is the reason I do the work I do.  Seeing the light bulbs go on. Watching the change in body language as team members realize that they have played a role in the team’s dysfunction.  Witnessing the excitement as they realize that it doesn’t have to go on this way—that they can change their team.  I’ve watched it hundreds of times and it’s still magical to me.

But it’s all for naught if members of the team don’t keep it alive after I’m gone.  There is nothing more demoralizing that returning to a team that was unwilling to do the hard work of sustaining the change.  Then I have to stand in front of a room of people who are even more cynical, more disengaged than they were the first time.

Don’t let your team fall in that trap.  Put the lion’s share of the responsibility on individuals to come to the team with a new mindset.  Create the obligation to help each other when team members revert back to old ways.  Use performance management when all else fails.

How do you sustain the progress you make at offsite sessions?  I’d love to hear your stories.


View the rest of the “After the Offsite” series…

Part II: Personal Accountability

Part III: Helping Your Teammates

Part IV: When the Team Leader Needs to Step In

Further Reading

How to Increase Accountability

Dealing with a Change that’s Hard to Swallow

What to Say to Someone who is Resisting Change

One Response to After the offsite: How do we sustain positive changes back in the real world?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *