It’s that time of year; where the need to plan for the year ahead brings a crop of full-day team meetings. My colleague Dr. Vince Molinaro and I are tag-teaming on a pair of blogs to help you with the planning.  This post focuses on planning a team offsite, Vince’s post shares considerations for a great leader forum. Read it here.

When you need an offsite

Offsite sessions help you get out of the day-to-day operational issues and to think differently about your business. Use them to update your view of the external environment, validate or evolve your vision, think with a longer strategic horizon, or get a new perspective on a particularly vexing problem.  Offsites are less appropriate for decision making.  Solicit ideas and stir up things up, but reserve decisions for after sober second thought.

Objectives and agenda

The most common rookie mistake in building an offsite is to try to accomplish too many things in too little time.  The whole idea of getting away is to reduce the pressures and slow down the pace.  Go for a two- or three-day format where possible.  A one-day offsite is just like a normal day at work with an especially bad commute. Start early. Stick to two or three big objectives and build the agenda in half-day chunks.  Break up each half of the day with a 30 minute break to make room for informal conversations. Make lunch a full hour.  Stop at 4:30 when weariness starts to affect the quality of ideas.

Using a facilitator

For all but the most intimate and unstructured sessions, a facilitator is worth the investment.  Find someone who understands your industry well enough to be relevant but also brings a different perspective to spice things up.  Look for someone who balances the need to move through the agenda with the willingness to flex when valuable conversations emerge. Start the session with ground rules for both the team and the facilitator.

Choosing a location

If I were to guess the most common criteria for selection of an offsite venue I would say convenience or suitability to the team leader.  The team leader’s favorite venue can work; or it can just showcase one’s self-centered decision making style. When choosing a venue, take into consideration:

  • Commute. Is the location totally inconvenient? Worse, is it good for some team members and terrible for others;
  • Commitments. Team members with child- or elder-care responsibilities might value a local venue that gives them the peace of mind of being close to home;
  • Facility. Choose a spacious room with natural light, walls for posting flip charts and good, healthy food. Do NOT believe the hotel when they tell you how many people the room holds;
  • Connectivity. Personally, I give bonus points to a venue with no connectivity, but I know that most executives feel differently. Make sure your location has good quality, fast, reliable connections so when you need to be in touch it is seamless.

Extra-curricular activities

This is where I might lose some of you, but extra-curricular activities at offsites are dangerous territory.  Again, most reflect the preferences of the leader. I once had a President suggest that we have a snowmobile race as our means of getting from the resort to the dinner in a nearby town. Yikes.  Find activities where everyone can play a role and where necessary, split the group in two to reflect different tastes.  It might seem counter-intuitive, but smaller groups can even create a more intimate conversation and more chances for people to really get to know one another.

Action items

There is usually some breakthrough thinking at an offsite session but too seldom are those insights implemented.  Take a significant chunk of time before you leave the session to reflect on what you have learned and how you will use these ideas to improve the business.  Agree on what you will and won’t communicate to your teams (remember, people will be very curious about what you were doing offsite). Create an agenda item on an upcoming meeting to discuss the action items and to ensure they are addressed.

Sustaining progress

There is nothing more frustrating than watching the early gains from an offsite slowly fade into the distance as people return to old patterns.  I have written about this topic in some detail in my series called “After the Offsite.”  You can link to that series here.  Here’s the punch line… Individuals need to create a short and impactful list of things they need to do differently and hold themselves accountable for living up to those commitments.  Team members need to help each other by providing positive feedback when changes are made and constructive feedback when progress starts to slide.  Team leaders need to performance management those who don’t deliver.

I’m a big fan of offsite sessions because the novel settings often contribute to breakthrough thinking.  Done well, offsites are great.  If thrown together haphazardly with unreasonable goals or agenda, staged in the wrong settings, or forgotten the minute the session is over, offsites can be a waste of time and money. If you’re planning an offsite for the New Year, I’d love to hear what you’re doing to make it great.


Follow us on Twitter @LianeDavey @VinceMolinaro

Further Reading

Advice to Team Leaders at Offsite Sessions

After the Offsite: How do we Sustain Positive Changes back in the Real World?

What’s Wrong with Teambuilding?

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