4 Do's & A Few Don'ts for An Effective Team Offsite
An opportunity to reconnect and realign
I was chatting to a friend last week and she was telling me about a disastrous offsite meeting she’d attended. Not because her team is a disaster. Just the meeting. And it got me thinking; all around the world, teams large and small assemble at country hotels and imaginative venues with the aim of stepping away from their day-to-day work to talk, brainstorm, discuss strategy…
But let’s face it, most off-site team meetings are just an expensive, time-consuming day out. Instead of creating a sense of unity where everyone is together having “fun” it doesn’t always last very long once everyone gets back to work. Even worse, those “open and candid” discussions more often have the unintended consequence of bringing out competition and hostility between individuals.
On the other hand, I’ve experienced some great offsites; engaging, worthwhile, inspiring me to return to work and do things better. They CAN provide a great opportunity for teams to reconnect and realign, creating an offsite that will have positive, enduring effects. So, how do you ensure that the outcomes team members walk away with have an ongoing positive impact on the business?
I’d been pondering our conversation, when an HBR article popped into my inbox yesterday. Melissa Raffoni had some great ‘sticky tips’ which I’ve tweaked into my own Do’s and Don’ts to make sure your next event is a resounding (and long lasting) success:
Let’s get these out of the way. Don’t let the team’s dynamics constrain what you’re trying to create. If the entire reason for holding this offsite is to get your team talking, remember that if they’re reluctant to speak up and challenge one another inside the office, don’t assume that they’ll magically feel more comfortable doing so just because they’ve gathered together at a lovely venue.
Likewise, if you’ve decided to embark on a team assessment tool – and I firmly believe DiSC and Belbin have their rightful place – don’t zoom in on individuals at the cost of focusing on the team as a whole.
And please, please, for the love of all that’s Holy, DON’T force anyone to either dress up or sing karaoke. YouTube is not always your friend.
The future depends on what you do today. – Mahatma Ghandi
1. CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS. Be crystal clear about your objectives. The paradox of offsite meetings is that to raise the likelihood that the offsite will have a successful and lasting outcome, changes need to be made before the offsite even occurs. So before the event, make sure everyone is clear about what you aim to achieve, what success looks like and how you will measure it.
If the goal of the offsite is to clarify roles and responsibilities, it’s helpful to be clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities in preparing for, as well as during the meeting itself.
- Develop: clear strategic priorities and measurable outcomes that the team are committed to.
- Create: an accountability plan to follow-up and track goals after the event.
- Engage: those attending in a performance improvement strategy.
Remember to ask yourself, what do I want the team to understand, agree to and act on? How do I want them to feel after the meeting, and what can I do to support that?
Top Tip: “I’d be happy if, by the end of our event, we [insert objectives].” This will help you to clarify expectations when you set down the objectives of the offsite beforehand. It will also increase their engagement by allowing them to prepare for the discussion.
2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Develop a detailed plan. And by plan, I mean an agenda, a plan for the day. Once you have a clear set of objectives and know who’s coming, create a detailed plan that reflects and reinforces those goals. Think about timings too; you should be aiming for sessions of between 45 minutes and two hours (maximum). This will ensure topics aren’t cut short, or drawn out. Don’t be over ambitious – you can only effective tackle 4 or 5 big ticket items in a day. Your plan should include:
- Topics of discussion (obviously!)
- Specific objectives for each topic (remember, one action point per strategic goal)
- Add some variety. If you’re there all day, no one wants to sit through endless Powerpoints or multiple discussions, one after the other, so mix things up with brainstorming, Q&A, games etc..
- Timing. Be realistic, and allocate a timekeeper for each topic.
- Preparation. What needs to be done beforehand, and by whom?
Top Tip: Check your plan against your objectives, making sure you can map each topic and activity back to each objective. It may take a few go’s, but time spent here will keep the energy and engagement up on the day.
3. ON, NOT IN. Focus on working on the business. Not in the business. You’ll see sustainable results if you rise above the day-to-day operations and concentrate on the bigger picture. Spend your time on strategic thinking and the important issues that you haven’t had time think about when you’re buried in the daily gravel. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask all those ‘edge’ questions. In other words, what are the conversations you’ve NOT been having, the ones that take place in the kitchen or lunchroom, the pain-points?
Make sure you’re recording team feedback, collective decisions, or new goals. Instead of the usual flip-charts, try connecting your laptop to the big screen and capture everything live, as it’s being said. This very visual record will help them digest the information and allow you to have notes available immediately after the event, encouraging everyone to start putting the agreed measures into action.
Top Tip: Keep reminding everyone about “working on the business” to help stay focused. Ask, what problem are we trying to solve? What do we need to do to make sure we follow through after we leave?
4. SYNERGISE. Work together to create a team charter. The most common complaint about team building offsites is that there is no follow-up and that any progress that has been made turns out to be temporary, with any goals that have been set falling by the wayside. By agreeing agreed what each person needs to do to drive plan forward, it ensures the learning sticks and action points are accountable. And don’t forget to schedule regular check-ins in the coming days or weeks.
Ask the team:
- How will we hold each other accountable for executing on the plans and decisions agreed to?
- What needs to go on the calendar?
- At each check-in, who needs to be there and what are we focusing on?
- What are the realistic timescales we’re working towards?
It’s also worth scheduling a follow-up offsite, three months, six months or a year after the initial meeting; it can help ensure that the team stays focused on making progress and sustaining positive change.
Top Tip: Agree on your charter and schedule your first few check-in meeting dates with everyone there. Don’t be surprised if your team is resistant to more meetings by emphasizing the importance of follow-up while being mindful about when meetings need to happen, how long they need to be, and with whom. These are business priorities; no cancelling or postponing! This will help everyone commit to follow-through, give you a forum to revisit the goals you established, and provide you with an opportunity to course correct.
Execution is the ability to mesh strategy with reality, align people with goals, and achieve the promised results. – Larry Bossidy
A successful team offsite can provide an opportunity for the team to change old habits and create new ways of communicating and collaborating. But it’s the combination of prior planning and mindful follow-through that makes your event worth the investment. Your team will be more engaged, more closely aligned and better prepared to execute. More importantly, they will be grateful for the time spent and the health and success of the business will be better for it.
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