I have facilitated, led, and designed many ‘off-site’ meetings over the years. These meetings range from annual ‘kick-off’ meetings, to strategic planning sessions, to crisis management. It is very easy to get your team excited about leaving the office and going somewhere different in order to unplug from the day-to-day and focus on what you need to do next or differently. But why do we get so energised when we leave these meetings – ready to change the world – only to find that our efforts and motivation fall flat within weeks? The common belief is that the failure comes after the off-site; people fail to follow up, plans were not communicated clearly, actions were not taken, etc. But I believe the failure begins and ends at the meeting itself. If you really want to have results after the meeting, you need to lay the appropriate groundwork at the meeting itself.
Here are 7 tips for success in your next off-site:
Have a clear purpose – if all you want to do is go away for a weekend fun trip and get your people excited for a couple of days, go right ahead. But, if you are really going to all this trouble and expense, you probably want to see real change after. Be clear on what outcome you are seeking from the meeting and communicate this clearly to the participants and anyone else who needs to know why you are spending this money and time (like your boss).
Take it outside – If you budget allows, do go away. It is preferable to go to a different place, where everyone stays in the same hotel. This way, you get the maximum time from the participants without other distractions (see tip 3). In reality, you don’t have to leave the office, just leave the work behind by banning phones, laptops, etc. The point is to be disconnected from the daily business for a short period of time.
Schedule other activities around the meeting – Do not underestimate the value of your team spending less structured time together. It is important to establish relationships with the people you work with outside of the strict structure found in the office. Even if you don’t decamp to a hotel for a couple of overnight stays, do schedule dinner and even breakfast meetings, along with at least one fairly unstructured social event.
Know what role does this meeting plays in your future – you have a clear purpose on the outcome of the meeting (tip 1); maybe it’s to engergise the team, determine the strategy you are going to execute over the next 2 years, or form a response to a business challenge, but how does this meeting fit into the bigger picture? See the meeting as a beginning, not an end unto itself. What can you leave the participants with so that they will change their behaviour when they get back?
Include the key players – it is easy to take an internal view and invite your own team away, but are there other stakeholders involved? Do they need to feel ‘bought in’ to your plans or vision? Is it important for your team to hear from an outside perspective? Be inclusive, little harm can come from having more diverse voices at the table. For example, I’ve seen many meetings with participants all at the same level of an organization (executive board), or two levels (executive board and their VPs), but when you add a third level, the quality of the conversation increases exponentially!
Follow the agenda – so often I’ve seen meetings with even a solid agenda wander and get lost. Using the 5 points above, set a clear agenda and invest the time in making sure your timing is right for every agenda item. Provide enough time for each activity and stick to it – you will never make up lost time like you think you will. If you are unsure, book in breaks and long lunches you can eat into if you are overrunning. If you can stick to your agenda – and promise that to the attendees – they can schedule calls and other activities in the breaks that might otherwise distract them during the meeting.
Create actionable follow-through – establish concrete actions and assign owners. So often I see teams agree on what needs to be done – at a high level – but not get specific or assign owners to these key next steps. “We’ll do it after the meeting” – no you won’t! Within days if not moments of returning to the office, the day-to-day worries and activities take over and people forget. Do not let the people leave the room without a clear action plan, owners, and a scheduled time when you will follow up on those actions.
If you follow these points, you will considerably increase the chances your off-site is a success – not just the meeting but the lasting effect you want this meeting to have on your organization. My final point is do not underestimate the value of a professional facilitator. Professionals understand how to get the best out of a team, including the quiet members and quieting the ones who want to talk, but say little. Professionals are more likely to stick to the agenda and stay on time, or know how to shift events on the spot to make the most of the meeting. Facilitation is more than showing up on the day, your meeting leader needs to be engaged early – in the agenda-setting phase and preferably as part of the overall strategy in which this meeting is set (tip 4).
I would love to hear your thoughts, let me know how your next off-site goes and if any of these tips helped you or get in touch if you need help.