Off-sites are stale. A full day of presentations, an occasional break out session and then a “team building“ activity at the end, which is more about rewarding people for suffering through the day than actually adding value. How many of these have you suffered through?
I believe that it is time to take a new approach to off-sites. Gone are the days where we can afford to take our most senior team members out for a day just to update each other on what happened in the previous period and what is planned for the period ahead. There just isn’t enough value in that to warrant the expense. Unless your off-site develops new thinking, creates deeper trust and provide opportunities for people to really develop then I suggest you cancel it and just send around a deck for people to read.
Here are a few ideas on how to spice up your off site.
1. Ban PowerPoint decks
I believe that if people are senior enough to be included in an offsite then they should be responsible for pre-reading all the update decks. Ensure that all material is circulated at least a week in advance covering all the “traditional” content expected as part of their functional update. Use the offsite sessions as a truly interactive, collaborative opportunity to seek support, advice and ideas. Take the opportunity to challenge ingrained biases and brainstorm solutions to complex issues.
2. Cover the critical and strategic issues first
People get tired and have limited attention spans. Ensure that the agenda covers all of the most strategic issues early in the day.
3. Change up the venue
How often do we spend money hiring an off-site venue only to then sit in a room with the blinds closed around a board table? Environment can have a massive impact on the way in which people think and communicate. If you are looking for different thinking, then it is foolish to expect it to occur in the same environment albeit a different location. I suggest you start by taking away the table. I would even go so far as to take away the seating for parts of the day. If you are felling adventitious and the weather permits, consider taking some of it outside. You will be amazed at the impact this has on the way your teams think and communicate.
4. Do your team building first
Why do we do our team building at the end of the day? Why is it always something totally disconnected from the business, like paint balling, cooking, painting etc. Surely it makes more sense to do it first. True change in behaviour and building of trust only happens when you disrupt the status quo. Your team building activity needs to be able to create this disruption and set up a new way of thinking that you can benefit from for the rest of the off-site and carry through into the business.
5. Don’t be a slave to the agenda.
Be brave. Allow time for the team to discuss the issues and opportunities that they uncover throughout the day. These will often be things that hadn’t occurred to us when we were putting together a fully packed agenda for the day. All too often important issues and opportunities are uncovered in off-sites, parked for future discussion and then never addressed.
Off-sites are all too often a chore, seen as a necessity to get everyone on the same page for the period ahead. I believe that they can be significantly more. They can be empowering, uncover and solve issues, truly bring a team together and develop trust.
Please comment on how you keep off-sites relevant and valuable, I’d love to hear your views.