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.
How many of us can really say that we are at the top of our game everyday? It seems that the objective for leaders is to perform at a high level, in challenging environments, consistently. And yet, this is a challenge for many of the executives and leaders that I work with. I often work with leaders who are exhausted. Fourteen years ago I struggled with exhaustion too, I was in a senior executive position and felt that most decisions I made were life or death, of course they weren’t, but that is how I was feeling.
So how does this exhaustion impact our ability to lead? In a recent paper ‘The depleted leader: The influence of leaders’ psychological resources on leadership behaviours’ the researchers sought to find out just how a leaders’ mental and emotional state impacted their ability to be transformational leaders.
As a reminder, transformational leadership includes;
Individualized Consideration – the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs. The leader gives empathy and support, keeps communication open and places challenges before the followers. This also encompasses the need for respect and celebrates the individual contribution that each follower can make to the team. The followers have a will and aspirations for self-development and have intrinsic motivation for their tasks.
Intellectual Stimulation – Such leaders encourage their followers to be innovative and creative. They encourage new ideas from their followers and never criticize them publicly for the mistakes committed by them. The leaders focus on the “what” in problems and do not focus on the blaming part of it. They have no hesitation in discarding an old practice set by them if it is found ineffective.
Inspirational Motivation – the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers. Leaders with inspirational motivation challenge followers to leave their comfort zones, communicate optimism about future goals, and provide meaning for the task at hand. Followers need to have a strong sense of purpose if they are to be motivated to act. Purpose and meaning provide the energy that drives a group forward. The visionary aspects of leadership are supported by communication skills that make the vision understandable, precise, powerful and engaging. The followers are willing to invest more effort in their tasks, they are encouraged and optimistic about the future and believe in their abilities.
Idealized Influence – the degree to which the leader acts as a role model for their followers. Transformational leaders must embody the values that the followers should be learning and mimicking back to others. If the leader gives respect and encourages others to be better, those influenced will then go to others and repeat the positive behavior, passing on the leadership qualities for other followers to learn. This will earn the leader more respect and admiration from the followers, putting them at a higher level of influence and importance. The foundation of transformational leadership is the promotion of consistent vision, mission, and a set of values to the members. Their vision is so compelling that they know what they want from every interaction. Transformational leaders guide followers by providing them with a sense of meaning and challenge. They work enthusiastically and optimistically to foster the spirit of teamwork and commitment.
The researchers measured the impact of anxiety, depression and alcohol consumption on either transformation leadership or abusive supervision. They defined abusive supervision as ‘inappropriate verbal or non verbal hostility’. They found that leaders who had high levels of anxiety or depression or alcohol consumption were more likely to be abusive supervisors, whereas, leaders low in these domains were more likely to be transformational. They concluded that the mindset of the leaders and their psychological well-being is an effective predictor of their ability to lead.
So if you want to lead effectively the state of your psychological well being is fundamental. If you want to lead well, consistently then it requires conscious effort to cultivate your personal resources. Sacrificing your own mental and emotional health, may lead to short term gain, however, if you want to lead effectively and sustainably then you need to start to take care of yourself!
Clare Goodman works with leaders to build resiliency and personal sustainability. Her workshops and coaching sessions provide practical tools and techniques to help you create healthy habits. Contact Clare on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any more information.
The depleted leader: The influence of leaders’ diminished psychological resources on leadership behaviours (2014), Alyson Byrne, Angela Dionisi, Julian Barling, Amy Akers, Jennifer Robertson, Rebecca Lys, Jeffrey Wylie, Kathryne Dupre, The Leadership Quarterly 25 pages 344-357.
High risk and ambiguous situations – perhaps I mean mining or banking, in fact there are great leadership lessons for corporate leaders from the fire service. These leaders face highly dangerous and ambiguous environments and have to make life and death decisions quickly and under pressure. So what can corporate leaders learn from leaders in high reliability organisations?
Benjamin Baran and Cliff Scott were curious and conducted exploratory research in 2010 on the Fire Service in the US. The researchers collected near-miss reports from stations across the US and analysed the results for key themes and patterns. This was an inductive process and they were able to identify a number of strategies that these leaders used effectively in highly ambiguous and dangerous situations.
They found that leaders were able to organise the ambiguity through;
Framing - leaders were able to make sense of the environment for others and provide direction setting and a degree of knowledge
Heedful interrelating - leaders were able to communicate with others by clear verbal communication, along with role modelling desired behaviours and role acting which is behaving in alignment with role expectations. Another key component was trust.
Adjusting – the ability to rapidly adjust behaviours due to changing conditions
The researchers found that this mixture of behaviours, actions and processes were linked to managing high risk situations with lower numbers of injuries or casualties. When there were gaps in these components the injury rate increased.
Future leaders need to be able to lead confidently in ambiguous and complex situations where they may not know all the answers. They would do well to reflect on the leadership strategies of these firefighters.
Organizing Ambiguity: A grounded theory of leadership and sensemaking within dangerous contexts by Benjamin Baran and Cliff Scott, Organizational Science, University of North Carolina – 2010 Military Pyschology
You are a senior manager with excellent technical skills and capabilities but you struggle with leading your team and making the transition from technical manager to an engaging and effective leader. You may be regarded as a high performer in your area of expertise, however you see the need to develop skills and confidence in leadership. You struggle with the shift from knowledge expert to people management and would like support to help you make the shift more smoothly.
Clare Goodman offers interventions that work.
Evaluating individual strengths and gaps of the new leader
Your organisation is experiencing accelerated growth and senior managers are expected to take on leadership positions when they are not ready. What do you do? As the manager you can choose to make do, hire from outside the business or give those with high potential appropriate support to help them grow into their roles?
Managing growth is an art. Often people are placed in positions above their experience and comfort, some will fly and others falter. What can make the difference is targeted support to help the emerging leaders transform into the engaging and effective leader that your business needs to manage through the growingpains.
Clare Goodman offers interventions that work.
Evaluating the strengths and gaps of the emerging leaders;
Analysis of individual derailers
Development of high potential leaders
Leadership Development workshops focusing on leadership conversations
Executive resilience programs – to build mental strength and stamina
Company based scenario’s with observed feedback by professional coaches