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.
It seems quite ridiculous how we measure ourselves against others. Our status can be based on our desk next to a window, a parking bay and more recently just how many back to back meetings we have in a day and how many emails lie unopened in our over-stuffed inbox.
It’s not unusual to great someone with a “hello, how are you?” only to be met with “Fine, I’m really busy”. It has almost become unacceptable to have time in the day to think, bouncing from meeting to meeting. And yes I have heard stories of clients who fill their diary so full that not only do they not eat but don’t get chance for a loo break!!
So we have a problem that is based in a cultural belief that our importance and relevance is determined by this frenetic pace. The only problem with this is our brain really doesn’t respond well to this battering of data and stimulation. Leaders are generally not employed for their good looks – they are employed for their brains, their ability to think, decide, plan, innovate, empathise and engage – all these actions are effortful and an overloaded or stressed brain would struggle to do any of these tasks effectively. We become cognitively overloaded and our executive functioning, performed by our prefrontal cortex is impaired. Not only do we not think clearly, we lose our ability for perspective, working memory, will power or self-control and long term planning.
So, that begs the question just how well do you treat your brain? Our workshops and coaching programs use neuroscience to develop strategies for leaders to optimise their greatest asset, their mind.
Tips to help you think better
Slowing down is counter-intuitive, it feels like our external world is demanding us to go faster. Small changes that some of my clients are making are;
45 minute meetings – with 15 mins before the next meeting, time to gather your thoughts, let go of the last meeting and maybe grab a water.
Walk mindfully between meetings – what this means is when you are heading off to your next meeting instead of letting your mind churn through all the things you haven’t done or need to do, you simply focus on walking. You pay attention to the pressure of your feet on the floor, or the sounds of the office. This triggers your direct network and gives your brain a break from all that rumination.
Prioritise – don’t mistake being busy with being productive. Are you merely reacting to what is in front of you or are you carefully considering the priorities to achieve your goal? Take 15 mins out each day to take a big picture view of your day and what really needs to be accomplished.
It seems so obviously but so few people are actually taking breaks away from their desk and work. Lunch has become either a dimming memory or a quick bite whilst continuing to digest the budget. Taking breaks and walking away gives your brain a break, a chance to refresh. If you are struggling with something, heading out for a walk outside and just sitting in the fresh air will relax your brain enough so you are more likely to create that a-ha moment!
Eat and drink
Feeding your brain regularly will benefit your PFC functioning, the most sensitive part of the brain. The brain uses 20% of your body’s total energy and is therefore energy intensive and therefore needs regular glucose to function well. The problem is that feeding your brain too much or too little glucose will mean impaired performance. The glucose travels to your brain via your blood therefore blood sugar levels are critical.
If you eat irregularly i.e. starve your brain of glucose, and then eat a high sugar snack, the brain is overloaded with glucose and the additional glucose is discarded. So what you need is little and often.
The frequency of eating is important as is what you eat. Some foods are more satisfying than others and take longer to digest and therefore maintain more consistent levels of glucose. Your glucose is naturally low in the morning which is why breakfast is so important…. A good breakfast is essential to creating healthy glucose levels.
Label your thoughts and feelings.
When you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed if you label your thought and feelings you can trigger your brains natural braking system the Right Ventral Lateral PFC and reduce the stress response. In his paper Putting Feelings into Words Mathew Lieberman writes about his experiments in emotional regulation with the focus on just the act of labelling. He found that by labelling emotions verbally or non-verbally (journal writing) that it dramatically reduced the levels of stress in individuals. Lieberman found that after numerous studies it was clear that the RVLPFC activity disrupted the amygdala activation, therefore lowering a threat response.
Based on his work therefore it is important to regulate your emotional state by:
Saying how you feel – to others or to yourself. If someone upsets you it is ok to say :I am feeling very disappointed ….. “etc Practice I feel phrases.
Writing how you feel, using a journal to capture your thoughts and feelings is also a good tool to reduce amygdale activation.
Jeffrey Schwartz in The Mind and the Brain writes about a four step emotional regulation process for his patients – people with OCD. These people have thoughts that are overwhelming and yet through this process he has helped many patients to recover. This may be useful for people who have many negative internal thoughts. The process is:
Step 1: Relabel – name the feeling and label it as a thought
Step 2: Reattribute – name the fact that it is not you it is just a negative thought that you have learned over the years.
Step 3: Refocus – redirect your thoughts – create a pause, breath or use direct experience network, or do something else (distract), go for a walk
Step 4: Revalue – label those thoughts as just that, just neural pathways firing together, it is not permanent.
These are just a few great ideas that can destress your mind and improve your ability to think, plan and engage with others.
In our workshops and coaching sessions we use the latest research from neuroscience and psychology to help leaders understand how to optimise their thinking and move from reactive to responsive and proactive leaders.
Could the power of curiosity help leaders to emotionally manage uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace? There is no doubt that the world is becoming more uncertain – leaders are called upon to have a higher degree of adaptability to handle the ever changing business landscape.
Curious? is new book by Todd Kashdan that explores the power and benefits of cultivating a curious mind. As children, our world is full of unknowns and we continually pester the adults in our world to answer question after question ‘ why is the sky blue? where does milk come from?’ at that age it is an open inquiry, for many without fear. We all have a capacity for curiosity, however as we experience life we start to change how we use curiosity. Some adults continue to be open to new experiences and face life with inquiry whilst others become more fearful of new experiences, uncertainty and life.
Working with leaders in a diverse range of industries across Australia it seems clear that curiosity is often replaced with control and knowing. This can lead to excellent problem solving based on past experience but undermines innovative thinking, it also can lead to increase in stress levels as leaders try to contain and control the variables in the workplace rather than engage curiosity and innovation.
Curiosity in Action
I spend my work life with leaders in highly intense, experiential leadership development programs. In these programs we use simulations and work based scenarios to observe and coach the participants through challenging, uncertain and pressurised situations. These simulations are designed to trigger a threat response, what we are looking for is how well a leader can emotionally regulate so they can adapt, deal with the uncertainty and work through the simulation effectively. I often coach these execs to use curiosity of a situation or a challenging person to regulate. Curiosity is an emotion that is based on being open and inquiring, this is often the exact opposite of how our leaders behave in these intense programs. With practice, leaders start to develop curiosity in those situations and are more able to read others emotions, respond rather than react and see another’s perspective. It’s a powerful tool.
Curiosity is underused – and certainly under-recognised by leaders and those who support the development of leaders.
When our mind wanders, where does it wander? And why does it seem to ruminate on what is wrong or what people may be thinking of me? How often does this increase our stress levels – worrying about what others may think – and yet we have no evidence that they are thinking about us at all! (more…)
This article focuses on providing leaders with key insights and tools to improve their own performance and that of their teams.Emotional regulation is fundamental to leadership. In Business Schools the focus shifting from the importance of getting the task done to how to motivate and engage others to achieve outcomes. The need for leaders to understand their own emotional drivers and how to manage their arousal levels has never been more important. With that in mind this summary essay provides insight on how leaders can use the knowledge gained by Neuroscientists to manage their emotions. (more…)