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.
Congratulations you have made the move from a “doer” to a “leader”. You are now experiencing the challenges that come with moving from subject matter expert to generalist, from managing yourself or a small team to leading a business unit or company, from being responsible for your own behaviour to setting the tone for a whole organisation and most importantly from delivering results yourself to delivering them through a team.
The question becomes how do you manage that transition? Where do you acquire the Leadership skills necessary to be successful when likely as not most of what you will be doing in this new role you have never done before. All of this whilst the teams who work for you are watching and looking to you for strength and leadership. Unlike almost and job or promotion the one that moves you into a leadership role comes with almost no training at all. It seems to be expected that great managers or subject matter experts will just transform overnight into amazing leaders.
Enter the executive coach. There is nothing in your working world that is focused 100% on you. Am executive coach is somebody dedicated to helping you move from where you are to where you want to be. Imagine what you can achieve with the support and accountability that comes from someone 100 percent focused on helping you achieve your goals and maximizing your potential. When else in your career will you ever get the opportunity to experience that.
Traditional coaching conventions say that any coach can coach anybody using the right coaching tools. Reality is often different. In the real world, a business coach is also a mentor, a strategic partner and trusted advisor. It is therefore essential to find the right coach for you with the experience and battle scars to help you in your transition to leadership. If an executive coach isn’t something you’ve already considered here are 3 reasons why you should.
As you move into your new leadership role you will find that there are more groups vying for your attention, more decisions to be made, more problems to solve and more stakeholders expectations to manage. As a successful individual you will no doubt seek to meet all of these new demands. More often than not the promises that get broken first are the ones we make to ourselves. A business Coach challenges you to stay accountable to your own development, to strategize and develop your goals whilst meeting all of your other responsibilities.
As a new leader, almost everything you do, you will be doing for the first time. A business coach will challenge your thinking, your strategy and your willingness to continue to grow and develop. As someone who has “been there” and “done that” a business coach can act as a mentor based on the experiences they have had and provide a unique insight that broadens your business awareness
3) To challenge your thinking
A good business coach listens without judgement and is able to ask insightful questions that challenge your preconceptions and open new thought processes. Your business coach has no ulterior motive their only desire is to develop you, your thinking and help you to be the best leader possible. Nowhere else in your professional environment will you find a resource as powerful as a good business coach.
There isn’t a successful sporting team or athlete in the world that does not have a coach, successful business leaders are no different. If success and growth are what you are interested in then a good, experienced executive coach is exactly what you need.
To find out more about executive coaching or to book a free 30 min coaching session speak to one of our executive coaches here
” Shhh… we’ll just tell them it’s business as usual. They won’t notice that the company is restructuring, redundancies are happening and targets are getting exponentially tougher!!” Well, I exaggerate a little but in my Corporate career I have heard this kind of view emanating from many senior leaders.
As anyone who has worked with me knows, I physically cringe at the BAU catchcry! The phrase is used to communicate a sense of status quo, to reassure employees that there is ‘nothing to see here, just focus on your daily tasks’. Although this can be done with good intention, employees are not stupid and even if they don’t know the details of the changes, they will know something is happening.
Our brains are amazing predictive machines and we get a brain based reward (dopamine) when we successfully predict the future. It gives us a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure when we skilfully predict the outcome of a masterly ‘who dunnit’ movie, or when we skilfully predict someone’s behaviour. So when our leaders say it’s BAU but all the behaviours and other evidence point to change occurring then this lack of congruence can trigger a threat response, leading to higher levels of stress and more informal conversations where employees are trying to piece the puzzle together. So saying it is BAU when it clearly isn’t can cause more disruption and stress from employees than just being transparent!
Change is a constant, in fact the Futurist Bob Johansen goes further to describe our current business environment as having four major components- volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or VUCA. So from Johansen’s point of view, change and uncertainty is indeed pervasive, however, it seems strange that we, in the Western world, are seeing this as a ‘new’ trend – Buddhists know it better as impermanence.
The answer isn’t to pretend that it is ‘business as usual’ but equip our employees to be able to develop mental and emotional resilience and agility.
Bob Johansen “Leaders Make the Future” Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2009)
So how do leaders feel about uncertainty and novelty? It’s an interesting question and I decided to test out some of my clients. I chose a simple questionnaire from Todd Kashdan, a Curiosity Researcher, that looked at two levels;
Whether an individual seeks out novelty
How an individual feels about embracing change when it is presented.
These are two very different dimensions. The data showed that the ten senior leaders surveyed showed a high response to seeking out novelty. However they scored 30% lower on their willingness and comfort to embrace change when it is presented. In interpreting this very simple assessment, it seemed that individuals are much more comfortable in seeking change, novelty and uncertainty then when they have no option. The common factor that seems to emerge is the perception of choice and control. In seeking out novelty and the unknown the leader perceives that he/she has a degree of choice and control, when change is thrust upon you, it is easy to perceive that you have no choice or control.
Although this research would not stand the rigours of any University worth it’s salt, it’s an interesting thought that I have used to help my coaching clients;
Reflecting on what works – asking a client to think about times when they have sought out novelty and uncertainty, and helping them to think about how they did that, what personal strategies worked.
Building a link – using these past memories to help them to think about how they can approach their uncertain situation differently
Creating a perception of choice and control – identifying key aspects of their work or situation that they have a choice over or some degree of control and using a process of reframing
Incidentally I also asked three meditation teachers to complete the questionnaire to see how their approach would differ from the senior leaders. Indeed they scored 15% lower than the leaders in seeking out novelty and uncertainty, however their score for embracing change was almost the same to their score for novelty. The two domains under investigation did not show any significant difference, so they felt equally as comfortable with seeking novelty and uncertainty and embracing change.
More work to do obviously, but an interesting mini research project.
Clare is researching Ambiguity and Uncertainty and the Impact of Leadership Effectiveness for her Doctorate.
Why is uncertainty seen as the enemy? The number of leaders who seek control and avoid uncertainty, fascinates me. I enjoy working with many leaders in diverse organisations all with very different personalities and approaches to leadership but it is the leaders who embrace ambiguity and uncertainty who leap out to me as effective leaders.
There seems to be an organisational conspiracy to perpetuate this need for control, “If we plan, follow process and mitigate risk, then we will be ok”. Although there is nothing wrong with planning, in fact, it is encouraged but expecting any plan to work perfectly is laughable.
Helmuth von Moltke, a German Military Strategist coined the phrase ” No battle plan survives the contact with the enemy”. So we have to be agile and be able to adapt and change our approach.
For over sixty years researchers have been interested in what makes some people more able to tolerate uncertainty than others. A number of the earlier psychological researchers such as Frankl-Brunswik and Budner put it down to differences in personality. More recently researchers have been looking at the role that dopamine receptors play in our ability to seek uncertainty and novelty or seek to maintain the status quo. People with lower numbers of dopamine receptors seek out more novelty and uncertainty whereas those with higher numbers of dopamine receptors find it difficult to tolerate change or uncertainty. There is obviously more work to do to really understand the neuroscience behind uncertainty however researchers and practitioners are beginning to identify the links between effective leadership and being able to operate in uncertainty and it’s ‘big sister’ ambiguity.
A paper by Randall White and Sandra Shullman ‘Build Leadership’s Tolerance for Ambiguity’ explains;
” Dealing with ambiguity is seldom taught, but higher performing leaders tend to understand that uncertainty can be the gateway to opportunity”.
They have identified a number of observable traits that are present in leaders able to thrive in uncertainty;
Mystery as a motivating factor – people who seek out situations where they don’t know the answer
Undaunted by risk – being able to make decisions with incomplete information
Sensitive to faint signals - being able to scan for patterns and context set for their teams
Tenacity - leaders who do not shy away from failure, they stay the course.
Creating excitement – enthusing others around them
Flexibility – able to change direction and their minds
Simplifying - taking the complex and communicating it simply
Focus – knowing what to focus on at the right time.
David Wilkinson, author of the Ambiguity Advantage which is based on researching leaders in the UK he states;
” It should be clear by now that moments of the most intense fear , the moments when there appear to be huge threats all around, when ambiguity is at its highest, when we know little and understand less, these are moments of most potential for moving into the new world and taking advantage”.
Indeed uncertainty isn’t the enemy, it may feel uncomfortable and even stressful but through uncertainty can come many possibilities for change, growth and development.
Clare is currently researching the impact of Uncertainty and Ambiguity on Leadership Effectiveness for her Doctoral Thesis.