When was the last time you had a truly transformative experience with your team?  Have you ever?  When was the last time you left an offsite feeling energized, motivated, more connected to those with whom you work most closely, with a clear plan to take action?

IMG_2371Unfortunately, rather than an opportunity to learn and grow as an organization, many people see offsite meetings as a necessary requirement of maintaining their employment. Why do they see it that way? Because everyone has experienced it.  A poorly organized, share-fest in which people are asked to play goofy games, and nothing specific gets accomplished. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Meaningful Time, Well Spent
We all know that time is our most precious commodity. Since 2008, we have been continually asked to do more with less.  People want to know when they attend a retreat, team development function, offsite or strategic planning session that their time will be spent on meaningful work and that they’ll have an opportunity to build and deepen relationships with their colleagues.

They may be willing to have some fun, but they don’t want to be embarrassed or have to do silly things in the name of team building. They want to have productive conversations that lead to specific and workable outcomes.  They want to be able to share ideas honestly without the usual trappings of office surroundings.

It’s happened to all of us.  We have an off-site for which we are responsible three months out.  Plenty of time to plan an awesome experience.  Then, the next time we get our heads above water, it’s a week away and all we have confirmed is the venue.  Not planning properly, with enough time to coordinate with outside resources is the first nail in the coffin of what could have been an excellent event.

Plan well before you think you need to.  Book the site, vendors, trainers or facilitators months before, not hours. Engage members of your team to find out how they want to spend the time, and how to best address current challenges. While many people don’t want to be on a planning committee, they do want their voice heard on the content and schedule of the offsite.

“Yeah, I know you said it’s mandatory, but I have this thing…” You may never get everyone to attend an offsite, but do your people know it’s expected?  Has it been clearly communicated? Has the culture of the organization become one in which attendance seems optional; a good chance to use that PTO, or schedule an important meeting?  Do everything you can to create a sense of urgency, of buy-in to the usefulness of this time.  Again and again with clients I see that it’s the same people who miss these events, the ones who may be reluctant to go along with new ideas, the ones who have the ability to sink initiatives, or inhibit a needed change in culture.

As the leader it is your job to get people to attend.  Set the date early and clearly communicate that attendance is expected. Then invite, cajole, engage, encourage, and as a last resort order key people to be in attendance.  For those habitual non-participators, find out why they find reasons not to attend and then eliminate as many of those reasons as possible.  It seems like a lot of work, but not as much as trying to overcome their resistance to initiatives created in their absence.

And what about once you are there? Gone are the days of uninterrupted time together at a remote retreat. Checking e-mails, sending messages and ducking out to take that important phone call have become the norm at offsite meetings.  While some of this is inevitable, how can you manage it so you are still able to have a cohesive and productive time together?

Every group will be different in this regard, but set clear expectations about the use of technology, or scheduling calls during certain times.  Be sure that your staff communicates to clients and subordinates before the meeting that they will be unavailable. Maybe be creative with scheduling so that people know they will have a chunk of time to address important work items, so they don’t feel the pressure to be doing it in the middle of sessions.  Finally, acknowledge that everyone is busy, and give them permission to be present and let their work go while you are together for this time.  We do a quick version of this at nearly every training we conduct, and the effect is tangible.

So, you are offsite, everyone is there and they know the expectations for participation.  It’s time for you to deliver.  The schedule should be well-planned, engaging and meaningful.  There should be time spent on content so that people feel they learn. There should be time spent developing the team, both formally and informally.  There should be time spent on strategy and difficult discussions.  If you can’t do that when you are removed from the day-to-day hustle of your office, then when can you?  No matter what past offsites have been like, it only takes one or two productive, engaging, and fun events to allow people to see how valuable they can be in the continued growth of individuals, your team and your organization.

This is, of course, where we suggest hiring an outside team to help make your time away from the office a success.  While there are portions of an offsite schedule that can and should be handled internally, this is a great time for your people to hear a new voice, to be led through a process by someone versed in, but removed from your office culture. Whether it’s a team development event, a leadership development experience or a facilitated discussion on a challenging topic, hiring a quality professional increases the chance that it will go well. It also allows people to engage more freely, and let’s you participate in, rather than manage the day.

Good Luck and Happy Offsite Season!

True North Consultants offers a wide range of sessions and experiences for your next offsite meeting. Available wherever you plan to meet.  For a truly transformative experience think about our three day, two night wilderness canoe experience for your leadership team.