How to plan successful offsite meetings

An offsite meeting has the potential to bring a team together to solve persistent problems or to set an innovative path for the next year. The offsite can use past successes as the springboard to new ideas. It can be a fun way deliver intensive training in new methods. How can you make sure that your offsite meetings will deliver the benefits, and leave everyone eagerly anticipating the next one?

Inc.com outlined these steps at the planning stage to ensure a successful offsite meeting:

Know what you want to achieve

It doesn’t make good sense to arrange an offsite meeting just because it’s been six months or a year since the last one. Think carefully about the real purpose of the meeting. It could be any of these:

  • Gather team members to brainstorm
  • Discuss and approve restructuring your organization
  • Identify new business opportunities
  • Train the team in new procedures

Whatever you determine the purpose to be, it has to be clarified before any other planning. An unfocused, non-specific goal is unlikely to  be reached. Note this caution from Harvard Business Review:

“Many off-sites derail because the meeting designer lacked the discipline to restrict the scope and number of issues to be considered. At the conclusion of the off-site, the company ends up with a laundry list of a dozen or more next steps but not a coherent strategic course of action.”

Make sure that  everyone agrees on the purpose of the meeting. When everyone is on the same page, you’ll know afterward whether it was a success or not. Try to anticipate how team members will talk about the event afterward. Will they all agree that the purpose of the meeting was realised?

Break out of your everyday routines

You want the meeting to be memorable—so this day should look different to every other day at the office. If you can achieve that, then the meeting can also be remembered for its success in reaching its objectives.

Be careful that the format is not so alien that the team will have difficulty relating it to their roles when they are back at the office. If too much time is spent just acclimatising, little will be accomplished.

You can prevent that by making offsites more frequent than annually. This can reinforce the importance of the meetings, and can build momentum towards your objectives.

Make it fun for employees to act on what they’ve learned

This can be done by using props, among other things. At one offsite meeting in the US, each employee received a personalised dollar bill with his or her name on it. Back at the office, employees could give their dollar to another employee. This was a gift to say: I trust you. I want to invest in you.

There are plenty of other fun ways to reinforce the purpose of your meeting long after everyone has returned to their normal routine. The point is that when an activity has a fun element, it creates an emotional response and will be remembered.

Include employees from different areas of the company

When you widen the scope, you will more likely include different backgrounds, personality types, and communication styles. Mat Lawrence, writing for Atlassian, suggests that you “consider factors like experience level, job role, and tenure at the company (or on the team). Try to assemble a group that has some diversity along those lines. It can even be worth considering including someone from another area of the business, as well. If your offsite is all about brand strategy, for example, a member of the customer service team might bring in a fresh and valuable perspective.”

A positive spinoff from this approach is enhanced collaboration between different sections of your organisation.

Invite attendees to critique your strategy

This can provide valuable insights that may well challenge the assumptions of your managers and force a fresh look at how the company works.

And even this can be fun, using exercises or activities that stimulate constructive conflict. Harvard Business Review cites a great example where all 142 pages of the company’s handbook was pasted on the wall of a converted barn–in the form of a mosaic. “Team members placed green Post-its on the pages they agreed with, red Post-its where they disagreed, yellow Post-its where more data were required, and colored dots to indicate low or high importance.”

Focus on more than one outcome

There are three possible outcomes that could emerge from an offsite meeting: organisational (the company’s strategic direction or business model changes), interpersonal (where colleagues bond and build trust), and cognitive (where members achieve a better grasp of the company’s vision and direction).

Organisational outcomes may be more difficult to achieve, but interpersonal and cognitive outcomes are important too. If an offsite fails to change strategic direction, it may still yield positive results such as better interpersonal relations and strategic understanding.

Measure your results

Start doing this even before the meeting has ended. Executive coach Ben Dattner suggests that you ask yourself and the team “Have we achieved our goals during this offsite, in terms of tasks and interactions, processes and outcomes? Did we create a new, more effective pattern of communication and collaboration, or of discussion and debate? Did I effectively lead the meeting? Did we together set a positive precedent for new ways of interacting?”

Dattner also suggests follow-up later. Otherwise any progress could turn out to be temporary, and any goals that have been set could fall by the wayside. Scheduling a follow-up offsite, or at least a check-in meeting, months after the initial offsite can help ensure that the team keeps their momentum in making positive change.

Conclusion

More than your regular onsite meetings, the offsite has to be special for better reasons than a change of scenery. Make it memorable in the best possible way by striving for specific goals, being open to different and fun ways of engaging the team, and then following up in the months to follow.

Why not give Karstens a call to see if we can help with your plans for your next offsite meeting?