this article was published in Pulse, Linkedin on April 18, 2017
On every manager’s to-do list is: “organise team offsite meeting”. I know many managers that dread this task. What should I come up with this time? Where do we go? There is so much work to do, do I have time for this?
I guess some detractors would say “work is work” and “team building activities are a waste of time”. Plus the budget is up, so no offsite meetings. If you are in this league, I suggest you stop reading and go back to work.
But, if you are among those that believe their teams deserve attention, and as a leader, you like to take the time to focus on your strategic vision, do things that prevent burn-out and keep your team energised and productive, read on to find some do’s and don’ts about organising your next off-site meeting.
Let’s start with the things that could turn into a waste of time – or worse – a demotivating nightmare:
· It’s not professional to call a meeting and fail to prepare
An offsite, even if it is to “update the team” and “spend some time together” will not achieve the same results if you are improvising. Just buying drinks won’t do. Some will enjoy the free booze, some will think they have better things to do…
· An offsite is not an information marathon
Specially if you have people travelling from different locations, it is not a good idea to spend all time in a meeting room listening to presentations about things most of the time knows about. This is a great opportunity to share some information and ensure everyone is on the same page, but don’t make it a full day of slides. People will leave tired and would have missed the precious opportunity to talk to each other.
· People do not like to feel forced
Whatever the activity, it has to be appropriate for the team. Some facilitators get carried away with the “get to know each other” theme. One of my biggest office nightmares was the time a trainer asked to give each other a neck and shoulders massage. Sorry, highly inappropriate. I like a massage from my husband, not from an overseas lawyer. Other “don’ts” include asking people to do difficult physical activities (the classic outdoors adventure is not for every age or group), or the untrained facilitator using art therapy to make people talk about their feelings. Not everyone likes to share their private lives at the office, and nobody should feel forced to.
· People do not like to be ignored
When people are under pressure, they deserve special consideration. If people have “no time” you need to explain why you care about taking distance to grow as a team, and carefully choose the date and plan for operational workload so that as many team members as possible can participate. If you are planning an offsite retreat to -among other things – show that you care about your people, why not involve them in the organisation of the event? Create a participative approach before it starts! Also, involve people that do not have management responsibility in the organisation, they will feel valued and engaged.
· Hammering on skills is counterproductive
If you need your team to step up and be more “effective, productive, creative, collaborative or proactive”, please pause to reflect on what is really going on in the team. These are not skills you can trigger on command, download or buy. People flourish and become enthusiastic when the conditions for productivity are present and when they understand how they can engage in creative collaboration. When you “tell them” that you expect more productivity and collaboration, people may interpret this as a suggestion that they are not doing enough. Instead of lecturing your team, create an opportunity to have fun and experience interaction in a different way. Don’t tell them “what”, show them “how” and you will be surprised at the potential the team will show.
Here are my tips to organise a successful team offsite:
1. Define your key objectives: Is it a strategy session? Is it a wellbeing offsite? Can you foresee time for both? What's going on in the team? Is there a hot issue that needs to be addressed? It is not a good idea to ignore "big news", people will be unfocused and distracted. Talk first about the important events affecting your team and explain the offsite's purpose. If it is an annual retreat meeting, here is a sample agenda: (i) an inspirational talk from management (yes, decide this is an objective and prepare an authentic, inspirational and sincere talk to share your own perspective with the team!), (ii) an update from each team/location to show how everyone contributes (iii) a fun skills-based activity where people learn something new, and (iv) a strategy session about the future of the company and the team’s role in it. It makes sense to work on your strategy at the end after people have spent time together. The new energy gained from the shared activities can immediately bear fruits.
2. Plan for sufficient time: if the offsite is not well planned, it will seem long no matter the agenda. But if you have put together an exciting agenda, the most common complaint from people will be that “it was too short”. Consider that the event does not have to feel rushed and stressful. Plan pleasant breaks between activities.
3. Choose and appropriate venue: think in function of the topic and activity – you can travel to a nice location, but can also spend some time at the office for the substantive issues and then go to an inspiring site for a fun activity.
4. Provide for food and comfort: an offsite meeting has to feel like a treat, not torture. Why would you foresee an evening with “drinks” straight from the office, with no food? The same sandwiches two days in a row? Make sure there is enough food, take care of planning healthy options, and ask beforehand if people have any allergies or preferences. A vegetarian option is not terribly expensive. It does not have to be a luxury event, but it can be done with taste and care.
5. Include a un activity that gives people a real experience of the skills you want to foster: if the team is under a lot of pressure, why not give them the gift of a relaxation/breathing class? why not let the team experience what yoga and mindfulness can do for them? If there is a lot of change ahead, why not include a creative collaboration activity? when people understand what makes us more creative and how to collaborate as a team, you will see an increase in confidence and more innovative ideas coming up.
6. Foresee time for people to talk to each other and to give you feedback. When you ask for someone’s opinion, the person feels valued. What they have to say matters, you trust them enough to ask their advice. The way you gather feedback is also important; collect input in informal or indirect ways. It can be intimidating to tell your boss what you think, consider this and allow people to express themselves in ways where they do not feel exposed.
7. Ensure the energy and changes last – think of ways of carrying on the enthusiasm, celebrate the jokes and stories, ask people to come up with their own new initiatives. If you used a professional facilitator, ask for continued support, book a refresher.
When everyone is back at the office you have two choices: go back to the same old ways or walk the talk and show that you appreciate the time together and you are committed to creating a culture of wellbeing. It’s not too complicated: happy people thrive.
Have a good offsite!
I partner with Michel Van Couter, yoga and mindfulness instructor from PopUpYoga Concepts, and Valérie Kinnoo, events manager and Founder of Coworking Les Galeries, to organise fun and interesting offsite team activities. Feel free to get in touch with me for a tailor made proposal including a healthy lunch, nutrition tips and original real experiencies to give your team the treat they deserve. Email email@example.com or give me a call at 0477971539.
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