Published: April 3, 2014
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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Five Steps to a Better Off-Site

Getting your leadership team out of the office for focused discussion, debate, and planning is one of the best tools to build your organization’s competency and improve performance.

But far too often, inexperienced leaders try to copy what someone else did in a different organization, and when they return to the office – if they are honest – they have to admit that they didn’t get much of an outcome at all.

There’s a lot involved in getting an off-site right. Here are five steps that are often overlooked, and that can make the difference between success and failure.

  1. Define the exact outcome that you want. Note that I didn’t say “outcomes.” This is intentionally singular, because one outcome must dominate over all others.

    Think about the one thing you must achieve at this off-site, above all else. That determines what you have to do at the off-site, and everything else must be categorized as nice to do.

    This lack of willingness to put a stake in the ground and hold firm leads to more mediocre off-sites than all other issues combined. That’s how you wind up with an off-site that crams in too much, with no depth to any of it, and delivers no value to the organization. At that point, the value actually turns negative, since the organization has just invested money in the off-site along with the very high value of a management team’s time. We’ve all attended off-sites like this. Don’t be the guy or gal who leads off-sites like this.

  2. Require non-negotiable pre-work for everyone. If your outcome is a cross-functional plan to execute your roadmaps, it is a massive, wasteful time suck to ask each business owner to present a short deck of his or her roadmap, followed by Q&A. Yet, time and again, leaders tee this up as their off-site design.

    If they’ve all created roadmaps, they’re all perfectly capable of reading and critiquing one another’s roadmaps on their own. Require everyone to share in advance what they most want help with on their roadmaps and who their key stakeholders are. Then require them to read all of the roadmaps and prepare their questions, criticisms, and any gaps, overlaps, or misalignments they see between the roadmaps.

    This way, everyone comes prepared to get to work, which leads me to the next step...

  3. Get to work fast, and don’t let up. I’m not saying to skip icebreakers or warm-up activities. In fact, you should start with one. However, continuing with our example, if your off-site outcome is going to be a cross-functional execution plan, you need to split quickly into interdependent work groups and dive into each plan, using the pre-work as the jumping off point.

  4. From time to time, remind everyone of the outcome. Everything else is gravy, but many people like gravy more than potatoes, so expect them to veer in the direction of spending too much time on secondary outcomes. It’s probably the first time they’ve all been together in six months, so it’s easy to start discussing things that have little to do with the outcome you want to achieve.

    If you’ve set your scope properly, though, you will need most or all of the off-site time to achieve your outcome. Until you feel very confident that you’ll hit that target, you need to keep them focused on it. After that, sure, give them space to tackle secondary outcomes.

  5. I admit this is a little soft, but do not let the off-site end without doing something blatantly celebratory. I bring little statues that look like Oscars, and my clients decide what to award them for. We make a big deal out of it, with a ceremony and pictures. Unless your business is circling the drain, I’d also strongly advise you to take everyone out for dinner on the company’s dime, and make that event celebratory, too.

And because I can’t resist adding a bonus tip, here it is: Use the 30-second check-in technique at the end of each day. Sounds corny, but it’s actually very serious. Stand in a circle. Tell everyone they have 30 seconds to share anything at all with the whole group.

Your facilitator should keep track of the time and interrupt with a polite, “thank you!” if anyone is still talking at his or her 30-second mark. This activity must stay on time.

Use what people say to help make any adjustments or even substantial changes to your Day 2 agenda and your post-off-site follow-up plan.

What are your thoughts about improving off-sites? Let me know at www.jenniferselbylong.com.

 

 



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