Increasingly work is going virtual. Many of us now work from home, and our teams are distributed across the globe. Whilst there are definite advantages with this new way of working, the face-to-face meeting is still a critical component in building strong working relationships between employees. There is a chemistry the occurs when people connect in the flesh that cannot be replicated in a virtual space. This chemistry acts as a catalyst to new ideas, perspectives, and relationships. I recommend that remote teams get together physically at least once a year. Over the years I have had to plan a number of these get togethers. Here is a run through of some of the things I have found that worked well for me in my offsite planning.
Who, when and where
Who – First things first. Figure out who you want at the offsite. This will drive a lot of the other decisions. Think hard about the must haves. I think its very important to have some Executive level presence at an offsite, even if its only for the kick off. This emphasises to the attendees the importance of the work to be conducted at the offsite, and strenghens the connection to the leadership.
When – Some dates are better than others for an offsite. The overriding factor to consider here is the potential for scheduling conflicts. Holidays are an obvious time to avoid. Know that no date will work for everybody, so look at your list of must haves and work around their schedules. Length is another factor. People are busy, yet if they have to travel internationally then an overnighter will make sense. Also for remote offsites consider having the offsite on a Friday or Monday. This allows people to further explore the destination on their own time. Perhaps they can even invite a spouse or loved one along.
Where – Primary drivers for venue selection include location, price, availability and suitability. The whole goal of an offsite is to get folks out of the office, so make sure you choose a suitable distance from the office. I have had offsite close to the office, where we have had to go an retrieve attendees from their desks. Out of sight is truely out of mind.
Get your invites out
Now you have your Who, when and where, don’t delay! Get those invitations out. Lead time is everything. Include in the invitation the top level agenda, and ask for feedback.
Now you have the long lead time items taken care of its time to start thinking through content and logistics. In terms of agenda there will be a couple of obvious overarching themes that should be addressed based on current business priorities. Using these themes as a seed list its a good idea to brainstorm these with attendees on a conference call, to flush out the detailed agenda. Individual attendees should be assigned topics to present, and these presentations, in the context of the overall agenda, should be reviewed as a team before the event.
Budget time for a team building event, and evening entertainment. One note I would make here is that I think its a good idea to try and separate ‘Entertainment’ from team building and offsite content. I recently went to an offsite which kicked off with an entertainer, who bombed with the attendees. This unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the day. Save the fun stuff for the end, and remove it physically from the ‘work’ of your offsite.
The most important thing to get right is the food. Spend a lot of time getting this right. No-one, except for Ghandi, ever changed the world on an empty stomach. Consider dietary requirements, and offer sugar and coffee before the 3pm session starts as energy levels can often run low in this session.
As an organiser it is good to arrive at the event the evening beforehand to get the lay of the land. Checking the wifi and audio visual capabilities are important. You want a strong kick off on the morning of Day 1, and nothing slows things down more than a projector that does not work. It can be very helpful to have the audio visual tech on speed dial, as I find things always go wrong in this department, and people get very distracted when they do.
Roles and Responsibilities
There are a couple of important roles that need to be filled at an offsite. Specifically the MC, the Scribe, and a third, I will call the Safety officer.
MC – One of the major problems at an offsite is ‘rat-holing’. Some topics can fill up days and days. And although its great to get into detail on important issues, time together is precious, so its important that someone play the role of timekeeper, to keep pushing through the agenda. Using a parking lot whiteboard to mark issues for followup back at the office.
Scribe – A lot of good discussion comes up during an Offsite. Its important that this discussion is tracked, so it can be revisited in the real world. The Scribe is responsible for documented the discussion, and playing it back to the group at the end of the session to ensure that all the relevant points were captured.
Safety Officer – The reason I put this one in is that once I had to spend a large part of an offsite in hospital assisting an employee who was injured at the event. You are in unfamiliar territory, with energy levels high, so spending a few minutes on safety can pay off.
In many cases the company has spent a large amount of money to bring people together, so its important that people are ‘present’ at the offsite. I know some people who ask attendees not to bring there mobile phones. I don’t think this is practical. I ask attendees, so leave the room if they need to take an urgent call. Also create space on the agenda for people to take phone calls, and recommend that people use these slots for this purpose. On the last day I find a half day is best. Often folks that need to travel have scheduling difficulties with flights that mean they need to leave early. Breaking at noon means that everyone will be present until the end.
I find there a some great tools for supporting your offsite. Obviously Powerpoint is used heavily for presentations. But I like to have an activity thread running though the entirety of the meeting. This can be great to document the discussion around the presentations. Of course my favourite tool here is the Zeetings Activity Feed!
The last session before finishing is the feedback session. As it is important to collect this feedback whilst it is still fresh in peoples mind. I find a roundtable format works well, rather than a form, as it gives people to build off each others suggestion. Collect this feedback in a folder, and review this at the prep session for your next offsite.
Hang on, not finished yet
An Offsite can be very tiring. When its all done and dusted and folks are headed back to the airport it is easy to forget what was discussed over the last couple of days. Although you may not feel up to it, it is very important to put together a document which summarises the discussion, resolutions, action items, and next steps. This document need to be on everybody’s desk by the time they return to their respective offices. I call this document the ‘Read Back’ and find it is best pulled together in a session with a couple of the offsite attendees walking though the notes from the Scribe.
An offsite is one of the most powerful team building tools. They are however expensive and time consuming so its worth getting them right. Hopefully some of these tips help make your next offsite a success.
photo credit: Office Now