We get to hear interesting stories from the teams we work with about team off-sites that they have been part of. One of the common laments from both organizers and participants of team off-sites is about the lack of engagement. For all organizations, team off-sites, especially senior leadership meets are a considerable investment of time and money to put together. Based on our experience of working with teams across industries and of varying seniority, below are some tips for you to think over next time you have to organize a team offsite.
Clarity of objectives – Make sure the organizing team, the business leaders and participants are clear in terms of the objectives of the offsite. The first step in this is ensuring that the business leaders are clear about the purpose of the offsite – for example, is it more for employee entertainment or business planning? Clarity in objectives makes the rest of the steps, including planning a location much simpler. If the program involves mostly conference room based presentations and reviews, then you could possibly explore locations closer to your office rather than taking the team to an exotic locale (and then not giving them enough time to savor the location!) The second part is in ensuring that the organizing team communicates these objectives and expectations clearly to their external and internal vendors in charge of organizing the logistics for the program. In our experience, over-communicating in this regard is probably best. So get as detailed a view as you can from your business leaders about the objectives of the workshop – it would make much life much simpler in the rest of the planning.
Timing – Most companies try to plan their off-sites around non-peak times, which is probably the right approach. However, the other more worrying trend we see is about planning them on weekends. We suggest avoiding weekends (even Saturdays) if possible for planning your team off-sites. The messaging you are sending to the team is probably something like this – “This is fun but we do not want to waste office time for this. However, we are quite OK to sacrifice your weekend for it!” If you are serious about doing a quality offsite, I think it is only fair that you do it during work days and not cut into your team’s precious few weekends. One of the common complaints that we hear from organizers is “We simply can’t get 2 working days off. The business is going to collapse!” – and we have heard similar comments from representatives of even multi-billion dollar industry houses(ironically, many times from companies who have successfully been in existence for many decades!). If the business collapses because one team took 2-3 days off, then probably, you have bigger issues to worry about than just an off-site! 🙂
Planning the agenda – There is a need to have representation from each of the different stakeholder groups in the decision making process. This gives the team a sense of ownership, that this is an offsite organized by them, for them. One tip while planning the agenda is not to over-pack it with too many things to do.
We see many an offsite planning exercise start with the noblest of intentions and end up becoming a stressful experience because of a very cramped agenda. Especially, if you are taking the team to a nice location like Goa, Kerala etc, do ensure that you give at least half day to the team to see the locality and soak in the experience. You can check out some interesting ways in which we have assisted teams to explore the offsite location with a customized local flavor in this link, The Incredible Race. If you want the team to have a memorable offsite, ensure that you have some experience which they will cherish for a long time! This could be through a well-organized objectives based team building program, which is relevant for all the participants. Especially for larger company wide off-sites, we have seen programs designed around the core values being relevant and meaningful for all participants. Some ideas can be found here, Value Exploration
However, a caveat is that this needs to be consistent with the overall messaging of the off-site – if your overall theme of the offsite is collaboration, a team building program focusing on activities where teams compete fiercely with each other could ruin the whole mood of the program!
Communication – We see poor communication leading to badly organized off-sites – there is a complete mismatch between participant expectations and whatever is planned. Correcting this involves two steps; first taking participants’ feedback prior to deciding the program agenda to ensure their views are heard and incorporated in the design, and second is following up with consistent communication about the offsite. The communication needs to clarify the main objectives of the workshop along with the broad agenda – few people like surprises (especially about agendas crammed with PPTs!) We have seen many poorly organized conferences, where teaser communications are sent to the participants to build up excitement about the program and there is a complete mismatch in execution. Imagine, you get an EDM with pictures of beaches and parties in Goa for an off-site, and during the actual program end up being stuck in a dimly lit conference room far away from the beach for three days!
Messaging by leadership team – while communication around the offsite needs to be aligned to the objectives of the offsite, it is equally important for the business leaders to send the right messaging to the team. For example, we often see team building interventions planned for the entire team, which the smaller leadership team chooses not to participate in. The messaging you are sending in that case is “This is important for you, but not for us!”
Contrast this to a leadership team, who participate in a team activity with the same enthusiasm and fire that they show at work! Which one would you prefer as a participant? Like body language, the messages that you communicate through indirect means also contribute significantly to the success/failure of a program.
What are your priorities when you plan a team offsite? Do join the conversation at our blog.