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Offsite Meetings: The Why and The How

If You Are Going To Take Your People Offsite, Follow Some Simple Guidelines.

By Steve Schumacher

One of my clients has been having an annual offsite meeting with 100 of the top employees for several years. It always requires a lot of planning, coordination, and, of course, a lot of money.

It is usually a 3-4 day event at a very nice location with all the top executives, several consultants, workshops and a number of teambuilding activities. Everyone looks forward to this event with great anticipation.

For the past couple years, I have asked many of the people who attend what they learn at these “retreats.” Without fail, the answer I get is “I get to hang out with a bunch of the other people in the company that I do not see very often.”

It is a nice thing to put a face to a name, but is that really worth all of the time and money expended? Not likely.

If you decide to have an offsite meeting with some of your employees, keep in mind that the company is investing a lot of money in this kind of event. It is your job to make sure the company gets a return on that investment. Following are some ways to make sure that return is substantial:

Ask “why” you need an offsitemeeting.

Do you have some training coming up that requires a big facility? Do you want to have a recognition event for various achievements? Do you want to pull people together to have a working meeting that needs their complete focus? Do you need to have an information-sharing meeting with large numbers of employees at one time?

These are all very valid reasons for having an offsite. Make sure you identify a valid reason for the meeting, not just “because we always do,” or “we just need to get away from the plant.”

Determine the objective of the offsite.

What do you want people to do differently after the meeting? What behaviors/attitudes/thinking do you want to see after the meeting? If I surveyed every attendee after the end of the meeting, what do you want them to say to me? If you could only have one thing change because of this meeting, what would it be? Asking yourself all of those questions will help you identify the key objective of the meeting.

Plan activities that will accomplish the objective.

If you want people to leave with new skills, provide them with top-notch, interactive workshops. If you want them to help you build a new strategy/vision/mission, plan break-out working groups, then have the groups report out on their work. Dry-run your activities to make sure they accomplish the objective you are seeking.

Build in team building activities.

Whatever your objective for the meeting is, schedule some activities that allow the attendees to get to know each other better. The relationships that are built will increase productivity when they get back to work.

Work hard to link the type of teambuilding activities to the overall meeting objective.

Do status checks along the way.

Check to see if you are meeting your objective at several points throughout the offsite. Ask attendees if they are getting what you want them to get.

If not, adjust the agenda or the activities to get back on track. Remember, hitting your objective will get the company a return on this investment.

Develop action plans and follow-up.

At the end of the meeting, have all attendees write down action items they are going to take away. Get all the notes and action items transcribed and sent out to everyone right away.

Follow-up regularly with everyone to make sure the action items are being worked on. Do not wait until the next offsite to follow-up.

A few other tips:

  • Hire a professional facilitator to help you develop the meeting, keep you on task and manage the time.
  • Send out the agenda in advance. This will give people time to think about the meeting objective.
  • Have professionally prepared workbooks that follow the agenda.
  • Invite only people that will help you meet the meeting objective. Too many outsiders just for “political purposes” will hamper openness and creativity.Go over the presentations of various speakers with them to cut down on too much PowerPoint.
  • Build a lot of report-outs into the meeting. This will allow you to see employees present in a way you may have not seen before.
  • Take a lot of pictures and post them on your company intranet.

Offsite meetings can be very worthwhile for everyone involved. Just like any other worthwhile project, they take a lot of planning and organization. Do it wrong and you will have wasted a lot of money and people’s time. Do it right and you will make some huge strides in taking your organization to new levels.

Supporting Employees' Need to Achieve Maximum Results

At a sporting event, cheerleaders are present for the single purpose of providing support for their team. The same applies to the manager in the workplace. Once plans and programs are in place it becomes the responsibility of the manager to provide the support their employees need to achieve maximum results.

The nature of most positions assumes that employees are self-managing and self-directing in the majority of their activities. The traditional role of the manager was to control and direct the employees they supervised. Effective managers now support and motivate their employees by streamlining policies and procedures and by removing internal barriers to their productivity.

Managers must understand that by removing internal barriers and streamlining procedures they make the employee's job easier, allowing each one to focus on more productive tasks rather than diverting their energy elsewhere. In this manner, the role of the manager is to keep their employees on track and motivated to reach their peak performance.

­– Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D