Off-site meetings tend to fall into two categories: Fun, motivating and useful to the team or bland, boring and destabilizing. With time and resources so tight, you can’t afford to host anything less than a great meeting that provides lasting, positive effects.
The secret to an effective off-site event is simple, yet chock-full of hard work. You need to set goals, balance purpose with fun, create a realistic agenda, limit the PowerPoint presentations and hire the right help. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Determine the purpose
Any off-site meeting with positive, long-lasting results begins with a clear, defined purpose. You have to know what results you want out of your off-site meeting in order to build appropriate activities.
Do you have a bunch of inexperienced leaders who need to learn basic management skills? Are you developing strategic plans and setting company-wide goals? Has your company recently reorganized and your new team needs to gel quickly? Do you need to tamp down negative competition or hostility?
Once you have clear goals set for what you want to achieve, you’ll know who to invite and have a framework around which to build the rest of your meeting.
Step 2: Secure the venue
In terms of physical space, make sure the venue has appropriate amenities, including large enough spaces for your activities and full technical capabilities. If at all possible, pick a site off campus. You want to modify the setting as much as possible to give people a clear mental break from their usual routine.
Even better, choose a venue that doesn’t have a corporate feel. A historic building or an outdoor facility gets your team out of their office mindset and loosens the usual dynamics found in your everyday corporate or hotel setting.
Step 3: Plan the activities
Here’s where you have to balance your goals with budget, physical abilities and ages. Think beyond what you find fun and choose activities that will help generate new ideas and create bonds among teammates.
Before settling on an activity, ask yourself: What will this activity do for team dynamics? Will it help the team gel? Are we likely to learn things about ourselves and our teammates that we can apply back at the office?
For instance, a rousing game of paintball might not be the best choice if you have employees with a wide range of physical abilities and ages. What’s more, off-site competition may stoke underlying animosities rather than help resolve conflict.
You’ll want to balance sit-down lectures with more physical activities to keep people energized. This is a good time to ask for input from the team. Don’t be shocked that no one suggests another “trust fall.”
Also, consider building in some structured free time where participants break into smaller groups and choose three to four activities away from the meeting space. For instance, one team might tour a museum together while another cooks a meal and eats together.
Step 4: Choose a facilitator
If your organization is big enough, human resources may be able to provide a facilitator. The facilitator must be seen as a neutral party, so in smaller organizations you may need to hire a consultant specializing in leading the type of meeting you plan to hold.
As business leader, you’ll need to be on hand to help the facilitator encourage team members who are reluctant to participate and to remind people of the purpose of the meeting.
You and the facilitator will also need to work together to establish and maintain a positive environment where everyone’s voice is heard and all ideas are treated with respect. You may also want to assign a note-taker and time-keeper to keep track of ideas and keep everyone on schedule.
Depending on your activities, you may need a facilitator experienced in personality testing or other specialized meeting activities.
Step 5: Communicate – before and after
The invitation to your off-site meeting should include more than the days, times, location and activities. The real goal of this initial communication must be to convey the purpose of your meeting.
Here’s where you state the desired outcomes of the off-site meeting: You want to build team cohesion, reduce conflict, help a new team gel, or help new leaders manage more effectively. Distribute any data, reading materials or surveys to be used during the meeting with plenty of lead-time.
During the meeting, the facilitator should build in time for reflection and record feedback, feelings and ideas for use after the meeting. It’s also good to survey participants at the end of the meeting to gather feedback on what worked and what could be improved next time.
After the meeting, you’ll want to remind team members of the purpose of the meeting. Help them remember and implement what they learned about themselves and their coworkers by hosting short debriefs at your regular staff meetings.
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