When people read my blog, sometimes people email me in response to something I post, or to ask me about ideas.  I generally don’t mind this because it makes me think about problems (and like puzzles, solving problems can be a lot of fun), and it allows me to connect with the people who actually read what I have to say (and btw all of you – I am still surprised at how many of you are interested in my thoughts….).

One topic I haven’t really covered much (but have gotten quite a few emails about) is planning offsite meetings.  And since 4 people have emailed me about this in the last month or so, I decided it was worthy of a post 🙂  So below are my general thoughts on organizing or planning an offsite…

Have a plan

With respect to off sites (or any meeting really) you have to first outline and understand your goals.  Some common goals for off sites can include:

  • Team building
  • Defining the culture of a team or organization
  • Setting priorities or a plan for the upcoming quarter/year/etc
  • Identifying challenges for the team/process/business and formulating an action plan to handle them

So the very first step should be identifying the primary and secondary objectives of the meeting.  Most of the time the leader wants to promote team bonding and either solidify or improve working relationships of the attendees.  Once everyone can agree on the purpose (or the leader selects the goal), then the agenda or plan for the offsite should focus on fulfilling those objectives.

Team building….

Since almost all offsite have team building as a primary or secondary goal, I want to talk a little bit about that one specifically.  In general, just the act of the offsite will bring people together as a team, but intermixing some “non-work” activities help with this too.  That is why overnight trips are often successful (you have to eat together – and grocery shopping and preparing meals can be a lot of a fun as a big group), but you can still achieve similar results with planning some non-work activities. When it comes to these non-work activities, I have seen a few different approaches:

  • Physical tasks: Ropes courses are of course known for this, but there are also games where you have to lift or build something as a team, or solve a puzzle, etc.  Breaking out of the standard work mode into a different type of working and interaction can help people see each other and interact in a different way.
  • Personality tests: This is another one people like (and facilitators can be good here), where people take tests and then people help educate each other on how to work together better (although typically this is good for cross-discipline groups where people who are really different benefit from the insight),
  • Other games/role playing: Things like hosting a murder mystery dinner,  werewolf, or negotiating tactics can be fun, and encourage people to interact in a different way.

I am sure there are a lot more too, these are just the ones I have been a part of 🙂

My favorite experience from an offsite involved everyone cooking a meal together, and then playing Taboo and other card games late into the night (and there was some heavy drinking involved). However, the people I was there with not just had a ton of fun, but have also become personal friends many years after the fact.  Most recently, I went to an offsite where everyone went to bed early and me another coworker stayed up so late talking and getting to know each other – and we definitely became much closer personally because of the experience.

Regardless of what you plan, try to pick something that the majority of team members will enjoy.  Otherwise you will be fighting an uphill battle.  And if you do involve drinking, make it optional and have fun alternative beverages for those who don’t drink, since the last thing you want to do is alienate team members.

Workplace Challenges for the team….

So planning the non-work stuff may be the easiest part or the hardest depending on your style.  And there are tons of agendas and plans that you can use to tackle the “work” focused items.  You can schedule structured brainstorms, or even have people present with discussions and feedback afterwards – there are lots of options.

One of my favorite ways, though, borrows from the “unconference” style, where each person is given 3-5 post-its.  Then each person writes his or her top “topic/concern/idea” on each one.  All are put on the white board (or wall), and then things usually fall into groups – and it helps everyone visually see similarities and hone on key commonalities and themes.  Then you can keep doing this within the topic, etc.  This also helps the people who are shy, or not as uncomfortable speaking up, have as much of a vote as the stronger personalities in the group.

Other general tips

  • Establish one person to take notes (ideally not you, or whomever is leading the topic or discussion – since it is hard to do both)
  • Time box each part of the meeting (you can use a timer, etc.), That way you prevent the team from getting sidetracked and cover all the bases.
  • Keep track of action items or things to follow up on.  You can always revisit things with focus groups and follow up meetings when more information is needed.

Hope that helps!  And if you have any other thoughts/tips/ideas please leave them in the comments 🙂

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