Doubling Down on Your Off-Site
It seems every people leader is now responsible for hosting an off-site meeting. And for very good reasons! It’s an opportunity to bring a team together, ignite collaboration, clarify direction and invest in personal development.
We’ve seen twice as many off-sites completed and planned for in the last year than the last three years combined. Off-sites have become the new team meeting, and most of these “away” meetings are getting rave reviews from employees.
We’ve been a part of many off-sites over the last year, resetting team dynamics, facilitating the discussion of team priorities or developing skills needed to reach top priorities. And we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t with employees.
If you’re planning your off-site in the next few months, these pointers may help you consider the new dynamics before you’re confronted with them. Because, while “off-sites” are back, they need to be planned and led a little differently than before.
Here are seven dynamics to consider:
Invest in the setting. Most managers have a team event to kick-off the year or touch base on a quarterly basis. And we called it an “off-site” even when we held it down the hall in a conference room. You can’t do that anymore. Those are team meetings, not “off-sites”, and employees think of them differently. Add to it the continued push to get people back into offices. If you’re planning a day with your team in the office, consider that a team meeting. If you want the group to view it as an “off-site,” make the commitment to host it somewhere else.
It doesn’t have to be an airplane ride, but no one will be disappointed if it is. It should be a few nights away, and it should be mandatory. You can’t connect as a team if you’re missing colleagues. There may still be an occasional absence due to illness, but for those who are able to attend, invest the effort and the money to take the team to an interesting setting. It increases their desire to be there, and that’s worth a lot.
Teams aren’t as close as you think. Sure, they talk over virtual platforms all day. Or they see each other in the office once a week. But the full group is seldom all together, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make at off-sites. They assume people are comfortable together. And they jump right into a heavy agenda. I continue to be surprised by the number of people who haven’t met or haven’t seen each other in quite a while. It takes intention to reset people, and they need a little time to settle in and connect with each other before they connect with the work.
People can’t sit still. We assume people sit all day when they work virtually. But they move around more than you realize. And when you ask them to sit through an eight-hour agenda, it’s not something that they’re used to doing. If you can reserve a meeting room with natural light, do it! But most conference space is in the interior of a hotel or resort, so the choices can be limited. Add plenty of breaks and even a group-led stretch throughout the day. Be specific about expectations on devices and breaks. It’s disappointing to bring people together for collaboration and in short order they’re all on laptops and phones. But it happens – and it’s much more frequent these days. As the leader of the meeting, you need to set the tone and the expectations. Otherwise, people allow their own priorities to override the group setting.
Every voice counts, even the soft ones. Group dynamics have gotten harder with less interaction. And it takes more intention to be sure that everyone is participating, and the louder voices don’t overshadow the softer ones. Depending on the size of the group and the objectives of the leader, it’s often best to bring in a facilitator to run the discussion. A good facilitator will balance the energy and input to keep everyone involved, and they can provide good insights to a leader on what they observed once the off-site wraps up. It’s hard for the leader or another team member to run the agenda and participate in the discussion simultaneously. It confuses the group and often shuts down the employees’ perspective.
Are we having fun? You need to because that’s what most employees come for. Make sure there’s a cooking class, scavenger hunt, incredible race or something that’s meant to be just fun. You’ll get lasting benefits out of organizing a few fun events. Some groups like competitions; others prefer less strenuous activities. Ironically, this was one of the hardest roles of a leader during the pandemic…finding ways to entertain their teams and creating virtual games or events to bring them together. Hire someone to do this for you. Most conference centers or resorts offer corporate games and will manage the entire experience.
Let’s focus on me. Professional development is the number one ask of employees. While they like a flexible work environment, they know they’ve fallen behind on development opportunities. And the off-site is a great time to add some training to the mix. Even if it adds an extra day, it’s more cost-effective to deliver it while the team is already together versus scheduling it as a separate event. And it’s often the highest-rated portion of the meeting because it feels as if it’s focused on the employees’ benefit rather than the benefit to the company.
And… did you bring stuff? Everybody loves bling and logo wear! It’s a great way to keep teams connected to the company brand. Send it home with them in a pullover, a cooler, an insulated cup, a cookie, and hundreds of other items. The off-site gets off to a great start when they check into their rooms and find corporate gifts. It’s one more retention strategy, and it adds to the fun factor when employees go home with a gift from their manager.
Do you already have some of these practices in place? If so, increase your efforts this year and you’ll have a happier group and better takeaways from the off-site! Or if you’re just getting started and would like a little help meeting the new expectations, we can put great ideas into actions with you.
This is the year to double down on your off-site….and we’d love to be a part of helping you get great results.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!