In spring, many entrepreneurs start preparing for the management offsite. Strategic planning meetings often get held in warmer weather to encourage team-building outdoor activities and bonding over the barbecue.
But the simple act of inviting your staff out for a day in the outdoors won’t necessarily yield the desired results. Solid business outcomes are formed by more than hot dogs and burgers.
How can you get more out of your next company retreat? Here are a few road-tested ideas.
1. Set your expectations high
“People who are involved in planning off-sites aim too low,” says branding expert Brenda Williams in a recent Fast Company story. Williams says event planners should aim for much more than helping your managers get to know each other or better align themselves with the company’s goals. “What problem will this event solve? What decision will it help people make? What new ideas will it produce? You have to anchor an off-site with goals that actually mean something to the business.”
2. Have a loose-tight agenda
Your staff expect to have some fun at off-sites. But make sure even the recreational components are designed to build teams, break down silos or encourage innovative thinking. Keep the focus of the event on business outcomes not just “soft” results such as deeper relationships.
3. Save time by asking participants to do prep work
“The meeting is not the place to plod through data,” say Bob Frisch and Logan Chandler in a 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review. They note that Allstate Corp. prohibits offsite meetings from formally reviewing material that should have been circulated beforehand. They quote Allstate CEO Tom Wilson: “If we’re going to be together, we’re going to be problem-solving or making decisions, not having 10 people going through decks of PowerPoint slides.”
4. Set out the ground rules
Don’t leave people guessing what the rules of engagement are at your retreat spell them out so everyone knows what’s expected of them. Marketing consultant Deborah C. Scaringi suggests these 5 rules:
- Collect cell phones and other devices, or at least banish them during meeting times. Promise regular breaks for checking in.
- Everyone must contribute in some meaningful way.
- All ideas will be heard and considered; no one should monopolize the process or overly criticize ideas.
- Stick to the start and stop times in the agenda.
- Everything is confidential unless specifically exempted.
5. Leave breathing room
A tightly packed schedule with no downtime leads to information overload and off-site burnout, says communications consultant Karen Leland, co-author of Watercooler Wisdom. “Don’t jam each day so chock full of activities that attendees never get a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what’s being discussed,” she says. “Much of the value of the retreat will happen in side discussions outside the room. By allowing for these conversational spaces, your off-site will be even richer in results.”
6. It’s about setting priorities
Combine a successful offsite with a group of talented managers, and can generate a lot of good ideas in a few days, says Ken King of Toronto-based King Marketing. “Setting priorities is essential: it will allow you to focus on the action items that are most valuable to the business while establishing a roadmap to tackle other issues raised during the retreat.” Be realistic, he adds: “This is also the stage at which reality sets in and you realize that some of the things discussed may never happen because of limited resources.”
7. Follow up
Assign individuals or teams to flesh out the suggested ideas and projects, and set firm deadlines for completion. Or bring all the participants together in a meeting two or three weeks later to sort out which ideas “stuck” and which need to be pursued vigorously. Create two-person teams to take responsibility for each action item. Even the best company retreat and the most powerful ideas fade quickly from the memory without purposeful follow-up.
More columns by Rick Spence