8 Tips For Productive Offsites

Many organizations have now entered the fourth quarter, the home stretch. But it is also time to begin hard planning for 2017 – and that makes it offsite season.

Here are a few tips to help your meetings be most productive.

  1. Have the offsite “offsite.” This seems obvious, but it is worth pointing out that getting away from the office is necessary to get out of the day-to-day mindset. Offsite meetings held in the office, or in close proximity to the office, encourage interruptions and make it too tempting to run there during lunch or other breaks.
  2. Turn off all phones and computers. No exceptions. Consider what is most important. It better be the future of the company, which is the point of the meeting.
  3. Don’t place brainstorming and planning sessions back-to-back on the agenda. The human mind finds it difficult to switch between the creativity of brainstorming and the structure of planning mode quickly. Scheduling such sessions back-to-back mean your executive team will not be able to perform at their best. A great way to avoid this is to hold the offsite over two consecutive days. The first day should be reserved for brainstorming, and the second day for planning. If the meeting group is small or the brainstorming agenda is short, start the offsite at noon on the first day, take a break overnight, and start again with the planning part of the agenda first thing the next morning.
  4. Open the meeting with an icebreaker that steps directly into the first item on the agenda. An icebreaker is great for loosening up the meeting attendees and getting everyone active. Very important. But it doesn’t have to be limited to this.
  5. “Biggest bang for the buck” is not strategic. If during the brainstorming sessions the team discussions focus on selecting the most ideas, the executives are thinking too small. Brainstorming should result in the best choices, not the most. “Biggest bang for the buck” planning is only maintenance.
  6. Break into workgroups to avoid groupthink. Groups naturally work toward conformance (see The Abilene Paradox). Separating the team into smaller groups for evaluation or discussion will result in more ideas to put on the table for the entire group to work with.
  7. Close the brainstorming day with decision-making. Bringing the team to clear conclusions keeps the team in alignment after a day of creative ideas. It is likely the executive team will not be able to come to decisions on all ideas, but this puts a good stake in the ground. Click here for a collaborative exercise that might be useful to conclude the first day.
  8. Hire a third-party facilitator – regardless of your own, or available internal facilitation skills. An internal facilitator already has knowledge and relationships with the executive team members, inserting politics and limiting the degree of openness. Consider a situation where the CEO is running the meeting. The executives will be able to “read” the CEO based on their prior interactions and will be less likely to push back on things he feels strongly about. A third-party facilitator has the ability to provoke more difficult topics or force issues to agreement, since they have no working relationship to be concerned about following the meeting.

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