What is an offsite and why is it important?
A team offsite is a meeting with the team (preferably outside the office) where work and activities are combined to further develop the team. Offsites can be useful for:
Building trust and stronger relationships.
Brainstorming new ideas and strategies.
Discussing and solving problems and addressing long-term strategies.
Reflecting on collective behaviors and mindsets that create areas of opportunity as well as building on what is working well for the team.
Having an offsite meeting sends a powerful message that you want to invest in the team and elevate the culture - and that you want to take the time to address topics that aren’t simply at the surface level.
The Difference between Team Building and Team Development
Team building involves bonding together and improving how everyone gets along. In most cases, it’s simply about getting away from the office to enjoy time together. Most team-building activities are fun — and somewhat superficial. Think ropes courses, Office Olympics, picnics, and bowling.
Team development is about taking time to explore and unleash the team’s full potential — it raises self-awareness and focuses on improvement. I’m not inferring that team building is a bad thing, but I like to mix it with a lot of team development to make the experience meaningful and value-added.
How do I plan my offsite (or onsite offsite) meeting?
Set the goal(s) for the offsite. It’s okay to have more than one but don’t get carried away. Keep it manageable. Asking these questions can be helpful:
What do I want the team to know that they don’t know now? Or what do I want them to be able to do that they can’t do now?
What pain do I want it to relieve?
What do I want to achieve?
For example, maybe you are having a good bit of drama and unproductive conflict on the team and would like to reduce it. Then perhaps your goal is to build understanding and empathy among team members, and you will want to build activities and an agenda to support that goal.
What types of activities, agenda items and/or discussions will help meet my goal for the offsite?
Brainstorm ideas, do some research into options and gather feedback from others.
Here are some helpful resources with activities to consider:
The Working Genius Model and Assessment
Establishing a Team Purpose
Formulating Team Group Rules
Learning how to have tough conversations and productive conflict
Will you, a team member, or an outside person facilitate the session? Keep in mind that facilitation can be difficult for someone who is a part of the team, particularly the leader. It’s hard to know how to contribute when you are also facilitating - and not everyone is good at it. Plus, external facilitators are neutral, and calling out certain behaviors or encouraging people to participate more can become less personal when done by a third party. In addition, external facilitators can share tools and learnings from working with multiple teams across various organizations. However, if you don't have budget for an outside facilitator, you or someone in your organization can likely do it with sufficient skill and preparation.
Ideally, you should have the offsite at another location as it will help remove distractions and promote higher-level thinking. It doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy or exotic. If you don’t have a budget to do it at an outside location, don’t let this hold you back. Do an onsite offsite! If you do, try to remove distractions so that participants can focus.
Teams should definitely have an offsite at least once a year. However, teams that hold them every three to six months tend to build a better cadence and momentum.
For a regular team offsite, one day is usually enough. It could even by one-half day if that is all you can spare. To address more complex issues or to solve a problem, you might need more time.
Most people love food and will expect something better than what they get at regular meetings. Also, a team offsite is very demanding. Make sure people are hydrated (water), caffeinated (coffee) and have snacks available throughout the session. Avoid heavy food and alcohol, so people don’t fall asleep!
Executing the Offsite
Make sure that participants know what you are trying to accomplish. Share the why before you share the what for each section of the agenda.
Follow the agenda, facilitating the meeting well and ensuring that quieter voices are heard.
A good offsite is the start of a process, not the end of a process.
If the offsite is really productive, it creates more work - but work that is beneficial to the team.
Leaders should adopt the language of the offsite and use it repeatedly so people don’t forget.
Articulate clear action items and follow up/follow through.
Having a team offsite with intentionality and purpose around growing the team and organization has a transformational effect. When people work together — without distractions — to address shared issues and solve them as a team, it can be meaningful and very productive.
If you need some assistance, please feel free to reach out! I'd love to share about the customizable Team Transformation solutions we offer to elevate your team! And will help you with some additional guidance/tips at no charge.