Offsites are a great way to share focused content, build relationships, spend time away from the office discussing key issues, and re-energize your team. More often than not they turn into rushed, mind-numbing wastes of time filled with forced fun. Why do they devolve to this so often?
Planning. Plain and simple. Poor planning.
I’ve seen and run my fair share of offsites. Sometimes I’ve been a participant. Others I’ve been in charge. Still others I’ve been the content being delivered. After over a decade of doing this, I’ve identified a few common issues that make for terrible offsites. I’d like to share those issues and more importantly offer some thoughts on how to rectify them.
Issue 1: You Put Ten Pounds of Crap in a Five Pound Sack
“Hey we’ve got 8 hours of offsite time. Let’s have eight one-hour sessions.” Fail. People see offsites as a rare opportunity to get everyone together and as a great way to share a ton of content with that group. Unfortunately we try to share too much information during the offsite.
Let’s talk planning math. If you have an 8 hour offsite, you can have 5.5 hours of content. No more. Why? 1 hour for lunch, 30 minutes for breaks (one morning and one afternoon), 30 minutes of “meeting friction” in the morning as people arrive late and 30 minutes of “meeting friction” in the afternoon as folks leave early because they have a flight to catch. 5.5 hours. Period. And if your offsite is more than 50 people, take off another 30 minutes because the breaks will take that much longer because you only have two restrooms. Stop jamming too much content into the allotted time. You won’t get to it all and if you do, it’ll be rushed and won’t stick.
Issue 2: You Rely on Time Warps
“Well we’ll have the 100 attendees break out into breakout groups of 10 for each session and we’ll run 3 breakouts.” That sounds great. Where it gets stupid is when you give people 5 minutes between the plenary session and the breakout session. It’ll never happen. People treat that time as an extra bonus break. They’ll also be confused and end up in the wrong breakout rooms no matter how explicit your instructions are. Plan for time friction. Minimize the number of times you have people shift from one room to another. It’ll chew up the clock.
Issue 3: You Focus on Updates
“So let’s spend the first hour going over business unit performance and cover the dashboard reports for last quarter.” WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?! It’s a total waste of precious offsite time. Email the report out and let everyone read it ahead of the meeting. You should not be spending this time to review numbers. Spend the time discussing issues.
Suggestion – have everyone review the dashboard two weeks before the offsite and offer ONE topic to discuss during the offsite. Spend that precious time getting the collective brain power in a room to solve issues, not to look at a report.
Issue 4: Your Fun isn’t Fun
“Let’s have everyone to the underwater basket weaving dinner fun time thing!” What you think is fun might not be fun for everyone else. I guarantee no matter what you choose as the “mandatory fun” activity the night before or of the offsite, someone will hate it.
Rethink how you look at fun. Instead of giving the team something highly structured, find somewhere they can interact more spontaneously. When you focus everyone on a show or activity, they’re not focusing on one another and you’re not building relationships. The best “fun” activities are the ones where colleagues get to know one another spontaneously.
Issue 5: You Don’t Listen
“We know you’re a professional speaker and do the offsite thing all the time but we know better than you and we’re going to go against your recommendations.” One of the best resources you have for planning an awesome offsite is the speaker. They do this all the time. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.
When you ignore them and tell them you “know better,” you’re making several mistakes. First, it comes off as belittling of their expertise. Second, you’re not taking advantage of a wealth of knowledge. Third, you’re not getting the most out of that speaker that you can. When it’s clear a client doesn’t want to listen, they rarely get the speaker’s best efforts. When a client listens, however, that speaker is likely to go out of their way and give all they’ve got toward making it an amazing event.
Issue 6: You Skimp on the Main Course
“Our budget is really limited. Can you deliver 4 hours of content for $800? We spent all the rest of our budget on appetizers and giveaway squeezy toys.” I’ve been invited to speak at offsites with hundreds of people. Organizations spend tens of thousands of dollars on travel alone. Add to that the cost of meeting space, AV, and food, and it’s a big number. And then you want to spend $800 on the most critical element of the offsite – the content? Seriously?
Get your priorities straight. Start with the content. Budget for that and set aside that amount. Then do travel. Then meeting space. Then AV. Then food. Then whatever you have left over can go to squeaky toys or the assorted M&M bar you thought was so cool for only $25 per attendee. Speakers and trainers are absolutely a “you get what you pay for” market. If you’re going to spend less on the speaker than you do on mini quiche Lorraines, don’t be disappointed when participants give feedback that corresponds with that decision.
Next time you plan an offsite, go through the above list. Get your priorities straight. Invest in content. Leave plenty of time for focused conversations. Stop jamming so much into such limited time. If you avoid the above mistakes, your offsites will improve significantly in terms of quality and effectiveness. If you need some help planning your next one, drop me a line – I’m happy to help you think through it.
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