How to Design a Great Leadership Team Off-site Meeting

Taking a leadership team off-site for a few days is a great way to develop strategy, get creative, develop a team, learn, and re-invigorate a team. Here’s a proven design method I’ve used:

1. What’s the overall purpose of the meeting? To develop a 3 year strategy? Improve teamwork? Solve a big hairy problem? Sometimes it’s a combination of a few things, but try to keep it to just a few. A great off-site agenda should not look like an extended staff meeting. This is an opportunity to take the time needed to strategize, brainstorm, debate, reflect, and learn.

2. What’s the “desired outcomes”? Desired outcomes are a tangible set of deliverables that describe what a successful meeting would look like at the conclusion. Examples: “A list of 3-5 three year goals”, “A shared vision”, “a shared understanding of each other’s concerns”. Desired outcomes give you a target to shoot for and a way to evaluate the success of the meeting. It also helps drive the creation of the agenda – a way to screen out the clutter that everyone always seems to want to bolt on.

3. Determine participants and roles. Usually there’s one meeting leader, participants, maybe a facilitator, and sometimes guests.

4. Do a “stakeholder assessment”. Who are all the key stakeholders for this meeting and what would a “win” look like for them. Stakeholders may be attending the meeting or they may not. For example, the manager of the meeting leader is a key stakeholder. You won’t be able to pleased all stakeholders but it helps to least be aware of their needs.

5. Consider the context. What’s going on in the environment that may influence the participant’s behavior, mindset, or participation? For example, is their a pending downsizing? A new team member? A restructuring?

6. Establish the dates. Three days is often ideal, two is OK, and anything more than four can turn into a death march.

7. Notify the participants – just have them hold the dates for now.

8. Select an overall “theme” for the meeting. The theme will emerge based on the purpose, desired outcomes, and context. The theme could be “Leading change”, or “A winning team”, or “playing to win”. Having a central theme allows you to creatively tie all of the meeting elements together: agenda, venue, activities, gift, etc…

9. Find the right venue. Work with your corporate meeting planners, your meeting facilitator, or do your own search. Most resorts and hotels cater to corporate meetings and can help you select the best room, meals, and activities. You’ll probably work with a conference planner. Make sure you specify AV needs, room set-up, meals and breaks, and any other details.

10. Begin to work on the key design elements. This is a creative process, where you begin to come up with ways to accomplish the desired outcomes. There could be teambuilding activities, strategy or problem solving sessions, training, and/or presentations.

11. Design the high level agenda. The pieces begin to fit together like a puzzle. I often write the key agenda pieces on post-its, and move them around until they begin to form a nice flow.

12. Confirm any outside speakers or other guests.

13. Develop the detailed agenda. For each major agenda segment, determine the what, who, how, when, and how long.

14. Select activities. Activities are a great way to informally build the team and keep the energy high. Pick activities that support your meeting purpose and theme.

15. Send a high level agenda to the participants and any invited guests, including all of the logistical information, including maps, dress code, pre-work, and any activities.

16. Select a parting gift – some kind of special memento that supports the theme and creates a lasting anchor for the experience.

17. Fine-tune the agenda, trouble-shooting potential snafus and making the inevitable last minute adjustments.

Once the meeting starts, be prepared to make adjustments. Things never go as planned, but if you follow these steps, you’ll improve you chances of having a great leadership team off-site. 

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