How to Plan a Great Off-site Meeting

This post recently appeared
Smartblog on Leadership:

To start off the New Year, a lot of leaders will
take their teams “off-site” for a day or more. An off-site meeting can be a
great way to develop strategy, get creative, develop a team, learn, and
re-invigorate a team. Of course, they can also be like a sentence in purgatory
if not planned and run well.

There is plenty of advice on how to run effective meetings, but not enough
on planning. A well planned meeting can prevent a lot of the problems
associated with bad meetings. Given that off-sites typically involve more time
and people than
team meetings
, more thought needs to be put into preparation.

Here’s a few planning tips that will ensure your
upcoming offsite is a fun, productive and rewarding experience, and doesn’t
turn into and all day
from Hell

1. Ask: “What is the overall purpose of
the meeting?”
Is it 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. Ask: “What are 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. Do a “stakeholder
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 please all stakeholders but
it helps to least be aware of their needs.

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

5. Establish the dates. In today’s busy, fast paced environment, the days of multi-day
off-sites are over. 1 Day is ideal, two is OK, and anything more than 2 can
turn into a death march.

6. Select an overall
“theme” for the meeting.
The theme will emerge
based on the purpose, desired outcomes, and context. Examples of themes are
innovation, change, diversity, or playing to win. Having a central theme allows
you to creatively tie all of the meeting elements together: agenda, venue,
activities, gift, etc…

7. Find the right venue. Work with your corporate meeting planners 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. It’s the little details that can make or break an off-site that
are often delegated and ignored.

8. Design the high level
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

The pieces should 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.

9. Develop the detailed
For each major agenda segment, determine the
what, who, how, when, and how long. Be realistic! Better to allow for a little
slack time vs. trying to cram too much in.

10. Select “extracurricular”
Two day off sites often include a dinner and/or
fun activity. This down time is a great way to informally build the team and
keep the energy high. Pick activities that support your meeting purpose and

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

12. Fine-tune the agenda. Work with a partner to trouble-shoot potential snafus and make
any inevitable last minute adjustments.

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