Ask 100 smart senior executives about their last company offsite and most of them will probably tell you that it was anything but productive. Some might say it was painful. A few will admit it was an absolute waste of time and money.
Over the years, I have attended thousand of these planning, mobilizing and motivational meetings, and I’ve spoken at hundreds of them. Ultimately, any company offsite should be focused on developing a shared vision of the future and how to get there. But so many times they fail to deliver anything more than building team spirit and a big binder of printed PowerPoint slides.
Team building should not be a key component of any offsite. Team building should happen in the office, and it should happen every day. If you need to pay for hotel rooms, conference rooms, catering and back-patting awards to build your team, you have a bigger problem than a lack of team spirit. So how do you bounce back from a bad company offsite?
01/ Be reflexive. Perform an analysis of what went wrong and what objectives were not met. Were you being strategic and realistic in your goals? Or were you so focused on the operational stuff that you took your eyes off the prize? One pitfall of the offsite is that too many objectives are set. If you were not strategic in the first place, build a task team to pursue the strategic agenda in the office. Take into consideration what is strategic and what is operational. And get back to it.
02/ Drop the pom poms. Most big decisions need some degree of consensus to successfully start activating. One problem with many offsites is that they end up turning into a forum for breeding consensus. Once everyone is back in the office and the offsite-induced groupthink has worn off, create a safe space for dissent. Organizations that let disagreements get expressed make better decisions. So perform a force-field analysis of the organizational dynamics for those who hold polarized views. Then, build consensus. Don’t force it.
04/ Listen. Most executives are correct in assuming that any employee who was monopolizing the airtime at the offsite is probably jockeying for a promotion. Most executives are incorrect in assuming that any employee who did not seem super engaged at the offsite had checked out. Find out why those who fit in the second group were not vocal. Connect with them and solicit their input so they feel they still have a voice. There’s a chance they never even picked up the pom poms.
04/ Leverage, leverage, leverage. No matter how small the wins and learnings that emerged during the offsite, leverage them and link them back to the day-to-day office. Many times, learning is left at the offsite and when employees get back to work it’s the same old, same old. During the offsite don’t stop asking your team and yourself: What can we do to bring this learning back to the office? The diffusion of what is learned will help to rebuild confidence so the offsite is not a complete waste. No matter how small those learnings were, celebrate them.
05/ Redefine. Give yourself a few weeks and then start thinking about your organization’s definition of success for the next offsite. It’s not about picking a venue, selecting a menu, inviting speakers, schmoozing the boss or engaging in a battle of the PowerPoint. Executives need to spend serious time and effort on framing the critical questions that have to be asked, debated and answered. If that didn’t happen this time, they need to take a serious look at why. Part of that redefinition can come from the dissenters. And part of it can come in the form of external speakers who will challenge, provoke and provide a fresh perspective on how to jump-start a strategic business issue.
This article originally appeared in MISC Summer 2013, The Bounce Back Issue