Three Things Every Leadership Offsite Needs

Posted 09.15.2010

Flipchart Between now and April of 2011, thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of leadership teams around the world will be going “offsite” to review their progress, plan for the future and bond with each other. It’s that time of the year. The fourth and first quarters of the year is when the planning happens which I guess means that the work gets done in the second and third quarters. 

I’m actually working with a couple of client organizations on the agendas for offsites that will happen this week and next. In twenty plus years of management work and leadership coaching, I’ve been in the room for a few really great offsites and a lot of really awful ones. Based on all of those hours of participation, observation and facilitation, I’ve developed some pretty strong points of view about what’s needed to create an effective and worthwhile leadership offsite.

Here, in my humble opinion, are three things that every leadership offsite agenda has to have:

Context: You absolutely have to answer the question, “Why are we here and why does it matter?” Another question to explicitly consider and answer is, “How does this meeting help us achieve the results we need to achieve?”  If you don’t establish the context for the meeting, people will leave thinking it was a waste of time. Your agenda has to consider the desired set of results, make them explicit and reverse engineer back from that end state picture to figure out the best uses of time during the offsite.

Process: Make sure the meeting employs a process that gets the participants engaging with each other. There is nothing more deadly or pointless than a roomful of people passively listening to one interminable PowerPoint presentation after another. Consider framing the offsite around three or four core questions that matter to the future of the organization. Structure the agenda so it’s a mix of large group and small group conversations. If it’s a planning meeting, bring a skilled facilitator in to assist with meeting design, running the flow of the meeting and documenting the follow up.

Space: Whatever you do, please don’t cram the agenda full of items that put people in a position where they’re expected to think from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm. You’re dealing with human beings. There’s no way you’re going to get 100% contributions from people when they’re on a forced march. Give them some space during the meeting to take care of themselves and pursue some non-agenda driven connection with their peers.

What do you think are the critical factors in conducting an effective leadership offsite? What have you learned about what not to do from any offsite disasters you’ve attended?