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Training Officer Tip Archive

February 17, 2004 - Finding Value in Offsite Meetings

One of the last remaining ways to get a feel for the prevailing attitudes, spirit and mindsets of your employees is to have an offsite meeting. Whether you call it a retreat, an all-hands meeting or simply an "offsite", your organization is bound to learn some things about itself by taking some time away from the office to recreate as a group.

At Benchmark Training, we encourage our clients to have occasional offsite meetings for education, reinvigoration and brainstorming (not to be confused with venting). But before you schedule a meeting like this, first consider carefully why you want one. As training professionals, you might default to using offsite meetings as a vehicle for doing more training. Though this can be a good idea for many reasons, is it the wisest use of your resources at that particular juncture? It may or may not be. You may be having morale problems, and training wouldn't be appropriate. Or, your organization might be stagnating in its attempt to come up with new, good ideas for leading your organization into a prosperous future. Maybe you want to use the offsite to check the pulse of your employees and find out what the organization can do to improve the workplace and the organization's general "atmosphere".

Whatever your reasons are, just make sure your agenda responds to the needs you identify. There is never a formulaic "magic bullet" for offsite meetings that can be applied to all situations in all organizations. You must look inward and create a meeting that will benefit the short and long-term health of your organization and its people.

Here are a few ideas for making your next offsite meeting a valuable one:

1) Survey your employees to find out what they would like to do if they could spend a day or two offsite with co-workers with the goal of improving themselves as individuals and teams. Give equal weight to everyone's response, not matter where they fall in the organization chart. Always remember that you often find the best ideas and insights from those who are "on the ground". Listen to their suggestions as if they were running your organization. Plan the agenda around the best and most popular suggestions.

2) Invite your key vendors, customers and partners to attend. There's no better way to maintain and improve your relationships with these people than to include them in your event. It would set your meeting apart from the rest, and they might also give you valuable, candid feedback that you wouldn't get in a normal business situation.

3) Bring in third party facilitators to help move the agenda toward your stated goals. Not only are facilitators helpful in bringing the most out of your people, but it takes the onus off of top management and the offsite meeting coordinators. Facilitators take part in these kinds of events all the time and understand how to make these meetings fun and meaningful.

4) Unless absolutely necessary, don't focus offsite meetings on matters of policy. Rather than bore everyone with policy while they're away from the office, focus on practical issues that get people to work with each other while their defense mechanisms are down and creativity is up. Leaving policy talk at the office will help your people to open up and share insights that are honest and thought-provoking.

5) Hire a professional speaker to entertain and educate the crowd. If you only use "speakers" from within your organization, your event will lose some credibility with your audience. Professional speakers make the event special, as you will be showing that you're willing to make an investment in everyone's time together by doing things right. One of Benchmark Training's best speakers who does retreats and all-hands meetings regularly, Arnold Sanow, learns as much as he can about the client's situation before the event by talking with employees and meeting with key decision makers. Never hire a flashy speaker who simply wants to talk and then get out of Dodge. Use people like Arnold; you'll get more than you bargained for.

6) Get people excited about the meeting. In the weeks leading up to the event, talk it up, get people pumped, and make them aware of the positive things that can come out of an offsite by their full participation. In effect, make them emotional stakeholders in its success, and you'll be happy with the results.

These are just a few ways to pull value out of an offsite meeting. Make the time, make the effort and spread the good news. You might just surprise yourself and find that experiences with your colleagues away from the office can rejuvenate and enlighten your people. You might even remember why you love your job.

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