A team in need is a team indeed, right? That’s an idea that can get quite complex in today’s workforce. Teams do have needs, but they don’t always have the same end results or outcome. At Breather, we believe in the saying “Ditch the office”, not literally, but in the concept of working differently. The regular 9-5 office job is dead and new methods like offsites are incorporated into the daily lives of workers. NOBL’s founder Bud Caddell is a firm believer of teams using offsites.
“We suggest teams use offsites at least three times a year to reflect on how they work, prioritize what they work on, and plan for the months ahead,” Bud says.
We were lucky enough to have him share some solid advice on how to approach your next offsite.
What are the different types of reasons, and or objectives teams accomplish together in an offsite?
Every team has different reasons for escaping the office, but we’ve found offsites are particularly useful when working on:
Strategy and vision statements. Offsites are invaluable for encouraging long-term thinking. They give leaders a chance to get together (a rare event, given their schedules) and discuss abstract ideas without any distraction.
Big projects. Similarly, between client demands and putting out fires, big projects have a habit of being pushed to the backburner. By dedicating time to one specific problem, your team can finally make progress.
Learning or getting feedback. When people learn a new skill or receive feedback, they’re vulnerable—they might make mistakes or feel inept. Creating a safe environment away from the pressure of the office increases the odds of them taking lessons to heart.
Team refreshes. We suggest teams use offsites at least three times a year to reflect on how they work, prioritize what they work on, and plan for the months ahead.
What are some key takeaways when preparing for an offsite?
Give yourself time. Preparing and running a workshop are a 1:1 equation. That is, if your workshop is a day long, you can expect to spend at least one day preparing for it. When you’re determining how long your offsite should be, our rule of thumb is one day for a training offsite, two days if you’re prepping for a big project, and three days for working on a problem.
Enlist help. To save money, teams often assume one of their leaders can lead the discussion. Unfortunately, not everyone is trained in effective facilitation, and they may bring their own biases to the offsite. If you’re taking time to hold an offsite, it should be effective—which may mean bringing on a partner to facilitate. Look for a facilitator who is empathetic and responsive to your particular concerns—while having a methodology is a good start, every offsite is different, and you need someone who can roll with changes.
Get good food! It’s a simple thing, but keeping people well fed (and caffeinated) can make or break a workshop. Pro tip: avoid heavy lunches, or people will be drowsy after lunch.
Make time to go outside. If you’ve just covered a lengthy topic, ask participants to buddy up and go for a walk to discuss it.
What type of work would you suggest a team do in an offsite?
In our work with clients, we use a combination of independent work, pair and small team exercises, and group discussions. This mixture gives everyone a chance to participate (hi there, introverts!) and gives people an opportunity to work with new colleagues, which leads to new ideas. You can also do “stokes”—short activities that get people moving around—to keep energy up. Here’s what you shouldn’t do: trust falls. No one likes trust falls.
What are some of the more surprising benefits of an offsite?
Getting offsite helps bring out great ideas. Part of that is because new settings stimulate people, but more importantly, it keeps people present. If you’re at the office, it’s easier to sneak away to a meeting or answer emails. When you’re offsite, you’re focused on the task at hand.
It can create a strong cultural moment that helps your team understand a clear before and after. If you want to leave the session with new norms and new projects, it helps that people can associate that change with an actual change of environment.
What are some do’s and don’ts about leading an offsite?
DO clearly define the purpose of the offsite. What do you want to accomplish? If everything is the same after an offsite, you’re going to have a much harder time selling it next time.
DO plan in advance. Develop an agenda and make sure you have all the materials you need. You can also send out pre-reads or “homework” so that people are prepared to participate. That said, be prepared to play jazz: you’ll have to find the right balance between keeping people on track, and following important trains of thought.
DO clearly document outcomes. You don’t need fancy artifacts, but do take lots of photos and assign someone to keep track of decisions and next steps.
DO keep energy up. Use stokes, switch between sitting and standing (or walking) meetings, change up groups—keep the blood flowing.
DON’T let any one person dominate. Just like a meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. If you have one person who just has to make their opinions known, turn the tables and make them facilitate an activity.
DON’T leave without having a clear plan of action. We suggest breaking down plans using the 2 days/2 weeks/2 months format. And you’ll increase your odds for success if everyone commits, either out loud or to a partner, to what they’re going to work on when they get back to the office.
DON’T let the offsite fizzle out. It’s fun to end with a happy hour or celebratory treat, but don’t let people wander off. Call a definitive end to the day and reflect on what you’ve accomplished.
Is a team retreat the same as a team offsite? How do they differ?
A retreat is something executives plan thinking that hot tubs and alcohol will solve their problems. Of course, you should plan for team bonding and fun during an offsite, but actual change can only manifest through hard work and mutual understanding.