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10 Tips for an Awesome Team Off-site

I created the Peach Cheesecake Ranch so there was a place people and teams could go to catalyze their best thinking and take action. As a project manager and professional doer it is 100% my passion to help people do their thing. Right now I’m doing that with an awesome meeting and retreat space out in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. The Ranch is in Corbett, just 20 miles from downtown Portland. And it is GORGEous out here.

Back to my passion of helping people, there are a lot of meetings and team off-sites out there. My hope is that they are the best, most kick-ass meetings the team has ever experienced. But let’s get real, most off-sites are just not that great. I’ve done a little research on this and have found a few tips and tricks to create that amazing team experience you are looking for.

Honesty disclaimer: My list is a conglomerate list of my favorites from other people’s lists. I know very meta. This is a combination of tips I found from Harvard Business Review, Medium, Gusto, Inc. Magazine and my very own brain and experience.

1. Take time to prepare for the meeting. Getting a group of people to set aside a full day to attend your off-site is no small task, so make sure you are giving yourself and them plenty of time to prepare.

  • Objectives - what are you trying to accomplish in this meeting?

  • Who should attend? - to keep the meeting focused be strategic on who should attend, more is not better in this instance.

  • Homework - give the team some homework, start getting them invested before they arrive. Make sure the homework is simple and will not take more than an hour to complete.

  • This article from the Harvard Business Review has a great planning tool.

2. You have to have an agenda. A great agenda is key. Keeping your agenda flexible and focused. Less is more. There’s a good chance you will not get to everything on your agenda, that’s OK. Pay attention to the unscripted, deep, rich conversations, that conversation could just be more important than a topic you have slated later in the day.

Here’s a practical way to keep your agenda flexible. Use sticky notes, this keeps the topics and time slots flexible.

3. Crowdsource the agenda. Gather anonymous input and suggestions from the people you’d like to attend a safe way to offer their input. Your team is going to be much more engaged in the off-site if they knew they had a hand in the creation of the agenda. You can create a simple survey using Typeform or Survey Monkey to narrow down the focus of the meeting. You can take crowdsourcing even a bit further and invite other people from the team to own a part of the agenda.

4. Set clear ground rules. Setting up some simple ground rules and publishing them before hand is great way to help people show up fully and know exactly what is expected of them and others in attendance. Here are a couple to get you started:

  • Create a safe place - what is said at the off-site stays at the off-site. People need to feel like they can be honest without fear of getting a slap on the wrist back at the office.

  • Show up on time - you are likely going to try and pack a lot into your day. It is crucial people show up on time. One way to do that is to have an informal breakfast time slot in your agenda, this give people time to arrive, eat and get settled.

  • Let others speak - Make sure that everyone at the table has an opportunity to have their voice heard. Don’t let one outspoken person, keep others from having their say.

5. Get out of the office. It might be easier to just do this meeting at the office and there are times for that. If you want your team to be engaged and come with an open mind, getting out of the office evens the playing field and gets the team away from the everyday office distractions. It can help them get out of the daily grind and into the possibilities.

6. Do it during working hours. Honor the fact that people have lives outside of work. If this off-site is important to the well being of the organization, then it’s worth it to take work time to do it.

7. Plan activities that promote team work. Here's one example: Cooking together is a great way to promote collaboration. Then eating that meal promotes togetherness. Long before we were all in cubicles people came together in the kitchen and around the dinner table. Cooking together is very similar to working on a project.

The recipe is similar to a project plan. Who chops, who preps mimics roles and responsibilities. Getting the separate dishes of the meal done at the right time is like creating and following a schedule. And then you have a delicious meal to sit down and eat together.

8. Make sure to have plenty of down time. People will want time to check mobile devices and email. They will also need time to clear their heads and breathe. Look for a meeting space that you can use more than one room. Being able to have a small change of scenery can also change peoples perspectives.

Bonus: if the weather in nice, make sure to encourage the team get outside and breathe the fresh air. There is research that shows just gazing at nature can make you more productive.

9. Have a clear closing activity. Give the team time to reflect on the day, this takes time and is well worth it. One way to to this is to have each person call out one key thing they have gained from the meeting.

Outline clear actions with defined timelines. It’s important to capture these actions as they come up throughout the day. At the end of the session, revisit your action items. Assign each action to a specific person and a set clear deadline for each.

10. Plan to follow up. There is nothing worse than having a great off-site event where you made lots of great progress and commitments to only have them wash away as soon as you are back at the office. Make a plan and follow through.

  • Plan a check in with the people that attended the off-site a month or two after to see how they are managing the actions assigned to them.

  • Keep the action items visible to the team and actively check them off as they are completed.

Having a killer off-site can happen. These are just some of the great things you can do give yourself a leg up. What's your favorite tip for a great meeting?

And, if you are anywhere near Portland, Oregon check out my space for your next team meeting. Shoot me an email to arrange a visit.

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