Paul Friederichsen is the founder of BrandBiz, a company that specializes in PR, media strategy and placement, sales incentives, training and mobile marketing as well as social media. Visit his website www.brandbizinc.com
An Outside Perspective Can Be Beneficial - Part Two: The Offsite Meeting
Just as opinions on consultants have become jaded in recent years, so too has the practice of the offsite meeting. Perceptions of being expensive, lavish and unnecessary events, fueled by news reports of taxpayer-funded retreats by government agencies, haven't helped the image of the offsite meeting. Nor have the mixed, temporary results many organizations have experienced. Nevertheless, the offsite, if correctly planned and properly executed as a leadership tool, can have significant immediate and longterm value.
A common practice with companies is to physically remove the executive team out of the office to an "offsite" location for the purpose of a meeting of durations lasting from an afternoon to a few days. This accomplishes several things important to team-building and problem solving:
Bonding. Participants develop a sense of family, as in "we're all in this together."
Focus. Planned and orchestrated properly, the off-site frees decision-makers from everyday distractions back at the office.
Prioritization. The planning and expense that goes into an off-site says "this agenda is important, in fact more important than anything else on your calendar."
Acknowledgement. Being tapped for attendance acknowledges and reinforces the importance of the participant's role in the organization.
Clarity. It's amazing how clear the picture becomes when you step back and take a look at the problem.
Motivation. As the off-site meeting approaches, it's interesting how participants will find time to prepare, particularly when given assignments in advance. They simply don't want the embarrassment of not having their homework done in front of their peers.
The offsite meeting can be a watershed event, a turning point for a company or department, or it can be just another "we tried this" frustrating waste of time and money with little to show for it. How do you increase the chances for success? Here are my Top 10 Offsite Fundamentals you should consider carefully before planning your offsite meeting:
1. Be specific on the objective you are trying to achieve. Also, be realistic. Too many objectives can diminish the power of the time allocated to the offsite. If it's marketing-related, don't attempt to piggyback operational or personnel issues onto the agenda.
2. Get on the same page with your management team and consultant upfront. Complete buy-in and single mindedness of purpose is key. Because the offsite is a concentrated dose of interaction, even the tiniest cracks between meeting leaders will magnify during the meeting.
3. Be in agreement with your consultant on his/her role -- then let them do their job! Ok, take a deep breath here. This is difficult for many of you, I know. It's a little like tossing the keys to the family car to a stranger and letting them drive your brood around the rim of the Grand Canyon. The consultant/facilitator has no intention of driving you and your team over the cliff. Remember, they want the relationship to grow and be mutually profitable.
4. Commit, up front, to a plan to follow through after the off-site, with whatever directions are determined, and hold each other accountable. Not doing this is probably the biggest, most expensive failing companies make. The offsite is over, everyone is back at the office, the day-to-day recommences and ... say, what was that thing we decided to do at that offsite meeting? You might as well taken the budget you allocated for it and started a bonfire.
5. Keep your participant list small, no more than a dozen or so, and make certain they know the purpose and importance of the off-site. This can be a tough assignment as a leader in determining who goes and who stays. You've got to be all-business here.
6. Plan and announce sufficiently ahead of time so personal and professional calendars can avoid any difficulties or hardships.
7. Assign "homework" ahead of time to help ensure better participation and time use at the off-site. This reinforces the importance of everyone's contribution. Your consultant may even recommend forming teams ahead of time to present their contributions, as a team, at the offsite.
The homework should never be overly taxing to their normal duties and responsibilities but can pay huge dividends in the quality of discussion.
8. Build excitement and anticipation with every opportunity. The off-site should be portrayed as an opportunity, not another management burden to be dreaded.
9. Make an agenda but be willing to be flexible. Even if your off-site is a one-day or partial day event, have an agenda and distribute ahead of time. This communicates a purpose -- a "road map" for your meeting. However, be willing to set aside the pre-determined route if during the course of the meeting your facilitator taps into a rich vein of insights or ideas that warrants exploring further.
10. Lead by example. As the leader of your organization or department, you're probably busier than anybody at your offsite. Everyone there knows it and appreciates that. However, nothing kills enthusiasm for the participation, focus and perceived importance of the meeting if you aren't totally committed with your time and attention. Avoid, at all costs, taking calls or being absent from the discussion with side discussions or work on your laptop. You are effectively killing the very meeting you've worked so hard to prepare. Stay engaged!
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