It's spring! Flowers are in bloom, cropped pants are being taken off their dusty shelves and small business owners, grumpy from the cold winter months, are looking forward to the future.
What better time to take your staff away for a day or two of deep discussion, meaningful deliberation and donuts? While off-site strategy and planning sessions are often considered the purview of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses can benefit tremendously from a focused foray out of the office.
If you and your team could use some concentrated time to sort out a strategy, solve a big problem or step back and innovate, a springtime off-site may be just what the doctor ordered. Getting away from the office, and the usual interruptions, can revive your enthusiasm for a business or project and rev up your focus. The trick is to make the most of your time away.
Spend at least one day away: If possible, make it two. Even though you save money by eliminating overnight accommodations with just a day's outing, you miss out on the opportunity to socialize and informally discuss work-related issues in the evening. Greater group bonding also seems to occur over a two-day period.
Go easy on the PowerPoint: While certain data is no doubt important to communicate, back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and endless ramblings in a half-lighted room invite drowsiness. Instead create an agenda that incorporates group exercises, discussion, role-play, hands-on working sessions, demonstrations and interesting outside speakers. Whenever I conduct strategic off-sites with a client, I use the "once an hour" rule. Once an hour, I make sure and include an activity that requires participation by every person at the off-site. This might mean paired or group sharing, role-play or another interactive exercise. It keeps everyone involved and prevents a few stronger players from dominating the entire day.
Leave some breathing room: A tightly packed schedule with no downtime leads to information overload and off-site burnout. Don't jam each day so chock full of activities that attendees never get a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what's being discussed. Keep in mind that much of the value of the retreat will happen in side discussions outside the room. By allowing for these conversational spaces, your off-site will be even richer in results.
Build in flexibility: Don't be so tied to an agenda or timeline that a hot, heavy and important discussion gets shelved so that you can stay on schedule. The point of the retreat is to draw people in and get them to think, act and participate in new ways.
Play: While you want your off-site to be productive, you don't want it to be a grind. Setting up activities for play is an important part of the package. Ideas include: a golf outing, dinner at a popular restaurant, a visit to a museum, theater tickets and the spa.
Sidebar: Off-Site Checklist
Here are a few things to consider to make your off-site a success before you even arrive:
- What is the purpose/theme of the off-site?
- Given the purpose, who should be invited?
- Who will select the site, make the arrangements and coordinate with the site management?
- What kind of "welcome" packet do you want the attendees to receive on arrival?
- Do you need audiovisual equipment? If so, who will be responsible for this?
- Who is your contact person at the site? Is this the person that any deliveries should be addressed to?
- Will you have any presentations during lunch or dinner? If so, is the catering department aware of your plans?
- Do you want organized entertainment in the evenings? What will it be, and who will organize it?
- What time is staff expected to arrive? Do they need driving directions? Is a meal being served upon arrival? Are you offering vegetarian food to those who need it?
- Once at the site, who will be responsible for overseeing arrivals, room allocation and registration?
- How do you want to begin and end the off-site?
Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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