How to Design an Amazing Team Offsite

Create high-impact, meaningful team offsite meetings with these tips.

Team offsite sessions can range from drunken boondoggles to death by PowerPoint and everything in between. To clarify, I don’t host either type. I cringe every time I hear stories of boring, useless, toxic, draining meetings where companies spend tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars on events that yielded little to no positive outcomes.

I have found that aligning people, purpose and pleasure in the right ways brings fresh insights, commitments and sustainable results.

Last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a planning session called, “Winning Together: Aligning for Success” with leaders in sales, engineering, operations, and marketing for a global engineering company I’ve worked with for the past few years. As we were pulling together a fun, video summary for the team, it occurred to me to share tips with others on ways to design a successful team offsite.

Recent Team Offsite, “Winning Together: Aligning for Success”
Roswell, GA

Clearly Define Success:Team offsite sessions are pulled together for purposes ranging from strategic planning, restructuring, transforming culture, team alignment, change leadership and more. Be clear about the purpose for holding the meeting. really think about (and ask the team) what success will look like when the meeting is done. Then design all phases of the event from pre-session communications, in-session activities, social interaction and post-session follow-up to accomplish the outcomes you want to achieve.

Align People and Celebrate Diversity: Resist diving into meaty, sometimes contentious work topics and start with activities for people to get to know one another and themselves better. I like to use science-based behavioral profiles to raise awareness of each person’s style. With respect and humor, we tap into individual strengths and point out when they get in the way. This group brought a wealth of diversity from different countries, disciplines, ages, ethnicity and behavioral styles. We invited others who work with this team representing Operations, South America and Europe to provide cross-functional collaboration. There’s no finger-pointing to “those people” when those people are in the room!

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Build on Strengths to Envision a Compelling Future: People and organizations move in the direction of what they focus on most. Rather than dumpster-diving into problems, ask them to pair off and share stories of success. You will feel the pride soar in the room as people recognize one another for stepping up and going above and beyond and as they recall their own moments of courage and impact. Then, build on these strengths, assets and pride to imagine a compelling, even mind-blowing future. Encourage provocative thinking even if you don’t know how you will get there. Have some fun with this and resist judging each idea as it comes up. You can refine and come up with the tactics later.

Build on Ideas: Don’t shut them down. Yes, you likely need to remind people how to brainstorm and set up activities to poke holes in current thinking to get to the possibilities of what can be. Years ago, working at Gartner, we stressed a strategic imperative of “provocative thought leadership.” Encouraging debate with trust and respect pushes through conventional thinking.

Have Fun! Schedule social time together to allow people to get to know one another in different settings. Bring in humor through stories, fun activities and being approachable. Resist the urge to pack the agenda with business topics. Leave a little space between the logs for the fires to burn.

Expect the Unexpected: Technical hiccups, new priorities, announcement of a restructuring and bad weather may shift even the best laid plans or require you to flex in the moment. If we learned anything in the past few years it was that “shift happens” so just go with it grace and humor.

Commit to Collective Action: Each person should leave the session with clear commitments on actions they will take to help the team accomplish their goals and how these will be cascaded into the organization. Discuss how they will take insights and goals to the teams doing the work. Aligning commitments will continue to break down functional silos. I also ask them to make a commitment on how they will develop further as a leader to help this team align for success.

Don’t DIY It: At the risk of sounding self-serving, I beg you to call in an outside expert to design and facilitate your team offsite. You have expertise in what? sales, engineering, finance, HR, whatever-and are probably quite good in that area. The right external facilitator will partner with you to get the best from the experience and encourage open dialogue that likely won’t come when the boss or human resources is leading the session. Contact us to find out how we create exceptional, impactful sessions for our clients.

When done well, team offsite sessions provide exceptional opportunities to strengthen relationships, shift minds and surface new opportunities to align and succeed. My parting words to this team and my advice to you is to….

“Be bold, be creative, and do amazing things together!”