By Nick Foster
I can’t tell you how many management offsites I have participated in. Lots. Today, I find myself facilitating these same offsites and I can tell you the difference between a good offsite and an awesome experience.
Usually the objective of these offsites are the same. We want to get aligned, build a coherent strategy and make sure we are on the same page. At the same time we want to do a little team building while we spend precious time away from the business. Team building sometimes involves a game of golf, or some other non-work experience. If I had to categorize this part of the offsite agenda I would put it into three categories:
- Activities that allow us to see our coworkers in a non-work context (Golf, Skiing, Cooking)
- Learning about ourselves using some sort of personality sorter (Strengths, Colors, Meyers-Briggs. DISC, etc.)
- Learning about what really makes our co-workers tick (Personal Story, Values, Beliefs)
The blend of time at Offsites is usually heavily weighted to the business objectives and planning. In-the-city Management Offsites at a local hotel, for example are usually 100% weighted to the business discussions. Some offsites are not even offsite – it is two or three days of meetings in the usual boardroom.
At 1-degree, it is our point of view that management offsites should truly be offsite.
Not fancy or expensive but when the objective is divergent, creative thinking a change of location – a disruption to the normal patterns is needed to get the juices flowing.
What I can tell you after more than 50 offsites is this.
The best offsites involve at least 25% of the time spent on team activities that get at helping leaders to be more effective, helping them to understand themselves and how they operate.
To be clear I am not talking about skills development – there is a time and place for that and it isn’t at a management team offsite.
The general motion of business discussions is to build – we build new plans so that we can build our business – it is an upward and outward motion. What is needed is for at least ½ a day in a two-day offsite to be spent on the inward or downward motion.
We need to make sure our leaders are building stronger foundations so that they can support the growth of the business. How? We need to get to know ourselves better. And we need to get to know each other better. We become stronger as a team when we truly understand how each of us ticks.
I remember being frustrated by one of my co-workers and his weird personality ticks. I couldn’t understand why he was so fixated on a particular issue. And then it changed. We had a management offsite and each of us was asked to tell stories that illustrated the values that we identified as our own. UGH. He told a story about his upbringing and the penny landed. His fixation was pretty hard-wired and I realized that I have to give ground knowing from his story that he couldn’t. So what was a source of constant friction went away in an instant. That is good use of management offsite time.
The choice of these team-building activities has to be matched by the maturity of the team – both personal maturity and team development. A new team, where people don’t know each other very well is very different from a team that has been together for a few years and has a level of comfort built up. For those teams that are less developed or where trust is low I believe a process like Strengthsfinder or Enneagram is hugely helpful to understanding each other and the resulting team dynamic. A few steps further on the path would be a Leadership Team Values Assessment and discussions about consistent and shared behaviours for the leadership team. To take a functioning team to the next level I have seen a Personal Stories exercise take a team to a whole new level of functioning. The bottom line is that when we learn about ourselves and our peers on the leadership team we end up stronger, more grounded – with a better foundation – so that in times of challenge we don’t fold like a house of cards.
The time spent building deeper roots will always pay off when the inevitable storm winds blow.