“We just don’t work as a team!” Janet, a group manager for a large insurance company, was complaining to Larry, her human resources consultant. “Everyone just seems to do their own thing, they don’t share information, don’t try to help each other, and don’t seem to care about anyone else’s problems. What we need is a team building offsite!” Janet and Larry decided to put together a two-day offsite for the team at a resort about two hours away from work. Janet wanted immediate focus on the problem so Larry worked double-time to put together the event to be held later in the month. Larry put together an agenda full of trust-building exercises, ice-breakers, and brainstorming sessions on how the team could work better together.
How can you ensure your offsites are successful at building teams and getting things done at the same time? Consider the following simple tips:
Have a clear purpose for the offsite – Define some clear business reason for having the offsite. Consider things such as developing strategic goals for the upcoming fiscal year, account planning for strategic customers, or generating solution alternatives for a key business problem. If you make the goal of the offsite “Team Building” then your team is likely to look at the offsite as a waste of time that will have no real business benefit. Do your team building under the guise of solving a problem or defining the future.
Balance work with play – All work and the offsite becomes too fatiguing. All play and it becomes a boondoggle. Balance your agenda with a combination of work sessions with some fun team-building events sprinkled in. Make sure the “play” events you define are something everyone can participate in and go beyond the overused catch-me-as-I-fall-backwards event. Better still, ask the team what types of things they’d like to do during playtime.
Provide plenty of time for networking – Give ample time during the day and evening for the team to have snacks, enjoy beverages, and just talk about whatever strikes them. Team building starts with building relationships, and building relationships starts with getting to know each other. Allow for networking time to be free and unscripted and let the team enjoy some casual conversation with each other.
Don’t hold the offsite during a crunch period – When you do hold your offsite, you don’t want your team members to be checking email every five minutes or constantly leaving to make important calls. Do your best to hold an offsite during a “slow” time in your business. As with most businesses, there will probably never be an optimal time to hold an offsite but do your best to avoid times when team members are already burning the midnight oil.
Make it an overnight event – Some of the best offsites I’ve held were those where the team ate dinner together, enjoyed a couple of drinks, and stayed up late discussing major business problems or brainstorming on a radically new strategy. These late night sessions were valuable in that team members put their heads together to address some problem or opportunity. More importantly, team members built relationships which provided an outstanding foundation for strong teams.
Don’t make the team work overtime to “make up” the time spent at the offsite – If you’re going to have an offsite, allow the team to move some of their other commitments out a few days so they don’t feel the pressure of needing to get their work done while at the offsite. The last thing you want is your team thinking about working late because of wasted time at a dumb offsite. Relax some of the deliverables and let the team focus on the offsite, not on what work isn’t getting done.
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