It was a time-honored tradition throughout the 90’s and 2000’s for a team to go “offsite” to strategize and plan, to get away and bond as a team, and to talk about all the things that somehow never get talked about within the confines of the office.
That was also the time before video conferences, remote working, shorter work tenures, agile marketing, and coffeeshops on every corner--not to mention the CFO getting the bill from marketing and wondering what they were accomplishing by spending the money to get out of the office.
Let’s leave the cost aside for a minute--we’ll come back to it. Do you need these to make your team effective? Yes and no. Hopefully you have regular stand-ups with your team and direct reports so that you’re much more iterative in your projects and top of the details. That wasn’t always the case, and the offsite meeting was often used to get everyone back up to speed and on the same page as to what was happening with the business. But now if you’re meeting 3-5x/week on the business, why do I have to prepare a Powerpoint presentation for you telling you what I already tell you? This is the reason not to go offsite.
The reason *to* go offsite in today’s marketing environment has to be different--it has to be to get out of the daily grind, to come up for air, and to accomplish something different than you can do in the office. To talk about issues that drive strategy, to talk “people and talent,” and most importantly, to ensure your goals are aligned to what you’re seeing in the rest of the business.
And no, you don’t need to rent out the penthouse overlooking the city and have everyone stay overnight to accomplish this. Today people care less about where the meeting is and more that you’re making the effort to engage them and spend time identifying problems and putting together solutions on how to crack them. Rent a WeWork room for the day--go down the street to your neighborhood Courtyard or Garden Inn if you need a space--in many cities those hotels are the newest and are so plentiful that the rates are cheap. Bring in breakfast and lunch, take them out to dinner afterwards to thank them for a great quarter--that’s all it takes. Every so often break early and do something fun as a team--whether it’s an Escape Room or a baseball game--it’s not what you do nearly as much as the practice of doing it that will be most recognized and appreciated by the team.
So some tips as you plan your offsite:
Don’t make it all about the same stuff they already know about--avoid the show and tell around the table on the same metrics you already review in the office--offsites should feel more substantive--if you’re going over metrics, instead do a deep dive on the one that is going sideways right now and engage with the team on how solve it.
Make sure the agenda is a solid one and that the team has had input into it--they’ll buy-in more if they know you’re discussing a topic they proposed or care about.
Ensure there’s pre-work involved, so that people arrive to the meeting ready to contribute. If you are reviewing the quarterly results, ensure people come to the meeting having seen the content. A top meeting killer is to have someone up there presenting and having people around the table just seeing the information for the first time. The silence that ensues, the challenges on the numbers, and the people who may be put on the defensive by not having had a chance to review the content can get a meeting off the rails in the first 30 minutes--I’ve seen it a dozen times. You’ll get a far more substantive outcome if people can have a chance to give input ahead of time and are not surprised.
What are the outcomes? This may sound trivial, but back to the CFO and the cost--make sure you’re getting an ROI from this meeting, even if it’s qualitative instead of quantitative and that people--your team and your boss--feel that spending the day out of the office, away from the team, and spending MONEY, was worth it.
Share the agenda ahead of time with your boss--transparency is the best thing for these meetings in today’s environment. The last thing you need is people thinking marketing is wasting money by going offsite--make sure people know what you’re going to cover, and then…
Share the results (those that aren’t confidential). Share them with the executive team, share them with your team, share them with the teams for whom you discussed common issues and challenges--don’t be afraid to be open about what you talked about and what you’re going to do now or next.
Some companies run these quarterly, some on a more ad hoc basis. It’s easier with a smaller team all in one place, and takes more planning the bigger you get. Regardless of your cadence, have a plan and don’t just do an “offsite” because it’s time on the calendar--have a goal and be purposeful, and you’ll get a great return for your effort. Your team will appreciate the time and prep you put into having a meaningful day planned, they’ll participate more directly, and most importantly, you’ll start to generate the deeper relationships and collaboration that will propel your team forward.