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Businesses everywhere have used the offsite meeting as a way to get their whole team together for a time of concentrated planning and vision building. But like most meetings, the offsite has suffered from the perception that it can be a waste of time.

What’s more, employees have meeting fatigue in most organizations. People spend more time in meetings than ever, with research showing that executives spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings compared to less than 10 hours per week in the 1960s.

In this type of meeting-heavy environment, how do you get your people excited for what amounts to an ultra-meeting? The secret to success for an offsite is simple.

All you need to do is invert the expectations that an offsite has to be a multi-day meeting that’s conducted somewhere other than your normal office. For the best offsite meeting, keep it to one day and do it onsite.

Here are the steps you need to follow to make offsite gatherings a success.

Set the Stage

From the beginning, your offsite meeting needs to have a clear purpose. Offsite meeting come down to one thing, and that is an opportunity to drive team engagement.

You don’t need to leave your office for this meeting. In fact, traveling to another location can be a contributing factor in making your meeting less productive. Simply change a few decorations, choose a different room, and plan for ways to make changes from a normal day to break the routine.

During the planning stage, it’s also important to think structurally about the offsite and various team members’ roles. Critically, the CEO or leader needs to delegate leadership to someone else, so they can act as a participant and not a referee.

This form of delegation can also develop more employee leaders within an advisory firm.

For the nuts and bolts of organizing an offsite, follow this five-step approach:

  • Choose a day, ideally mid-week, that works for everyone. At the beginning of the work week your team is too focused on deliverables, and by Friday most people are ready to leave the office.
  • Set the offsite mid-quarter so it’s far from the stress of quarter-end and quarter-beginning.
  • Don’t overplan. Two offsite meetings a year should be enough for most organizations.
  • Include everyone, from a new intern to the President. An offsite needs to be a safe place for open communication and idea sharing, but that only happens when everyone feels included.
  • Finally, structure your offsite like a four-act play.

By having a well-organized plan can be the difference between an offsite that energizes your team or an offsite that ends up as a productivity wasting event.

Ensure a productivity-enhancing offsite by following a four-act play structure.

Act One-Fun First: A great offsite should be more casual than a typical workday, and it should begin with fun. Start with icebreakers that will get laughter going, and don’t forget the importance that an abundance of food can make in employee’s minds.

Act Two-Celebrate Success: After you’ve kicked off with an icebreaker, keep the good vibes going. Recap the successes your individuals and company have had in the last six to twelve months. Keep the celebrations recent so people can identify with them and feel their impact.

Act Three-Address Challenges: Now that you’ve got everyone in a good mood and comfortable, it’s time to get to work. Give team members the chance to address what is and what is not working with the company.

Move through this section quickly to keep it from devolving into a complaint session. Again, structure is key. Identify the issue, record it, and then move to the next before a negative atmosphere can intrude.

Act Four-Solutions: The fourth act is to create solutions for the challenges. Divide your team into diverse groups that mixes departments together to generate varied views.

Each group should work independently to address the same challenges. At the end of the time, come back together to share ideas, choose the best solutions, and assign a responsible party to see each solution through to completion.

More Ideas

Remember the first act of keeping fun first? That attitude needs to be front and center throughout your offsite. Here are three additional tips to follow.

  • Take breaks throughout the day to allow people to check email and decompress.
  • End with fun! When the offsite is over, wrap up with dinner or an activity like, axe throwing, or Top Golf.
  • Give yourself room to fail. The first offsite you do will be awkward. Accept that reality, and keep scheduling them so you get better and know how to plan better the next time around.

Put the Team First

An offsite is great opportunity to help your team feel seen. Everyone has problems, and it’s likely others in your organization has the same issues.

When done well, an offsite creates a more inclusive organization. By inviting everyone, you put people at every level in the firm on equal footing to work together to solve challenges.

It’s not so different from the idea of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in education, where schools bring multiple disciplines together to create better outcomes by having different mindsets together.

If you commit to creating an environment where everyone can freely participate, the offsite can become a culture-driving tool instead of a productivity-training day-long meeting.

*** Jarrod Upton, MBA, MS, CFP, is Chief Operations and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent growth consultancy for financial advisory firms. He can be reached at jarrod.upton@herbersco.com.