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Thoughts from the Field - Issue #1 - Beyond the Offsite

By Jeff Gibson - May 2010

Beyond the Offsite

Prior to scheduling an executive team offsite, nearly every leader asks, ”How can I ensure this approach has legs and is not a flavor-of-the-month?” Many executives are tainted from past experiences of having attended an offsite, made some progress…only to watch it all slip away. If a team is truly committed to progress over the long term, the work we do around teams and organizations is designedto have legs. There are several steps the leader can take to ensure that progress and momentum continues. And, even if it’s been quite some time since your last formal offsite, these concepts can easily be applied following any key leadership team meeting.

1. Schedule a Deep-Dive

Without fail, critical subjects arise during an offsite that require more time and consideration before a final decision is made. Because of the strategic importance of these topics and the amount of time it takes to resolve them, it may not always be appropriate to drive for closure during that session. In this case, teams need to immediately schedule a follow-up meeting to wrestle with any complex issues that still need to be resolved.

For example, in a recent offsite, one of my clients was debating a mission critical IT project with companywide implications. It was essential that the entire team weigh-in and reach an agreement regarding the project’s resource requirements and timelines. Truthfully, that discussion could have easily taken a whole day in and of itself – and it probably should. So, rather than trying to force a four-hour discussion into 20 minutes, the team scheduled a meeting to deep-dive into that project further -allowing for prep time, research and forethought.

As a result, the team was able to continue their work around the Five Dysfunctions knowing they would later drive for closure on this critical topic. While simple in nature, the behavior of scheduling time to address this issue gave team members confidence that their leader had every intention of following through on the discussion.

2. Cascade Key Concepts

Debriefing the next level of management after an offsite is another critical step to ensure momentum. When a leadership team is away at a meeting, other employees are left to wonder, “What could the executive team be doing for two full days?”, “Are they planning a re-org?”, or “Are they just playing golf?” It’s important to preempt these questions by immediately communicating some of the outcomes of the offsite to their direct reports.

An even better way to address those questions is to have managers take their team through a similar offsite on their own. Or, it may make sense for several teams to go through an offsite together in one session – something we call a TEAMinar. The TEAMinar format allows the next level of leadership to experience the content simultaneously, along with the senior executives, which is a great way to ensure continuity and consistency.

Whatever the method, it is critical that the executive team shares their experiences, insights, and goals with the next layer of management immediately, so that the second tier of managers become aware of what is happening in the organization. Once they become informed insiders, any fears and concerns will be assuaged.

3. Utilize the Thematic Goal as a Scoreboard

Finally, the third and most important post-offsite behavior change is for the team to utilize the Thematic Goal model as a framework for their meetings moving forward.

This puts the team or organization’s single unifying thematic goal up front and center during meetings. Great teams review their thematic goal and collectively agree on their own progress (or lack thereof). The drive to achieve that goal becomes the engine that fuels focus and momentum.

On a regular basis, leaders must scrutinize whether or not they have adhered to these simple practices that promote post-offsite success. Change requires time, patience and discipline. It may not be splashy; but committing to these simple practices will ensure a team’s enduring progress that all employees (not just executives) will feel – and that is the true mark of a successful executive team offsite.