7 DOs and DON’Ts in running a successful “off-site” for a Board or Leadership Team…

….I have facilitated many off-sites  and recommend the following 7 DOs and DON’Ts:

  1. DON’t put the words “off-site” in the title altho’ I know it’s the phrase everyone uses and likes because it meets the need to “get away”. Sometimes that need can feel like desperation but it shouldn’t cloud the title. The location is not the point. The purpose should be clear in the title as in “ACME Annual Leadership Conference”; or “NEWCO Strategy Review Meeting”; or “MYBIZ Annual Review”…. which will be held “off-site”.
  2. DO ensure therefore that everyone is clear on the PURPOSE i.e. the objectives of the off-site. I facilitated one conference which had “leadership” in the title but no one was interested in leadership issues. They were a group of very bright and talented lawyers and their primary interest was risk management. It was a great conference but they would have served themselves better if they called it The Annual Risk Management Conference. So if you’re not interested in leadership issues then don’t call it a leadership conference even if the only delegates are the leadership of the business. There’s a difference between the collective noun “leadership” as in “the leadership of ACME Plc gathered in London” and leadership as in “ACME Annual Global Leadership Conference” whose delegates are the leadership and whose subject matter includes leadership. This isn’t semantics. It’s about being precise about the purpose of the off-site.
  3. DON’T chair it. Get a facilitator to shape and run the entire off-site. This might sound self-serving of me. It is, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. If you are a CEO or function or team leader you need to sit back at the off-site and listen using a ratio of about 70:30 listening to talking. You also need to think and feel. You can’t do either if you are chairing. In any event, different skills are required as a facilitator and CEOs may not be in the mood to facilitate let alone have the skills.
  4. DO ask people to prepare three things in advance: 1. What do they want from the off-site 2. What’s going well and what’s going badly 3. One interesting fact about themselves that is not on their CV or which colleagues are unlikely to know. The latter is about fostering a bond within the team by sharing personal issues. Examples I’ve heard include: “I’m obsessed with shoes and have hundreds of them”; “I make a brilliant pavlova”; “I build tree houses for kids in my spare time”; “I’m one of two identical twins”; “I met Nelson Mandela” etc.
  5. DO find a facilitator who knows the difference between thinking and feeling and knows how to work with both. This ability, above all else, will distinguish a good off-site from a great one.
  6. DON’T let anyone leave the room at the end of each session without confirmation that “every itch has been scratched” in the session i.e. that no one is leaving with issues which they have not shared. This is tough to achieve but is essential if you want to make the most of your time and money. It is easy to achieve if you “clear contract” up front the agreed expectations about trust and honesty. But the facilitator will still have to use the “GP’s Door Stop” technique to chase issues out. I refer to the propensity of patients or delegates to leave the raising of tricky issues until the last moment. At the end of each session I usually say: “I will ask three times “any more for anymore?” – one….two…three….”. Invariably someone blurts something important out at the door-stop moment. These usually turn out to be the gold dust of the off-site.
  7. Finally, DO ensure that there is agreement on a meaningful action list at the end of the conference which ties in with the original purpose and also DO agree on the date of  a follow-up meeting before you break up. This is obvious I know, but I’m amazed at the number of off-sites that fail to meet their objectives and, if this is not called out by someone, the action list will be fudged.

I hope you find the list useful.


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