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OWNER'S MANUAL

6 Ways to Ruin a Company Offsite Meeting

Still doing trust falls and scavenger hunts? If you want results, here's how not to run a team meeting.

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I’m not a huge fan of the offsite meeting—mainly because I'm skeptical that "thinking outside the box" will happen just because you've let your employees out of the box.

Many people disagree; the offsite is an integral part of many managers’ and business owners’ leadership toolkits.

Unfortunately, many of those people get offsites wrong. If you think an offsite is in order, don’t make the following mistakes:

1. Fail to pre-interview.  You know going into the meeting that a few employees will work  to pursue their own agendas. Some will bring up subjects better dealt with elsewhere. One or two might actually try to sabotage the meeting.

Deal with those situations ahead of time. Talk to everyone. Give them a sense of what you hope to accomplish, and why what you want to accomplish is important. Give them a chance to vent or whine. Then, if necessary, explain what you expect from them during the meeting. Give temperamental employees a chance to be heard in private; sometimes that’s all they want.

2. Fill the agenda with small items.  Using the time to take care of a number of outstanding issues is a temptation few can resist, especially if the entire group is rarely in the same location. Too bad. Wrong place, wrong time.

Whenever you find yourself about to say, "You know, since I have you all together, why don't we take a second and...” stop immediately.  Save the everyday stuff for every other day.

3. Let the venue overwhelm the occasion. Fancy venues are cool. Unusual venues are fun. They’re also distracting.

By all means ensure comfort, convenience, and efficiency, but don’t assume meeting at a “creative” location will automatically inspire your team to greater creativity.  And don’t assume you need to spend more on the meeting to ensure employees take the meeting seriously. Higher meeting expenses don’t correlate to better meeting outcomes.

Pick a venue that allows your employees to focus on the meeting, not the venue.

4. Invite too many people. Generally speaking there’s an inverse relationship between the number of participants and the value of a meeting. Inviting more than 10 people is usually a mistake.

Worry about buy-in later; an offsite should result in decisions, not input. Invite the right people and have them seek input from others before the meeting. Every employee should have a voice, but not at an offsite.

5. Arrive unprepared to make decisions. Forget the cost of the venue and amenities; offsite wage expenses are high enough. If all your employees make $15/hour, a day-long 10-person offsite costs $1,200 (not counting benefits) in wages alone.

That expense should result in decisions, actions, and initiatives, not in fumbling around for facts or figures.

Work really hard to pull together all the data you need ahead of time. Then create a backup plan if you need access to data during the meeting. Designate an employee not attending the meeting as your go-to person for performing quick research.

Make sure you talk about what you know—not about what you don’t know.

6. Include teambuilding exercises when teambuilding isn’t the point. Teambuilding exercises, like ropes courses, puzzles, treasure hunts, etc., were incredibly popular in 90s corporate America.

They’re still fairly popular. After all, who doesn’t want a stronger, more cohesive team?

Still, a one-off teambuilding exercise will not result in a stronger, more cohesive team. Workplace trust is not built on a ropes course. Trust is built when employees know, through long experience, that they can count on each other.

Skip the exercises.  Get down to business instead. Great teams become great teams when they produce great results.

Focus the meeting on how to produce great results, and let your team discover how great it is through their achievements.

IMAGE: Flickr/kowitz
Last updated: Feb 21, 2012

JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
@jeff_haden




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