When it comes to innovation, there are few authorities more respected than design firm IDEO. The company's practices have been thoroughly mined for ideas on everything from better brainstorming to restroom design, but there's one area at least where they still have fresh wisdom to share--how to run a creative and constructive offsite.

Recently on Medium, OpenIDEO co-founder Nathan Waterhouse shared his playbook for getting the team together out of the office. Some of the ideas he shared may be less than earth shattering (like, for example, don't cheap out--actually get out of the office!) but others are as surprising and useful as all the other good ideas to come out of IDEO, including these:

Crowdsource topics

You might be the one planning the offsite, but the entire experience shouldn't be conceived of and controlled by you. Get your team to contribute their ideas for what you should tackle while you're away.

"Team members often build up mental 'wish-lists' of topics to raise at the next team meeting. Trouble is, most managers don't make time for getting strategic input from their team. When planning your offsite, give your team a chance to get that bug-list out of their heads and shared with you, so that you can understand their gripes and big ideas," he writes, though he adds that ultimately it's up to the boss to make the final call about the agenda.

Plan plenty of nothing

Don't overschedule activities, cautions Waterhouse. Leaving time for your team to kick back and bond is important for getting the most out of the experience. "Build in generous breaks, and if you're somewhere where the best time of day to enjoy the outside is the afternoon, don't wait till sunset to build that into the schedule. I've found those unstructured moments are where the relationships get built and sometimes genuine breakthroughs happen, either in relationships or personal creativity," he explains.

End it right

It's not enough to have breakthroughs and make plans at your offsite, you also have to keep your focus and remember those breakthroughs and plans when you get back to your daily grind. A simple tweak to the end of each day--and the close of the entire offsite--can help ensure that good ideas get translated from the meeting to the real world.

"A good way to finish each day is to hold a 10 minute reflection on the day so far and to zoom out and review the plan for the rest of the offsite. You can ask a simple question like 'what's become clearer after today?' or 'what did you learn today?' This is a good opportunity to review the plan for the rest of the week and review priorities. Be ready to ditch less important items on the agenda and add new topics," advises Waterhouse. "Finally, close out the whole offsite with an exercise about mapping roles and responsibilities against new priorities and projects that may have emerged. This can be incredibly clarifying."

Published on: Mar 19, 2015
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