How to plan a great off-site meeting


“Who has just joined?”

“There’s a bad echo”

“Can everyone who isn’t speaking during this next part go on mute please?”

It seems like more and more of our meetings and communications are happening over conference call and video conference these days, right? I don’t mind this necessarily because it gives me much more flexibility and ability to work remotely. But sometimes, there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned face-to-face. Times when you sit across from other humans and stare eyeball to eyeball. High-fives can be exchanged. Hugs can be shared. Side conversations that might be shut down prematurely on a conference call can flow more organically. It’s brilliant.

However, because these sorts of engagements are becoming increasingly rare and harder to justify it’s even more important than ever to make sure they’re well planned and well executed. 

Start with the end in mind

Too often when people start planning an offsite (or even any meeting!) they start with how much time they have and then just create sessions and activities to fill that time. That’s not the best way to do it. When this approach is taken people are often sitting in sessions they don’t need to attend, listening to updates they don’t need to know about, or learning about things they’ll never, ever use.

Instead, when you start planning your offsite invest significant time in getting clear on exactly what you want to achieve. One way to do this is to come up with a bit of a mission statement for the offsite and objectives that support it. Be clear on what you want people to know, think, feel and do at the end. Once you’re clear on this you’re ready to start thinking about what sessions are needed and ready to create an agenda.

Create a prioritised agenda

I often find that people are too ambitious when planning what they hope to achieve at an off-site. Some of this is down to thinking that some decisions will be easier to make than they actually are. Some of it is because we’re not as disciplined as we might hope to be in managing the time of an agenda. If you think there’s a likelihood that you’re going to struggle to achieve everything you want to you need to create a prioritised agenda. Start with the most important things and work your way down from there. Another benefit of this is that peoples mental acuity will be much higher at the start of the off-site…as time dwindles on people because increasingly tired and the quality of engagement suffers as a result.

Schedule time to connect

One big challenge I see in planning offsite is that the agenda is so rammed full people barely have time for a bathroom break. The best offsite balance the time between work and connection. Have some time on the schedule to allow people to connect with one another. This can be as structured or unstructured as you like but the point is making the time and then following through on doing it. Don’t sacrifice this time or underplay the importance of it because the agenda slipped on day 1. This is important too.

Do things you can only do face-to-face

One of the benefits of being dace-to-face is that you’re face-to-face. So, don’t waste time doing the same things that you would normally do in your weekly check-ins or your monthly team meetings. This is the time to co-create together. This is the time to enjoy each others company. And, this is the time to do the sorts of things that typically aren’t as effective over video. Things like deep thinking work as a group, brainstorming, ideation, etc. There’s no point in bringing people together to give an update using powerpoint that in all honesty could have been achieved using a 60 min video call. 

Consider the location

Many organisations aren’t willing to spend money on off-site locations. The planning for them often becomes a race to the bottom and the cheapest option wins out. Instead of doing that why don’t you think about aligning the location with what you’d like to achieve during the off-site. Sure it might cost some money but if you can make the case for it I think it’s really worthwhile. The environment that you’re working in has an impact on what you can achieve.

For example if one of the objectives is to bond the team a more intimate location like a country house might be more appropriate than a bland 4-star hotel conference room. Or, if you’re wanting to learn about and get closer to your customers going close to where they are might be appropriate. If you’re thinking about the future operating model of the company you might want to spend time amongst the hustle and bustle of the city with a great view. These things matter more than you might think and the participants will appreciate that you’ve thought about it and taken a considered approach.

If you’re struggling with planning your next off-site we can help with the planning, design, facilitation and follow-up. We’ve planned and facilitated dozens of these experiences for companies of all shapes and sizes. Get in touch and we can chat you through how we might be able to help.