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Leadership Offsites: Boondoggles or Business Drivers?

June 3, 2019


Every time I talk to one of my clients these days, it seems they are headed out of office for an internal leadership meeting of some sort. From “quarterly business reviews” and “strategy interlock sessions,” to mutli-day “team building workshops” by my observation, leadership offsites (and “onsites”) are on the rise.


With the always-on pace of business and our multi-tasking mentality, it’s no wonder leaders want to assemble their teams in person to get them to focus and engage.


Despite these great intentions, most of our clients report their leadership offsites rarely deliver what they need to lead the mission-critical work their teams focus on day-in and day-out. The most common complaints we hear are that the meeting objectives were unclear, the agenda topics didn’t address what was top of mind for them, the format was death by presentation, and there was no plan for follow up after the session.


Sound familiar?


So how do you make sure your next leadership offsite is effective? How do you ensure the good ideas aren’t left on the whiteboard? And above all, how do you make sure you walk out of the session with buy in on a clear plan of action?  


Based on our experience, there are 5 characteristics for an effective leadership offsite:


  1. Understand your team’s needs and expectations - If you’re responsible for planning the meeting, conduct interviews not just with the leader/sponsor, but also participants to find out what they need and expect for the session to be a valuable use of time.

  2. Plan your agenda wisely - Avoid the temptation to put every executive and topic on the agenda. Really focus on topics that address your audience priorities. Don’t cram the agenda so full that your team feels like they’re running the gauntlet. Allow time for breaks and lunches so valuable conversations and connection can happen.

  3. Rethink the status updates - Avoid the death-by-presentation operational updates. Consider doing status updates prior by video conference. Spend your valuable in person time discussing cross-functional implications, barriers and opportunities, and problem-solving on topics that will help your team be more productive after the meeting.

  4. Engage your participants in the work - Set the expectation early that interaction will be expected then deliver on it. Go beyond Q&A. Use exercises and that help teams solve problems, generate ideas, prioritize, gain consensus and make decisions.

  5. Consider engaging an expert facilitator - A neutral, third-party facilitator can help craft an agenda and facilitate an in-person experience that will not only take the burden of planning off of your staff but also ensure you achieve your desired objectives for the meeting and get buy-in from your team.


If you want to learn more about how to use a facilitator to design a compelling agenda and audience experience for your upcoming leadership offsite, give us a shout.


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