For most part of my career, I hated team offsites with a vengeance. Why was someone willing to pay for a beach resort just to shut us in conference rooms discussing pointless topics and assessing each others’ personalities? Why does it all sound like an untimely appraisal discussion in a casual setting? Can everyone stop this desperate class participation and sit still for a minute? Why is everyone drinking so much if it is just going to let the dude-bros out of the closet?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I am not cynical and you don’t have to be the same way. But looking at it from a purely business and monetary perspective, I don’t see the point of team offsites if they can neither improve team dynamics nor follow through on the many world-changing discussions they put on the agenda.
Fortunately, I am not the only one who thinks so. According to Ben Dattner of HBR, “Unfortunately, many team building offsites turn out to be ineffective, or worse. Sometimes, it’s because the sense of unity and cohesion that gets created when everyone is together having “fun” outside of the office doesn’t last long once everyone gets back to work. Other times, “team building activities” have the unintended consequence of bringing out competition and hostility between individuals instead of enhancing commitment and cohesion within the team.”
So what are some best practices to make the most out of your team offsite investment?
Give your employees some breathing space instead of assigning PowerPoint duties. Camp out, cook together, and exchange stories and a few laughs. Instead of getting into the dangerous zone of anonymous individual feedback and clichéd personality assessments, try focusing on shared goals and opportunities. Try and avoid hyper-competitive games like paintball. Try not to put your introverts in a spot by asking them to perform for an audience. These dysfunctional conflicts and forced extroversion are issues your employees contend with every single day at work. Let the offsite be fun for everyone, instead of becoming just another theatre of extroverts.
Going on a two-day offsite and expecting to return with solutions to all your organizational challenges is rather impractical. Instead, choose two or three topics that are top priority but not the most challenging ones. Discuss issues that need fresh perspective outside of the four walls of conference rooms. Topics like employee engagement and improving employee morales are great for offsites. Bringing serious issues like revenue challenges to offsites is a sure shot way of spoiling the fun. Leave that and the conference rooms back in the office.
One of the biggest issues with team offsites is that they become a flash in the pan activity at best. As soon as people are back at their desks, they fall back into the same behavioural patterns and team dynamics. It is everyone’s job to not let it happen.
If you collectively make some decisions at the offsite, be sure to follow through with them. If one of the learnings was that your employees need to enjoy their time at work more, need better tech or more flexibility, don’t forget all about it when you are back. Take concrete next steps as soon as you are back. If nothing changes, your employees will see through the charade eventually and it will backfire.
Collectively getting away for a bit can allow new ideas to come to the fore. It can help team members relax and recharge, find some commonalities and forge deeper relationships with each other and with the organization. If your offsites are designed to mirror the negatives of your office environment, you are only wasting your organization’s resources and your employees’ time. So the next time you are planning an offsite, think about ways in which you can make it impactful and fun instead. Remember, an offsite is an easy but expensive way to check employee engagement off your to-do list. If you are spending that much money and manpower to go to a beach resort, you might as well make the most of it.