Team offsites are a great opportunity to help a team improve its business performance. Team offsites are often done at hotels, conference centers, resorts, ranches, beach houses, etc. These are some typical comments that you might hear from those team members after an offsite:

  • "I know more about many of my team members now. I know more about what kind of people they are underneath and what drives them to operate the way they do."
  • "We are much clearer about the direction and goals of our team. We need to spend more time like this talking about what we want to accomplish as a team."
  • "Two days away on this offsite was too long considering how busy I am right now.
  • "At first I thought the team games were a little silly but then I see how they gave us an opportunity to see that the way we act in the games tends to mirror how we interact at work."
  • We now have a plan of action. I just hope this time we will follow-through.”

As you can see from these comments, one team offsite is quite different from another. The purpose of an offsite meeting is to align a team, develop a plan, solve a problem or improve teamwork.

Goodfriend & Associates has been facilitating offsites for over 14 years. The following are my recommendations for effective offsites based on my experiences:

  • Recommendation No. 1 - Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive
  • Recommendation No. 2 - Be Flexible About The Offsite Agenda
  • Recommendation No. 3 - Look For The Moment of Truth
  • Recommendation No. 4 – Appreciate and Accept Each Other
  • Recommendation No. 5 - Team Building Games/Exercises Should Have a Team Learning Purpose
  • Recommendation No. 6 - Clarify Interfaces and Interdependencies

The following is some more specific guidance on each of these recommendations:

Recommendation No. 1 - Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive

I often get asked, “I have a potential problem participant, Billy. He disagrees with everyone and keeps us from accomplishing anything. Would it be better to exclude him from the offsite?” My answer is “that it depends on the stake they have in the objective of the meeting.” A meeting should be as inclusive as possible -- for those that have a common stake in the offsite’s objective irrespective of whether they are agreeable or disagreeable. However, it is also not necessary to include those “dissidents” that don’t have the same stake in the objective as the team members that are participating.

Recommendation No. 2 - Be Flexible About The Offsite Agenda

Team offsites need agendas and more importantly a process for achieving those offsite objectives. An offsite is generally different from a more formal meeting with more presentations, specific direction given and status reports. Team offsites are generally more successful when there is effective communication, collaboration and innovation. The amount of time it takes to communicate or build trust so team members can effectively collaborate is not very predictable – not nearly as predictable as the expected time for a Power Point presentation followed by questions and answers. To achieve the objectives in an offsite, there needs to be more flexibility within an umbrella of a meeting structure.

An offsite can be very dynamic and unpredictable. No one (the sponsor, the participants or the facilitator) should get too locked into a plan for the meeting (agenda) since many things will change as the meeting goes on.

In today’s fast-paced, changing business environment, it is not how good your plan is, it’s how effectively you can adjust your plan because of changing requirements.

Recommendation No. 3 - Look For The Moment of Truth

There is sometimes an opportunity in the offsite for a team to solve a problem or resolve a challenge by dealing with the heart of the issue. The team can reach a moment of truth -- where the pain of resolving the issue is actually less than the pain of doing nothing. It's almost like a team epiphany, a turning point. It's the point where they realize what the solution is or what behaviors will be required to accomplish the solution.

I was once working with a team planning a significant engineering and construction project. There were two organizations involved on this team that were bound by an agreement to complete the project. In addition, one of the organizations had team members from different business units or functions that each had their own stake in the outcome. The team decided to have a 3-day meeting for approximately 25 people (mostly project engineers and operating personnel) to identify project scope issues and a champion (person responsible) for resolving the issue. The definition of scope would impact both partners differently – one was more impacted by the project costs incurred and the other by how well this new plant would interface with an existing plant.

The team labored over this tedious process of reviewing each unit of the proposed plant and although the offsite was achieving the stated objectives of identifying and resolving scope issues, it became clear to me as a facilitator why there was so much disagreement on scope. Each time a potential scope issue would arise, one organization would refer to the section in the agreement that stated their case for defining how the plant should be built. Then the other organization would counter with their agreement section that would contradict that scope definition. Tempers flared at times. What was the root of the issue - differences between people or an unclear contract? As the facilitator, I made an observation to the group toward the end of the meeting that probably ended up being a moment of truth. I observed that if I just walked into the meeting not knowing what the meeting was about and who the people were in this meeting, I would think that this was a meeting of attorneys negotiating a contract, not engineers and operations personnel trying to build a plant.

At the follow-up meeting a couple months later, I was surprised to see how behaviors had changed. Instead of working against each other, the organizations were working with each other. Instead of talking to each other like they were enemies, they were talking to each other like they were friends. Instead of letting differences on scope linger because there was an impasse, key people rolled up their sleeves, compromised and made some difficult choices to move the project forward. The project was completed recently and they became a very well functioning team. They had some excellent outcomes including completing the plant on time with an outstanding safety record. In the team's lessons learned sessions, they attributed their success to that turning point when they changed their behavior by really working/collaborating together.

Recommendation No. 4 – Appreciate and Accept Each Other

A team won’t have an atmosphere of trust and respect until team members appreciate and accept each other as unique individuals. No two people in the offsite will be exactly alike. Each person will have a unique personality. Each person will have had a different set of experiences. Each person will have a different set of beliefs -- regarding what he or she stands for and expect out of their work environment. Each person will have different life goals.

These differences can make an offsite challenging. You have probably seen the situation in a meeting when one person offers an idea or solution that a majority of participants openly support. It’s not unusual to hear an opposing view from someone who has developed a reputation for being a contrarian or even an obstacle to progress. You’ve probably seen the looks on the majority’s faces when the contrarian opens their mouth. This is when you wish you could hear the voice of the thoughts of the people in the majority like you can on TV because you would hear something like:

Why does she always have to disagree? It’s like she’s on another planet.”


Let’s not waste a lot of time talking about that idea.  Let’s move on before we get bogged down.”

I always recommend that time be allocated in the offsite to learn about each other. This will not only improve the results of the offsite but will carry over to the every day results of the team. This is an opportunity to explore what makes each person special, unique and accomplished. The facilitator must ensure this carries over to genuine appreciation of ideas, thoughts and solutions during the offsite. Instead of ideas being skipped over or ignored, it will look like ideas being acknowledged through a nod or saying something like “good idea.” Instead of seeing that look on the faces of the majority, you will hear something like “I can’t say that I agree with your proposed solution but you brought up a technical angle that we need to start considering for the future. Most of us on this team need you to help us with understanding how to apply those technical attributes.”

Recommendation No. 5 - Team Building Games/Exercises Should Have a Team Learning Purpose

Team learning at an offsite is best accomplished through simulated experiences rather than Power Point presentations and lectures. Simulated experiences don’t always have to be about teamwork. They can be about how to analyze an oil and gas reservoir, about how to respond to a customer’s complaints or about how to manufacture a part.

As a facilitator, I can present a slide with the Characteristics of Effective Teams at an offsite. However, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective at helping the team learn about teamwork as a team experience would be like the Lego Man to help simulate the team’s issues in achieving their business goal. As an example of how team learning can fit the team’s purpose in the offsite, I have custom designed our Lego Man simulation in the following ways to help these teams understand their challenges going forward:

  • Project team constructing a $300+ million plant (the Lego Man was the asset being constructed) for considering teamwork in feasibility, planning, construction and operation phases of the facility
  • IT services team that was an on-site outsource service provider for desktop “break-fix” (the Lego Man was the desktop that had a problem) for considering customer service, problem analysis, quality control, prioritizing backlog, etc.
  • Rapid growth restaurant company (the Lego Man was the food that had to be ordered, cooked and served) for considering how the guest was greeted, how the order was taken, how the food was prepared according to guest requirements, how the food was served and how to respond to problems/guest complaints

In each of these simulations, the Lego Man became the ongoing metaphor (after the offsite) for providing a quality product, service and experience either internally or externally.

Recommendation No. 6 - Clarify Interfaces and Interdependencies

Most teams that get together at an offsite generally have qualified, experienced people in the positions that they hold. It has been my experience that one of the greatest challenges that a team faces in executing a plan is in understanding and leveraging interdependencies between roles.

One example was an offsite I facilitated with a team that was planning and executing a “turnaround” at an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the 40 participants knew each other and some did not. One goal was to clarify each person’s roles and responsibilities including the interface with other key roles. Each role (could be one person or multiple people with the same role) prepared a description of roles and responsibilities including the who/what of their key interfaces. This helped the team work through some key interface challenges such as between the platform supervisors who were giving conflicting direction to their teams because of poor communication handoffs between shifts.

*      *      *

Team offsites can have so much potential. A team can accomplish so much more than the sum of its parts. I enjoy the opportunity as a facilitator to help a team achieve something special.  A TEAM - Together Everyone Achieves More.

© Michael R. Goodfriend, Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2004

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  A clever way to explain and consider the Birkman Method. I appreciate you sending this to me!

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