5 factors that can turn your strategy offsite into a firestarter

Last week I ran a really successful strategy offsite for one of my favourite clients.

They are a fabulous group to work with, they are passionate, knowledgeable, hardworking and they fully immersed themselves in the experience. And after two tough days they summed up the outcome they had produced in the phrase – “we have a strategy we can confidently pitch to our team”.

Yet, very often when discussing strategy offsites with CEOs they mention expensive, time consuming affairs that are effective at team building but they deliver little in the way of impact or action.

One of the reasons that this offsite worked so well was because we covered probably the 5 most important factors that drive successful strategy offsites.

1.      Focused preparation – in addition to what might be considered typical preparation, the key for me is to interview offsite participants before the event. The preparation identifies more nuanced objectives of the offsite and determines the best interventions and models for achieving it (point 3 below).

Sometimes offsite objectives are set by the CEO, but I often find the process to be more iterative, first set by the CEO, but then adapted to take account of the views of other participants.

2.      The right people in the room – I know it is against the grain of traditional advice, but I find that larger groups, wider than just the top leaders, produce practical, actionable strategies. And of course, you’ve already built energy in a wider group of people who can drive through any actions identified.

My preference is for diverse groups that have a stake in the future of the organisation.

This can be a win for growing companies, where engagement of people is increasingly becoming an issue. It also works well in larger companies, as the speed of change requires input from people closer to the ground.

3.      Design the day to encourage everyone to contribute – we all have experience of teams with different cultures, values, and ways of working, and the design of the day needs to be mindful of this. I have found that not all teams are pleased to play an energising game of apples, oranges, and pears.

But, however the team prefers to work interactions can be designed to encourage contributions and conversations from everyone and minimise egos, politics and personal agendas. Combinations of big teams, small teams, voting, all group feedback, post-it note input, and red carding are all techniques that can encourage positive interactions.

4.      Be respectful to the past and experiment with the future – Having participants’ explore the past, present and desired future sets a steady foundation for producing an actionable strategy.

People seek common ground rather than resolve conflicts, focus on the future rather than solve old problems, generate a broad commitment to a common goal and take responsibility for action.

During any off-site, there is always uncertainty, frustration, and confusion mixed with fun, energy and achievement. But as uncomfortable as it can be, I would encourage you to embrace this mix as spending time with the ups and downs leads to realistic choices being made.

5.      Clear next steps – At the end of the workshop, when participants are starting to think about their journey home, it is important to push on and capture actionable next steps.

The details of what the next step might involve are not always clear, but making someone accountable for its delivery and getting dates of meetings in the calendar are all little steps that help ensure that the busyness of business, as usual, does not get in the way of the long term benefits of actioning strategy implementation.

It is true that strategy offsites always require further action to be successful (perhaps a topic for future posts).

But an impactful offsite is like pouring fuel on a fire, creating a surge of positive energy. I have always found offsites disproportionately important for organisations serious about their strategy implementation.