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Planning Employee Off-Site Meetings

Mixing Learning and Fun

Planning Employee Off Site MeetingsI have been working with a number of clients recently to plan off-site meeting for their employees. The primary goal for many of the leaders is in transferring information to employees and enabling for employees to get together to socialize – especially in organizations were employees are located in a number of offices and/or work remotely. However, these meetings can be – and should be – much more. This is the perfect opportunity to provide learning opportunities for employees and to enable for kick-off of major initiatives.

Let me share what we did for one national client who was getting employees together for a 2 day off-site meeting.

We arranged for all employees to arrive the afternoon before (by 3:00 PM) the start of the two day off-site.

The First Evening

That evening involved time for everyone to check into their rooms and get settled and then we met for cocktails and an hour of socializing.

Over the last 6 months the organization had hired a number of new employees who were working remotely (it was a growing organization) and had not met many others in the organization yet. The first evening, therefore, we arranged for a “get to know your co-worker” activity. Prior to the session, I sent a survey to each attendee and asked a number of questions such as (not a complete list of questions):

  • Where were you born?
  • What countries have you visited?
  • Where did you spend your last vacation?
  • How many children do you have?

The goal was to use this information to develop a form of 20 questions that would be used by employees to learn about their fellow co-workers. Everyone participated – even senior leadership. The activity started that first evening but employees would need to talk with others throughout the two days to complete the activity. The last day, we would review the results and the employees who was able to complete all of the questions (matching the right co-worker to the appropriate question) would have the opportunity to win a $25 gift certificate.

The First Day

In addition to transferring information about the organization’s strategy and discussing successes that have occurred during the previous year, we also wanted to have some problem solving sessions to resolve business issues along with providing professional development opportunities. The number of participants in this off-site was 115 employees from all levels of the organization.

Business issues to be discussed on the second day were focused on challenges around:

  • Managing complex projects
  • Communicating effectively throughout the organization
  • Competing effectively in a growing industry
  • Use of technology to improve collaboration organization-wide
  • Effectively onboarding new employees

Professional development sessions provided were on the topics of:

  • Managing projects
  • Communication best practices
  • Supporting and championing change initiatives

Employees were able to choose a session to attend (each session was ½ day). The sessions were to be held in the afternoon of the first day.

The morning of the first day was focused on getting to know each other, sharing information around strategy as well as new clients that have engaged with the organization. Financial information was also shared. Additionally, the business challenges mentioned above were shared with some brief background about each. Participants were told that day two of the off-site would be focused on breaking into groups to brainstorm and develop potential solutions to the challenges.

There was also a team building activity in the morning, just before lunch that was focused on problem solving a mini case study – effectively preparation for day two.

The Evening of Day One

The evening started off with cocktails and time to work on the activity started the first night. In addition to dinner, the group had rented out a comedy show and all employees were entertained for the evening.

The Second Day

Participants were broken into five groups – each group assigned a business issue. While the groups were large, through effective facilitation it was manageable. Participants were a mix of departments, leaders and non-leaders and a variety of skill and experience levels. The executive level employees were not participating in the groups, but would be available to answer questions and providing clarifying information. They were not permitted to guide the conversation or direct groups into any particular direction.

We asked each group to assign the following roles:

  • Team leader (this role could not be fulfilled by a management level employee)
  • Scribe
  • Presenter (this role could not be fulfilled by a management level employee)
  • Time keeper

The entire day was devoted to the discussions around business issues with the following outline provided:

  • Presentation of business issue along with background information as to why this was an issue
  • Brainstorming around the issue (developing of potential solutions – both short- and long-term)
  • Narrowing down of potential solutions to address the issue (to no more than 8 – 12 options)
  • Further narrowing down (to no more than 5 – 6 options) against criteria such as: financial impact, resources needed, able to be implemented within a one year time period, etc.
  • Development of action plans for each option including resource needs, estimated budget needs (or at least designating where money might be required for implementation) and timing
  • Presentation of action plans to group

This information would then be delivered to the executive team for discussion and final decision at the next leadership meeting. Once action plans were decided upon, the information would be presented at the next virtual all-hands meeting.

Day two ended with a review of the team building activity started the very first night as well as a recap of what was learned and discussed during the off-site meeting. We also reviewed what went well and where we would make changes for the next off-site.

This was the first time the organization had such an engaging and productive off-site meeting. Significant positive feedback was provided by attendees who found great value in the professional development sessions as well as feeling engaged by being able to participate in solving business issues. The executives noted they received some outstanding action plans to resolve business issues and were impressed with what came out of the group. Additionally, the team building activities were a great way to get people comfortable with each other on a personal level, which would only make working together easier in the future. Plus – they found it great fun!

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