Why There Is No Substitute for the Annual 'Offsite' With Your Team
Meetings are a polarizing topic. Basecamp founder and CEO Jason Fried famously doesn’t allow them. Elon Musk has told his employees to reduce meetings whenever possible. While it’s true that the majority of meetings are business rituals on autopilot -- that have been made even more redundant by workplace tools like Slack -- there is still one particular meeting that can be of significant value to you and your company: the annual offsite.
What is an annual offsite?
An annual offsite is a once-a-year meeting, preferably away from the office, in which goals and objectives for the next year are discussed, clarified and set in place, and the past year is reflected upon, with recognition of particular achievements of note, both on a company and individual level.
The “offsite” portion of this doesn’t have to be an exotic location -- in fact, if it’s too exotic, your staff might be too distracted to be engaged. It just needs to be at enough of a remove from where your team normally works so that it’s clear this is a separate event and activity that allows for a different type and level of thinking. People are taken out of the familiar and are also shown they are valued enough to be brought someplace to help with higher-level thinking and planning.
The meeting can be around the close of your fiscal year, or if you have a distributed team and it takes a fair amount of coordination to get everyone to one place, even only once a year, it could be at a time that makes sense for the majority of the team.
Who should be there?
Ideally, everyone in the firm, or at least everyone in various key teams, should be in attendance. Many are accustomed to the idea of there being a “strategic” offsite, in which only some key management team members are invited, but ideally this meeting should be an “all-hands” affair. It provides a particular occasion to look forward to and plan around.
What can be gained?
In a world focused on speed, we often fail to take stock and commemorate wins. The first and most obvious gain of an annual offsite is the chance to look on the year that has passed and talk about the highs and lows. There’s also an excellent opportunity to recognize those that have been instrumental in the success of the company, be it on an individual or a team level.
With the context for the last year in place, you can talk about goals and objectives for the year to come with questions about what can be improved, both interpersonally (relationships that need repair or better maintenance) or in regards to team dynamics. There’s also a chance to look at financial numbers, hires or even to do a bit of a brand audit. If you’ve created enough of an element of trust by giving people a safe space to share ideas, you’ll also hear about things that simply have not been given an outlet to be discussed previously. An annual offsite can provide you with that catch-all opportunity for quiet conversations about topics of real, but not necessarily obvious, importance.
There’s a fair amount of ridicule around exercises like trust falls -- this shouldn’t be used to create a false social dynamic that doesn’t already exist, but to build on what already does. The last thing you want is for feuding employees to be given the opportunity to shoot each other in an airsoft competition or drive each other off the track in a go-kart race. The activities you choose should celebrate collaboration and team thinking, not individual showmanship.
What can be lost?
If people have been tasked with planning and executing such an event, there’s very little that might be lost. In an ever more digital age, it’s never a bad thing to increase the amount of time we spend with each other in person, either personally or professionally. This is especially for remote team members. When you are in together in person, you can pick up on body language, interact with colleagues and develop those inside jokes based on your time together that become the lubrication for all the work together during the year to come.
Indeed, the real loss would be the opportunity to connect with your team and get everyone rowing in the same direction in the way that an email/webinar/meeting never will. You can also lose an opportunity to stand out from other firms who either don’t have an annual off-site or simply go through the motions of one, making it more of a social affair rather than something that engages staff in every way.
In all likelihood, you have done some kind of offsite event with your team. But having an event with intentionality and purpose around growing the company together -- and not just a get-together for social reasons and to improve morale -- can be just the thing that takes your company to the next level.