Of all the meetings top executives go to in a year, none is more important than the strategy off-site, where the most essential conversations for the future of the business occur. Yet it is the rare management team that can say its strategy off-site truly changed the way the business is run. At best, participants do some vague direction setting and work on team-building skills; at worst, they write off the retreat as a waste of time and resources. It needn’t be like that.
The vast majority of strategy offsite meetings are ineffective.
Most companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on their annual or quarterly strategy offsite, taking up days of their top people’s time to sit in a room and get nothing done. The presentations are informative, but could have been distributed by email. The networking is valuable, but could have taken place over a single dinner. The breakout activities are fun, but otherwise unproductive. The offsite simply has little impact on the business.
Strategy offsites are successful if clients look back six or twelve months later and say the meeting truly changed the way the business is run.
A strategy offsite’s success is largely determined by what happens before it convenes. Before a meeting, it is critical to clearly and carefully define the objectives of the offsite and determine who should attend. While many clients share similar objectives – prioritizing initiatives, allocating resources, solving a challenging cross-functional problem, identifying new opportunities – no meeting is exactly the same.
Watch Bob Frisch, Founding Partner, explain the best way to start planning a strategy offsite.
Once the objectives are clear, opinions of the participants are gathered to understand their points of view on key issues, options, or actions to take. This data helps determine the conversations that must take place and structure an agenda around them. Based on the agenda, session content, such as presentation slides and business cases, is developed, and a focused pre-read is distributed to get attendees thinking about the topics to be discussed.
In the session, the conversation, process and content are kept in balance using innovative tools and frameworks tailored to the client. This approach ensures the meeting achieves its objectives and attendees remain engaged. At the end of the session, clear action items, accountabilities, and the process for ensuring follow-through are agreed upon. These outcomes are included in the meeting documentation, which is distributed shortly after the offsite.
To learn more about our expertise, read our article “Off-sites That Work“, Harvard Business Review’s only full article on the topic.
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