Harnessing the Power of an Offsite RetreatTime away from daily operations in a management team retreat is critical to “sharpening the axe.” Having seen the powerful R & R (revitalization and renewal) emerge from dozens of offsite retreats we’ve facilitated over the decades, I used to be baffled by the fact that so many management teams don’t do them. It’s now clear that most teams feel they can’t afford the time. They’ve fallen headlong into allowing their urgent operational issues to crowd out strategic effectiveness (see “The Acceleration Trap: Frantic Busyness and Priority Overload is Overwhelming Way Too Many Teams and Organizations”).

Effective offsite retreats are customized to an organization’s culture, team dynamics, development needs, strategic issues, and priorities. Clearly identifying the retreat’s objectives is a critical starting point. Here’s a recent example:

Retreat Objectives:

• Agree on the critical role of leadership and culture in boosting organizational performance
• Assess our current culture
• Define and assess our balance of processes/systems and people/leadership
• Outline the leadership behaviors that will move us beyond bolt-on development programs to built-in culture integration
• Leverage a strengths-based approach for our leadership and culture development
• Align visions of the desired culture for each business unit
• Assess the Strengths and Shifts needed in each business unit to reach their desired culture
• Clarify core Strategic Imperatives and implementation steps for each business unit to reach their desired culture

This example shows an executive team that isn’t doing any “Moose Hunting.” Often identifying and addressing moose-on-the-table (sometimes called elephants-in-the-room or 800 pound gorillas) is a vital element of a retreat. Take our moose quiz to see if you might have a few of the creatures lurking in your halls or meeting rooms.

What’s key to effective Moose Hunting is providing a safe environment for identifying and rating the key issues. If that’s done successfully, discussions on how to “reduce the moose” are more likely to be open enough to start getting at the heart of the issue. Having a neutral outsider facilitating this discussion can avoid the “No moose here, boss!” response that can make the problem even worse.

Pre-retreat assessments can be quite useful to sharply focus discussions, save time in cutting to the heart of issues and opportunities, identify moose issues, and/or use data to clarify team strengthening opportunities. Here are examples of what’s sometimes uncovered, or you might use in putting your retreat agenda together:

“Executive Team Traps: Have You Fallen and Can’t Get Up?”
“Executive Team Traps: Tips, Techniques, and Resources to Pick Yourself Up”
“A Fourteen-Point Team Check Up”
“The Seven Sins of Learning Impaired Management Teams”

Sometimes team retreats focus on a particular issue such as improving safety, service/quality improvement, leadership development, or culture development. You can explore examples at “Leading a Peak Performance Culture“, “Links for Digging Deeper Into Leading a Peak Performance Culture“, and “Leadership and Culture Development for Higher Health and Safety“.

When a management team has set improvement objectives and outlined an implementation plan it’s often very useful to explore the depth of true commitment to the change. That means going beyond lip service to active and involved leadership. Leadership behaviors need to be specifically identified, expectations set, and development plans set to cascade from the management team throughout the organization. See “Lasting Culture Change Means Going Beyond Passionate Lip Service to Involved Leadership” for the Commitment Continuum model we’ve found very helpful in doing that.

I was just reading “Benefits of an Offsite” by Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of Zillow as I’ve been preparing to facilitate executive team retreats this fall. Spencer declares, “I think one overnight annually is the minimum a company should do; I can definitely see the case for more often than that.”

Our generic framework with a wide variety of approaches and options is outlined at Management Team Retreats. Time and again we’ve seen an offsite retreat make a huge impact on team and organization effectiveness. As Spencer Rascoff concludes; “I’m a big believer in the benefits of an offsite. If done right, they are a great use of time and company resources. They can invigorate and inspire the leadership team and can pay dividends for many years to come.”