There are some good tools out there to optimize the success of an off-site meeting. The list of Don’ts is pretty obvious to most of us if we spend 2 minutes thinking back to either the “Most Memorable Bad Meetings” we have attended or try to remember all the sessions that we forgot – many of these corporate gatherings leave nothing but a hole in time. My goal here is to share some alternative approaches to this problem.
Gaining negative examples is especially easy and brainstorming with four of your senior managers on the Bad Ones might actually even be fun (if, and only if, none of them were directly involved in the “planning” of that event!)
It is kind of fun to sit by the fire and tell stories!
In a nice blog by Bob Frisch and his team (see it here), they share a number of good ideas about Big Picture Planning for Events. The blog was a shorter version of an HBR article by Frisch and Chandler that expands things a bit more.
Their tips include the requirement that there be some pre-planning focused on desired outcomes and key goals for the meeting.
Typically, it seems like the CEO says, “Let’s have a meeting” and defines who will attend. A list of top leaders is generated and maybe an outside expert. Budget limitations define venues, numbers and activities. Golf gets expensive and bowling is too goofy. Airfares, room rentals, cars and meal costs add up quickly and there needs to be some ROI in order for this to make sense. And when all these things come together, the outcomes of the meeting should be apparent and the changes driven from the commitments should be meaningful.
This does not mean the generation of a list of characters who should be there because they are bosses’ bosses or that kind of thing nor should it simply be a list of people who do good PowerPoint presentations, because the reality is that much of that kind of content can be webcast or podcast these days and need not be part of the travel-time agenda. And also envision the normal glazed eyeballs and distracted looks in the dim room during the last session you attended…
After all, how many PowerPoints IS it possible to watch and survive?
(Some surveys say 3, but my personal experience is sometimes ONE. Yes, when I have a scheduled delivery of one of my team building experiential exercises, I will sit in on other presentations and will often observe participant reactions rather than listen to content. I can remember some good ones, but the reality is, “more are quite bad than somewhat good.” They don’t call it “Death by PowerPoint” for no reason, right? A search of “Death by PowerPoint” (in quotes) generated 346,000 results and without quotes, it was 27,100,000!)
Message: Fewer Lectures by Senior Managers without vetting for engagement and interest!
People can sit at their desks and review powerpoints either by going through the file, as a podcast or even a webinar. Why pay the costs of airfare and hotel and then have them sit basically isolated and hopefully listening?
What do you want them to Do Differently as a result of sitting there?
We look at such events as the only time that you can get these people into a room to interact and engage each other, to dialog face to face to build more collaboration and cooperation, or to solve real business problems and take away an impetus to do something differently.
The reality should be that we do a better job at the front end in designing the desired back end and the behavioral outcomes we desire. The program itself should be engaging, or have engaging components. People need to interact and develop a sense of ownership and commitment.
Let’s take the situation of the top management team that has developed a new strategy that needs to be rolled out. Who are the key players who will determine the steps to successful implementation and who are the people who NEED to know first-hand about the strategy so that they can begin communications? Who needs to attend to help us develop the roll-out plan and the timelines? Where do we focus and what do we need to change or eliminate from our measurement systems so that we can add some new behaviors that support the desired changes?
It is these kinds of questions (and more) that will help us define the plan and drive better outcomes.
Our approach looks more at involving and engaging participants to generate some ideas for innovation or improvement and doing different activities to teach and practice facilitation / motivation skills that the participants can use with their staffs or to do some team building to identify real ideas to improve collaboration or to design strategy interventions.
Other consultants and trainers in our network do sessions specifically designed to focus on Creativity or Leadership Development or Strategy Implementation.
But the goal and desired outcome is to enable change. This will not occur if you sit there and observe the scoresheet, any more than a basketball team will take practice time to sit and go through the Box Score of the game from two nights ago. Reviewing information is not going to improve skills or interactions and it is certainly not going to develop a level of ownership commitment needed to do something differently.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from a young engineer who is part of a planning team designing an event for 250 people. From the information I could gather, this was to include a one-hour interactive team building session for 1/3 of the group at a time and for tables of 8 – 9 people since this was how the rest of the program was apparently designed.
I referred him to my blog post on team sizes and optimal outcomes which basically reviews a lot of research that indicates that small groups perform much better than larger ones and that supports my 25 years of playing with tabletops no larger than 6 to drive behavioral change. Plus, devoting ONE hour to teambuilding at a multi-day conference was highly likely not to change one small thing, even. But at least they were looking for some experiential learning to accomplish this as opposed to doing DISC or something…
My suggestion to him was at the NEXT conference, they do something like our Lost Dutchman team building exercise, do it for the entire group, and spend half a day participating AND working on ideas for improvement and change. The desired outcome should be to generate some plans for doing things differently and for developing a followup plan to make it more likely that things will actually change and improve. It will not come from some senior manager standing at the front of the room talking about The Mission and The Vision and The Strategy. We need to paint the picture for people about where we are going:
The view at the front of the wagon, which is different than the view at the back!
Alignment will come from the active engagement of participants and the detailing of specific desired changes — and ideally measuring those improvements in a meaningful way.
After all, Nobody Ever
Washes a Rental Car!
People must have an ownership commitment in order for them to be expected to take care of things and do the maintenance and other tasks necessary to take care of the business.
What I do is designed to be an excuse for a targeted debriefing — all my activities are designed to generate perspective and discussion and engagement so that tabletops can reframe situations and generate ideas for improvement. The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a 2 hour game that we can debrief for days — seriously. If I am asked to deliver a session, I want 90 minutes for the debriefing and also the active participation of the Most Senior Manager, who I get to lead, “What does Mining Gold mean for Our Organization (and what will we choose to do differently to mine more gold!)
If I use the Square Wheels as an approach, we will always get into a discussion like this one. (You can download and view a pdf version of the worksheet below by clicking on this link: SW – RWs worksheet)
There are many interactive games that you can use to teach collaboration skills (like Collaboration Journey) or creative, innovation and implementation processes (like Innovate & Implement). And lots of other vendors sell useful and effective products that can link to real behaviors and engagement.
Why have anyone sit and watch? What would YOU prefer to do?
The goal is to involve and engage people for some change in behavior. This is a lot easier to do at one large event with a focus on facilitating and involvement than to do one-on-one in rollout. Companies can deliver powerpoint show in many different ways at a lot less cost than at some venue.
Getting people off their seat and on their feet and involved with discussions of potential improvement or an analysis of the critical factors necessary to implement some new strategy is ONLY accomplished at such events.
This came from the Haines Center’s newsletter – Strategic Management Insights (April 25, 2013)). It added some solid additional perspective and ideas:
8 Tips for a Successful Management Retreat
Accomplish strategic planning, team building or simply have great conversations about the business, with a successful retreat. Regardless of the size of your organization, bringing senior managers together for a well-planned retreat is a smart business decision. Conducted properly, corporate retreats can be a great investment that helps move your company in the right direction. They can be a great opportunity for strategic planning that will enhance performance and foster overall growth. Follow these eight tips to assist you in planning a successful senior management retreat:
- Decide on the focus. Every organization has its unique dynamics, goals and challenges. Are you designing a retreat for strategy or just team building? Do you need to improve office morale? Do you just want to relax? Your agenda may vary depending upon the focus of your retreat.
- Find a suitable venue. Pick a location with comfortable accommodations, a variety of meeting facilities and easily accessible local attractions. Be sure to consider what your senior managers would benefit from. Aim to make your decision based upon the overall quality of the experience offered, not just the price.
- Select appropriate participants. If you fail to select the right players, your retreat will be unproductive. Identify key people. Consider the benefits of including executives, managers and top-performing employees. Invite only those that can actively participate in achieving your focus. No more, no less.
- Set an agenda. Customize your retreat based upon your key objectives. Be sure to fill each day with a well-balanced mixture of business and fun. Distribute the agenda before the retreat so your managers can begin to think about the topics and prepare themselves to participate in any activities.
- Bring information. Before the retreat, ask your senior managers to compile a list of relevant information, data and research about your organization and its business environment. Use the list as a starting point for discussions and to promote the sharing of ideas.
- Begin with a group activity. Plan an informal event to kick off the retreat. Use this as a way to introduce new faces, minimize tension and encourage group interaction.
- Retreat now. Repeat. You will be amazed at what you will accomplish with a well-planned retreat. Repeat the events as often as possible to ensure that leaders don’t go ‘back to business as usual’. The investment will be worth every penny.
- Engage a facilitator. Find someone from outside the company to facilitate the retreat. Maintain your goals and vision, but allow a seasoned professional to manage the process of achieving them.
A successful senior management retreat will help you to gain a better understanding of your most important leaders. Contact us to plan the retreat that may help your organization to achieve superior results.
You can reach Haines at http://www.hainescentre.com
My personal experience with meetings and conferences extends over 30 years and 38 countries, a lot of it presenting and a lot of this listening to others. Like many of you, I have sat through 100s of presentations of all kinds in all sorts of venues. Only a few are memorable. My positive and negative experiences plus a lot of research on experiential and accelerated learning have helped me as I designed some really great tools for organizational development and engagement. These engaging tools are all simple to use and highly impactful, guaranteed!
If you are interested in a large group team building event focused on organizational alignment and inter-organizational collaboration, my Lost Dutchman game is superb.
You can rent the exercise very cheaply for a one-time use or purchase it for repeated use in training or as part of an implementation program for strategy or change. SYou can also find some ideas for ways to cheaply run a large group team building event AND fully engage the senior management team on implementing strategy in this blog post.
And with any rental or purchase, you also get my personal absolute unconditional free full support for dealing with your questions and challenges. AND, I will guarantee great results.
Email me for desired personal help. Or call me. I am more than happy to spend time framing up different approaches for improving people and performance, regardless as to whether it is going to generate a sale for me.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.
Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company