Globally, the state of engagement is low. According to a study on the state of staff engagement, 84% of employees are ‘just coming to work’ with the balance considered as ‘engaged workers’. As organizations work to improve workforce engagement, collaboration, team work and culture, they often turn to offsites as a way to get people together and rally people on a common purpose. At least, that is the intent!
While getting everyone on the same page is a much-needed action with offsites, it often falls short in terms of the outcomes. Leadership can assume that the focus is to align on the near-term goals and the future plans and yet miss the woods for the trees. Here are a few perspectives that can help deliver better solutions, build trust and connect for potential ‘offsites’ and avoid cynicism and ridicule.
In this blog, I refer to these team gatherings as ‘offsites’; although they are coined and designed differently in organizations.
Gauge interest: Among the approaches considered for offsites are to pulse check, brainstorm ideas and rally the team. Post the pandemic, globally staff are reluctant to come in to office – because work gets done well and easier, even if you are not face-to-face. The preference to work from home and to be online and available often comes in the way of the ‘traditional’ offsite. Resulting in leaders and businesses mandating presence for such meetings in some shape or form. Which isn’t the best option to get alignment or to make people feel included.
Purpose-led: Working with the end-goal is always healthy. Offsites can get a bad name due to poor planning, lack of continuity or even a lackadaisical attitude of leaders. Having a clear agenda and roadmap and an action plan post event can lead to better outcomes. Most organizations do very little to highlight the value of a purpose-led offsite. if there is an environment where people aren’t psychologically safe and know that their diverse views and perspectives aren’t respected, you will have empty words resounding off the walls. People can see through when tactics and random actions take precedence over a clear and sound purpose – and if every leader is living it daily. Otherwise, participants will grin and bear it till the offsite lasts and then go back to doing their ‘jobs’.
Diversity matters: For offsites to be a success, inviting a diverse group of people is ideal. Not those hand-picked by leaders or who need to ‘listen in’ to conversations. If the agenda and outcomes are clear, the participants will be easier to find and without much hassle. The last issue leaders need is a perception of favoritism and inequitable engagement. That can create a vicious cycle of resentment and disconnection.
Collective engagement: Most offsites start on the wrong foot when selected people ‘decide’ what’s ideal for ‘others’ and everyone else has to ‘go with the flow’! When participants are involved in shaping the agenda, the chances of success are higher. Furthermore, when last minute requests are made and participants are not giving enough notice to attend or complete pre-event coursework, it can limit motivation. Everyone has a voice and it needs to be heard – loud and clear. Often, the best ideas come when we tap into the power of crowds.
Swift action counts: Not taking quick action from the offsite means it drops from the agenda and the next event can be a damp squib. A sense of urgency is needed for stakeholders to believe in such engagements in the future. Staff also need to know something concrete emerged from the discussions or it can lead to speculations about ‘wasted’ resources or people ‘having a good time while we slog it out’. The offsite leader is expected to give clear actions to deliver on so that the next event is not about ‘let’s recall what we did last time’ but ‘what can we do to progress further’ with our desired programs identified and acted on from the last session. These engagements are not about ‘passing on’ work that could be managed elsewhere and done better. Nor is it about finding scapegoats for ‘pet’ projects.
Communicate right: Not everyone is aware of the reasons for converging. You may have newer colleagues who are finding their feet in an alien environment. Helping them get familiar and providing line of sight is crucial. Or, more tenured staff who have been already a part of such initiatives but aren’t fully committed. Might be worth re-engaging and reinstating the purpose of the offsite. While most business offsites focus on the agenda, how it is communicated before, during and after the event counts immensely. Staff notice when leaders are away and every single action is watched intently. Conversations also matter – reducing power point presentations and encouraging candid dialogue helps improve trust and connection during the offsite.
So, what must offsites focus on?
If there are key themes that must be a part and parcel of every offsite, it is culture, purpose and leadership.
- Culture – because there is no greater investment than in aligning people to common ways of working and establishing norms and practices which moves the organization with positive intent. It is about taking people along the journey and culture is the glue that holds it together.
- Purpose – Most organizations do very little to highlight the value of its purpose. If the environment is such that people aren’t psychologically safe and know that their diverse views and perspectives aren’t respected, you will have empty words resounding off the walls. People can see through when tactics and random actions take precedence over a clear and sound purpose and how every leader is living it daily. Otherwise, participants will grin and bear it till the offsite lasts and then go back to doing their ‘job’.
- Leadership – this isn’t about hierarchy and knowing the right people but reinforcing what makes every employee a leader. From going beyond their roles for extra-social behaviors to acknowledging mistakes and failures as a way to get better and stronger. How many offsites have celebrated failure? It isn’t about finding victims for poor decisions but addressing with evidence-based approaches, why and how best decisions can be made. We can give newer names to the approaches and styles to leadership – situational, contextual, crisis, democratic, architectural, catalytic and more. However, what matters is authenticity and tangible action.
At the end of the day, if the offsite can give participants confidence to state that they were aware of the company’s purpose and know what their role is, felt enthusiastic and passionate about the journey or the changes, agree that they are in a safe environment and are valued for their views, then you can claim your intervention was successful for the specific moment. What matters next is always left to how you take the messages from the offsite and energize those who were not included or need to be included.
Liked the article? Share your thoughts. Have other ideas? Interested to know what you think.
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