Imagine you’re attending an offsite strategy meeting. You’re prepared. You’re fired up. You’re eager to engage. But ten minutes into the meeting, you’re checking your email – and so are most of the people around you.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. Many – probably most – strategic offsites are held with great intentions, but they turn out to be a huge waste of time, money and company resources.
Why? See how many of the following value-destroyers you recognize:
The discussions are too “high-level,” so the group knows nothing will really change. There are no action plans, no follow-ups, no blueprints to guide tactical decisions, no ownership to ensure decisions made are implemented. Instead, everyone just goes back to work, and back to business as usual.
The group assumes data equals insight. Sure, your market research group created a 72-page document filled with comprehensive information, but that data typically looks backwards – internal sales figures, price trends or other economic factor trends. A great strategy meeting looks at factors that impact your business, but then it quickly shifts focus to assumptions about the future and how that impacts your strategy.
Say you run an energy services company that provides services to oil producers. The past is interesting but the future is everything. Reviewing the 10-year chart of WTI futures price history – something likely already widely understood – would have limited value. Structuring a discussion around emerging technologies that might change the way equipment assets are tracked and managed could yield higher returns on the group’s time.
You focus on all the things you could do instead of all the things you won’t do. But some of the most important strategic decisions involve what you will not do.
Take Southwest Airlines. Southwest’s strategy is to be the lowest-cost provider. Say they hold an offsite meeting and an executive recommends creating airport lounges. Other airlines might commission a study, perform market research, determine if airport lounges are valued, and run cost-benefit projections. Southwest would simply say, “Does that help us be the lowest-cost provider? No.” Saying no can create clarity and a real sense of purpose.
You turn high-level discussions into group exercises. Mission statements and vision statements are great. But they can’t be written as a group.
What you can do, though, is use a straw model. You can share a draft of a mission statement and ask for input on what people like and what they would change. Then you can revise your straw model offline instead of wasting the rest of the meeting arguing over every word. As a group you could never order one pizza that satisfies everyone on the team, and as a group you will never create a strategic document that satisfies everyone on the team. So don’t try.
You didn’t take advantage of breakout sessions. Breakout discussions allow for faster input, better focus and better feedback. Participative breakout sessions, used correctly, can be much more valuable than discussing every issue or prospective decision in one large group.
A strategic offsite is only successful if it truly makes a difference to your organization. Spend as much time thinking about what will happen after the meeting as you do planning for the meeting, because the true test of success is not what you talk about, it’s what you do.