Optimizing the Value of Your Off-Site Meeting: Five Tips

Why don’t all business owners and C-level executives focus on value creation as job one?  In my experience working both as a C-level executive and as a consultant who has worked with a number of mid market companies, the answer is obvious:  it’s hard to think about the future when you’ve got so much to worry about today.

Most leaders function in an atmosphere of juggling crises.  They step off a flight to 116 new e-mails and have to devote their most precious resource⎯their time−to figuring out what needs to be handled immediately, what can wait for a few hours, and what can wait until tomorrow. In today’s hyperfrenetic business climate, it’s all but impossible for leaders to indulge themselves in the ultimate luxury⎯uninterrupted time devoted to thinking about and planning for the future.

The typical solution for harried C-level executives is an off-site meeting, but such meetings typically devolve into extended bull sessions in which people utter a lot of high-minded, well-intentioned platitudes about the future but rarely figure out how to translate those impressive sentiments into action items.  You know the feeling, that “off-site euphoria” you experience as you wrap up the meeting with optimism and energy. But that feeling is soon replaced by the harsh reality of the daily grind as the wave of missed deadlines, extended due dates, and lack of follow-through on the meeting’s action items becomes apparent.  The reality is that everybody gets in a few days of golf, but then it’s back to the office, with nothing changed.

So how can you optimize off-site meetings?  How do you extend off-site aspirations and strategies into achievable goals that withstand daily business challenges?

Try these five tips to keep that offsite momentum moving.

1.    Make sure your stated goals for the off-site meeting are clear.

Get the leadership team involved in early planning and have them prepare for the offsite meeting agenda prior to their arrival.  Preparation is the leading indicator for success.  An old adage about speeches goes like this:  there are only three kinds of speeches – one you plan to give, the one you give, and the one you wish you gave.  Like speeches, preparation for off-site meetings will ensure that you can meet your objectives and motivate your leadership team to take action.

2.    Develop a full script for the offsite meeting.

Just as you would if you were writing a screenplay, orchestrate the offsite meeting with your objectives in mind.  If you plan to add a team-building element, consider the appropriate time. If you’ve developed exercises to tackle an organizational need, develop a flow that will lead to positive outcomes and outputs.  If you think you can “just wing” the facilitation of the meeting, you might just as well stay on the golfcourse.

3.    Write everything down.

Adopt the mantra, “if it’s not written down, it never happened.”  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve asked for off-site meeting documentation to find it doesn’t exist.  Meeting documentation will give you a transcript of your decision making process and most importantly keep the organization accountable for commitments made during the meeting.

4.    Establish clear communications on action items.

Build in time to follow up on the creation of action items or initiatives that have substance. Assign a team to each initiative and be clear on who the leader is and how and when the team will have to report progress.  Make sure each initiative team knows how each initiative will add business value to the company.

5.    Include initiative updates as part of your operations. 

Far too many companies do not have a “culture of execution” and allow great ideas to fall through the cracks.  Integrate the initiative updates into your normal operations meetings and hold leaders accountable for the results.  Consider including initiative results in your future incentive plans.  No excuses.

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