Monday, July 31, 2006

Off-Site and Out of Our Minds!

I can think of some pretty horrible things a boss could say to his or her employees: "We're downsizing and, although we appreciate your contributions".... "We've been bought out by the Lithuanians and, you're really going to think this is funny, but they've got this language requirement"...."We're instituting office sharing and you get Tuesdays and Thursdays".... "We think it might be SARS, but we've been assured that our new Ionic Breeze air cleaners will take care of it"...

Nothing, however strikes eye rolling and sighs of disgust as "Everybody. We're going on an off-site."

My last JFSEWB (job for someone else with benefits) was off-site-happy. We were lousy with "great ideas" to get away to think things over. We had the obligatory ropes course avec trust fall. Of course. We also had a strange gathering of managers with a Junguan analyst where we were treated to massage (I'm not kidding) and required to draft personal mission statements after walking out into the wilderness (of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin) until we found a place that "called to us." I"ve been camping and skiing. I've seen talking sticks (you can only speak while you're holding it -- a practical joke from our Native American brethren and sistren, to be sure) and colored hats, pebbles with adjectives on them (we were to speak from this adjective for the entire weekend) and a whole host of other trite attempts to be productive with forced togetherness.

When my clients ask me about off-sites, I sigh deeply and, trying valiantly to keep my opinions to myself (I fail here), I ask them why they think this would be a productive use of their time. It must be the tone of voice, coupled with the fact that my clients are superiorly clever, intuitive people (down to the last man and woman). They pause and contemplate, sensing their coach ready to pounce, then offer: "Because we can get a lot more done out of the office?"

Good answer. But, is it true? Consultants who study the effectiveness of training and planning interactions offer that off-sites, in the main, are only about 10% effective, wasting a lot of time with games and filler, while workers back at the office become increasingly incensed at having to hold down the fort. Companies with strained or superficial workplace relationships use off-sites in an attempt to cement relationships and wind up spending more time at this than in planning, brainstorming and focus-grouping (they try to wedge it in anyway).

When I work with my clients, they find that they need much less time in an off-site than they thought. I ask them to consider using long lunches to work on one problem at a time, rather than to try to get several things done at once. This way, they can build their off-site skills.

Questions to be answered can be:

  • What are our commitments? This could be the business goal or strategy we're involved with right now on this project? If we're doing strategic planning, this could be the creation of Mission (chief aim), Vision (the future for our business that provides us with a context from which to operate) and Values (what are we commited to not leaving out)
  • Where do we say we need to be on this project? With the company?
  • Are we there?
  • Why or why not? Is there something missing, the presence of which would make a difference?
  • If we don't know, how will we find out?
  • Relationship managemet: Whether we win or lose, does everyone feel valued and cared for? Blamed and deflated? What do you need (to re-energize yourselves)?
  • What possible actions can we take to get there?
  • How will be pick an action to develop and implement?
  • What are our next steps?

I think effective off-sites are cultural in a business. Meaning, that if a company hosts them frequently, tied to business strategy, and the results of the off-site can be seen in the organization, they make a difference.

Chime in: What are your best and worst off-site stories. Do share!