Eight Keys To Running A Great Offsite
July 30, 2018
We started the concept of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) here at LeagueApps when we were a company of just six employees. As we’ve grown as a company, so too has the size and scope of our OTAs. We have now run 14 of these game-changing company offsites.
We view it as an opportunity to step out of the day to day twice a year. Each OTA provides us the chance to get aligned as a company, immerse ourselves in our purpose and mission, identify areas to improve and bring the team together across our different offices.
Even though it’s an investment of time and resources, we can see the tangible benefits coming out of the OTAs. Pulling off a successful offsite may seem daunting, but with careful planning, you can set yourself up for success. Here are our eight keys to running a great company offsite.
1. Define Your Goals And Themes
- Start with an end goal in mind: How will the company feel different after an immersive experience of an offsite? We ask ourselves – what do we want to be different about our company, and then use that to back into that agenda.
- We settle into a few key themes for the OTAs – up to three – based on what we want to accomplish, where we think the business is at, and what we want to achieve in the next six months. We might elevate a particular aspect of the business to focus on (e.g. defining our brand), a particular value we want to explore (how we can be a difference-maker in communities), or a behavior we want to encourage within our team (becoming more data-driven).
- We’ll think about how the agenda can reinforce those themes, and will often come up with a slogan/tagline of the OTAs that is a short-hand for remembering the offsite well after it ends. We will create a logo around it, print out a poster to remind people after the meeting, or even have it printed on t-shirts. Our battle cry from our most recent OTAs was “Strength in Numbers,” the slogan of the Golden State Warriors. It ties directly into our data-driven approach, and the idea of having faith in new and innovative strategies to win.
- We run an offsite twice a year – at the beginning of the year to communicate our goals/plans for the year and a mid-year offsite to check-in and reset/adjust where necessary.
2. Setting The Agenda
- We then define an agenda that manifests our key themes over the course of the allotted time.
- We try and vary the formats – it could be a presentation from leadership, from different team members, guest speakers, group activities, and experiences. Whether it’s one or two days, you want to keep our team engaged.
- We try and ensure that we elevate various voices within the company – giving other people the opportunity to present on specific topics. We empower anyone in the company to speak and present for 10 minutes on a topic that the whole team should know about.
- Group collaboration is always a central component – people enjoy getting the opportunity to think about topics outside of their day to day, and working differently with their colleagues. We design activities where people break into groups to come up with ideas and recommendations and then present back to the larger group.
- We also create windows for unstructured time – over lunch, breaks, and at night – that foster relationship-building and collaboration.
- When possible, we also want to give the entire company a chance to directly connect with our impact. That might involve a discussion with a group of our partners, a site visit to a partner organization, or even a volunteer opportunity with organizations in need.
— LeagueApps (@leagueapps) July 16, 2018
3. Nailing The Agenda
- As you build the agenda, you need to think about all of the specific logistics decisions that are required to keep everything on time and a great experience. We appoint one lead for the logistics, working as part of a larger steering group.
- Get out of your typical environment to help your team get out of their daily mindset. We run our offsites lean – which means finding low-cost spaces that can accommodate our team, and also be comfortable. This might be a space that another company has access to, a conference room we can borrow from a lawyer or investor, or even a private room in a restaurant that we can get for free if we order food.
- We’ll typically stay in a single space throughout the day to maximize productivity and eliminate travel time, but then plan a late afternoon transition to a new space for our evening activity.
- We’ve created a Google deck documenting all the lessons learned from planning so we can improve upon logistics in subsequent offsites.
4. Structuring The Fun
- Team-building isn’t just about the content, but also the experiences you have together.
- We’ll often plan a social activity that ties back to our interests, and lets the team have fun together – be it bowling, mini-golf, a basketball game, trivia night, or a team Olympics. We’ll empower people within the team to plan these activities and help us get the most out of them (e.g. assigning teams, developing contests).
- For a multi-day offsite, we’ll also plan an evening team activity that involves group collaboration. Modeled after a hackathon, our LeagueAppathon will have the entire company work in teams as part of a larger project, and see what we can accomplish in 4-5 hours. We’ll bring in food and drinks, and then present back what we accomplished at the end of the evening.
5. Guest Speakers
- One of the best ways to reinforce your themes, and inspire your team, is to bring in guest speakers.
- These speakers can be from your industry, or entirely out of it, but who have experiences to share that can help your team learn.
- Our speakers will typically present for 20-25 minutes, and then take questions from the team.
- We send out bios in advance, so your team is ready to engage.
6. Team Openness
- One of the most effective elements of OTAs is the chance for the entire team to identify areas for the company to get better.
- When we were under 30 people, we would run a team-wide exercise called Plus/Delta. We’d have people share all the pluses – what we were doing right and should do more of – and the deltas – areas where we needed to improve.
- As we’ve grown, we’ve focused on particular areas for improvement, and broken the team down into groups to explore and make recommendations of what we could implement to be better in the months to follow.
- We use our opening activity to establish the theme and tag-line.
- One technique we’ve used is to study sports teams that might have embodied aspects of our themes that we wanted to emulate, and share a detailed presentation about how and why they’ve won.
- We then design a closing activity that ties back to the themes – often asking each individual to reflect on what they wanted to accomplish in the months or year ahead. We might have them write it down, and/or share it with each other.
- The day after the offsite, we’ll send out a survey from Google Forms where we get real-time feedback on the entire offsite, what people learned, and also on the logistics. We take this and refer to it in planning future offsites.
- Leadership will also review all of our notes from the offsite, and discuss what items require follow-up, or might impact how we operate. We are always looking for opportunities to demonstrate that people’s feedback was heard.
- We’ll also use the weeks and months that follow to come back to the themes of the offsite.