Management Offsites – We have Tried it All!

“We have tried it all” said the Head of Personnel and Communication when I asked her for the different formats of the yearly top management meeting in December. Impressive budgets, celebrity speakers, exotic locations, risky body work – the span ranges from a top athlete, who explains „how he made it to the top“ to highly emotional motivational speakers bouncing on stage in front of surprised managers, to a breakneck climbing trip or the breakout from a so-called Panic Room.

The real estate company had used numerous of these formats already - with variable feedback from the conference participants. In addition to the difficulty of addressing the tastes and needs (not to mention the physical abilities) of all managers adequately, the unsustainability of the conference results was often mentioned as a point of criticism.

A different approach

At the kick-off of the strategy meeting of the management team last year the CEO and the head of HR and communications selected a participatory and innovative concept. The meeting was preceded by an anonymous interview process, based on a structured questionnaire with topics about business and strategy development, but also about evaluating cooperation and executives. A representative number of managers had been integrated in the preparation of the meeting with the help of closed scaling questions as well as open questions about improvement potentials. The anonymous results determined the shape of the agenda - according to the stated priority topics of the executives. The results of the evaluation of cooperation and leadership qualities were also used for the panels and working groups as a discussion basis during the conference.

Based on this intensive and widely accepted preparatory work it was possible to achieve impressive results with a high acceptance during the conference. Sophisticated action plans with different themes were developed, intensively discussed and evaluated. Among other things the results were used for a "Leadership Calendar” which accompanies the leaders along the jointly developed agenda and reminds them of the Leadership Charter on paper and as a daily electronic format.

The participatory procedure and the tangible results of the meeting reaped a positive feedback from the participants. „Best conference we have ever had“, „It was great to see that our input really flowed into the agenda and was considered so strong", „unlike other Offsites this time I really had the feeling that we achieved something during these two days“, „the results had to do something with us and with our operational issues“ – some of the o-tones from top executives expressed.

Unclear expectations

In my experience as an Executive Team coach and presenter of events like this the expectations of such a meeting are often not clarified sufficiently beforehand. An intensive agenda and content preparation occurs only rarely. Often the CEO would give an ad hoc „heave-ho“ speech, followed by other external motivational speakers or frontal presentations. So it is not surprising that many managers tend to „consumerism“, lean back and are already looking forward[nbsp] to the „networking“ part of the meeting in the evening with a cold beer. Thereby, the annual gathering of the top management could be a great platform for the development of a common strategic agenda for the upcoming year. Well prepared, structured professionally and underscored by matching formats during the session, daily routines break up, synergies and new business potentials are discovered and planned ready for implementation with sustainable measures. These results will usually enjoy a wider acceptance and thus have a real chance to establish themselves in daily work routines.

In addition to business-related topics and concerns that play an important role in the executives’ daily routine and therefore generate enough „operating temperature“ for all participants, it is essential, that moderator/coach and CEO provide for a benevolent atmosphere, where „thinking aloud“ is welcomed and supported. A taboo-free and unprejudiced zone which allows everyone to leave daily operational constraints, where cross-functional and heterogeneous executive teams may challenge existing beliefs and practices.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it

According to this proviso of Albert Einstein the real estate company has ventured into new territory and discovered alongside impressive substantive progress, also a completely new feeling of togetherness in the management team, not only based over a beer at the bar, but rather relying on a joint strategic agenda and agreed imperatives of cooperation and thereby achieved new sustainability and intensity.

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