Why corporate off-sites will never go out of fashion

Zoom quizzes and online cooking classes may have helped get us through the workplace bonding challenges of 2020 and 2021 but they are no replacement for the good old traditional face-to-face corporate away day or off-site.

A well planned and executed off-site provides an excellent platform for brainstorming, strategising and innovation. It can improve productivity, boost employee motivation, encourage collaboration and build trust and respect among employees.

At WPG we were recently delighted to dust off our Corporate Off Site (last seen in 2019) and throw ourselves into a two-day event that left us feeling bonded, relaxed, enthusiastic and focussed.

So, what’s the secret to a successful off-site? We asked WPG’s founding partner, Professor Fiona Patterson, for her top tips:

What’s the point of an off-site?

Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve so you can plan your activities and get the most from the experience. We’ve worked remotely at WPG since long before COVID struck. But having no face-to-face time at all was new to us and some of our team had never met in person.  So, we had quite the wish list of objectives:

  • allow people to establish (and re-establish) connections
  • provide a personal development take away
  • work collaboratively on improving some internal processes
  • boost morale
  • communicate the company business plan for the coming year.

Once you’ve decided on the aims and objectives make sure to communicate them to the team.  Then they know what to expect and can ready themselves. It’s also a good idea to consider whether there’s anything team members could usefully prepare before the event.

Who’s running the show?

Even the least hierarchical of organisations have a structure, managers and someone with whom the buck eventually stops!  But this could impede the success of your corporate away day.  If the Director is running the feedback session to gather views on existing processes, for example, people may not feel comfortable sharing honest views.

Or if colleagues are working collaboratively to complete a competitive challenge, managers might find it tricky not to take control.  Similarly, junior staff may feel less able to tell their team leader why that raft definitely won’t float!

For these reasons and many more, an external facilitator can be an excellent idea.  These professionals can be involved as little or as much as required.  They make it easier for managers to get involved, more comfortable for junior staff to share views and their presence promotes a ‘we’re all in this together’ atmosphere among participants.

If you’re not using a facilitator, then do think about how you organise teams and who runs your sessions.  Maybe assign leadership rules to more junior team members and brief senior leaders not to step in and assume control.

What’s in this off-site for me?

As a business owner or leader, you’ll want your organisation to get the most from an off-site session.  But providing a personal development or reflection opportunity for team members can make them feel valued and appreciated. And not just about who they are at work, but more about a ‘whole person’ approach.

We welcomed fellow Business Psychologist Ingrid Manning to facilitate the second day of our off-site and to deliver a session on Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This helps individuals to understand their own communication preferences and how they interact with others. On a wider scale it provided us with a deeper understanding of each other and insight into how we might adapt our own approach to suit different audiences.

It takes all sorts

It’s worth remembering that an off-site is likely to take people out of their comfort zone. And whilst challenging oneself can be rewarding, making people feel fundamentally uncomfortable rarely brings positive results. One person’s dream activity can be another person’s nightmare (we’re talking to you karaoke lovers!!!!!)

As an organiser this can be a challenge. Our best advice is to keep the spotlight on what you’re trying to achieve. For us, that was communication, so we incorporated this into several practical exercises.

In one, we asked the team to follow verbal instructions for a piece of origami. A test for both instruction giver and receiver! Thankfully we ended up with 15 recognisable paper tigers, but it certainly gave food for thought around delivering clear instructions and listening carefully.

In the past we’ve done raft building and working collaboratively on a community garden – which left us with a great sense of achievement. There are lots of options but remember that for every person thrilled at the prospect of abseiling another will be petrified and therefore unlikely to contribute to or benefit from the off-site!

That said, even the least competitive amongst us would agree that being successful feels good. The best corporate off-sites leave participants feeling empowered and enthusiastic. So, try to provide an opportunity for everyone to shine by having a good balance of physical and intellectual activities.  And if there’s a quiz then think about the different ages, backgrounds and areas of expertise!

Use the platform

Even if your team is in desperate need of bonding, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between an off-site and a jolly! Nothing wrong with the latter but a successful off-site has a business objective.

At our event we communicated the company plan for the next 12 months and the team benefitted from receiving that information as a group and having the time to discuss and digest the organisational plan. Similarly, being able to brainstorm and problem solve how we can improve some of our internal processes without the pressure of being ‘at work’ led to some very productive solutions.

What happened at the off-site…

…should definitely not stay at the off-site! It’s important to carry the benefits back to the workplace.  Make sure any outputs are clearly disseminated and commitments are honoured. Maybe schedule a review for three or six months to see if changes are working and actions have been addressed.

Also seek formal and anonymous feedback from participants. Remind them of the objectives and see if they thought these were met, establish what they liked and what they didn’t. It’s also a useful way to gather ideas for future events.

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