The Softer Side of Off-Sites


I was involved in facilitating/leading three off-sites last week ranging from two hours to two days. Their purpose, like many such events was to communicate important information, create community, develop skills and solve problems. Of course, the content of the work is critical. What was clear to me once again was the importance of the “softer” factors that go into creating a successful off-site, factors that can be overlooked or underinvested in.

You know the golden rule for buying real estate? Location, Location, Location. That rule holds for off-sites as well. Try your best to ensure that the venue is pleasing to the group, airy and has windows if possible. We all know not to hold off-sites on-site. But don’t hold it super far away (no matter how beautiful the spot) if that is going to be highly complicated for the lives and families of your participants. Holding your off-site locally in NYC? Here’s a plug here for The Atrium at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Even though we were on the other side of the glass wall, the park’s greenery felt accessible and gave the group energy. Then there is the food. Please put time and thought into the selection and quantities. Nothing makes someone feel cared for like delicious and plentiful food.

I am convinced that music makes everything better. At one of the off-sites, the CEO brought his own tunes that we played during breaks. At one of the other off-sties, a sophisticated sound system piped in classic rock as everyone arrived into the conference room. Going forward, I plan to always travel with my own set of speakers whenever I facilitate.

Supplies matter – white boards, sticky flip charts, pens, pads, tape, post its, markers that work... Create a check list. I’m sure that I don’t need to mention it but please ensure that the technology is working well before start time. Always have a back-up of any presentation materials…just in case. Finally, have a microphone if your group is larger than 15. You might not need it, but it is good to be prepared.

Finally, never underestimate the power of ice-breakers. Be creative, be proud of them and link them to the content, if possible. Neuroscience research indicates that they stimulate a part of the brain that encourages us to collaborate. Here are some examples that I used last week: staff trivia contest, collaborative superpowers, a human timeline, and “mind meld.” Collaborative superpowers involves asking everyone to draw his/her collaborative superpower and then explain them to the group. Trust me, participants love it. (Check out the photo.)

Why Is it just as important to pay attention to the soft stuff as it to nail the content of the off-site? Let me suggest three reasons.

  • Off-sites require very busy people to give up a huge chunk of their time, so we want to ensure we optimize every aspect of the experience for the maximum success;

  • We want participants to feel cared for, respected and welcome so that they can better focus on the content; and

  • We want to create an atmosphere conducive to collaboration.

P.S. if you want more information about these ice breakers, feel free to contact me directly.