Meetings are an essential element of running any organization. Even in an Agile world, the necessity to bring individuals with diverse viewpoints, values, and needs together to arrive at a single, agreed upon decision or solution is inescapable. Further, not every meeting can be conducted as a 30-minute standup. Some require several hours or even a couple of days.
Effective meetings do not happen by accident. Any meeting – be it a daily scrum or a two-day planning retreat – requires both purpose and structure. Meeting objectives and output need to be clear, and the participants need to understand their roles. Further, meetings that are more than merely informational benefit from facilitation, whether formal or informal.
In general, institution-level matters are the ones that demand meetings of longer scope. Annual planning retreats are a good example. These are usually conducted by Boards of Directors and/or senior management. Of course, there are other reasons for retreat-style meetings. These include institutional problem solving, task force deliberations, project or product road map development, and team building. Each example has a specific objective, concrete outputs (e.g., documents, decisions, plans) that must be delivered, and require that the participants have achieved some level of consensus by the end of the meeting. In each case, objective facilitation is a key success factor.
An equally critical success factor is the need to move this category of meeting away from the normal place of work. This is not a trivial consideration and it deserves thoughtful planning. For instance, moving the meeting to the office building across the street will do little to help you achieve the desired outcomes. Instead, the meeting location should be treated as a destination, some place special where the participants will thrive and unexpected synergies can emerge. In fact, locale is almost as important as the process itself in achieving success both for the meeting and the organization.
Following are the top ten benefits I have observed over the years when key meetings have been moved to an offsite destination. Taken together, these benefits are powerful.
- Eliminate Interruptions: Critical meetings can suffer from the distractions of the work environment. It is just too easy to reach someone and ask them to “step away for a few minutes” to put out a fire. Off-site meetings send a strong message to both participants and non-participating co-workers that this time is important and is not to be interrupted.
- Boost Morale: Off-site meetings boost morale in a variety of ways. Just being included in such an event can provide a lift to a person’s attitude. But imagine a group of individuals returning from a successful retreat with a body of successes to share with their co-workers. This is value that will penetrate across teams and departments throughout the organization.
- Recharge Your Batteries: As it is, many of us do not take sufficient time off. Getting away from the grind and commotion of the office environment is a way to clear our heads and open our souls up in fresh new thoughts. If the meeting is truly located at a destination where the participants spend a night or two in a hotel or retreat center, it almost becomes a mini-vacation while still being a working “holiday.”
- Change Your Perspective: New vistas and experiences always change one’s perspective. We cannot help seeing things differently when we have new input. By taking away the familiar sights and sounds, the brain is more open to new ideas while creativity is boosted.
- Enhance Meeting Focus: Interrelated with all of these benefits is the increased focus that the group will have as a result. The usual distractions are gone and the increased effectiveness of the participants can create additional energy and focus for what might otherwise be a grueling and tiring experience.
- Nurture Social Capital: When individuals come together in retreat situations, they begin to work together in new and different ways. Combined with the social events that accompany destination retreats, new relationships develop, trust is heightened, and stronger teams materialize.
- Optimize Your Tools: Destination retreats offer tremendous flexibility with respect to meeting tools. Spaces can be reconfigured (sometimes on the fly) to be able to respond to the distinct requirements of the process. Technology components (e.g., projectors, file sharing, sound systems) can be customized. Unique or different tools can be incorporated that might not be possible at the home office.
- Generate Energy: Remote retreats, properly conducted, are energy factories. New experiences, achievements, and fresh viewpoints all generate excitement that is simply infectious across the participants. It is not unusual, in fact, to see an energy boost at the end of a long day even if that leg of the process is running overtime.
- Embrace Flexibility: One of the true benefits of the destination retreat is that the time “boxes” become elastic. A process segment that runs a few minutes long does not impact someone else’s meeting. Participants do not have to be out the door at precisely 5:00 to catch the train or ferry. The process can evolve to meet the group’s needs as they change over the course of the retreat.
- Build Your Team: Whether or not specific team building exercises are incorporated into the retreat experience (although I heartily recommend them), the process of working together more effectively and creatively will enhance your team’s long term performance. Every member will have a clearer idea of the strengths and capabilities of their teammates, and will be better able to contribute to team success.
On the surface, destination meetings are expensive. There is the cost of travel, food, lodging, facilitation, and ancillary activities to consider. But viewed in the light of the overall value that the enterprise ultimately reaps from the meeting output – value which is measured not only by the desired objective and products but also by the ten benefits discussed above – the return on investment is high. Consider these when planning your next big meeting.
What other values do you see from off-site meetings? Do you have retreat success stories to share?