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Switching on your (virtual) offsite

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Taking the time to create a strategic offsite meeting can unlock business outcomes and create necessary change, while maximising your return on investment.

This was the learning our Account Director, Nicola Hutchinson, shared back in September last year (although it feels like another era) about the powerful potential an effective offsite can unleash. What a difference a few months makes.

With social distancing and travel restrictions in place for at least the short-term future, it might seem like those piña-colada-sipping, ropes-course-navigating, team-building-weekends-away are on hold until further notice. And yet, for leaders and their teams alike, the importance of connectedness, engagement and communication are as important as they’ve ever been. So how can we take our initial ‘offsite insights’ and use them to set us up for success right now?

In light of the current global reality, we revisited that discussion with fresh eyes and asked ourselves: “How can you build a (virtual) offsite that maximises ROI from leadership development?”

In our original discussion, we presented 4 key steps to help you create an impactful offsite, build leadership effectiveness and create lasting change. Those principles are still crucial today. But a second look with an added virtual lens reveals some additional tips and tricks that can set you up for success now and for the future..

1. Unify your approach to leadership development

When it comes to your offsite, consistency is key. A successful offsite should deliver an impactful experience that will influence Leadership Team behaviour in the long-term.
You can do this by taking a bird’s-eye view of the whole agenda and plotting the emotional journey you want to take Leaders on.

Virtual Hacks
As we take our development sessions online, providing a consistent, holistic narrative – structured around key outcomes – remains imperative.

  • Start with a bird’s-eye view: In person or online, always get clear on your desired outcomes up front to ensure you’re designing your offsite around the right things.
  • Put your ear to the ground: Survey participants in advance to get an understanding of their expectations, the optimum structure of the event, learning styles and what they want to get out of it personally.
  • Size matters: With no travel expenses, it’s easy for invite numbers to creep. Design the guestlist based on what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Create experiences not content

Experiences pull us into the moment. They connect us to our senses and help create powerful links and memories. When designing your offsite, you should go beyond PowerPoint and think about what experiences will help to make your message or topic stick.

Virtual Hacks
Keeping your people focussed at a distance will be one of the more difficult challenges of a digital offsite. Without direct person-to-person contact digital activities, experiences and interactions are essential for maintaining attention levels and encouraging participation.

  • Put the team on notice: Start every group interaction with a short ice-breaker to get everyone engaged and involved. Try the Count to Twenty exercise – a simple but highly effective technique used in the theatre to boost concentration, eye-contact and connectedness.
  • Manage the muters: Make it really clear to the group up front that when it’s time for a group discussion you want everyone off mute and contributing. Use a watermark on your content to signal when it’s a “mute moment” and when it’s “open-mic”.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate: Don’t let a little distance suck all the fun out of your offsite. Our digital We Are Unity summits come with a little built in budget for participants to spend on snacks and drinks to keep things social. Pair it with some group downtime like a creative team quiz or some shared viewing over www.netflixparty.com.

3. Balance space with pace

Give your agenda room to breathe. We’ve seen ground-breaking chats about behavioural root causes during lunch, and fruitful brainstorming sessions naturally occur in break out time.

Where appropriate, leave enough space for delegates to ruminate on the issues and have real and sometimes unfacilitated conversations. That’s where the magic happens.

Virtual Hacks
Just as a day of constant learning and development can wear your people out, a day fixed to your computer screen will quickly leave your audience distracted.

  • Plan your pauses: Use your pre-session survey to develop a schedule that works for your people, with regular breaks throughout the day to combat fatigue.
  • Think flexibly: Is a full day the best way to deliver the outcome you’re looking for? Consider breaking your offsite into multiple mornings or afternoons, allowing more time for reflection and recuperation.
  • Share the floor: We’ve found that inviting a special guest to our VC meetings can re-energise the team, while breaking up the day and offering a different perspective. Where previously guest speakers were saved for big events, now they can seamlessly pop in to add value, whether it’s a client partner sharing a great anecdote or a thought leader imparting some learnings.

4. When it comes to leadership effectiveness, the devil is in the data.

Hosting a thought-provoking day is not enough to make a large-scale change. You must make sure that success metrics are in place to measure the long-term outcomes of the offsite, not just what happens in the room.

Virtual Hacks
Whilst running an offsite just for the sake of it is never a good idea, it’s particularly crucial now to set and agree on tangible metrics and desired outcomes.

  • Gather all the data: Run live polls throughout sessions to really gauge peoples’ opinions. Many conferencing tools, including Zoom and Google Meet have built in functionality for running polls and surveys.
  • Stop, collaborate and listen: Utilise shared documents and encourage people to build, shape and reaffirm each others’ ideas to create tangible outputs.
  • Make it all mean something: Send out a post-survey to gather feedback, assess any follow-up development or content required to reinforce outcomes and measure behavioural shifts.

In a nutshell? Don’t put your offsite off.

Effective leadership development has never been quite so important, and waiting for the return to business as usual is simply not an option. Not only is a digital offsite a great opportunity to really test the raw power of outcome-focussed, metric-driven development – it’s a surefire way to make sure your team is set up for success (whether it’s online or back in the real world).

We Are Unity work with Australia’s largest and most complex organisations to create offsite leadership development that creates real commercial impact – and COVID-19 hasn’t slowed us down. We’d love to partner with you to do the same.

To find out how we bring communication expertise and organisational psychology together, get in touch at nicola@weareunity.com.

May 8, 2020, We Are Unity