in praise of the off-site

Office with a view…

A rapidly growing client had promoted a number of their more experienced professionals into ‘Managing’ roles. The plan was for this group to assume more responsibilities so freeing the principals to focus on strategic growth & further strengthening relationships with major accounts.
Reorganisations seldom move as quickly as their architects would like & this was no exception.
Prompted by a mentor & frustrated by progress, the principals decided to invest in taking the entire top team away – to the French Alps – to reflect on the way things were going & the implications for leadership & management of the business.
This firm has a strong culture that is consistently role-modelled by the principals. Everyone is driven, focussed, ambitious, very hard working & highly motivated. Leadership is strong & direct but – importantly – accompanied by a real, underlying benevolence. This business invests in its people & the decision to fund the off-site is just one example; & running it in the Alps leant greater cachet.
The challenge when designing & facilitating an event such as this is in selecting the best approach.
You are in the French Alps (in summer) with all its attractions. Do you ignore these & spend all your time indoors? Being surrounded by the spectacular scenery risks distraction from the real purpose, from why you are out there in the first place. Whether indoors or out, how do you use the time? Should it be invested in formal leadership & management training or open-ended strategic discussion?


The answer in this case was to integrate, to embrace the situation & exploit the advantages.
So we used carefully structured activities in the locality to raise issues of relevance to the business. These invariably concerned the effectiveness of the way the organisation & individuals interacted as a complex system. We also used activities to manipulate the working atmosphere & make it even more conducive for often sensitive yet entirely necessary discussions about need & performance.
We tied strategic & organisational discussions to these issues (& vice versa) & moved from there to the implications for each individual – what roles & leadership were demanded from them. In effect, the process further clarified what people needed to do & put some momentum into their development. They were also involved in mapping the strategic path for the business & involvement is critical to motivate the high-need-for-achievement personality. In a sense, skill training became secondary. With the situation clearer it was a small matter to focus on what needed to be done to develop necessary skills in practice.
The process was a real success & the integrated approach much appreciated.

gains & benefits

So what did this client gain from the investment? Positive results at a number of different levels.

  • Motivation & greater momentum both for the entire team. For example, the principals realised they needed to make some key decisions, one of them being for a highly influential Director to take on a different & more strategic role. This was implemented shortly after returning to the UK.
  • Insights into collective actions senior professionals needed to take; this subsequently resulted in small but important changes to the way they organised & communicated.
  • It probably brought home the message to the senior professionals the full range of responsibilities expected of them. Interestingly it was not training that was needed. They had the skills & knew what to do – they just had not started doing it in practice.

As a postscript we returned to Chamonix during the extremely cold winter of January 2012. The circumstances were different & changes were already underway within the team, albeit with the usual teething troubles. The weather prevented such a high degree of integration yet the pattern had been set and the strategic discussions – & commitments that came from them – were even more productive. It helped consolidate the changes set in place months before.

in summary…

Investing in retreats & off-sites are real acts of faith. Yet well designed & well run events have undeniable impact & accelerate a process that would otherwise take much longer if allowed to emerge through natural evolution.
And that’s the real economic value. Extant teams that elect to invest in a few days away together can generate the clarity & commitment backed by strong motivation that is needed to help bring forward desired results.
It is about raising performance and maximising the time value of money.