team away day

Very often partners take their team out of work for the day (or half-day), in the hope that it will be a magic bullet that will generate new life into the team and be an overall beneficial experience. What many find, however, is that it didn’t work and they wasted money including a whole day of chargeable time! So what is going wrong? In this article, we explore how team away days can make a difference, where they tend to go wrong, and how do you plan a team offsite that really works.

The case for away days

When I used to be employed as an in-house learning and development manager, I was always being asked by my business units whether I would run a team away day for them. Very often it’s the up-and-coming partner or junior partner who is given the job of organising the department away day. I’m all for a bit of purposeful socialising, or team planning, just not team away days for the sake of them.  Sadly, most of the requests I received were in the ‘team days because we haven’t had one for a while’ camp. However, in the instances where I had valid requests, they were pursued further because of the benefits that they offered. When done right, a team away day can literally change the department’s results. Here are some of the benefits of a team away day that’s done right:

  • Thinking differently: Getting the team to think differently can make a huge difference to performance. People may more willingly adopt new ideas or create them.
  • More effective team: Spending time away from the normal environment, doing something different, often brings the team closer. Afterwards, they become a more effective team.
  • Changed routine: A different routine will often generate different ideas, which can create powerful new strategies or willingness to tackle a task. (You may find ‘can swimming change my team’s behaviour‘ useful to read if you are trying to change your team’s behaviour)
  • Motivation: Helping them to take time out from their normal routine, sharing future company issues with them can motivate and inspire.
  • Stronger inter-team relationships: Taking the time out from the day job helps team members get to know each other better. If your team is not co-located or often out on-site with clients, these days away together can be vital to recharge relationships between the team members.

Providing a different environment with no interruptions can allow the team to focus on each other and the task. What are the objectives for the team day that you are thinking of, are they clear and shared with the team?

Where do team away days all go wrong?

“The real cost of an away day is not the venue or the activities you arrange but the cost of the opportunity lost, and potentially low staff engagement if the day goes badly.”

Although team away days have the potential to bring a lot of benefits, in my experience, I have analysed many that did not achieve the desired results. What I found was that they all went wrong in one or more of these areas:

  • Objectives: Unless you are clear what you want and how you will know if you achieved it, it won’t work. Having a team away day because you have one every year, is not a clear enough objective for the event.
  • Congruence: Imagine a department believing that they are badly treated being taken out for a day and told that they are now going to be well treated (yes, this happens far too often). Most participants, in this situation, on the day will tend to disengage. Your behaviours before the session need to be congruent with what you hope for.
  • Follow-up: Everybody had a great day; listened to a presentation from the head of the department or even member of the management board, split into groups, discussed ideas and by the end of the day filled up a big flipchart with the ideas. Excitedly people return to work, but in the days that follow they hear……nothing. Actions speak louder than words – so make sure that progress on the to-do list after the day, is actively monitored and openly communicated.
  • Done it all before: Some teams have been on similar events many times, particularly if you always have to go to the same place and do the same things that the partners like. 
  • Communication: The team know that there is an event, but don’t really know what it is about or for. Some of them are already thinking “waste of time, I have work to do”. Springing lots of new ideas on them sends it down like a lead balloon. To them, it ceases to be different and they may or may not engage with you on the day. This is made worse if they have previously seen no real benefits. (You may find our FREE tips for team briefing useful to help you do this (email needed)).
  • Facilitation: The person managing the discussion doesn’t do a good job. Perhaps some people don’t get heard, while others have too much “air time”. Perhaps the facilitator doesn’t understand what’s going on!

To make sure your next team away day is a success, both before, during and after the day download our FREE guide to running a team away day. (email required)

Your 8-point action list for better team away days

How do you plan a team offsite that really works? From my experience, I have shown you what a team away day can offer (if done right) and how it could go wrong (if not carefully planned and prepared for). To make sure that your next away day is the former, here is an 8-point action plan to generate one which achieves its objectives:

  1. Objectives: Be absolutely clear what the objectives are, in terms of a measurable business outcome (Why do they need bringing together? What/ how will the business gain? How will we know we achieved the objectives?). Whilst you may not be able to be completely open at this point in time, i.e. we are starting merger conversations, do tell people what the objectives for the day are.
  2. Not just fun: Use the event to achieve your objectives and link any “fun” session (if you have one) to the work section. Remember that spending time together outside of the day job can be just as effective to help build relationships as ‘fun’ sessions.
  3. Buy In: If the team think they won’t be given the go-ahead on their ideas, they won’t bother creating them. Make sure the partners are present, engaged and leading by example. If the partners dominate the conversation, then you will lose a valuable opportunity to create buy-in with your department/team. You may like to make sure that the partners have a facilitator role so they can’t overly dominate the staff round table discussions.
  4. Design: If you have people that have “done it all before” they will need something fresh or more interesting. They will also appreciate it being efficient in terms of achieving the objectives in the shortest time possible. If you are needing to come up with something different, this may be a good opportunity to call in an external facilitator.
  5. Congruence: If you want the team to come up with new ways of working, being closer as a team, behaving differently, etc; try to start “walking the talk” before the event (and afterwards). At least ensure that they can’t think that you are being hypocritical when you ask for something of them.
  6. Pre-work: Doing some work before the day really helps. Plan how you can get people thinking before the event. Make sure that all of the department are well briefed before they attend on the day – including the objectives for the day not just WHAT will happen on the day. (Our FREE tips on briefing a team will help you with this (email required))
  7. Facilitators: Choose the people that will manage discussion and activities. Credibility and skills are important, but also how well they fit with the group. An external facilitator could be a good investment, but you may not need it. (Within our team we have 5 experienced facilitators, who between them have facilitated partner retreats, leadership team away days, and partner conferences as well as hundreds of team and departmental away days for professional service firms)
  8. Follow-up: How are you going to show the team what the output was, what is going to be done (and not done) and when? Show the progress in the following weeks/months to ensure that they see how their ideas have helped them/the company.

Make your next team away day a success

While taking your team out of their normal environment could change the department’s results for the better, many team away days end up costing more than they are worth. Why? Because the event is usually badly scoped and structured, resulting in woolly desired outcomes for the day and ultimately a lack of real tangible results.  If you use our 8-point action list showing you how do you plan a team offsite that really works, then you can be sure that you plan and run a team away day that generates the results that you want!

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