10 Reasons Why Leadership Offsite Meetings Are Terrible and 10 Tips To Make Them Awesome

In the past seven years I have attended over 100 leadership and management offsite meetings. Either as a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator or a participant. 90% of them have been terrible. Why do we accept such dreadfully designed internal meetings? Why do we keep turning up, month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year, to the same horrendous internal management conferences?

Think back to your last leadership offsite meeting, management conference or internal event. Was it held in a dreadful hotel conference room? Or worse, was it held in your office boardroom? Was it two-days? Maybe it was three-days. Maybe you can’t remember because the days all seemed to blur into one after the first drawn out monologue. The coffee was probably terrible. The room was definitely freezing cold.

Most importantly did any meaningful action come from it? Most likely not. We have a problem. Organisations are spending millions every year, in both money and opportunity cost, taking their managers and leaders offsite. But more often than not, it doesn’t result in any real change.

So why are they so terrible? Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. The agendas are always too full and the energy of the group isn’t managed
  2. People aren’t consulted or engaged on the agenda design and very little thought has been put into the actions / desired outcomes / results
  3. The communication is one-way. They are filled with PowerPoints instead of powerful experimentation
  4. Action-items aren’t captured, so nothing gets done afterwards
  5. Keynote speeches are half-baked, they inject new thinking, but they don’t make change easy
  6. They are anti-innovative
  7. Breakout discussions are at best average, and more often than not they are a mediocre discussion about nothing meaningful
  8. They attempt to inspire but they don’t give people the tools to execute new thinking
  9. People often leave feeling that their time was wasted
  10. The venues are dark, cold and uninspiring (and the food is average)

The list goes on…

Something needs to change and we’re changing it. We’re taking a stand against poorly designed, poorly executed and time-wasting leadership offsite meetings and internal management conferences.

We’ve started asking different questions. What if we applied the principles of design thinking to make offsite meetings productive and enjoyable? What if we did more than just deliver a keynote speech? What if we actually took people through an experience that catalyses change? What if we created an environment that fuelled innovation and experimentation, instead of killing it?

In the past year we have designed, curated and produced some really inspiring leadership offsite meetings and internal conferences that we are proud to say have resulted in real change.

Here are our 10 Top Tips to designing an awesome experience:

  1. We never use hotel conference rooms or office boardrooms. In the past we’ve used art galleries, private members clubs and ping pong halls. Don’t underestimate the power of the physical space.
  2. We only include two items on the agenda per day. Nothing more, nothing less. We allow time and space for agenda items to be discussed deeply, and real action to be debated and decided upon.
  3. For a three-day offsite, we leave day three of the agenda totally clear. We decide on day two how we are going to shape day three. We’re not obsessed with having every single minute planned. We also build in an element of surprise to keep people engaged and inspired.
  4. We engage many people before the offsite to make sure we are solving the right problems and focusing on the right agenda items. Agenda creation is an art, managing energy and audience participation is also an art. As pre-work for a recent leadership offsite we ran seven full day workshops, a 360degree feedback survey exercise with 30 people and met with 100 people - before we designed the agenda.
  5. We take ‘connection’ very seriously. It takes time for the participants to connect, it takes effort to create a safe environment for people to open up and engage. It doesn’t happen instantly and it certainly doesn’t happen without some careful planning. During one of our previous three-day leadership offsite events, we spent the entire first day getting people to talk, share, listen, connect and open their minds.
  6. We have a No-PowerPoint-Deck-Principle. Period. We push the presenters to think of different ways of sharing their content. We design sessions with leaders that engage the audience in ways they’ve never been engaged before. It’s amazing what can happen when you restrict yourself to not using a PowerPoint deck. Creativity emerges. At a recent meeting the Vice President we were working with took the time to hand-write personal cards to the 39 people on her team, and spent two hours going around the room and celebrating their achievements. It was very powerful.
  7. We rehearse with every speaker. Even the CEO. We don’t assume that speakers are prepared or that they’ve rehearsed their content. We put pressure on them, making sure they facilitate an engaging and inspiring session and that they don’t bore the audience to death. We work hard with them on their content, we push back when we feel it will push the audience to sleep. The outcome? Every presentation is awesome.
  8. Ask people what success and failure looks like. It’s amazing that people don’t do this. They will organise an event with their entire senior leadership team, and never ask them what they want to achieve out of it. We listen to every person, we make sure we know why people are turning up, what they want out of it, what success is and most importantly, what failure is.
  9. We have a No-Email-Invites-Principle. Email makes people very lazy. When we are designing the invitations, or other communications touchpoints we put effort into it. We focus on the tiniest of details. For a recent offsite in the Luxury Retail sector, we designed a huge moodboard invitation, wrapped it in beautiful black paper and hand-delivered it to every one of the 40 participants.
  10. Actions speak louder than words. Our role during the offsite is to capture the actions, capture the conversations and present it back, the following day. Too many people leave offsite meetings not knowing what the next steps are. Any energy and optimisim created during the event is lost when people return to their busy day jobs. We keep momentum by capturing actions, getting people to commit to their actions and then communicating the plan as soon as the event is finished.

We’re on a mission to help companies treat their employees like customers. We’re on a mission to make leadership offsites and management conferences transformational, instead of time-wasting. And we have a brilliant time doing it.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

We originally posted this blog on LinkedIn.