Offsite meetings 101: How to plan an offsite meeting

It’s time to gather the team and think big; look beyond the usual nuts and bolts of business and clarify your long-term strategy. You want to cast your gaze over the company’s horizon and assess everything from the business’s goals to the projects that’ll determine its future.

However, for a task of this magnitude, the usual meeting room won’t cut it. You want to convene somewhere outside the office instead.

…In other words, you want to organize an offsite meeting.

But how do you plan an effective offsite meeting that justifies the investment of time, energy, and money that’s involved in running one? Today, we’re going to find out. Read on for a comprehensive guide to planning effective offsite meetings (and how your business stands to gain).

What is an offsite meeting?

At its core, an offsite meeting is exactly what it sounds like: a meeting that’s conducted away from the typical workplace.

Yet the location isn’t the only distinction. In fact, the primary difference relates to purpose. Rather than a simple check-in, announcement, or all-hands meeting, offsite meetings tackle a specific purpose or goal. This may involve leadership teams working together to address strategic issues and big-picture thinking. But it can also include things like product launches, hackathons, brainstorming sessions, and/or creating a product roadmap.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that offsite meetings aren’t the same as team-building retreats. Team bonding’s a definite component, but it’s secondary to the meeting itself. The emphasis at offsite meetings is to get real work done!

How to plan and host an effective offsite meeting

Now we know what they are, let’s turn to the main event: how to plan and run an effective offsite meeting. Emphasis on effective. After all, it’s one thing to host a meeting and another to get something from it! Too often, a year or so passes and it’s unclear what they really achieved.

Thus, with vital work to do, goals to hit, and precious resources on the line, it’s important to pay special care and attention when running these events. Here are some top tips and ideas to help you succeed.

Planning

The success of any offsite meeting is often predicated on how you prepare for it. From organizing the venue to deciding the schedule, there’s a lot to think about. In this section, we’ll outline how to properly plan your company offsite:

1. Don’t delay

Rule number one: don’t wait until the last minute to start planning your offsite meeting! The earlier you can get the ball rolling, the better. We recommend a rough 2-month timeframe between your initial preparations and the big day itself.

A key first step is to determine the main outcome(s) you want from the meeting. For instance, is this a big-picture gathering of executives where you’ll decide the business’s next steps? Or are you trying to organize a codefest/hackathon?

Once you know this its purpose, you can dive into the weeds – figuring out who’ll run the meeting, who should attend, how long it should last, and so on. From there, you can refine your objectives, gather any internal data you might need, and invite any external experts you think should be there.

2. Restrict the scope

Rule number 2: don’t try to achieve too much. As tempting as it can be to set lofty goals and tackle endless issues, less is almost always more.

Spread yourself too thin and you risk gaining nothing tangible from the meeting. You may feel good about the long list of action steps you’ve drawn up, but lack a concrete strategy with which to achieve anything.

A better approach is to restrict the scope of the discussion and communicate it to attendees. This should lead to a focused set of initiatives designed to tackle a specific issue in the business.

3. Set the budget

One factor that’ll impact almost every aspect of your offsite meeting is how much money you have to spend on it. After all, the budget may have to cover everything from transport and accommodation to food and the venue itself (more on these elements coming up). It’ll also determine how long you can stay, where you can go, and how many people can comfortably attend.

There’s no right or wrong here; the extent of your budget will depend on the type and duration of the meeting you want to host. The most important thing is to set one! Don’t, and you risk overspending on a meeting that doesn’t live up to its potential.

4. Remember the practicalities

Having considered the meeting’s basic makeup and who’ll be attending, you can start handling the practicalities. This includes things like:

In terms of the venue, make sure it’s a) big enough, b) accessible, and c) able to support whatever technology you’ll be using. Of course, it’ll need to be available for the full duration of the meeting too. And the food? Quantities are important, but it’s even more vital to take peoples’ dietary restrictions into account.

Again, don’t leave this until the last minute! Booking ahead of time will ensure you have the ideal space and setup for your offsite.

5. Set the agenda

Running an offsite meeting without an agenda is like attempting to herd cats. It’s a recipe for confusion, inefficient time-keeping, and, ultimately, a lack of results. So do yourself a favor and create one sooner than later! Establish goals for each day, set the order of events, and provide a rough time limit for every part of the meeting.

Keep in mind that structure is pivotal too though. You may like the idea of devoting chunks of time to topics and opening the floor to discussion. Alas, this free-flowing approach can stifle creativity rather than encourage it.

To keep the conversation moving forward, we recommend an agenda with designated time slots for specific topics alongside objectives for each one. You could also have a key question or two to ask and invigorate the discussion with both relevant materials and/or activities.

6. Assign roles and send the agenda

Do you need more than one person to run the meeting? If so, who’s doing what? And when? It makes sense to assign these roles when creating the agenda and (after confirming they’re happy to do it) include a note about who’s facilitating each section. Of course, this is a moot point if you or someone else will be running the entire meeting alone.

Oh, and don’t forget to share the agenda with attendees! Do this about a week before the offsite meeting so people can familiarize themselves with the plan.

Hosting

Okay, let’s skip ahead and imagine that the meeting’s around the corner. In this section, we’ll offer some tips and ideas on how to run it effectively.

1. Start by introducing the goal

Begin each day by reminding attendees of the meeting’s goals and objectives. Hopefully, everyone will have read the agenda and be familiar with them anyway. But there’s no harm in reiterating why you’re there and what you’re trying to achieve. Defining the meeting’s purpose should focus the conversation and move you toward the goals you’ve set. 

Similarly, it’s worth bringing people back to the agenda throughout the day. This should prevent you from veering too far off-topic.

2. Encourage interaction

Few things in life are more boring than listening to someone talk for hours on end. You switch off, roll your eyes, and watch the clock – willing the minute hand to turn a little faster. So, rule number one for hosting your offsite meeting is to keep people engaged. Don’t just talk at them. Talk with them.

This is another reason to think up questions and activities for each time slot on the agenda. They help stimulate conversation, encourage interaction, and inform the discussion. Do whatever you can to maintain people’s focus and you’ll end up with a more productive and meaningful meeting.

3. Have regular breaks

Concentrating on complicated topics, coming up with ideas, and engaging in stimulating conversation is tiring. Protect people’s energy levels by scheduling regular breaks. Stopping for tea, coffee, food, and bathroom visits every few hours should stop people from flagging.

Top tip: Remember to be clear about the length of each break (you could even mark it on the agenda). Any confusion could lead to delays and setbacks that eat into the limited time available. 

4. Make time for team bonding

The main focus of any offsite meeting is productivity. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate team-building into the experience. After all, how often does your team get together outside the office?! Now you’re all in one place, it’s a prime opportunity to get to know each other.

Team-building doesn’t even have to be built into the agenda, per se. It could be as simple as making the breaks between sessions long enough to have a meaningful conversation. You could also assign seats versus letting everyone choose. This would ensure people mix and mingle with different colleagues than usual.

5. Seek feedback

At the end of your offsite meeting, we recommend trying to find out what went well and what could have been better. You could ask attendees directly, give them anonymous feedback forms to return at a later date, or save paper by using one of the many feedback survey websites.

Seek feedback on anything that seems relevant. For example, how satisfied were people with the meeting overall? How productive did they find it? Do they have any ideas on how to boost productivity next time? Did they enjoy themselves? What, if anything, would they have done differently? Whatever data you collect, it’ll be invaluable for the next offsite meeting you hold.

Why are offsite meetings important?

Does everything we just discussed sound like too much hard work? Well, hearing about the benefits involved might persuade you to do it anyway! Trust us, hosting an offsite meeting can provide a range of compelling advantages. Here are a few of the main ways you stand to gain:

They change the headspace

First and foremost, working together in a new location puts people in a different headspace.

The meeting feels significant. The change is refreshing and the novelty’s exciting. It doesn’t feel like “work” anymore. Ultimately, meeting somewhere different is conducive to the creativity, levels of engagement, and clarity of thought required for the task(s) at hand.

They boost productivity and team spirit

The previous benefit has the knock-on effect of boosting productivity and engagement – a positive result that’s heightened by the absence of distractions and interruptions you may face in the office. Problem-solving and brainstorming become easier and the team walks away feeling invigorated.

Attendees end up with a newfound sense of purpose and togetherness – satisfied by what they’ve achieved and united in what they’re working toward.

They provide a break from normality

Of course, another bonus is the break everyone gets from their ordinary routine. To some extent, offsite meetings represent time away from the everyday stresses of the office! You hang out with colleagues, have new conversations, and embrace different challenges.

In this way, offsite meetings can be restorative to both individual employees and the business at large.

Want some help planning your offsite meeting?

Offsite meetings are powerful business tools for thinking big, planning for the future, stimulating productivity, and boosting team spirit. Yet there’s no denying how much time, energy, and resources they take to organize!

If that – or concern over making expensive mistakes – is what’s holding you back from holding one of your own, then Surf Office can help. As experts at arranging work retreats, you’ll be able to reap the many rewards of an offsite meeting without the hassle of organizing it! Contact us today to learn more.

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