The Art of the Offsite

Offsites, generally, have a very low Return on Time and Return on Investment

(On average): 2 days * 8 executives * 10 hours per day = roughly 200 hours of high-cost time, excluding travel, excluding the opportunity cost of those hours.

For that sort of investment, offsites should move the needle. Rather than a dry ‘how to’, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what makes for an extraordinary offsite from a CEO perspective.

And what the common offsites mistakes are that I’ve noticed (again, from the CEO perspective):

Extraordinary offsites:

… have a before/during/after with each stage seen as distinct and being given its own attention, curation, and energy

… are opened by the CEO sharing a brave, vulnerable, highly-crafted, lengthy ‘state of the nation’ that provides Excos with a rare and valuable CEO perspective

… get the right balance between conceptual, spacious thinking and gritty detail 

… keep participants off-balance by bringing in unannounced exercises, questions, guests and techniques

… stretch Exco members by forcing them to publicly share pre-prepared opinions, written narratives, and strategic positions

… leave a mark that, months or years down the road, are remembered, referred back to and talked about because of their uniqueness, remarkability and impact (i.e. set that bar very high)

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Common mistakes:

  • Not enough stillness (all that talking and thinking needs time to settle and be ‘filed’ (the neuroscience is very clear on this) so build in stillness time where people literally sit on their own and think
  • Not being able to spot when the conversation gets small, bitty, boring, unimportant, irrelevant and to change tack smartly (i.e. the agenda is stuck to regardless of its effectiveness)
  • Allowing conference venues to deaden the experience through their numbness and tendency to drop into dull routines that cause them to treat every offsite the same (as evidenced by those dumb green sweets on tables that somehow have become the norm ….)
  • The CEO not bringing enough personal flair and expression of that CEO’s preferences, tastes, quirks, and passions into the experience, thus making the offsite samey and grey
  • Trying to accomplish too much (generally there is 30% too much content in most offsite designs: less is more)
  • Not being able to spot positivity bias in the conversation and in the plans that offsites produces: far more attention is paid to what can be done, that to what actually can’t be done

All of the above is about bringing ‘craft’ to offsites. Craft brings care, thoughtfulness, passion, and uniqueness in a natural, easeful way.

The opposite is ‘routine’ and dull. Many offsites are unnecessarily that way.

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My weekly missive, CEO Sundays, is published at 5pm every Sunday evening. The writings cover CEO topics exclusively: how-to’s; thought starters; leadership insights; reflection opportunities; research.

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