Case Study: IDG Offsite Facilitation

Offsite Facilitation for Various Industries

 

Summary

If you have ever tried to facilitate as well as actively participate in an offsite, you’ll know how difficult it can be to perform both roles effectively because at some point you will stop facilitating and get too involved with the discussion. Before you know it a couple of hours have gone by and – more often than not – you get to the end of the offsite and you haven’t fully achieved what you set out to do.

This was the case for one of our clients last year when he thought that he and his Business Manager would be able to co-facilitate their Business Planning offsite, as well as actively participate, to produce the strategic technology roadmap for the year ahead. Whilst they partially achieved their goal, the end-result was far from satisfactory for all concerned and left some participants feeling frustrated as well as confused about what they had to deliver. The resounding feedback he got from his management team when he mentioned they would be getting together for this year’s offsite was to engage a professional facilitator, especially one who could surface the behavioural as well as the professional challenges they face as a management team, with effective results.

Whilst attending his boss’s offsite, earlier this year, which IDG was facilitating, our client approached us to ask if we could help him facilitate what he described as “a couple of days facilitating team related stuff, especially around behaviours” during his week-long management team offsite. We agreed to meet with him to discuss this and further explore what the overall aim and objectives for his offsite were.  During this initial meeting it soon became apparent to our client that in order for him to have a successful offsite he would need to dedicate as much, if not more time, to the planning of the offsite as well as engaging his team in a more consultative way. 

Our client began to describe how he and his Business Manager had gone about facilitating last year’s offsite and told us that he had found it too hard to stay detached from the content of the offsite to facilitate the debates, often not realising he was dominating the decisions and influencing the outputs. He found that increasingly the schedule began to slip and the important issues that really needed to be tackled got pushed further and further down the agenda, especially the people and team-related issues. He thought that the team “went the through the motions” rather than really bought in to his vision and strategy. He didn’t want the same thing to happen in this year’s offsite because he specifically wanted to include a session on understanding why his team don’t follow through on things and do what they say they are going to especially when it would benefit many of the team and further implement the target architecture strategy. This was a growing concern both he and his Business Manger had which needed to be tackled given what they knew would be facing them during the tough year ahead, from a commercial, regulatory and delivery perspective.

We took him through our IDG facilitation approach and explained that dipping in to the offsite for a couple of days wouldn’t add measurable value. Nor would it allow us to engage with the participants in a meaningful way that would build trust quickly, encouraging them to take personal risks and tackle those behavioural issues that were preventing them from becoming a consistently high performing team. He agreed that he needed specialist help to plan, co-design and independently facilitate the whole of his offsite and so we worked with him and his team to carefully structure as well as prioritise the agenda and agreed outputs for the week.

Prior to the offsite being run we conducted interviews with all the participants to gather their views and engage with them on an individual level to understand what they wanted and didn’t want from the offsite. This was fed back in a collective format to our client and we used this alongside his requirements to shape the overall design of the offsite; including defining the overall aim and objectives as well as the daily expectations with regard to tangible outputs.

Each day we reviewed the individual and collective performance of the team to identify the things that were helping them to achieve their end-goals or getting in the way. We then reviewed the following day’s agenda to see if it was still relevant or needed to change to reflect the findings of that day and worked with the team to make the necessary changes/produce supporting literature etc.

The team were also tasked with deciding which actions would be assigned to which team member/s, what the outcomes would be and by what deadline they would be delivered. This would be tracked by the Business Manager and used as on-going agenda items for the team’s weekly and monthly meetings; making the management team more accountable for delivery of the outputs.

By facilitating the team in this structured but flexible way, it was agreed by mid-week that the critical output for the offsite would be the collective technology and architecture roadmap that would articulate where the opportunities for synergies would be across each of the flagship programmes. This would then be presented to our client’s MD the following week for agreement and sign-off. This was seen as the breakthrough moment which the client acknowledged was a direct result of our input and facilitation; he didn’t believe they would have reached that moment had it not been for our help. Particularly in getting the team to open up to one another about what concerned them, offering and accepting feedback on behaviour and articulating where they would need help from the rest of the team in order to deliver their objectives.

Before we departed, we actively encouraged the team to review the overall outputs and actions coming out of the week and guided them to formulate the key communication messages from the offsite that would be cascaded across the rest of the business and to key stakeholders.

Solution

Phase 1: Offsite/Sponsor Engagement Meeting/s

We would meet with the owner/sponsor to capture what it is they want to achieve as a result of their offsite, starting the conversation with the end in mind to define what success looks like first rather than diving into technical content. Typically the outputs from this meeting/s would be:

  • Defined aim and objectives for the offsite as well as personal expectations of the owner/sponsor
  • List of expectations that the offsite owner/sponsor has of each of the participants as well as what they expect the participants to contribute
  • List of  what the owner/sponsor believes the participants may expect of them during the offsit
  • Definition of what success looks like for them at the end of the offsite and how we will we know it’s been successful (tangible success measures)
  • Overview of the content/agenda items that need to be covered during the offsite;
  • List of negotiable and non-negotiable agenda items
  • Set of interview questions to ask offsite participants

 

Phase 2: Planned Interviews with offsite participants

In our experience the success of an Offsite also depends on the engagement of the participants beforehand to identify what it is they want to get out of the event. The benefit of conducting structured interviews with a set of consistent questions helps us to:

  • Identify hopes, fears  and expectations of the participants
  • Ratify/validate the suggested content with participants
  • Capture any concerns/suggestions participants may have with regard to content;
  • Articulate the collective outputs in a meaningful way to the owner/sponsor which can further help us to shape the content of the offsite
  • Consider the environment within which we run the offsite (onsite or offsite location)

Allowing time in the planning phase to gather this information and more importantly engage with participants is vital to the success of an offsite. Not only because it builds the relationships between us and the participants as trusted facilitators but it also ensures that the focus of everyone’s attention during the offsite remains on those things that are important and need to be addressed.

We have found that Offsite that have not engaged beforehand with participants tend to run out of time, focus on the less important topics, sometimes operate at a superficial level, easily get derailed and generally lose sight of what they are there to achieve simply because participants haven’t had the opportunity to voice their opinions or contribute to the overall expected outputs.

Phase 3: Agenda Design and Content Development

Using the outputs and feedback from the engagement interviews we would work with the owner/business sponsor to decide the overall design and flow of the event, ensuring the aim and objectives for the offsite are kept at the forefront of the decision making process, and the flow of the agenda makes logical and practical sense. Typical outputs to be expected from this phase would be:

  • Agreed agenda items, including the expected outputs against each item;
  • Agreed timings for each agenda item;
  • Agreed owners for the content development to support each Agenda item;
  • Agreed guest speakers/presenters (if appropriate) together with agreed briefing notes on who to contact for further information or additional requirements they may have;
  • Agreed running order based on most important/most critical items that need to be covered first;
  • Agreed timetable for duration of offsite including outputs expected to deliver each day;
  • Agreed logistics; where to hold it, when to have breaks, whether it needs to be overnight etc;
  • Agreed input required from IDG as far as facilitation style is required (this would also be an interview question)

We would always include a session that would establish the “ground rules” for how we work together at the start of the offsite for obvious reasons as well as establishing collectively what the ultimate achievements are for the overall offsite.

Additionally we would also advice – and in some circumstances – insist on including review sessions at the end or start of each day to capture how well the team believe they are collectively and individually performing/contributing towards success. We use a simple methodology to capture individual ratings using a marks out of 10 approach as well as capturing the Stops/Starts and Continues for the team.  Incidentally, the takeaways from each of these sessions contribute significantly to the critical success factors required to create and sustain a high performing team; clearly an added benefit of the offsite that can be continued after the event perhaps as a dedicated session within a monthly team meeting for example.

IDG would take the outputs from this meeting and input them to a bespoke template, creating the high-level agenda for the offsite, with the agreed running order against the agreed timings. This would be returned to the offsite owner/sponsor and can be used as the basis for further input by those required to contribute content etc.

Once finalised, it would be used as the key communication document for participants and guests.

Phase 4: Facilitating the Event

Our facilitation style is non-threatening but highly challenging and we are experienced in defusing situations should they arise as well as provoking dialogue to elicit views, opinions and input in a positive and productive way.

We will facilitate the discussions and keep the team focused on the outcomes of the event; be that on a topic-by-topic, daily or end-of-event basis. Where we see the conversations digressing or becoming too detached from the overall purpose of the session we will intervene and check out the benefit to all participants. Additionally we are highly experienced at sensing a lack of energy as well as disengagement in the room and will recommend an alternative activity to both refocus and reengage the team in order to raise the energy levels.

We will use a number of facilitation techniques to capture important but non-urgent/concerns questions/ issues so that this information can be revisited and if appropriate discussed later.

We also see it as our responsibility to ensure that all actions are captured, have assigned owners and clearly defined delivery dates so that they can be tracked during and after the event.

We would lead the review sessions at the start or end of each day and capture the marks out of 10 and Stops, Starts, Continues as well as giving feedback to the group on how we would rate their performance. Where appropriate we will revisit the agenda for the following day to ensure that it is still relevant and if necessary work with the team to make any changes necessary.

Phase 5: Post Offsite Review

It is important to maintain momentum when it comes to the outputs from an offsite – after all a lot of time and money has been invested in producing them and staying focused on delivering the benefits from them. Therefore we would always recommend that within two weeks/ a month of the Offsite that we conduct a post-offsite review meeting with the offsite owner/sponsor to discuss lessons-learnt and any offsite feedback or items that require further action.

Not only is this approach best practice but it also enables the owner/sponsor to begin the thought process for how they will approach the next offsite e.g. recurring themes, long-term agenda items, expected changes in regulation etc. For those clients requesting it, we can also send out a simple on-line post offsite review survey to gather feedback and canvas opinions across all participants to continue the engagement process and help formulate the content, design and facilitation for the next offsite.

Additionally and if it hasn’t already happened, this meeting also allows the owner/sponsor to formulate the key communication messages that need to be cascaded, as a result of the offsite, further down the organisation as well as to key stakeholders/clients.

 

Results
  • We take away the pain and stress associated with trying to plan an offsite and still do your day job, ultimately saving you money
  • We execute against a well-defined end-to-end process, which is highly consultative
  • We challenge yours and your team’s thinking to produce a higher level of engagement and ownership of the outcomes
  • We specialise in surfacing and dealing with the behavioural challenges that will inevitably arise when you have human interaction
  • We actively keep you focused on the outputs and doing what’s right for the collective benefit of the team and the business
  • We recognise the investment in time that needs to be made to run a successful offsite; by employing IDG we can give you back your time before the event so you can dedicate your full time during the event and gain a greater return on the investment

 

 

Facts

Industry: All / Global
Location: Global
Solution: Offsite Facilitation