Quarterly offsites: A ways of working pattern for connection, reflection and co-creation
As we are on the plane ride back to our respective global locations from Lake Como in Italy, the location of our quarterly team offsite, we are reflecting on the week and the power of these experiences. Often offsites are perceived to be high cost, difficult to schedule in an already oversubscribed calendar, and considered an unnecessary luxury. Having facilitated a 3-day in-person offsite recently with 40 senior leaders for a client and being part of one ourselves, we couldn’t disagree more.
The outcome of our week was to connect, reflect and co-create. Our team is globally distributed from various locations including UK, Europe, Canada, US and Australia, and largely remote working based. This means opportunities for deeper conversation, collaboration, and learning need to be designed as a deliberate part of our ways of working. The reality for many organisations today is they are all distributed across multiple locations given team members are working from home at least 2-3 days a week.
Como was our fourth offsite and based on the teams’ comments from the week, we are getting something right!
- “Such a positive and energising experience”
- “Enjoyed connecting and learning while having lots of fun”
- “Great to meet everyone in person”
- “The best retreat so far”
We have treated each offsite as an experiment – making adjustments and improvements to the pattern each time. Not everyone can attend in person every time, so we ensure every offsite remains accessible virtually as well as in person.
We are sharing our pattern for an offsite to encourage and inspire others, to balance our human need for connection with our modern need for remote/hybrid working and distributed teams. For us, this is proving an effective alternative to having an office premises. For others, we would suggest considering how you utilise your offices as the ‘offsite’ location.
Our offsite outcomes and how we achieved them
- Getting to know the whole person and their strengths. This is how we kicked off the offsite. Sharing of stories both work and personal allowed us to get to know each other on a human level. As we are a diverse team, we shared our unique superpowers so that we know how to leverage and amplify our strengths.
- Team fun day. An opportunity to get out of the ‘office’. We have hiked, cycled, gone boating, and visited sites of historic interest. We did this on day 2. Whilst exploring, we are strengthening relationships to help us through the next quarter, and ultimately create trust. This is the day everyone remembers. In many ways, it is the day when the ‘real work’ happens.
- Water cooler moments. Over meals, in between sessions, or walking to dinner, these are the impromptu conversations that are hard to plan and re-create in a virtual/hybrid context. When you are together in person, these just happen organically.
- What have we learned? Sharing our outcomes delivered, our achievements, and lightning talks from our client engagements allowed us to celebrate our wins, recognise our progress, and learn from each other.
- How can we work better together? A retrospective session on day 3 following the team day allowed for open, transparent, and robust discussion on what we need to continue, do more, do less, stop, and start.
- What are our blind spots? To continue to grow and maintain a sustainable business, we assessed risks and discussed what needs to go right to deliver upon our strategy. This is essential to sense and respond to ongoing change in our environment and market conditions.
- How will things be different on Monday? To close the offsite on day 5, we spent time discussing the practical things we need to change, actions we were each going to take, and what we need to do differently to ensure that we do not get sucked back into the day-to-day. These actions will be reviewed at our next monthly team all-hands to check in on progress.
- Quarterly business review and strategic planning. This was the focus for day 4. To maintain alignment with strategic direction through to execution, understanding where we have come from and what we need to do in the next quarter is a core part of our operating cadence. We have 3 OKRs that provide clarity on our focus and experiments we need to run.
- Values alignment. As we are a values and principles driven organisation, putting up the values is an important part of strategy execution. We did a roundtable on what the values mean to us and shared behaviours that are examples of how to truly live these values.
- Product development. We had focused time throughout the week to showcase the work done by teams and to collaborate to make it even better. This brought the team together and leveraged the diversity in the team. The result was richer conversation, several hours saved, and greater level of product alignment than by doing it virtually; we now have a reusable asset that we can take to clients.
In summary, a-m-a-z-i-n-g. We have come way from this offsite feeling more energised and connected as a team.
The magic sauce to pull this off includes:
- Have a clear offsite purpose.
- Focus on connection, reflection and co-creation.
- Don’t underestimate the value and time of in person human connection.
- Find a great location and venue.
- One that is well-connected, easy to get to, has business facilities with strong WiFi, video/audio set-up.
- Somewhere nice: environment plays a role in enabling creativity and innovation and real connection moments.
- Invite participation.
- Everyone is given the chance to lead and facilitate a session.
- Building ownership and accountability.
- Prepare a solid agenda.
- Space for periods of teamwork and watercooler moments.
- It is tempting to cram lots in to make it ‘productive’. Don’t, you will run out of time and less is oftentimes more.
Whilst we will all be remote for the next few months, these memorable moments will continue to provide humour and trust to help us through the inevitable stresses and priorities of the day job.
Our offsites events have quickly become a core part of the way of working at Sooner Safer Happier and we recommend this pattern to you to experiment with and adapt to your context to help you improve your outcomes.
by Maria Muir, 11/10/22