How to lead powerful team offsite meetings

For the mid-year/quarterly version of our offsite, see this latest post here: Time for Course Correction.

meetingThis is a time of year when many teams and groups think about doing some kind of annual meeting to develop a strategy and kickoff the year ahead. Whether annual, semi-annual, or quarterly, it’s important to pause and take stock of the last period, and then plan the next period with a fresh outlook. It makes no difference if the last period was good or bad, the period ahead will require new thinking and new approaches.

I want to share with you a process that I use as my starting point for annual offsite meetings. I have used this framework successfully for my own teams as well as for client offsite meetings that I facilitated. Which elements and steps I use, and how long I spend on each, depends on what the team is dealing with at the time. The total meeting time I plan can range from a half-day, up to two full days, depending on the needs of the group.

Teams in conflict and turmoil will need more time allocated to communication, clearing the air, and team building. If your team is at a turning point, strategy development will be more important. 

Here’s how I plan and prepare:

  1. Even as an experienced facilitator myself, the first thing I think about is whether or not I should have an outside facilitator leading some part of the meeting. A professional facilitator can allow me to participate in the meeting more fully, and give others greater permission to speak up.
  2. Next, I pick a date and clear it with everyones schedule.
  3. I consider the location, food, and mood of the event. What vibe do I want, and what message will I be sending?
  4. I give out preparation work to participants about a week before. I think it’s important to get them thinking before we arrive.
  5. I prepare my agenda, timeline, and do my own pre-work.

Here’s the typical preparation I ask of all attendees:

  1. Look over your calendar for the last year.
  2. Note everything significant that happened and list all the facts.
  3. List all you are proud of for the year.
  4. List all your regrets.
  5. Think about anything you need to clean up or say to others about the year and write it down.
  6. List everything you want to acknowledge others for.
  7. Think about what you want to do and accomplish in the year ahead and make some notes.
  8. What personal events do you anticipate in the coming year and motivates you? What matters to you? 

Here’s my typical Meeting Agenda. I will modify or expand this as needed to suit the current situation with any team:

  • Welcome, Outcome Goals & Agenda
    Set the tone for the meeting and let people know what to expect.
  • Acknowledge and wrap up the last year*
    Let people take stock of the last year, celebrate it, and/or put it behind them.*

    • Sharing (all or by department): What happened? Proud of? Regrets Acknowledge of others? Anything else?
    • Check back for anything else one more time
    • Ritually dispose of the notes: burn/shred/toss
  • Share Company Goals for year (3-5)
    Leader shares the top goals they created before the meeting, for the coming year. Goals come from the leader, and plans will come from the team. Goals should certainly contain a revenue and margin/profit goal, along with a couple strategic goals. They should always be measurable. I never do more than 5, and I balance having the goal be a challenge but yet not a unthinkable goal or a “pipe dream.”
  • Intro Theme creation
    The team will soon create a theme or slogan for the year and I have them begin to think about that.
  • Goals and strategies by person and department
    Let each person, and each department, create some goals and strategies for themselves. Make sure they are in agreement with company goals.
  • Strategy development (how/priorities)
    Strategies are the “how” or way that you will hit your goals but they don’t contain each action or step required. Distill top strategies down to 5-9 major elements and order them in apparent importance. You can often combine related strategies to get to a more manageable number of 5-7.
    strategy prioritiesPrioritize by looking at whether the top strategy drives the next one, or the reverse, and note it with an arrow of direction. Then look at the top strategy in relation to each of the others, drawing arrows as to which drives which. Continue this examination of relationship for each of your strategies in relation to the others. It may be easier to arrange all your strategies in a circle to see your arrows.
    Finally, count up all the arrows pointing to each strategy, and note it. The strategy with zero arrows is your leading, or first, priority and the one with the most arrows will be your last. Usually profit or revenue will be last and something like a new product introduction or new capacity, or market initiative will be first.
  • Theme: select and declare
    Now do some brainstorming on the theme or slogan for the year. Get a lot of candidate ideas up. Do a multi-voting process to narrow it down and look for a theme to emerge. Give it a little time to go “thunk” and a great theme to appear. Use your best wordsmiths to massage the language. It should be a very tight phrase, the shorter the better.
  • New habits, practices, & KPIs needed? (Whole company and each)
    Inquire and consider what new measures and regular practices or habits are needed now to fulfill on your goals and strategies for the year ahead. Be sure to have a few at every level.
  • Next steps
    Capture notes on whole company & each, and schedule next actions. A camera-phone snapshot works great for this. Just make sure to have one single record of everything for followup. You will have to work your strategies into detailed action plans, budgets and calendar everything after the meeting.
  • Conclusion
    Thank everyone and declare the theme together
    Afterwards: Toasting/Drinks, dinner?

*Some additional notes for the leader: 

  1. Your focus in the sharing part of the retreat is getting everything said and out there, not on “handling” any of it. Taking notes is a good idea but you probably want to be throwing these away before the end.
  2. Give each other room to share, inquire and to be heard for everything that people have to say.
  3. There’s no real need to discuss or work on anything. Just appreciate and accept the communications from each other.
  4. You can eventually get enough said that you get to a feeling of lightness or emptiness. Your goal is to get it out and get to the feeling of a blank slate.
  5. When you get there, let it sink in. 
  6. You can also ritualize letting go of the past by shredding the papers, burning them, or tossing them into water. Emphasize letting it all go, both the good and the bad, and you will experience a lightness and freedom that speeds the rest of the meeting greatly.
  7. You can then begin to look at what you want for the future. You will now do goals, strategy and individual plans with more ease.

For the mid-year/quarterly version of our offsite, see this latest post here: Time for Course Correction.

If you would like some help with your team meeting plans, we’d be happy to talk to you for free,
+1-510-295-4422  or email

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