Eight Keys To A Successful Company Offsite

Posted on March 15, 2016

By Joanna Kulesa

Sometimes, you don’t really know an employee until you see him or her belting out Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at karaoke.

That’s one of my takeaways from Kulesa Faul’s third annual offsite. Seriously. You truly learn a lot about people at company retreats – their personalities, their energy, their creativity – in ways you don’t always see in the office.

Lots of companies hold offsites. Some are cliché-ridden (think trust falls and rope courses) and feel like a chore; others are genuinely valuable and fun. KF’s retreats are firmly in the latter camp. Our offsites always seem to get rave reviews from employees – as a strategy session, a team-building exercise and a hell of a good time – and the most recent one, held March 9-11 in Santa Cruz, CA, was no exception.

We actually work pretty hard at it. A good offsite doesn’t happen by accident – it takes strong planning, a keen sense of what activities feel fresh and important rather than forced and irrelevant, and an understanding of what best suits your unique company culture. Here are eight things I’ve learned:

Make the offsite a safe zone to share ideas. Truth is, this should be the case in a company all the time. Google recently did a study showing that the best teams promote a feeling of “psychological safety,” in which members have a shared belief that it is safe to take risks and share a range of ideas without being humiliated, according to a report in Quartz. Some companies are able to slog along day to day without this dynamic, but an offsite devoid of it is almost certain to fail.

You’ve got the whole company together – make the most of it. A retreat is the perfect time to step outside the usual business tasks and incubate new approaches to running the business. At our offsite, for example, we looked at our recently refreshed core values – “Integrity first. Be bold. All in.” – and how we can back them up in specific ways every day in our business strategy and execution.

“Work on ourselves.” Our offsite included a DISC personality assessment session, a creativity-at-work workshop and a yoga and Transcendental Meditation class. This may sound like touch-feely’s greatest hits, but employees reported the activities helped instill unity and well-being and enabled them to learn more about themselves and each other.

Don’t skimp on fun. Some of our employees work remotely, so the offsite is a chance for everyone to enjoy each other’s company, which they sure seem to. I myself enjoy this crew as much as some of my best friends, and can laugh as hard. So, yeah, the offsite should be a party too.

Pick a nice location. A retreat in an awesome location like the oceanfront Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, is inspiring and serves as a reward for team members who work very hard the rest of the year in less glamorous locales.

Use surveys. While planning the offsite, get feedback from employees on hot-button topics and develop sessions accordingly. With a collaborative approach to developing the agenda, you’re almost guaranteed to keep people interested and engaged.

All in. An offsite filled with rules isn’t much fun, so go easy. But you do need a few, and the most important are those that assure full participation. That’s why we expect everyone to actively participate during the sessions, prohibit laptops and phones except during breaks, and make all sessions, including meals, mandatory.

Enforce an agenda. Know what can kill an offsite? People showing up late, sessions running over time and other examples of poor time management. Make sure to keep the trains running on time.

Follow these eight tips and a company is bound to have an offsite that generates new ideas for the business, promotes camaraderie and employee happiness and more than justifies the heavy investment of money and time.

As our KFer rapped when she karaoked to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”: “If you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”