How to Make Your Post-pandemic Leadership Offsite a Huge Success

user Mark Teitell

With vaccination rates climbing, many companies are now considering how they’ll get their leadership teams working together in person for the first time in more than a year. With this exciting step comes an important question: how to best use precious time together at this pivotal moment?

Executives feel the need to strategize around how to emerge stronger and more aligned with the shifting needs of a post-COVID world. Meanwhile, they also know people need to reconnect with each other as they emerge from isolation and return to a more personal form of doing business.

These two driving needs — to intensively strategize and to actively connect – are creating a boom in planning (real) offsites throughout the summer and fall. Leadership teams have serious strategy questions to address, and many haven’t been together for over a year. Convening at an offsite represents a return, not to normal, but a return to each other.

I’ve been designing and facilitating executive offsites for more than 20 years, and I believe there are 3 essential dimensions for a maximally successful leadership event: strategy, relationship, and leadership development. That still holds true, but 2021 brings with it a unique context that will require leaders to carefully balance these dimensions in order to maximize the impact.

Guiding principles for a successful post-COVID offsite

So many businesses spent the past year in survival mode. Now, to borrow an auto racing term, there’s a chance to “come out of the corner” in the lead, and this first offsite is the place to start developing that edge. The following principles can help you design and run the most successful offsite as you begin to move into the rest of 2021 and the future beyond.

1. Don’t pack the agenda

This first offsite after such a long separation feels urgent, making leaders want to pack the agenda to cover everything the team deems important, but over-packing the agenda of the very first gathering can undermine the critical opportunity to go deep on the most important things.

Building powerful, forward-looking leadership is a process, not a one-time event, and it’s more important to get a strong start on the true foundations than it is to “check the boxes” on every topic that’s accumulated over the past year.

2. Reengage and reconnect first

As important as it is to work on strategy and planning, don’t jump straight into these topics. Instead, create the conditions and the mindset for people to connect with each other and reengage with the purpose of their work. The teams that most successfully align on strategy and strategic roadmaps are, not coincidentally, the ones with the strongest team relationships and cohesion. Attend to this foundation first.

3. Don’t forget that setting matters

Executive offsites should be in locations that get your team out of their day-to-day lives, which this year is more important than ever. Find a location that inspires perspective, reflection, informal dialogue, and personal reconnections. This isn’t just about “getting in a room” and hammering out “outputs” such as a new vision statement or a Q3-4 plan. It’s about making this moment a lasting inflection point. Investing in the right location substantially improves the true ROI you achieve from the event.

4. Treat your offsite as the centerpiece of a wider process

In the press of the day-to-day, teams often show up to offsites under-prepared to have the most effective conversations (often, some pre-work greatly improves the dialogue). On the other side, many teams leave offsites with critical action-items, but without a full accountability plan or realistic space created for accountable leaders to follow through. The work of the offsite is overwhelmed by day-to-day tasks and forgotten until the next event.

As unique as this first time back together will feel, it’s important to view it more broadly as the centerpiece of an orchestrated transition process, as the team begins working in person again and as you prepare for the company to start shifting toward its post-pandemic future. That means putting in the necessary time and effort both before and after the event.

Seize the opportunity for change

The theme running through all these principles is that this transition is a watershed opportunity to change how your company does business, and how you lead. The first in-person offsite is an opportunity to reset and re-evaluate how your team thinks of itself, the company at large, and your leadership practices. It’s a rare chance for transformation, so plan it thoughtfully to make the most of it.

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