May 03, 2023

Bringing Your People Together (Pt.1)

Pre-S: Hey this is Sara. I’m taking over Wednesday Words for the next two weeks to share a behind-the-scenes look at a project we just completed. Let’s dive in.

Lately, it seems like the same question is on every team or company leader’s mind: How do I bring my team together in a meaningful way?

Often, those leaders come to Experience Institute looking to ensure their gathering is worth their time and investment. Facilitating groups to meet in person, tackle shared challenges, sync on ways of working, and enjoy each other's company is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. In fact, we just wrapped our own Q2 offsite in Chicago a few weeks ago, and it was one of our best team experiences.

In case you’re one of those leaders asking the same question, we thought we’d offer a peek behind the curtain at how we design and facilitate our own offsites in an effort to help you with yours.

This is a two-part series. Today, we’ll focus on the “nuts & bolts” – which will help you zoom out and start to think about the big picture. Next week, we’ll follow up with what we’ll call the “special sauce” (ahem, some Ei magic).

Nuts & Bolts

First, why host an offsite?

We hold offsites to help us work on the business, not just in the business (thanks, Gino Wickman). And, if I had to highlight the even deeper purpose, it’s this: relationships and trust. You cannot underestimate the value of spending time building healthy rapport when you’re in person, especially for our fellow hybrid and dispersed teams out there. So, while it may seem like you're not "accomplishing" tasks or making tangible progress on goals when you have a long dinner or spend time in a fun activity (hello, improv show, art class, city tour), that is the stuff that serves as glue and creates the groundwork to base your async work on. You need to prioritize it.

When do offsites take place?

We host offsites quarterly. Typically, we do it in the last three days — Wednesday arrival - Friday departure — of each quarter so we can fully reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what’s to come.

Where do offsites happen?

In a city that is easily accessible. For us, that’s been Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It’s nice to have a local guide (aka someone on the team who lives there) so you get to know it through their eyes. We rent a big Airbnb that is well-designed, has plenty of windows and wall space, and is walkable to restaurants and parks. Do not underestimate how important it is to have a comfortable space that is out of the office. Fresh (and inspiring!) environments do wonders for the creative brain.

What is discussed?

This is going to vary based on the time of year and what is taking up most of your team’s brain space and workload. When planning the agenda, I always start with a few orienting questions:

  • What is different now than the last time we met, and how do we account for those shifts?
  • What do I want people to know/feel/do each day?
  • What is the balance of time to 1) make progress on challenges 2) share updates and seek alignment, and 3) bond as a team?

Who joins the offsites?

For us, it’s our leadership team. The same core group who meets weekly to discuss the business. For you, that may be a larger (or smaller) group. What’s key here is that there is a precedent for who you’re including and who you’re not. Offsites should never be a way to sort the “in” and “out” groups.

How much do you invest?

We aim to spend around $1,500/person. We’re able to do that because we’re small, we stay together in Airbnbs with enough rooms for everyone to be comfortable, and we cook some of our meals. We have a blast doing the small things and splurge on one or two experiences each time. We also have the benefit of being experience designers and facilitators so we run our own party.

How are you thinking about your next offsite?
If you’re looking to bring your team together this summer, start here. It’ll give you a foundation to create an intentional experience for your team. And again, if you need some help, just reach out.

PS: Recently, we worked with fellows at Baumhart on the future of learning. In partnership with them, we're running a survey to learn more about what you would design if given the opportunity to create your own learning experience. Can you take a few minutes to help and share?

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