Should I plan a team offsite event? Elaine Varelas explores effective team activities

An offsite event can be a great way to encourage and enhance important workplace skills, such as communication, collaboration, and effective teamwork—if the appropriate thought and planning has gone into it. Elaine Varelas advises on how to plan an offsite with a lasting impact, starting with clear objectives and goals.

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Q: I’d like to plan an offsite teambuilding event for my team, but I worry they won’t get much value from it. What should be involved in a really good offsite—and what should definitely be avoided? I don’t want it to seem hokey or not applicable to our day-to-day functioning, but I think this could be a great opportunity for us.

A: If you’re worried that they won’t get much value from the offsite, then reevaluate your plan to hold one. What’s driving your decision to hold this kind of event? Are you confident that the nature of the offsite will address the needs you see? Or are you more drawn to the entertainment value and just feel a need to do something? You first need to be able to identify and articulate your desired outcomes from the offsite—rather than plan something and blindly hope that it addresses the development areas you want to see enhanced. And while an offsite activity might not immediately appear to be applicable to your team’s day-to-day functioning, if you are clear about the objectives and talk to the people leading it, the desired result and outcomes can be identified and highlighted for maximum impact.

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One of the primary draws and benefits of an offsite is the simple act of getting people out of the office and seeing their colleagues in a different light. Offsites are also prime examples of adult learning theory in practice. A large body of research details the many different ways that adults learn, so rather than just having another PowerPoint presentation over lunch or a self-directed lesson off the web, offsite events offer a more experiential option that can be enjoyable for participants and beneficial in reinforcing important workplace skills in a different way.

Team offsite events have been around for years and continue to evolve, from ropes courses and golf outings to community give back projects, scavenger hunts, or group cooking classes. These are all enjoyable events that let team members spend time with each other in different environments. Before moving forward with any given option, it’s wise to think about your population in addition to what you want to achieve. Be mindful of any physical limitations that might restrict someone’s participation and consider whether the event could potentially present any extreme psychological reactions from participants as well. For example, a strenuous outdoor activity might not be ideal for anyone with limited mobility or something involving small spaces might trigger someone’s claustrophobia, and escape rooms may present other issues. Safety first for any employee event.

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You mentioned being worried that the event will come across as “hokey,” which could be interpreted a few ways. Do you mean that it will feel silly while doing it? Or that it doesn’t have any real results back in the workplace? In terms of people regarding it as silly, you’re going to get a range of reactions regardless of what you do, so encourage everyone to put aside their judgment and agree to the spirit of development. In terms of results, the follow-up and reinforcement of the event will be key. The learnings from the offsite should not be considered just for that one moment in time. You are instilling developmental opportunities for the future and if you can ensure that the learnings are revisited and emphasized back at the office, the event will be that much more effective and impactful.

Again, the most crucial piece is to identify and communicate the goals of the offsite. Many people start with the event and work backwards, hoping that the event itself will magically solve their workplace issues. Instead, identify the challenges and areas that need to be addressed or enhanced, and then start developing an approach to achieve it, prioritizing safety, clarity, and transparency throughout the process.

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June 18, 2019 | 8:55 AM