I've participated in and led several such gatherings. While there are many styles of offsite meetings, the best ones include extensive preparation. They stem from a sound project plan, with well-defined goals, objectives, tactics and timelines. The successful ones tackle only a few important issues, and include a smaller number of stakeholders who come rested and prepared. The best offsite meetings are gritty, emotional and bring colleagues closer together so they can openly confront the toughest challenges. Outside thinkers often bring in an unbiased perspective, but every manager, internally, contributes heavily from start to finish.
These are the core requirements of a successful offsite meeting. Still, the problem with most is they too often become a huddle of managers talking strategy -- amongst themselves. Sessions usually lack perspective and direct contribution from those who really matter: customers. In fact, all the best offsite meetings I've ever attended could've been a lot better with a lot more customer immersion and participation.
Customer inclusion may seem intuitive, but the concept recently hit me like never before. I was in charge of organizing my start-up company's last management offsite as well as our customer listening and product usability lab. For reasons of efficiency and travel practicality, I scheduled our three-day management offsite back-to-back with an intense 14 hours of customer observation sessions and interviews. This incidental scheduling exercise turned out to be a smart business decision.
Sure, our entire team went through a grueling week. But concluding a marathon of problem-solving sessions with extreme customer immersion -- the meeting pinnacle -- had an amazing impact.
First, it immediately forced us to reconcile closed-door strategy with the real world. In the live-or-die mode of a startup, it further sensitized us to the serious risks and awesome opportunities facing us. The issues really came alive.
The momentum built in many offsite meetings has a tendency to die when the offsite is over, but this format encouraged urgency in converting that momentum into action. It forced us to immediately bridge the gap between discussion and execution. The intellectual side of business problem-solving was met with an immediate and intense venue in which to apply it.
An offsite with customer immersion at the peak also enabled us to present the freshest, most pressing ideas and get instant feedback. Most of our thinking was validated, but much was also challenged, altered and refined. In the end, I believe it led to smarter, faster and more confident decision-making. It's important for this sort of feedback loop to happen in the course of the strategic offsite -- not days, weeks or months later.
Of course, concluding a strategic offsite meeting with deep customer collaboration energizes them and you. It cultivates the longing to co-create and succeed together. It creates a bond between your culture and theirs, and drives business momentum forward. It creates that fundamental magic and belief that gets you excited to be in business with them in the first place.
Bottom line: customers are required to execute the most meaningful and effective management offsite meetings. They are the lifeblood of your business, so be sure to include them and make them central.