Best Offsite Meeting Ever? Use an Expert Facilitator

A time-honored way to strategize, prioritize, and focus your team on the future is to clear away distractions, get your team out of the office, and hold an offsite meeting.

Planned and executed well, an offsite meeting can be incredibly productive and energizing — generating innovative ideas and pointing everyone in the same direction. A great offsite meeting will build team cohesion, define what’s most important for the organization, and establish how critical projects will be accomplished.

Done poorly, they are a waste of time, energy, and money — a distracted, meandering series of circular conversations and debates, with no focus, no movement forward, and no conclusion. At worst, they can be downright demoralizing.

A critical difference-maker is the offsite meeting’s facilitator. To have your best offsite meeting ever, bring in a knowledgeable, professional facilitator. Here’s why:

  1. An expert facilitator understands how to leverage process to get the best result. They know how to structure an agenda, organize time, and breakdown difficult and complicated topics into manageable pieces. They understand the ebbs and flows of a one-day or multi-day meeting.
  1. A professional facilitator knows how to move a discussion forward, improve communication among team members, and stay on topic. They help a team openly get options on the table, engage in productive discussion, and promote effective decision-making.
  1. A knowledgeable facilitator understands team behavior and performance. They are expert at managing the interpersonal dynamics of the group. A trained facilitator will build team relationships and maximize the contribution of each participant.
  1. Importantly, an expert facilitator will insist on doing the homework needed to prepare for a productive offsite. The facilitator will meet with leadership to understand context and to develop an agenda designed to get you where you want to go. They will also meet individual participants to learn about their various points of view and assess the dynamics between team members.

At Arden Coaching, we advocate a two-person system for offsite facilitation. One facilitator leads and manages the conversation. The other tracks and documents it. This enables us to better capture the nuances of the discussion and the nature of the decisions made, including agreements about priorities, accountability, budgeting, timing, and next steps. For more about offsite and retreat planning, read “Most Common Offsite Planning Mistakes and Why You Need a Retreat Road Map.”

Often, the leader wants to serve as the facilitator. This is a recipe for disaster. No matter how well intentioned, the person does not have the experience and skill set of a professional facilitator. More importantly, no one can facilitate AND participate effectively at the same time. The leader will be too busy managing the meeting to engage as a member of the group — or worse, the meeting will be perceived by the participants as stage-directed by the leader, shutting down open communication altogether.

As we enter annual-strategic-planning-retreat season, to make it your most productive offsite ever, demand a professional facilitator!

To learn more about offsite facilitation, and team performance, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.