Offsite meeting agenda: How do you make offsite fun?
This is the last article in the series of 3 where we will share our lessons learned and tips & tricks on why, how, and what are the important building blocks for a successful offsite meeting. Find the first article “How team offsites can bring long-term benefits to your company?” and the second article “How do you run an effective team offsite? The offsite objective checklist included!” in our blog to learn the basics of offsite planning and to understand if your team is ready to benefit from offsites. Those both are a must-read before getting to the fun part of the offsite organisation.
How to plan an offsite meeting agenda?
After you have set goals and objectives and a better understanding of the activity types to include, it's time to put that puzzle together and create an offsite meeting agenda. An important thing, and probably the most important in the agenda planning phase, is to have a balance between work and fun, and intense and downtime. As much as you as a team lead, founder or manager want to maximize every second of having your team/company at the same place at the same time, don't. You will tire your team out pretty fast and all the meaningful activities will go to waste because people won't be able to focus.
Same as blank space in this article helps you to focus, digest, and process content, blank space aka downtime can help your team to be more productive during the offsite.
By the way, downtime doesn't always mean that the team is not together, each doing their own thing in their rooms, no. It just means you give the space for people who get tired of people to recharge on their own and give space for people who thrive in social situations to keep socializing. It is time without a defined agenda and the restrictions that come with that. It can be working together for hours when everyone can work in the same space, but on their own terms, and some will organically create clusters, while some will choose to be in their own head space for some time. It can also be free time and again, some people will do things together and some will recharge their social batteries.
Remember that your employees have lives outside the company. They might want to call their partner, kid, mom, or cat. They might want to look at pictures, videos, and messages in their friends or family chats, they might want to do meditation, read an article, go for a walk, listen to music, or do anything really that helps them to come back relaxed and ready to be focused and productive.
In our experience, we have seen people getting grumpy and snappy during the offsites with an intense agenda just because there is too much on the plate. When the agenda is so jam-packed that there is no time to even take a shower between the city tour and transfer to the dinner location, people one-by-one dropout, some stay and suffer and just a few get to enjoy it but are on the brink of exhaustion which results of day-offs and sick leaves after coming back. Also, consider that in the last few years we are much more used to spending time with a limited amount of people and with limited traveling.
Many people admitted that the excitement of meeting colleagues can lead to exhaustion. They are simply not used to in-person interactions and those can be overwhelming.
And not because people don't enjoy it, but because they maybe enjoy them too much. If you have a lot to achieve, make the offsite longer or check the priorities and objectives you set up before.
When you know objectives, you will have a better impression of how to plan your agenda. First, look at how much time you will need for work activities and then see if there is enough time for the leisure part to balance it out.
Overall the proportion should be close to 1:1 between work and leisure and enough space for “free time” which will depend on how intense the agenda will be overall but should be at least 1-2h per day.
Based on what work-related activities you will include, look at how they will be distributed over the days/week. Combinations are endless, but some work better than others. We usually suggest to either have a day that is fully focused on work with only downtimes being lunch, dinner, and 1-2h “free time”. Depending on the length of the offsite those can be 1, 1,5, or 2 days which then would be balanced out by full leisure day(s). That's a good option if you plan to work a lot. If your objectives are equally balanced between work tasks to achieve and communication, bonding, and culture development, we suggest going easier with the work part and working the first part of the day, spending the second part on more relaxed activities, and adding full day dedicated for an activity that will help your team-building efforts. We don't suggest having fragmented days where there is 1 hour of this and then 1 hour of that and then let's see maybe something else. It's hard to work when your mind is constantly required to switch and jump, better have a structure that has bigger blocks with mindful breaks in between.
As you can see the agenda will completely depend on the goals and objectives you have defined before. We have seen that when that part is missing or team members are not in-sync about the offsite goals, the agenda falls apart and what should have been the fun part of planning turns into chaos. To avoid chaos and issues with following the agenda, when presenting it to your employees make sure to communicate the goals and rules of the offsite. As we mentioned in previous articles, if people go to offsite without the right mindset there is a chance the agenda will fall apart and people will use this as an opportunity to party all the time.
Be strict about which agenda items are mandatory to attend and what are the rules of offsites.
The rule of thumb is to follow the principle that each person is responsible to show up on time even after partying the night before. Nevertheless, when planning an agenda you need to be considerate to not have 7 am agenda items after the planned night out, so it is clear which nights are for later activities and later next morning and which are solely upon individuals to choose to stay up later, but then make sure to show up on time the next morning. How strictly you want to approach this matter will be dependent on the work culture and ethics in your team and company, so also make sure you are sending the right message to your employees. You won't be happy to come back from offsite and hear: “our boss is a party animal, so they will understand if I miss some meeting because I was up late last night partying.” So be mindful of the message and overall set-up of the offsite in this regard.
How to be inclusive when choosing the activities and location?
The important part is to remember that this is not your vacation, it's not about you and what you like. When setting up the agenda you need to consider what your team would actually enjoy. Here are the main categories of activities for leisure time that you should get a vote on. Yes, democracy is for the win here, but also consider a veto option, or at least ask if anyone has some restrictions for the types of activities (and foods) they can participate in.
Here is the list of team-building activity groups:
Cultural activities and traditions
City tours, history, museums
Food and drinks – cooking together, going to vineyards, tasting tours
Low-activity outdoor activities – light hike in nature, stand-up paddle in calm water
Medium outdoor activity – longer hikes, rafting, boating, climbing
High-intensity activity – surfing, white water rafting, caving, rock climbing (make sure your management is on board of the team being involved in high-intensity and risk activities, and make sure there is the right insurance available)
Chill activities – beach day, catamaran tour (make sure people from different cultures feel comfortable participating)
Bar, parties, karaoke
When choosing and presenting activities be mindful of different cultures and preferences your team might have. Not only give room for everyone to enjoy activities on their own terms but be explicit when talking about dress codes by including suggestions like: “feel free to enjoy beach and water activities in the outfit you feel most comfortable in” so everyone knows they will be respected and not judged whatever their outfit of choice would be. Be also inclusive of potential restrictions by choice or ability. Some people might be afraid of heights, deep waters, confined spaces, and many other less common things you never know when meeting online or in the office. Some might have visible or invisible disabilities.
Create the questionnaire in a way that gives space for people to choose accordingly, but without the need to disclose more than they feel comfortable with.
Some people might not have issues telling them they are afraid of something, while some might feel admitting it would be a sign of weakness and feel ashamed, giving them space.
When looking at the activity types you can see those could be split into a few bigger categories: Urban and Natural environments and then comes higher energy and calmer activities based on people's interests. We suggest adding a bit of everything, but also be mindful about opt-out options, especially considering not everyone will be interested in staying up late, so if you plan to go out, consider offering transport for people who want to leave earlier or offering alternatives to main activities that might be too intense for everyone.
How to choose an offsite meeting location?
The preferences of activities, together with such factors as accessibility, in terms of budget and visas, and weather preferences will be one of the main factors for choosing a location. For example, if everyone is set on a city location with good cultural opportunities, but also wants good food & drinks related experiences, in Europe, we would suggest Barcelona and on top of what the city can offer would bring you to a day tour that would include culture, nature and wine tasting. If most people want outdoor activities and beach vibes, we could offer to go to Mallorca or some other Mediterranean island, like Sicily, Crete, or others, and look for locations that would give access to quality beaches and access to outdoor activity spots, while having good restaurant options to choose from nearby.
This is also one of the reasons why you shouldn't choose a final destination before you know what, how, and why you want to achieve when organizing offsite. You can have options and preferences, but choices should be made based on the needs of the offsite. Another important factor will be the work part. Not all touristy and warm destinations have hotels to facilitate multiple workshops and co-working style working. Depending on the style of work activities and size of the group some destinations might be harder to manage and have less return on money spent than other places. If you have a truly global and multicultural team, ask if there are any restrictions on destinations that will give people the opportunity to express which countries they can't or don't want to visit because of visa, personal or other reasons. Be specific if you are ready to help to cover visa expenses, which might expand the choices for potential destinations.
The activities available in different locations can also be a deciding factor between multiple potential locations. After you have chosen the final destination and know which types of activities your colleagues prefer you will know what specific activities to look for to include in the agenda. We can often see that preferences have split 50:50 between the most popular choices. We suggest then just offering 2 different activities to choose from, it will be a good opportunity to break the team into smaller groups and mix together individuals from different circles.
If choices are all over the place, try to balance different activities, and if nothing else, food always brings people together. It can be a dinner at a local restaurant or a full cultural journey in the traditional culture of the place you visit or a light vineyard tour paired with sightseeing. Most of those work every time as they include elements from different interests and everyone will find some parts of it interesting. That is one of the benefits if you choose to go to a place that has long traditions of food and drink culture. And if nothing else, everyone needs to eat anyways, so that is one common interest right there.
The atmosphere of sitting around the same table, sharing the same food and drinks is an ancient bonding ritual that works magic in bringing people together also for modern tech companies.
Make sure to cater to everyone's dietary requirements throughout the offsite.
There is one contradictory choice to make when choosing a location which is to go to one of colleagues' home country and hometown. From one side, that might not seem fair to the person as they might be the only one who won't get to travel. On the other side (surprisingly) not everyone likes to travel, also, there are many cultures where welcoming guests and hosting the whole team would be considered the highest honor. I have seen people hugging and crying from happiness because of the opportunity to show their colleagues their culture. So, knowing your team and choosing accordingly is the best advice here.
If in doubt about how to choose the best location for your team offsite meeting, ask professionals. For example, when we work with our clients, we find out what are important location parameters (warm/cold/seaside, etc.), type of activities, people who will travel (also from the perspective of the country of origin, visa statuses, covid vaccination, etc.) and potential location preferences. While we help teams figure out their objectives, activities, and potential agenda, we do research on the locations or gather relevant info from our existing database. We won't offer you a location just because we have been there and it's easier for us, it will be picked and chosen to match your needs. And that's how you should pick your locations if you are doing it yourself. One word of caution here, if you do it on your own and go to a foreign country with a different culture and language, it's best if there is someone in your team who is familiar with the culture and ideally speaks basic phrases in the local language.
When you have chosen your agenda and location, time to book everything. We won't go into practical details here. But even if doing it yourself it's much easier to do it when you know exactly what and why and how you want offsite to be. Going into booking things with a clear vision makes it much easier. Just remember the advice from before to have someone who is solely responsible for this project and will be the one who will make sure all pieces of this puzzle fit together.
We hope those articles helped you to understand the basics of team offsite meeting organisation. There are much more than we are able to squeeze in 3 articles, but those are the main things. We might in the future share some creative ideas or agenda examples, if you would be interested, leave a comment here or on our Linkedin posts and we will consider it for future blog post topics to cover.
If you know you want to organise a team offsite and it would make sense to save time and money by hiring a professional, leave us a note at email@example.com, or fill in the form, so we get to know you better before the meeting. Talk soon!