Running an effective offsite – Part 1: Setting the Ground Rules

In my previous post, I discussed the reasons for running an offsite. In this post, I continue the discussion by looking at the setting of ground rules. Ground rules are important, because they make it easy to answer the questions “Should we be discussing this here?”, and “What’s best way to make sure everyone is heard?”

Here are the ground rules we came up with; yours might be different.

  1. No laptops or phones. We felt that having a break every couple of hours to catch up on urgent phone calls and meetings would be better than constant interruptions with people dashing out to ‘just take this call.’
  2. No operational discussions. Since we’re all busy people, getting the group of people together who can make operational decisions is hard to do. Why not discuss the odd operational thing while we’re here? Because it wastes time, detracts from the underlying purpose of getting together, and leads people to want to act – such as sending emails, making calls,  and wasting time.
  3. No  names. Occasionally we discuss a goal that brings up an operational challenge we have been facing. You can’t mention anyone by name, only by role. And yes, they probably narrows it down, but now you’re talking about the limitations and challenges of the role and not the person. Operational people stuff is for other places and times.
  4. No interrupting. We decided to have a virtual conch – ‘Hey! I’ve got the conch and I’m not done.’ You can have a virtual or real one, but let people finish and don’t interrupt.
  5. Leave your ego behind. This isn’t a race, competition or war. We felt that being wrong is fine, if the group disagrees with you. If this becomes an ego war, you have lost your way.
  6. Think big. Think out past the end of this year, next year, and 3 years out – will the vision and goals you’re setting be relevant over those time frames? If not, why not, and what should we do about them?

In the next post, I discuss the overall process and agenda that we set for the offsite.

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