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Don’t Kill Your Off-Site

The force or fizzle of your next team-building retreat hinges on one thing: the CEO’s strategic design. Here’s a five-point plan for devising a needle-moving off-site.
Use this tool to plan your team's off-site.
photo by flickr user tuchodi

The debate about off-site retreats is polarizing: Are they powerful innovation labs that coalesce great minds around important challenges, or are they gratuitous time-wasters that have no discernable effect on the bottom line? Whichever side you’re on, you’d likely agree that even the most successful off-sites fall often short of their potential.

Most off-sites jump the tracks before leaving the station, argue Bob Frisch (@OffsiteGuy), author of Who’s in the Room, and Logan Chandler, partner at Schaffer Consulting. The culprit? Poor planning on the part of the CEO.

In their Harvard Business Review article “Off-Sites That Work,” Frisch and Chandler offer a plan that begins by establishing straw-model objectives 60 days before a retreat. Build paired their utilitarian checklist with insights from Cheryl Dahle’s (@HeyFishLady) Fast Company classic “Can This Off-Site Be Saved?” to devise this CEO planning tool:


T-Minus… Key Decision Description Consider This
60 Days No one leaves until we ________. Your offsite’s incredibly defined goal. How will you know you’ve reached your goal? What internal and external data are needed?
60 Days Success is unlikely until ________. The guest list of frontline executors, suppliers, and vendors whose insights can’t be imitated. If your employees had to compete for off-site slots, what would make a winning application?
45 Days We could learn a lot from ­­­________. The outside experts who could introduce mind-blowing ideas. What firms outside your industry have overcome a challenge similar to yours?
30 Days Standing up, stretching, and ________ would kick-start some serious business. The one team-building exercise that could help you creatively reach your goal. What about producing a video or mock product to share with stakeholders back home?
2 Weeks The price of admission is ________. The reading, reports, or data that participants must digest before showing up at the off-site. Could you break up into teams, each with its own reading assignments related to the team-building exercise?



Before the dot-com bubble burst, Fast Company highlighted a few eccentric locations for off-sites, from Chicago’s Field Museum to Idaho’s Lower Salmon River. Are these places superior to a hotel ballroom? Certainly. Do they inspire innovation? Not necessarily.

“Before you stress about where you will go and what you will do, remember that, from a business perspective, [location] is probably the least important part of planning your retreat,” writes Sarah Kessler (@SarahFKessler)in Inc. If the goal is clear and the agenda is smart, even the local HoJo will do.

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Don’t Kill Your Off-Site

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