Team Advantage of Strategic Offsites

December 8, 2022

On the cusp of a new year many organizations are currently scheduling offsites for senior executives to review strategic goals and devise execution plans for the coming year. Healthy organizations who encourage their leaders to embrace each other as vital teammates will be the most successful.

All too often offsites fail to deliver solid results because leaders bring forth plans that are focused on individuals and their departments. This can inadvertently reward silo building and allow for competition of resources that ultimately undermines company-wide success. Rather than building a unified team and doing what’s right for the organization, individual egos, reputations, and ambitions become the primary focus.

Any successful strategic offsite should begin with ensuring everyone feels psychologically safe to speak freely. Each person should trust that they can do the right thing for the right reasons. And all participants ought to feel like they are an important component of a highly functional team, and that the organization will succeed only with everyone working effectively together.

Before beginning any offsite, ensure that there is a foundation of trust and rapport. If this needs to be established or strengthened, this should be the number one priority. Though it takes time and energy, and some may see it as unnecessary, nothing is more important. Without trust, there can be little progress.

Vulnerability should also be encouraged and modeled by the most senior leader so others can show up more fully and authentically. This will set the tone for how everyone shows up.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, author Patrick Lencioni recommends a Team Effectiveness Exercise that can be especially helpful.

“Do this at the end of an off-site meeting once there is a decent foundation of trust,” writes Lencioni. “If team members aren’t capable of being vulnerable with one another, there is no point in doing it.”

Team Effectiveness Exercise

  1. Have each person write down one thing that each of the other team members does that makes the team better. It should be the biggest strength as it pertains to the impact on the group. Not technical skills but the way they behave when the team is together that makes the team stronger.

  2. Do the same thing except this time focus on one aspect of each person that sometimes hurts the team. Provide 10 to 15 minutes for this.

  3. Beginning with the leader, go around the room asking everyone to report on the person’s one positive characteristic. Let the person respond after everyone has finished. Now go around again offering the one characteristic that the person needs to work on. Allow for a reaction after everyone has gone. Then do this for the next person until everyone is complete. Should take only about 10 minutes per person.

This type of exercise requires trust and psychological safety to execute well. It can dramatically strengthen a team by making each member feel more supported by and accountable to the others on the team.

“The greatest impact is the realization on the part of leadership team members that holding one another accountable is a survivable and productive activity, and it will make them likely to continue doing it going forward,” continues Lencioni.

Lencioni does an excellent job of illustrating this in his earlier book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I highly recommend.

Plan on making your next strategic offsite meeting one that is focused on the team. The whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts, but requires ensuring there is psychological safety, trust, and rapport. And it means the courage to be vulnerable with each other for the sake of strengthening your relationships and team performance.

Trustworthy Behavior: It’s Not Just For Kids

March 19, 2010

The other day our 10-year-old daughter was caught in a lie of omission. The actual subject of the lie was of little significance, but the slight erosion of trust provided my wife and me with concern because the behavior was so atypical for this girl.

Where previously there had never been a question with regard to her word, doubt had now entered our thought processes. Certainly this is an excellent learning opportunity for all three of us.

Regardless of whether it is in our families or with our co-workers, the level of open communication and trustworthy behavior can often be the difference between success and failure in all relationships.

None of my recent posts resulted in more reader comments than When Employees Don’t Trust the Boss. Perhaps this is because we are all greatly impacted by trust and take it very personally. Trust takes a long time to earn and only a second to lose. When a high level of trust is found in the workplace, costs go down and productivity goes up. Without trust, there can be no sustained progress.

I remember a time in my previous career when I was given feedback that I was “not afraid to give executives bad news” with regard to an upcoming product schedule. The comment was made as if withholding information was acceptable, as if it was the rule and I was providing an exception. But how could I expect executives to effectively manage our company if I withheld important information from them?

If information is indeed power and people withhold information in order to maintain power, this should also be considered a lie of omission. In my experience, many companies seem to condone this type of behavior and actually believe that internal competition for information will somehow lead to greater products and services. In fact, this can only lead to increasing costs, and slowing down innovation and productivity.

It is all too easy for companies to simply state their commitment in mission statements and pepper corporate value statements with words such as “integrity, honesty, openness, and mutual respect.” Actually walking this talk takes vigilance and needs to be modeled by upper management before these powerful words can be truly embraced internally.

When upper management looks the other way as directors and managers compete with each other for projects and resources by withholding information from each other, this sends a signal that values such as integrity, openness and mutual respect are important only from a public relations perspective and not a human resources perspective.

Trust comes about not from selective sharing, but through full disclosure. When leaders model this selective sharing, those who report to them are far more likely to follow suit. In the same way children model what parents do no matter how often we say something counter to it, employees follow the behavior of their supervisors.

As human beings we are well trained to recognize the incongruence between what is stated versus what is done. Given an opportunity, we typically follow the behavior and not the words. Behavior simply trumps whatever comes out of our mouths.

Trust also directly impacts our communication with each other. When we trust someone, whether this is in a personal or professional relationship, we are more likely to believe what they say and they believe what we say. If trust has eroded, then every time something is communicated it is treated suspiciously and not immediately believed.

In personal relationships, this keeps us from increasing intimacy and strengthening bonds. In business relationships, it prevents us from moving quickly and effectively to accomplish our mutual goals.

Navigating the teenage years with all three of our children may be challenging, but I believe if my wife and I can keep the lines of communication open and maintain a solid foundation of trust with our own consistent behavior, we stand a chance of doing okay. Similarly, in the workplace, executives who model trustworthy behavior and maintain open lines of communication stand a better chance of employees following along.

Mark Craemer   

When Employees Don’t Trust the Boss

February 2, 2010

In a previous post I addressed how important the attribute of trust is in leadership. Nothing impacts an organization’s overall productivity more than the level of trust found within it. But what happens when employees don’t trust their boss?

If you have strong and irrefutable evidence that your boss is not to be trusted, it seems to me you have four choices: 1) ignore the situation and hope things will improve on their own; 2) tell someone you believe can help make a change for the better; 3) leave your boss and find another job within or outside the company; 4) trust him anyway and help enable a change in behavior.

Ignore the situation. If you choose to avoid the problem of an untrustworthy boss, this only perpetuates the distrust and does nothing to improve your life. In addition, by not confronting him, you are ultimately accepting his untrustworthy behavior. A person cannot be untrustworthy by himself—someone has to be the recipient of this distrust. You have a choice as to whether or not this is you and, if you fail to confront him, you are enabling his untrustworthy behavior. Like any relationship, you have to take responsibility for your part.

Tolerating untrustworthy behavior results in harming yourself by continuing to work for such a person, and also contributes to the dysfunction of the organization as a whole. By not doing something to rectify things, you become as responsible for the dysfunction as your boss.

Tell someone who can help. This is a tricky option because your boss’s untrustworthy behavior is unlikely limited to you alone and, if nothing has been done, it may be condoned or at least tolerated by others. Who you talk to and what you expect him or her to do could end up reflecting poorly on you. If you do speak up, it is best to have your facts straight with plenty of supporting evidence. You should also make it clear what you believe needs to be done about it. And be prepared for nothing to actually happen.

If you have a progressive company where 360 assessments are regularly conducted, then perhaps the feedback of a lack of trust will get back to your boss anonymously and encourage him to rectify his behavior. However, without specific examples to refer to, any comments regarding his untrustworthy behavior may only breed ill-will towards those around him. Regardless, by not confronting your boss directly, you are leaving others to determine your fate.

Leave your boss. You could choose to look for a new position away from your boss either within the company or at another one. By doing so, you may be taking a stand that integrity matters and you will not tolerate working for someone who lacks it. If you choose to communicate to others the distrust you feel in your boss, this could have immediate and/or long-term repercussions. Like it or not, your immediate supervisor can have a huge impact on your future employment. It is therefore important to protect this relationship as much as you can, even if you lack respect for his behavior.

Trust him anyway. Okay this may be the hardest to swallow, but I think it is ultimately the right choice even if after your best efforts you end up needing to move back to the previous option. If you believe your boss is not to be trusted, I suggest you trust him anyway. I don’t mean this out of pure naivety or passive allegiance, but out of hope for a change in behavior. Most human beings (bosses included), respond favorably to being trusted. If you are genuine in your trust and listen respectfully to him, he is likely to reciprocate and trust you back. That’s how trust works and it is also how it spreads.

Trust requires respectful listening and this is filled with opportunities for self-improvement. Listening attentively with an open mind and open heart can make a huge difference in one’s ability to trust others. Trusting him may very well cultivate trustful behavior.

Trust is a two-way street. It cannot be imposed on someone and it requires risk. The only way to find trust is to look for it and expect it in others. This is risky, yet it is the only way trust can build in any relationship.

It’s difficult for most of us to confront any person in our lives. When it’s our boss, this becomes magnified because we believe he may use his power over us to make our work lives worse or perhaps fire us.

The thing to keep in mind is that everyone wants to be trusted and most people will make every effort to become trustworthy. In addition, most of us also want feedback on how we are being perceived. As hard as it is for you to talk to your boss about untrustworthy behavior, if your mistrust is representative of a group of people and not yourself alone, you may be surprised to find just how willing he is to listen and try to improve things.

More importantly, you will have taken a very courageous leadership step that will serve you throughout your personal as well as your professional life.

Mark Craemer