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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.