Rethinking the Strategic Offsite: A Summer Vacation for Your Office
With June quickly approaching, offices are abuzz with employees scheduling and coordinating summer vacation time. Vacations are important because they give us the down-time we need as humans to rest, relax, and clear our minds. They also give us a change in scenery, which inspires us and helps us self-reflect and see things with a fresh set of eyes.
But individuals aren’t the only ones who can reap the benefits of down-time and a change of scenery: government program teams can, too. But how? A field trip? An office potluck? Trust falls and a ropes course?
Nope. Our suggestion is to hold a summertime strategic offsite meeting.
Strategic offsite meetings are helpful to government organizations because they allow leaders to have an uninterrupted block of time to reconnect to the mission and purpose of their agency while actively exploring solutions to a set of goals or problems. While strategic offsite meetings have the reputation of being expensive, lengthy, complicated to organize, and only for senior leadership, they don’t have to be any of these things. A strategic offsite can simply be a chance for employees to step back from their daily jobs—physically and professionally—to see their work unit as part of the complex government ecosystem. In vacation terms, the dedicated down-time gives employees a break from putting out the fires of the day, and the change of pace gives them perspective and frees up their imaginations.
In re-envisioning a strategic offsite to bring the benefits of a vacation to your program team, I’m not suggesting that the offsite will be unproductive. Quite the opposite, but it does require careful design in order to be both productive and energizing. What makes the most sense in an abbreviated, casual offsite is to select a single goal, problem, or theme. By scoping the meeting around an issue that really impacts the team, you can focus their energy and provide boundaries that you want to innovate within.
Regardless of the form that makes most sense for your project team or what the area of focus is, here are some tips to aid government managers in designing a summer vacation strategic offsite meeting.
Your team is likely already periodically gauging their performance towards the agency’s strategic goals. One thing you could decide to focus on at the offsite is revisiting any starting assumptions about those goals and assess how changes in the environment over the past 12 months may impact the mission in the future.
Reconnect With Your Customers
Most strategic offsites are inwardly focused, meaning they look at program operations instead of program outcomes. To shift this mindset, as part of your offsite, you could invite government customer groups (government-to-citizens, government-to-government, or shared services) to participate by delivering an opening keynote, exploring their use of your products and services, or role-playing a new service design prototype.
Take Some Risks
Strategic offsites should be a safe place to take risks, explore options, and share new ideas in the spirit of expanding the team’s horizons. Consider trying a Collaborative Game, World Cafe, or a Design Sprint to explore new ideas in an environment with a low risk of failure. Even better, embrace the failure for its learning potential like we recently did at Technical Assent’s first Failure Fair.
Actually Go Off Site
An offsite held in Conference Room B following the Monday budget meeting won’t have as big of an impact as getting outside of the building. Seek out public outdoor spaces, reservable locations at interesting sites (like a library or a museum), or even locations frequented by your agency’s customers. Space plays an important role in triggering your team to think outside of their daily routine and look for other patterns.
Wear Your Big Hat
Opportunities to come together as a team and think big picture are increasingly rare. Make the best use of this time by setting an early ground rule that encourages everyone to think with their Big Hat (thinking in terms of the agency mission and the customer impact of that mission versus the what’s best for my team mindset that is associated with Little Hat thinking). For example, this is not a time to debate which projects should suffer the biggest percentage of budget cuts, but to validate that these projects are delivering the right benefits to the right customers.
Have Some Fun
It is easy to get caught up in the seriousness of government work, but it is still a human-driven system. People benefit from the opportunity to build community, network, connect. One of the best outcomes of an event like this is enabling colleagues to find common ground outside of work, which translates to better working relationships. Some ways to add fun into an offsite meeting include casual dress or connecting the offiste to an after-work activity that everyone can participate in, such as a paint-and-wine activity, group bike ride, tour, or family barbeque. You can also intermix group activities such as games, scavenger hunts, or contests. These can be designed to directly contribute to the focus of the offsite, or be unrelated. Warren Buffet, for example, has a contest at his annual shareholder meetings where contestants throw a rolled up newspaper from 35 feet to see who can get it closest to the door.
What are the challenges you’ve observed with government offsites? Tell us more about it in the comments below.