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5 Keys to Effective Virtual Offsite Meetings in the Time of COVID

Here we are in late November and most of us have still yet to return to the office and normalcy. The drumbeat of business pounds on, however, which means it's time to get geared up and ready for another year as this one gradually winds down. Even though our lives have devolved into a never ending litany of virtual calls - there is still one very important moment to prioritize before the year ends - your virtual offsite meeting.

Offsite meetings are an important moment for teams. This is the opportunity to zoom out from the minutiae of day to day progress tracking and truly make time for learning, reflection, and future state defining. If new team members have joined and others have exited, it's the moment to recalibrate the group's DNA and re-align toward shared norms and goals. And it is the ideal moment for reward and recognition of the efforts of the current period in order to inspire future perserverance and performance.

Because these meetings can be extensive and without the benefit of being in a shared space there are some important things to consider in order to execute an effective meeting. What follows are Intent Consulting's 5 keys for executing effective offsite meetings:

  1. Pulse the Agenda: Normally an offsite meeting lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 days where each day has a specific theme and focus. If you want to keep the team fully engaged, it is highly recommended to spread the meeting out over 4-5 days with 4 hour blocks each day - 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. In this way you can get to clear outcomes in focused work periods while still not overwhelming or overloading your participants.

  2. Prioritize Team Dynamics: Before getting down to the business of evaluating progress and performance in 2020 and planning for 2021, it's crucial that you create space for the team to re-bond. Don't assume just because everyone has been working hard together that the team dynamics are optimal. Talk about your use of collective team talents; reconfim collective values, trust builders and trust breakers; and recontract around effective team norms and dynamics. Also, don't forget fun! Consider a virtual team activity with an outside facilitator such as a virtual cooking class.

  3. Focus on Failures: Most teams are so driven to achieve that they fail to take the time to collectively learn from what didn't go well. Offsite's are the perfect moment to zoom into these areas and identify what can be taken forward to improve performance going forward. Importantly, the objective here is not blaming or shaming individuals involved in what went wrong, simply an open transparent diagnosis of the situation, target, and how and why the target was missed and what to should this type of situation occur in the future. This is how you build the collective muscle memory of your team and accelerate response times to known situations.

  4. Inspect Insights: These offsite moments also provide time and space to discuss another type of learning which comes as a result of insights derived from activities during the year. Most especially you should prioritize insights gained from interactions with customers, because this will allow you to recalibrate the steps to achieve the overarching mission which should always be articulated in terms of creating and enhancing value to customers. Conducting a stop, start, continue dynamic as a result of prioritized actions related to key insights will document the needed changes as a result of these learnings.

  5. Recognize Key Wins: Last, but certainly not least, it is important to shine a light on key moments where the team's collective and individual efforts led to important results. Remember that the how the result was achieved is as or more important as what was achieved because how's reinforce values and norms for others in the team to emulate. The nominations for high performance should also come from the group and not just from the team leader because this encouraged everyone to be involved in each other's success. And get creative about the award itself - you can send an actual trophy for team members to receive and show on camera to the others; send certificates digitally that can be printed and displayed to the group; or some other trinket of value within company policy.

As you can see from this list, it's not so different from a normal offsite meeting with the important exception of facilitation. Try to give facilitation roles to as many people on the team as possible to keep the dynamic fresh. Define key meeting roles like energizer, scriber, rabbit hole monitor, break herder, and observer to get more people actively involved in each section of the meeting. Leverage interactive technology in the form of polling, breakout groups, and idea boxes to ensure everyone has a say in the proceedings of the meeting. And if you feel like conducting such a meeting is outside of your capability set - get help!

What other considerations do you think are important for effective virtual offsite meetings? Let's discuss in the comments below! If you liked this article please give it a thumbs up and share with your network!

Omar L. Harris is the managing partner at Intent Consulting, a firm dedicated to improving employee experience and organizational performance and author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams and The Servant Leader's Manifesto available for purchase in ebook or print on Please follow him Instagram, Twitter, and/or Linkedin for more information and engagement.

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