It seems that lots of my clients want me to facilitate “away days” at the moment. By this I’m talking about extended team meetings with the intention of getting some thinking done and decisions made away from the distractions of the workplace. Maybe it’s executive New Year’s resolutions or, more likely, that many of you are starting off the year with a sense of urgency to get things moving!
While a carefully planned away day with well-defined and clear objectives can be productive, an away day is not always the best solution for every situation. Even if it is, throwing people into a room without a clear purpose can be counterproductive and expensive. Thinking about this made me reflect on some of the reasons I’ve been asked to facilitate these types of events in the past. In particular, I’m thinking of when I’ve graciously declined or asked clients to rethink their reasoning. I thought it would be good to share with you my top 6 reasons not to have a team away day:
- To keep up the tradition of having an annual away day: It’s easy to see that getting everyone together even if there is no real purpose is harmless. However, when away days become habitual, it’s maybe time to question their value. This is especially the case if all they are is a platform to bombard people with endless presentations.
- To reward people for their hard work: It may seem like a nice gesture to take everyone off site for the day. However, taking a day away from work and therefore accumulating emails and workload is an inevitable result for most people. No matter how engaging the away day is, if there is no real purpose to it, it’s unlikely that many people will find such a day “rewarding”.
- To improve morale just by having an away day: It is possible that having opinions heard and taking part in making decisions at an away day can boost morale. However, unless this is followed up back in the workplace or if the process is just “going through the motions” it is likely that cynicism will result.
- To expose non-performers: This is an awful reason for an away day. If people sense the purpose is to flush out those who are loyal and those who are not, this will create even more distrust and conflict. Performance issues should be dealt with one to one by managers who are capable at having tough conversations.
- To control the conversation: It is important to realise that even if people don’t talk about things, it doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking them. When facilitators or leaders try to suppress honest discussion and a free and frank exchange, trust is destroyed and the day is seen as a waste of time. The only way that you will ever find our what people feel is to surface the issues that are important to them.
- To pretend to “involve” people in a decision that’s already been made: It’s okay for people to be told a decision that’s been made by a leader or a business . The problem arises when you imply that people have a choice in it when they don’t. I encourage my clients to think of 5 decision making styles at away days (Tell, Sell, Test, Consult, Co-create) and to be clear with the delegates what style we are operating in and how we want to involve them.
All of the issues identified above can be avoided by making sure you have some clear and relevant objectives for your away day. Working with a professional facilitator can help you to identify these objectives and develop a proper process for achieving them.
If you’d like some support from us to design and facilitate your away days or just want a chat to get some ideas, get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.