What do the best awaydays have in common?

If you’ve worked in a management role for any length of time, you’ve almost certainly attended or even led a number of departmental awaydays. I suspect some were more useful than others and there might even have been a couple that went a bit pear-shaped, or were so boring that you couldn’t wait for the next coffee break, draining any sense of creativity or motivation that you may have started the day with. Yet others can be invigorating – everyone in the team contributes and there is an amazing feeling of a common goal or purpose and everyone is buzzing as they leave for the day.

I’ve been to, and, if I’m honest, led both types. There have been some where I could sense we had made a sea change and accomplished more in 7 hours than in 7 months. There have been others where we’ve left the room  in silence or with hushed conversations.  In most cases, despite some great work being achieved during the day, nothing really changes when we go back to the office. There might not even be a follow-up email.

So what can we do as leaders to ensure effective use of everyone’s time and to keep the momentum going.

Here’s my starter for 10:

Purpose – make it very clear what the aim of the meeting is about and what the potential outputs might look like.

Preparation – book the event in plenty of time to ensure everyone’s diaries can be cleared. Ensure everyone gets an agenda before the event and that they bring with them any resources that they might need. Make sure that everyone involved in leading sessions for the day are well briefed, have shared any presentation slides etc with the organising team and ensure that they keep to message. Make sure everything you do adds value – do you really have to start the SWOT analysis from scratch or can you update an existing one?

Participation not Presentations– it’s really easy for much of the day to be swallowed up with updates, presentations about various new initiatives and people from head office wanting to share their agendas with your staff. Make sure that no more than one third of the day is about presentations and focus on participation. That’s where the added value lies – the rest could be done via webinars or weekly briefings.

Source: Canva April 21

Keep to time – ensure all presenters know how long they have got and keep to time. Let them know you will stop them if they overrun. Some things might take longer than you expected and it’s your call whether you permit this or not, but don’t make external contributors wait or relegate them to a few minutes at the end. Never suggest to people that you might finish early – they will automatically assume that you will and start getting agitated if you can’t.

Be realistic – you cannot change the world in one day! It might be tempting to try to develop a whole new business plan or suite of new products, but it is unlikely that you will do so. Most things take much longer than  you expect – even getting everyone settled after a coffee break will probably lose another five minutes.

Ground rules – ensure all staff know that this is a non-negotiable event (if it is). Laptops and phones are great for taking notes and finding information during the course of the day, but emails etc can also be a distraction. I recall one person editing an academic paper on his laptop in one session we ran! Ensure that you have some time when everyone switches off their electronic device. But also make time when they can have a quick peek at urgent messages at break times. Also find a way that everyone contributes, not just the usual suspects.

Include social time – an important part of an awayday is to strengthen the team dynamics. Allow time for people to catch up with colleagues who they don’t often see and ensure new staff are introduced. Perhaps add a fun activity as an ice-breaker or allow time for people to meet up for breakfast before the main session begins.

Follow up – make sure that you capture any action points, notes and ideas from the event and share them with delegates as soon as possible afterwards, along with thanking them for their time and input. Remember to let the team know how things are progressing. If colleagues can see value from an awayday, they are more likely to attend willingly next time.

What tips would you add to this list?

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