Strategic Off-Sites That Work

Almost all management teams spend a day to a week every year away from their regular responsibilities to plan for the future. It's not just another meeting. It's special, or at least it should be.

The top team's annual strategic off-site differs from all other meetings in its potential impact on the company. That's why it should be designed and managed differently.

Why strategy off-sites are different and more important

  1. Strategies off-sites are part of the lifeblood of most organisations. Entire calendars revolve around them.

  2. They cost a heap. Just do the sums including flights,hotels,speakers' fees,and so on.

  3. Expectations for the off-site run higher than for a typical executive session because it is usually the main opportunity the top management team has to explore strategic issues in depth for several days.

  4. The scope of the matters discussed at a strategy off-site is broader than at the typical management meeting.

  5. Strategy off-sites deal with information and issues that are often ambiguous or speculative, that makes many executives uncomfortable.

Many off-sites are wasted or disappointing

C.E.O.s tell me they have considered giving their off-sites away because nothing much changes after the sessions have been held.

Their second-level managers tell me:

  • They go to these gatherings mainly to network and play golf

  • They are anaesthetised by hundreds of Power Point slides.

  • Panel discussions are often sequential, unrelated ten-minute speeches. Nobody gets inspired; everyone suffers from bad backs,hangovers.

  • The off-sites are merely excuses for the CEO to tell people what's already been decided.

Off-sites can be viberant, exciting and change organisations

  1. Most strategy processes are highly analytical, very left brain and frankly very boring. My process is more left and right brain. Thinking is vital but it does not have to be dry.

  2. I've found that the more fun people have the better their thinking. I go to quite a lot of trouble to make it fun. I often include things like: "the most outrageous ideas award", brain gym, music and drawing techniques. But thinking is not enough, we need to engage feelings and even spirit.

  3. Instead of starting with the present and analysing your way towards the vision, I get clients to start with the vision (maybe 10 years out) and we don't move on until everyone agrees that it's really exciting. Getting a vision that is big enough and exciting enough is always the hardest part. People have trouble seeing "what could be". This is where I really earn my money because once people have seen a desirable future getting there is the easy part.

  4. It's important to achieve depth because people are like icebergs; there's a bit on top that we can see, the intellectual self, and there's a far bigger mass way down below the surface - the emotional self; and unless we impact people down here they simply won't change.

  5. I recommend clients involve all their direct reports and if they are game, also some of their up-and-comers. If necessary we can involve up to 20 people or even more. Not only will this tap into their ideas and experience but also ensure their understanding and commitment,

  6. Strategy should take about three days, not three months. It's often more effective to break the off-site into an initial two-day meeting and a one-day follow-up session a month later or a series of subsequent half- or full-day meetings each quarter, because it allows participants time to gather data and explore unforeseen issues that have arisen. It also gives flexibility to vary the size and the make-up of the group to best fit the goals. For example, the first meeting might set the broad strategies that are then rolled out to a larger group charged with creating implementation options. Or a larger group might "blue sky" at the first meeting,while a smaller group narrows the options later.

  7. Clients will end up with no more than three strategies - not dozens. In any business there are literally thousands of things that people can do to make the organisation work better. Indeed this is the major problem. There are so many possibilities that people become totally confused about what to do and cherry-pick here and there and end up doing nothing of value. The whole point of strategy is to achieve a wide vision and a narrow focus. The most important thing about strategy is "Being strongest at the decisive point"; in other words, knowing what matters and concentrating the horsepower there. Imagine the power, concentration and drive clients get with everyone focused on the same three things.

  8. It's the process that's important, not the document. I strongly support the writing of the plan. This helps to formulate and crystallise the thinking. If it's not written there will be as many versions of what's important in it as there are people.

  9. It should be recorded inside every person not in a document. When I say inside every person, I mean that it should be inside every head and influence every heart and soul. The strategy is only complete when it is reflected in every job description.

  10. The strategy should be short, simple and elegant. When I draft the Strategic Plan for a client I nearly always summarise it down onto one page. It's important not to equate simple with easy, simple is actually much harder than complicated.

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Product support

This product has been developed and is supported by Bruce Holland with help where required from other members of the Virtual Group Business Consultants. Bruce is a specialist in business strategy Wellington, nationally and internationally. He specialises in public sector strategy and other large private sector organisations.


All work undertaken by Bruce Holland is guaranteed. If at the end of the program the client doesn't feel that they have received value for money, they may adjust the bill and pay an amount equal to the value they feel they received.

Key words: strategy, strategies, business strategy, business strategies, strategy management, strategic management, strategy development, implementation.

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