Let’s face it, company off-sites can suck. You have the best intentions of planning an impactful retreat to align and motivate your team but you end up boring them to tears with trust falls and mission statements. We recently held a Highfive off-site in Half Moon Bay. Some of the things we did were awesome and some, well, weren’t. Here are three exercises that worked.
1. Happiness Index
Our team loves data. Especially our own data. We had everyone fill out a Highfive Happiness Index survey one week prior to the off-site. We aggregated, printed, and bound the results for everyone to see. We shared everything – the good, the bad, the ugly. The free response questions in particular led to honest and open conversations about things we need to improve in order to build the kind of company we love. See our GetFeedback survey here.
Recommended time: 60 minutes
2. Vote with Your Feet
We developed this exercise with the help of my former Stanford professor and HBR contributor, Ed Batista.
First, we hand-picked values statements from the culture decks and mission statements of companies we admire such as Zappos, Netflix, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, HubSpot, and Google. Next, we created a paper and pencil survey that lists fourteen of these value statements on a Likert scale. At the offsite, we gave everyone the survey and asked them to privately rank Highfive on a scale of 1 (“we never”) to 7 (“we always”) for each of the statements. Download a copy of survey here.
After a short break we placed seven orange cones evenly across the room, each one marked with a number from 1 to 7. We then read out each statement on the survey and had everyone “vote with their feet” by standing next to the cone with the same number as their survey score. Groupthink can be a problem in these environments which is why the paper survey was so important, it kept everyone honest. We then let the conversation begin. We were amazed at how frequently team members rated Highfive on opposite ends of the spectrum for the same value statement. Digging into “the why” behind these outlier rankings brought out some incredible insights and generated a ton of practical ideas.
Recommended time: 90 minutes
3. Make it Tactical
One of Marc Benioff’s favorite sayings is “the tactics define the strategy.” We decided to commit to a series of tactics with the hope that those tactics will do more to shape the values of the company than a hollow mission statement. We picked four company values using our favorite method of sticky note voting. They are:
1) Make work fun
2) Love our mission
3) Strive for better
4) Deliver magical customer experiences
We then broke into four groups and had each group come up a couple tactical changes that we can implement immediately upon our return to the office. We’re putting these ideas into action right now.
Recommended time: 90 minutes
So there you go. A four-hour off-site program that doesn’t suck. My recommendation is spend the rest of your allocated time eating, drinking, and hanging out – leave the trust falls at home.