Learning and development (L&D) teams are often called to plan organizational off-sites (also known as retreats or planning sessions). After all, trainers are known for being able to organize events. But in today’s organizations, where leaders need to ideate solutions for the new complex world of work, off-sites can mean so much more. And L&D pros can look at these events as opportunities to learn about and showcase their business acumen.
Gather Information and Insight
Just as L&D practitioners need to push back and get to the root cause of a performance gap when asked to develop training, it is incumbent that the L&D professional understand the context and challenge for the off-site before preparing an actual event. In “L&D’s Role in Leading Off-Sites,” Preethi Anand writes, “An outward-in approach is the most helpful way of understanding the context. That means starting with interviews to understand the industry or market, then narrowing down the focus to organizations in the market and your competitor and partners.” From there, consider the organization’s business strategy—where it is right now and where it wants to be—and leadership dynamics.
To help them understand these dynamics, Anand provides some questions L&D pros can ask, with the caveat the L&D pro do more listening than talking:
- What are the organization’s strategic priorities this year?
- Have there been any disruptors in the industry? How have these affected the organization?
- What are some of your competitors or market leaders doing differently?
- What are the undercurrents within the leadership team?
After understanding the business context, the next step is to understand the challenge that the off-site is supposed to solve. The L&D team lead can start with the objective that the off-site requestor has listed or develop their own based on conversations in which they ascertained the perspectives of business stakeholders. When having those discussions, it’s beneficial for the L&D practitioner to bring the data they’ve gleaned from researching the industry and market.
Pre-Planning the Off-Site
For the best chance of success, an off-site must be branded and communicated well. Rather than letting the attendees hear about it through the grapevine and come to their own preconceived notions, the L&D planner should be the first to relay information. As Anand points out, “If participants do not believe in its value, it will be nearly impossible to make the initiative a success.”
As with many learning programs today, an off-site may include pre-work to save attendees time during face-to-face gatherings. This could entail watching TED Talks ahead of a strategy session, reading case studies about what organizations are doing to address a business challenge, or asking participants to reflect in advance about their notion of a business challenge.
Managing the Event and Subsequent Follow-Up
Unlike a training course with specific content to cover, an off-site requires the L&D practitioner to step back, explains Anand. “You won’t know what a good outcome looks like or what direction the off-site will take. If you control or direct the discussion, you won’t achieve the meeting’s objectives.”
Rather, it is the role of the L&D facilitator to keep participants on track with the task at hand, steering the conversation, if need be, back to the problem or challenge that needs to be solved.
Much as reinforcement is needed after a training event, once the off-site event is wrapped up, the L&D facilitator should ensure that any action items are acted upon and that commitments made are held to.