How to Screw Up the Management Off-Site

For decades, the leadership off-site meeting has been a favorite tool of management consultants worldwide. “We have issues, so let’s get the team together away from the office and fix everything that’s wrong. Hire a facilitator to help us help ourselves.” Done and done.

At its worst, it’s not quite group therapy, but it’s close.

At its best, it’s a great tool for uninterrupted time to focus, improve how teams work or discuss business challenges. The problem is that the best way to screw up the good work done at an offsite….is to head back to the office and tell everyone how great the work was.

You’ve seen this in action before, I bet. They hustle back and they promise change. They tell people how impactful the offsite was. How problems were solved. How things will get better. They send out a company-wide email to “share the great work we did.”

….And then they don’t deliver quickly enough for the jaded front line employees.

Look, your team might have laid the groundwork and done some good stuff, but no one thinks you split the atom in a hotel conference room.  The over-promising usually falls into a few varieties.

Change the world—Look, this day and a half at the Topeka Holiday Inn Express…man, it changed things. Lives were impacted. This team, man, this team is gonna rock moving forward.

Lovers not fighters—I know that back-stabbing used to be a professional sport around here. No more, people. Those 35 hours in Topeka overcame seven full years of anger, empire-building and office bullying. We are connected now. Connected.

Worst to first—We’ve lost money for 10 years straight. No bonuses, cheap toilet paper and economy class seats for international travel. But now? Now, we fixed it. Who knew 10 years of under-performance could get fixed in a 75 minute brainstorm session in Topeka.

I’ll fully admit my cynicism here—many of my partners, in fact, disagree with my low expectation approach. But, man, I worry about the blowback over over-promising. Kevin in Accounting is going to pull out your “we changed the world” email every time something goes wrong.

These post-offsite messages can be met with cynicism and derision. The folks in the field don’t want to hear about how you stopped working to talk about how bad things have been. They know that. They want bonuses, or a better work environment or a better aligned management team.

Give them that. Just fix things. Fix them. Then, when things get better, tell the story about the hard work done after the offsite. That’s impactful. Telling people about the life-changing work you did…yesterday…in Topeka—that’s no good.

FOT Background Check

RJ Morris
R. J. Morris is based in the STL as the Director of Talent Acquisition and Management for McCarthy Building Companies, a multi-billion dollar national firm. Like many others in the FOT clan, he’s a sports nut who can endlessly draw the parallels between athletes, sports and the talent management game. I know, I know, as if we needed more of that. He has 10 years of practitioner experience leading talent efforts in corporate HR and another 7 years in leadership roles on the agency side, so he gets both sides of the desk. Talk to R.J. via emailLinkedInTwitter...


  1. Cindy Erpelding says:

    So true – If you tell employees that things are going to change for the good and not deliver then they will not trust you and performance will not improve. Make the changes and then tell them that this was the topic when you attended the offsite meeting.

  2. John Hollon says:

    I have been forced to attend far too many off-site meetings run by far too many consultants focused more on process and exercises to show how I really am just a “naive resource” in the grand scheme of things. Rarely did much come out of them, and when it did, it was surely accidental and not planned. These meetings are just a huge waste of good brain cells.

  3. Simon says:

    If the offsite meeting does not include top managers at times things discussed will never be implemented or done.

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