With the 18th January set to mark Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year, it is the perfect time to organise an away day for the team. Despite away days often receiving bad press for having no tangible outputs, they are a great way to encourage creativity and innovation by breaking routine and changing the dynamics of a team. To make the most of an away day, and to counteract the January blues, which may have descended into the office, we have created our top tips on how to have a successful and useful away day.

Be clear on your outcome

This is the biggest hurdle to over come when organising an away day. More often than not, companies try and fit too much into the day, with no overall aim, because it is a rare opportunity to get people out of the office. Leaders often say to us ‘I want to bring the team together and help them get to know each other, oh and flesh out come issues we have with a certain project, oh and I want them to all buy in to the new strategy, oh and for us to talk about better ways of working together’. These are great outcomes, the problem is that there are too many for one day and psychologically it’s too much for people to hold in one day. If the people are only getting used to each others styles and ways of working, it’s not realistic to then expect them to agree to adapt those or have them challenged all in one day.

It may seem ironic but you need to be strategic about your away days, think about how you want to build people up. So in this case you might have your first one about getting to know each other and maybe fleshing out some issues that people have and then the next day becomes a working group on working together, followed by one on the strategy. If you are finding it hard to get clear – or getting someone else clear, on one thing ask ‘ If you could only achieve one thing on this away day, what would it be?’. Once you are clear be open with the attendees as to the purpose, this is more likely to attract buy in and will prevent people diverting off onto their pet subjects.

Choose your facilitator wisely

This person dictates the tone for the entire day, and therefore should be able to build a rapport with the team whilst being objective enough to stay detached from some of the content.

An internal facilitator

If you are using someone internal, rather than your own HR partner, could you use someone who represents another part of the business? If you use someone too close, there is a danger of them, often unconsciously, getting too drawn into the discussion. Someone a bit more detached can help people to come forward with ideas more knowing they won’t be discussing a team members performance issue with them tomorrow.

An external facilitator

If you are using an external facilitator, make sure they understand enough about your business to be credible. We’ve seen facilitators die on their feet because they’ve assumed it is not important. Particularly when industry expertise is necessary, anyone who is not credible will struggle to be respected which will derail the day. Check that their style is a good fit. People should stretch their thinking but not be intimidated or turned off. If you have a group of serious pragmatists, asking them to do whacky free flowing activities will not work.

Choose your venue wisely

Most people want to go offsite but with the budget cuts of the recent economic times, people have got more cautious about spending money on external venues. You don’t need to spend a fortune on taking the whole team on a yacht in the South of France but you do need to think carefully about where you hold it:

  • Think about the style of your organisation or group. If it’s a creative organisation, then a standard hotel training room will not inspire them, you may as well do it in the office. The key is to stretch people a bit out of their comfort zone without it frightening them or turning them off. So if the group is very creative but one of their problems is lack of organisation, we wouldn’t choose a venue that is also fairly disorganised, we’d want to give them a bit of professional structure whilst respecting their desire for a creative space. If you have a serious inward thinking group take them somewhere professional but gives them access to green space and nature.
  • Consider the individuals needs in the group. If they are all family people, how do they feel about staying away? Some people welcome the night off but for some people it’s a hassle and they’d rather go somewhere they can go home. It’s not always possible to please everyone but if you can be flexible to their needs, they will be more enthusiastic and engaged.

By Karen Meager, founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy