The September Fast Company has a brief article about off-site retreats. They asked meeting planners who organize retreats for big corporate clients about the secrets to success. The number one answer? Articulate your goals. From the article, “With an objective, it’s easier to figure out whom to invite, what to do, and where to go.”

Ya think?! The obviousness of that statement really hit me. Did they really need to print that? Apparently so, because one of the planners said that we would be “amazed at how many can’t tell us their goals for their off-site.”

This reflects a fundamental problem in organizations, particularly in terms of how they use consultants. People who hire a meeting planner to create an off-site retreat are simply applying the formula (dare I say, “best practice”) to their situation, without considering the context or really taking ownership of what they are doing. The formula says that off-site retreats allow employees to bond, connect at a deeper level, do some deep thinking, and work through complex organizational issues. So they set up the structure for that and expect it all to simply happen. They create the elegant solution, hoping that their problems will be relevant.

If you ignore the formulas, then you may end up paying attention to what is actually happening in your organization. When you see that, you may realize that getting people away from their everyday context and routine might provide an opportunity to look at and talk about issues that have been flying under the radar, or simply been ignored. Then you can go about designing a retreat, because it will be based on an identified need. There is a difference between creating an elegant solution and actually solving a problem.


  1. 23.08.2005 at 9:35 pm

    Jamie, as sad as it may sound, they DID need to print that because so many off-sites fit the adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
    It’s not only off-sites, but it might also apply to how organizations, both for-profit and associations, construct their employee’s
    professional development. Too often management sends their people off to learn some new skill or how to be an effective leader, but doesn’t do the necessary follow through to support them when the employee returns. I recently wrote about this on one of my blogs, Alchemy of Soulful Work

  2. 25.08.2005 at 6:32 am

    Yes! It’s the same concept. You send people to a training event as the “elegant solution,” when in fact you have not really talked about the “problem” at all. The problem is not “lack of training.” The problem is about leadership or effectiveness of the individual. Certainly PART of the solution could be a nice training program, but if you were actually looking more closely at the problem I think you would naturally focus more on the follow through. Thanks for the comment, and I liked your other post too.