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You’ve made the decision to take your team out of the office for an offsite meeting lasting a day or more. How can you be sure that you will achieve the desired return on your investment? A well-designed agenda with clearly defined outcomes is the best place to start. Investing a small amount of time and thought up-front can yield an enviable return on investment.

Designing a meeting to achieve your foremost outcomes is far easier then past experience may lead you to believe. Meetings get a bad rap; they are frequently cited as one of the most significant drains on time. You can likely think of several meetings in the past year that did not produce a noticeable benefit. Even meetings that are viewed as valuable at the time often fail to follow through on expectations.

Time is one of the few truly limited resources. Intellectual capital – especially synergy of combined diverse expertise – is boundless. Once you decide that you want your meeting to be different, a few minutes spent designing the agenda can pay off in spades. Five factors, if done well, will result in an agenda that truly gets results.

Start with the end in mind. If anything were possible, what do you most want to accomplish as a result of your meeting?  A year from now, looking back at this meeting as one of the most valuable investments of time, what three things will have happened as a result of this meeting?  As participants leave the meeting what do you most want them to remember? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do?  The answers to these questions shape your desired outcomes.  Document your desired outcomes, keeping the list to five or fewer.

Revisit your participant list. Do you have the right people in the room? It’s important to balance inclusiveness with crispness in discussion and decision-making. In our experience, clients often default to one extreme or another. Six to eight participants is a workable number. Going beyond that can often bog down the discussion. Are any changes required in your participant list, and how might you manage those?  There might be a core group of participants that are included in the entire meeting and other participants who join for portions of the agenda. Review each desired outcome and confirm that the vital people are included.

 Leverage diverse perspectives. Okay, admittedly this sounds like Human Resource jargon.  However, diverse perspectives are the key reason most teams and organizations are formed. Each individual on your participant list brings their unique experience, set of skills and talents, preferred styles of thinking and solving problems, and their own values. Synergy occurs when the combined effect is greater than the sum of the separate parts. Design your agenda to allow for discrete individual, small group, and large group activity. Plan for conflict – you will know that you are “leveraging diverse perspectives” when differences of opinion arise.  Additionally, you might experience places during the meeting where things are not comfortable. This is usually a sign that new knowledge or understanding is occurring. We humans can get a bit cranky in the uncomfortable realization that we might not know something (referred to in the cycle of learning as “conscious incompetence”).  This is often a good place to take a short break.  When you come back together, explore what the team is learning. Establish key reflection points in the agenda to capture decisions including those items where the team has disagreed and committed.

Manage energy as well as time. Organize your agenda with an eye toward the natural rhythm of human performance. Plan your deep work around times when energy is at its highest (typically early in the day and after breaks). Design your days so that the meeting is six hours or less. Take frequent breaks and after each break take a couple of minutes to capture insights.  Orchestrate the agenda to switch between individual, small group and large group work.  Breaking the work up this way allows introverts and extroverts to be in their preferred way of interacting for at least part of the meeting; it also manages the energy of the meeting. Connect your agenda to the past and bridge it to the future. While each meeting stands alone, we often miss the opportunity to demonstrate how the content builds on previous work and connects to future work. Seeing this broader context creates additional energy. Send an agenda and materials in advance. Start and end on time and flexibly manage to your time-blocked agenda.  Observing progress along the way sustains energy for the next phase.

Capture insights and take action. At regular intervals throughout the meeting, stop to capture key insights. Design your agenda to allow for individual and group insights.  Document your intended actions and commitments made. Think of creating a “workbook” that aligns to the agenda.  This workbook not only helps facilitate the session, it can serve as an ideal way to organize your meeting documentation, ideally just a few pages – not so brief that in three months’ time you can’t accurately identify what was decided, but not so saturated that it is hard to navigate (or more likely never gets documented). Dropping in pictures from the meeting, including flip charts and diagrams, is not only efficient, but it appeals to our visual way of remembering.

Spending just a bit of time in getting clear about desired outcomes and crafting your agenda will yield a meeting that gets results.