Team Practices Group/Planning offsites

From MediaWiki.org
Jump to: navigation, search

How to use this page[edit]

WMF STAFF: As soon as you start to plan an offsite, contact the Admin team. They are experts with a lot of these issues, and can take care of a lot of it for you!

An offsite typically requires planning and execution by multiple people. Early on, it's helpful to clearly identify who will be responsible for which aspects. Then, if you are someone responsible for some aspect of an offsite, you can focus on the sections that are relevant to you. This page is on a public wiki, as we believe the information could be helpful to anyone in any organization planning an offsite. However, it also includes details specific to the WMF .

Over time, as this page grows, it is likely to be split into multiple pages. Some major sections might become their own sub-page, and some of the bullet points will almost certainly become pages of their own, full of details. Whenever possible, we should link to existing information, rather than duplicating it here.

After every offsite, any new lessons learned should be added here, so future offsites can benefit.

Early planning[edit]

Why?[edit]

  • What is the primary purpose/goal of this offsite? What are secondary goals?
    • Examples: Integrating new team members; launching a new initiative; planning for the next year/quarter; gaining shared understanding of the team vision, mission, roadmap, etc.; resolve simmering issues; face-time for remotees; stepping away from the work environment to gain perspective; general "teamy-ness".
  • Are the goals largely philosophical, or action-oriented?

Who?[edit]

  • Who is the overall event owner, responsible for the goals, budget, etc.?
  • Who will be responsible for logistics (venue, supplies, transportation)?
  • Who will be responsible for planning the content (schedule, session formats)?
  • Who will be responsible for facilitating the sessions? Note-taking?
    • As a rule of thumb, assume 1 facilitator for up to about 10 participants; 2 for up to about 25
      • These numbers assume the facilitator(s) are not responsible for logistics (meal coordination, venue issues)
    • Multiple facilitators make it easier to have breakout groups, and will allow one to act as a scribe for better notes
  • Who from the team should be invited?
  • Should anyone outside the team be invited?
    • For larger events (>10-15 participants), consider having an admin person travel along to help with logistics
    • Consider non-team members who work closely with the team (e.g. Community Liaison or Operations representative)
    • Consider non-team members for specific contexts (legal, security, talent and culture)
  • In some cases, local Wikimedians (who aren't directly relevant) could be invited to some sessions, since the travel cost will be minimal
  • For events where attendance is not based on team membership, remain aware of gender bias and other factors that might lead to individuals or groups being overlooked and excluded

When?[edit]

  • Avoid conflicts with other Wikimedia events (Wikimania, All-hands)
  • Avoid major holidays (check with your colleagues for regional and religious holidays)
  • Try to avoid the end of the quarter (late-March, late-June, late-September, late-December)
  • (If the location is set) Check for conflicts with major events in that area at that time (e.g. The Olympics)
  • How long should the event be? Should it consist of fully-structured days, or half-structured/half-unstructured?

Where (in the world)?[edit]

  • Consider cost and time (including connections) for all participants
  • Consider time zone differences for all participants
  • Cell phone coverage (especially data)
  • High altitudes can cause altitude sickness--consider allowing an extra day for acclimation
  • (If the dates are set) Check for conflicts with major events in that area at that time (e.g. The Olympics)
  • Having some attendees commute to the event from home can save money, but:
    • They are more likely to be distracted by home and work issues
    • Their commute will be time-consuming and stressful, compared to other attendees
    • They will miss out on bonding experiences, especially if they leave before any evening activities
    • The location will feel less "neutral", which could affect group dynamics
  • This page mostly assumes that all participants will attend in person; remote attendees will complicate many aspects

Where (venue)?[edit]

Selection process advice[edit]

  • WMF STAFF: Reminder: The admin department should be able to take care of most of this for you!
  • If possible, visit the site, and ideally bring a teammate with you
    • Bring a list of questions
  • If the facilitator can't visit the site in advance, try to ensure they will at least be able to do a quick walk-through of the rooms when they arrive on-site
  • Check reviews of the venue on sites like Yelp
  • Ask co-workers for recommendations and reviews of venues they have used in the past
  • If the main organizers are not able to visit the site considering getting in touch with local staff or volunteers to see if they have any previous experience. Or you can consider asking for a reference and getting in touch with another group who has recently used the space.
  • Most venues have additional photos available of their spaces with different set-ups that are not posted on their website. All you have to do is ask.

Venue location[edit]

  • Consider the ground transportation options between the airport and the facilities
  • Is the neighborhood safe? Walkable? Interesting?
  • Consider if you team prefers to be in the heart of a city or more secluded?
  • Consider ease of accessing restaurants.
  • If the hotel and meeting rooms are not in the same building:
    • How will the group get back and forth? (Allow for that in the schedule)
      • Will that impact punctuality? Travel and commute stress?
    • Will the facilitator have to transport materials back and forth? What if it rains?

Venue features[edit]

  • Ensure good wi-fi access, including range, potential port filtering, and enough bandwidth
  • Check for meeting room(s) of appropriate size, auditoriums,
    • A meeting room that is too large can have poor acoustics or can feel uncomfortable
    • A meeting room that is too small can feel cramped
    • Consider breakout areas within the space (couches and tables?), consider a side table to lay out food and snacks
    • Also consider the possible layouts of tables, chairs, wall space, and standing space (different events will have different needs)
  • Do you need whiteboards, paper charts, or walls to stick things on?
  • If at all possible, allow facilitators access to the rooms outside of the offsite hours
    • At least seeing the room the day before is ideal, to be able to plan
    • Being able to post charts on the wall the night before is ideal; minimum is an hour before the event starts
    • Being able to remain in the room in the evening to prepare materials can be very helpful
  • Windows have pros and cons:
    • They can bring in natural light, and can be used to stick post-its on
    • Windowless rooms day after day can start to feel claustrophobic
    • ...but what is happening ouside can be visually distracting
    • ... and thin windows can be poor noise barriers and you may be disrupted by external sounds
  • Having a clock in the room, visible to the facilitator, can be very helpful
    • If the room doesn't have one, and the facility can provide one, consider borrowing a hotel room clock
  • Spaces in addition to the main meeting rooms can be helpful
    • Outdoor sessions (such as in a courtyard) can be a refreshing change of pace
      • Have fall back plans in case of heat or rain
    • Having lounge space nearby is very helpful, for hacking and informal conversations
      • For larger groups, "hacking" space is especially valuable
      • 24/7 access to hacking space may be very valuable to some groups; 6am-midnight would be next best
      • If hacking space is not available at the venue, consider finding alternatives (hotel rooms, coffee shops, etc.)
    • Lobby or other space is helpful for informal conversations, as a gathering place, and as a transition between the event itself and the rest of the world
  • What type of A/V equipment do you need, including cables and adapters and clickers?
    • Get guidance from experts as needed (for example, within the WMF, there is an OIT group)
    • Projectors!
    • It is useful to have a projector clicker
      • Easy to overlook, but when someone is presenting it’s a lot easier if they can change slides on their own from the front of the room
    • Do you need remote participation?
    • Sometimes you will need to pay for power sockets and strips
    • Groups over about 20 people might need microphone/speakers
  • Some venues have flimsy tables, uncomfortable chairs, etc. This is hard to prevent in advance, but might be worth asking about.
  • Keeping the same room(s) for the whole event has advantages (and drawbacks):
    • Can stick things to the wall and come back to them
    • Psychological comfort
    • Avoids needing to set up a new space, confirm whiteboards and A/V, move materials between rooms
    • A change of location can also be refreshing and improve focus
    • Different rooms might be appropriate at different times, depending on the work being done (e.g. intimate conversations vs. large presentation)

Venue policies[edit]

  • You might need to make a deposit (for the WMF, work with Director of Administration on payment options)
  • Questions to consider regarding costs, contracts, and policies:
    • What is the flat cost to book the venue?
    • What is their booking policy? Is there a deposit needed or a payment plan available?
    • What is the cancellation policy?
    • What are the payment terms? (WMF accounting asks for net 30)
    • How late can you cancel without incurring any costs?
    • How much notice must the site have to give you without incurring any costs?
    • What are the insurance requirements?
    • Does the venue have a list of required suppliers?
    • Has the venue ever held an event like yours before?
      • Have the space provide you with references and really find out how others’ experiences with the location have been
    • Catering
      • What are the catering costs?
      • Is there an on-site caterer, or will you have to find an independent one?
      • Is there a fee for using an independent caterer?
      • Does the venue have its own wait staff?
    • How many employees will be available on the day of your event?
    • What are the venue’s A/V capabilities?
      • If there is no A/V production then you should inquire about costs of set-up. Big productions can take a lot of time to put in place and you may have to rent the for more than just the event day.
    • What is the wifi bandwidth, is it enough for the number of participants? (Ask OIT if you have additional technical questions)
    • How will this venue support our remote staff for this event?
    • How much production will you need to provide?
    • Is there a freight elevator or way to load-in/load-out any equipment that has to be brought to the space?
      • [Factor in load-out cost for money and time. Something that takes a long time to put up will most likely take some time to take down.]
    • Is there an area to store equipment out of sight of guests?
    • What are the best ways to get to and from the venue location?
      • Public transport, walking, mini bus, uber, etc.
    • Are there parking facilities, cab and public transportation options?
      • Ask about free parking passes.
    • Are there any on-site amenities? Is there an on-site computer or printer? Is there an office for you to work out of?
      • Free coffee? Tea? Water?
    • Some venues will not allow you to stick things on the wall. This could be a deal breaker when working with TPG.

Where (lodging)?[edit]

  • Check for convenient access or transportation between lodging and the meeting facility
  • Ensure good wi-fi access, including range, potential port filtering, and enough bandwidth
  • Gym/recreational facilities are very important to some people
  • Many hotels have high quality meeting spaces. You can often contract both at once and get a significant discount or event get the meeting space free.

Planning the event[edit]

General guidance for planning[edit]

  • Have as much as possible planned out before you arrive on-site (because you'll have to spend your time there on unexpected issues that arise)
    • Possibly target having a "final" agenda a week before traveling to the event
  • Involve key stakeholders in planning early and often
    • Key stakeholders = budget owner, any manager or product manager, and anyone who will be leading or presenting in a session
  • Check the expectations of meeting sponsors and attendees before, during, and after planning, and ensure that their expectations are consistent with the content and scope of the offsite.
  • Find out in advance if anyone has special needs, such as needing specific break times for medical or religious reasons
  • What are the predecessor events to this and how can we build on them?
    • Check retrospective notes from the last event and/or other similar events
    • Check if there were open issues from last event that should be addressed
  • If you are going to run a post-event survey, design it in advance (so you will be able to send it out right after the event ends)
    • See the "After it's over" section for tips on designing a survey

Coordination and communication[edit]

  • Agree on clear roles and responsibilities, including:
    • What are the responsibilities of the facilitator, admin/logistical support person, and event owner(s)?
      • If possible, it is recommended to have a Project Coordinator nearby who can help facilitators focus on facilitating and not on logistics.
    • Who is the primary contact person at each venue for setup and breakdown?
    • ...for logistics emergencies?
    • ...for serious emergencies?
    • Who will arrange non-catered meals, and who will pay for them?
  • The offsite "steering committee" should meet weekly or biweekly in the weeks/months leading up to the event
    • Steering committee would typically include the event owner, logistics person, facilitator(s)
  • Create a private google drive folder shared with the participants and facilitators
    • Initially it can hold the agenda (as it is being built)
    • Other good early materials are venue details, participant rosters, and airport/hotel transfer instructions
    • Later, this folder can also contain each night's photos of the day's events, along with any group photos
    • If etherpads are used for anything, create a central list containing links to all of them (and remember they are public)
  • Set up a roster spreadsheet, listing attendees, flight arrival/departure, airport-hotel transport
  • If there will be lightning talks, try to get everyone to send their materials to one person, to avoid having to switch computers between every speaker
  • If there will be more than one facilitator, agree on roles; make sure each person has the information they need to be effective

Planning the content[edit]

See Workshop Planning

Offsite format/structure[edit]

See also Team Practices Group/Planning offsites#During the event for guidelines about what sessions to include at the beginning/end of the offsite and each day

  • Plan the entire event, but assume the plan will likely be changed during the event
    • Participants greatly appreciate flexibility that results in a more productive event
  • Reserve at least a few hours near the end of the event to handle topics that arise unexpectedly during the event
    • But have at least a basic plan for all the time, so you never have to scramble to figure out a session at the last minute
  • Some groups have had success with each day being half-structured, half-unstructured, but others have been frustrated that a half day is not long enough to really dive into a substantive topic
  • Moving between rooms, or between indoors and outdoors, can take longer than one might expect
  • Try to use a variety of session formats, to keep the energy up
    • If possible, try to design schedules that afford facilitators a breather, as often standard breaks are simply filled up with preparing for sessions. The schedule could include sessions that require less facilitation support, and even simply observing sessions rather than engaging with them can provide facilitators a much-needed break.
  • Schedule breaks every 1.5 hours or so; if you don't give people bio-breaks/smoke-breaks, they'll either be distracted, or will just leave anyway
    • Enforce coming back from breaks promptly
    • Consider experimenting with "microbreaks", which are strictly bio/smoke breaks with NO chit-chat, and should only last about 4 minutes
    • Consider a morning break closer to an hour after starting, as people are likely to have drunk a lot of coffee or tea, which will need to go somewhere before too long
  • The larger the group, the more valuable it is to break out into smaller groups when possible/practical
    • Breakout groups generally need at least a roaming facilitator to help keep things on track; full facilitation would be ideal
  • Allow enough time for lunch (1 hr delivered; otherwise at least 1.5 hrs)
  • If there are "hot topics" that you know the group will want to discuss, build those into the plan
  • If there is "hacking" time, consider a session near the end for people to show what they have done
  • Consider jet lag and travel fatigue
    • People traveling east will have trouble getting started in the morning (especially the first morning)
    • People traveling west might lose energy in the afternoon (especially the first afternoon)
  • If there is going to be a half-day or full-day of team-building activities, consider:
    • Whether they are optional or mandatory
    • When to schedule them:
      • First day creates a soft landing after travel; starts the event on a fun note; could be optional to reduce time away from families
      • Middle day creates a refreshing gap in the intense schedule; might not be as much fun if people are thinking about upcoming topics; might create challenges for venue scheduling
      • Last day ends the event on a fun note; could be optional to reduce time away from families
  • In some cases, work-related activities could be incorporated into part of the team-building (such as during travel to/from the venue, or to/from a team-building event)
  • If the last part of the day is unstructured, a daily retrospective at the end of the structured portion won't include the unstructured activity (maybe that's OK)
  • Here is a sample agenda template

Session format/structure[edit]

  • Options include pre-planned, semi-structured, unconference, unstructured
    • Unconference advantages
      • Great for helping people self-organize many different topics and content. People are given a space to take the initiative. The free format allows people to approach roles and topics with less fear of being judged.
      • Unconference allows for multiple topic tracks, which can let people attend only what interests them, at the risk of conflicting interests.
      • It also gives facilitators a break.
      • It allows for flexible planning, and provides a place where topics such as parking lots derived during more structured sessions can be discussed. As a result of knowing that there is a place to have these emergent discussions, interaction from the participants is less desperate.
  • Facilitator(s) should plan to spend 1-2 hours preparing for every hour of facilitated session time
  • When possible, involve some physical movement within the session, such as having everyone get up and arrange post-its on a wall
  • When possible, get groups to split up; conversations with more than 5-10 people are especially difficult
    • But remember that splitting up, and reconvening, can take longer than one might expect
  • Beware of "shared-facilitation" sessions, where there is a presenter who is not a skilled facilitator
    • In advance, agree who will handle what aspects of facilitating any questions or discussion
  • Be familiar with the "groan zone" (where the group has diverged and is struggling to converge), and understand that it is impossible to predict how long a group will take to get through it to converge
  • Watch for opportunities to make sessions "optional", giving people who don't attend a chance to catch up on email or have small-group discussions
  • When selecting a session format, consider the limitations of the venue space (e.g. is is possible to break out into 4 small groups?)
  • Use different session structures depending on the goal of that session. See Workshop Planning#Activities for examples. See also Good meetings. Examples:
    • Team-building
      • Ice-breaking
        • (Need link here describing the "polarities" exercise)
        • 2 Truths and a Lie: Each team member shares two things that are true and one that is a lie about your work. The team votes on which they think is the lie. Fun ensues!
        • Surprise me!: In secret, everyone writes down one thing they think no one knows about them. They write it on a piece of paper, and fold it up, and put it in a hat/jar/bag. Pass the hat around, and each person picks one of the papers and reads it. Others should guess who they think the person is!
      • Building Trust
        • a great manual for building trust in teams with facilitation notes and explanations. One favorite exercise is Tool 5, around "aligning work practices," which introduces a series of dichotomies around working style, and each team member marks where they think the team is now, and where they'd like the team to be. With this map of preferences, an interesting discussion ensues.
        • Katy L has a lot more ideas. Ask if you need help!
    • Diverging
      • Generating ideas
        • "World Cafe" method, using rotating small groups, then sharing back to the whole group
        • Have people write one idea per post-it; stick them on a wall; cluster them
    • Converging
      • Prioritizing
        • Consider grouping options into an Urgent/Important matrix
      • Making decisions
        • "Fishbowl" as a means to explore 2-3 sides of a topic.
    • Retrospectives
      • Mad/Sad/Glad
      • Strengths/Improvables
      • What went well/What could have gone better/What confuses us
      • Photolanguage (French link): "find a picture that expresses something that your team does well (or does not do well)". Discussion starts from the pictures.
      • (In person only) Positioning games: For a given topic, like "How well did the last release go", have people arrange themselves in a line in the room, forming a spectrum, with "Awesome" at one end and "Terrible" at the other.
      • (In person only?) Pass it on: Have each person write a concern on a paper in one or two words; everyone passes the paper to the right; everyone contemplates the concern they received. Possibly share the concern, thoughts about it, and perhaps possible solutions, with the whole group. (Loosely based on the Rocket Retrospective.)
      • Team Practices Group/Five finger retrospective
      • Team Practices Group/Health check survey
      • (In person only) Write thoughts on post-its; stick on the wall; cluster; dot-vote
      • Since an offsite retrospective session will often cover a lot of time, consider having participants do preparation in advance
        • At a minimum, they should each list items as directed by the retrospective format
        • Consider having the entire group merge, cluster, and/or vote on the items, so the in-person time can be pure discussion
    • Problem-solving
      • Try to understand the goal(s) in advance: Identifying the problem, Identifying possible solutions, Catharsis, etc.
    • Lightning talks offer a nice way for people to rest and talk/think about something else that isn’t a heavy subject. It’s a structured pause where attendees can engage as much as they like, and provide an opportunity to learn.

Recreation/team-building/unstructured time[edit]

  • Focus on taking advantage of the team all being in one place
  • Unstructured (e.g. "hacking") time can be both productive and great for team-building; the value of informal conversations tends to be under-valued
  • Team recreation (e.g. sightseeing) can be excellent for team-building
    • Group outings help people get to know one another in a different setting and learn different perspectives, which helps them collaborate when they get back to work, in sessions or otherwise.
  • Consider scheduling recreation at the start of the offsite (to break the ice) or in the middle (to break up the monotony)
  • Half-day structured, half-day unstructured has worked well for several teams
  • Unstructured time the first morning can be a nice way to allow jet-lagged people to wake up
  • Consider planning “filler” activities during travel/jetlag-compromised/contingent time: cooperative board game; Agile training games; negotiation exercise; estimation exercise; etc.

Planning logistical issues[edit]

Travel[edit]

  • Facilitators should arrive early enough to check out the site, make final arrangements, and prepare the first day's materials
    • 24 hours before the event starts is a reasonable rule of thumb
  • Attendees should arrive in town the day before an event that starts in the morning
    • Those traveling a long distance should arrive early enough to start adjusting their body clocks (e.g. 24 hours ahead)
    • Others should plan to arrive by dinnertime the night before, to allow for flight delays
  • If at all possible, no full attendees should plan to leave before the event actually ends

Hotel[edit]

  • Arrange early check-ins and late check-outs as needed to coordinate with flights

Room configuration[edit]

  • The facilitator(s) should be involved when deciding how the tables and chairs will be arranged
    • "U shape" or "Classroom" styles are traditional, but other shapes can work better for conversations (especially if device-free)
  • Ideally, all seats can have access to a power outlet
    • But note that running extension cords everywhere can make it harder to shift furniture around during the event

Supplies[edit]

  • Create a single list of needed supplies, with as much detail as necessary (e.g. chisel-point pens or 3x5" post-its)
    • Flipchart easels (ideally sturdy ones); having 2 per session is much better than just 1, and 3 is even better
    • Flipchart paper (assume 20+ sheets per day, depending on the even format)
    • Flipchart pens (at least 4 colors, and more is better; chisel point is better than bullet point)
      • NOTE: The facilitator should consider packing these themselves, to make sure they get what they want (and they are small and light)
    • Post-its (specify sizes and colors)
    • Dots (roughly 3/4" diameter) in a variety of colors; typically used for "dot-voting"
      • NOTE: It is difficult to find more than 4-5 colors. Having one color/shape per participant is helpful for some activities
    • Standard or thin "Sharpie" markers (1+ per attendee) are much more readable on post-its than ballpoint pens
    • Rubber bands (to roll up flipcharts)
    • Masking/painters tape (2+ rolls)
    • Scissors
    • Paper clips and/or binder clips
    • Index cards (white? colors?)
    • Consider name tags if everyone doesn't already know each other really well)
      • Name tags are really handy for newcomers as well as some warmups and activities.
    • Whiteboards can help (but be sure to photograph them before they get erased!)
  • Make sure that the day before the event starts, the facilitator(s) will have access to any supplies they will need to prepare the first day's materials
  • If session notes or other supplies need to return to the home office after the event, plan a shipping box in advance
    • Most supplies can be taken by people in their luggage, but rolled session notes are very large

Meals[edit]

WMF STAFF: An admin person should be able to handle group meal planning

  • Various beverages are essential to different people (coffee, tea, cold water, soda, etc.)
    • Some folks are keen to have an electric kettle available
  • People traveling several time zones west for the event are likely to wake up early the first morning (perhaps at 4am), so they should have a plan for how to survive the several hours before breakfast.
  • Breakfast in the conference room makes it easier to have the first session start on time
  • Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks can help keep people engaged
    • But beware of sugar crashes
  • Consider the pros and cons of catering lunches, everyone going to the same eating place, or splitting up
    • Having meals brought into the venue can save 2+ hours each day
    • Getting out for a long mid-day break can help people refocus or switch topics
    • Allowing each attendee to choose where they eat will let them get exactly what they need
    • Catering can provide equal options to all
      • e.g. if some attendees are local, they would have to buy their own meal which could not be expensed, but if the meals are catered then they are covered the same as visitors
      • e.g. if the event is in a location where meals cost more than the allowed expense amount, catered food can avoid attendees having to pay out of pocket to get a full meal
  • A team dinner the first night can be helpful for team-building
  • Provide appropriate restroom breaks about an hour after a meal or snack break
  • Consider all the dietary restrictions (vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, etc.)
  • Consider scheduling sessions that don't require full attention during meals (e.g. lightning talks or hackathon presentations)
    • But the rustling of papers, sticky fingers, and distractions can be problematic

Group and event photos[edit]

  • Consider making a list of all the photos that need to be taken during the event
  • For a group photo, have a plan for who will take it, and have an idea of when and where
    • Is a tripod needed?
  • Have a place to store the photos, such as in a google drive folder for this event

About a week before the event[edit]

  • Facilitator should create a "punchlist" of materials that need to be prepared for the first day
  • Invite all attendees to a dedicated google hangout chat, to allow communication via smartphones
    • Useful for coordinating airport arrivals/transfers
    • Helps when meeting up such as for dinner
    • Fun for chitchat and photos
  • Consider setting up a google calendar specific to the event, and invite all participants to enable it
    • It doesn't have to break out every individual session, but that may be helpful in some cases
    • Include breakfasts, dinners, and group outings
  • Share at least a high-level draft schedule with attendees in advance of the event
  • Share local logistical information with attendees:
    • How to get from the airport to the hotel
    • Unusual weather or other alerts
  • Reminder to facilitators: You will be standing A LOT! Wear very comfortable shoes.

On-site preparation[edit]

  • Ideally prepare the first day's materials during the previous afternoon/evening
  • Check the room sizes, table/chair layout, lighting, A/V equipment, flipchart easels, wall space for post-its, etc.
  • Check that all the supplies arrived, in correct quantities and styles
    • Notepads/supplies under each chair
      • It can be useful to have supplies individualized for each participant and accessible without having to leave the group to get stuff from a central spot
  • Find out what you can attach to the walls, and how (e.g. tape, pins, etc.)
  • Touch base with the event owner and other key stakeholders
  • Learn where in town you can buy more supplies, if needed

During the event[edit]

Start of the event[edit]

  • At the start of the first day, share the overall offsite high-level agenda with the group
  • Have some activity that allows everyone to at least learn everyone else's name
    • If there are new team members, give them a special welcome
  • Point out where the restrooms and exits are, where people can get water/beverages, smoking areas, etc.
  • Consider starting with "hopes and concerns (or fears)" and/or "working agreements" sessions
    • They each have value
    • Plus they give the group a chance to practice with stacking or other facilitation methods
  • Create a "Parking lot" sheet to capture ideas that don't fit within the current session
  • People arriving after the opening ceremony should be briefed on the working agreements, norms, etc. when they arrive

Working agreements[edit]

  • You can come with a list and have the group edit it, or you can show up with a blank page
  • A few possible recommendations, but some may not be appropriate for some groups or some types of events
    • "No devices unless you are presenting to the group"
    • "Respect, e.g. be on time, and no side conversations"
    • “Inspect/adapt”
    • “It’s your offsite” (so you can adjust it to suit your needs)
    • Decide what level of confidentiality is appropriate--will notes be published?
    • Consider a norm about taking/posting photos of people at the event
  • For notes and photos, there are many options, including:
    • Everything by can be published by anyone
    • Everything will published, but only after review and redaction
    • By default, everything is internal, but summaries will be published
    • Everything remains private, except specific things which everyone approves to be released

Start of each day[edit]

  • Each morning, it is helpful to start with some kind of check-in that gets everyone in the spirit of participating
    • Be wary of empty space on the calendar after warmups/check-ins to avoid energy dragging within the group.
  • Each morning, share each day's detailed agenda
    • Look for opportunities to drop planned sessions if they aren't the best use of time
  • Each morning after the first, go over the previous day's retro notes with attendees, pointing out what will be changed as a result

Start of each session[edit]

  • Be clear about the goal(s) of this session
    • Including whether it is more philosophical or action-oriented
  • Clearly explain the format/structure of the session. Examples:
    • If it is brainstorming, remind people not to be negative about any ideas during the generation phase
    • If people will be moving around the room, explain how that will work
    • If the goal is to reach consensus/agreement, explain concept of "groan zone", and set expectations that there is no way to predict how long it will last
  • Make sure the important roles are filled: Facilitator, timekeeper, scribe, etc.

Facilitation techniques[edit]

  • Find a way to have people not talk at the same time, such as:
    • Use the "queuing" (aka "stacking") method, with people raising hands (Need link to description and advice about this)
      • In larger groups, a queue size of 5 seemed to work well at times, but 10 worked better at other times
      • Within a session, consider trying to separate topic-generation from deeper discussions on a topic
    • Use a "talking stick" to be clear who is speaking (everyone else should be listening)
    • An alternative is to use a rubber ball, and the speaker bounces it to the next speaker when they finish
  • Mirroring and paraphrasing back what people said are both effective techniques
  • Take notes as appropriate
    • (Should link here to a 10-point "how-to")
    • If someone who is not trained in taking notes is recruited, give them a quick mini-lesson
    • The facilitator should ensure that the conversation does not get too far ahead of the note-taking
  • Disruptive people
    • If someone is being disruptive often but at a low level, speak with them privately between sessions
  • Avoiding going off-topic or getting into the weeds
    • Have a signal that people can use if they feel the conversation is off-track (need a link to "holding up a picture of a kitten")
  • To measure the level of consensus, consider using "Gradients of agreement"
  • Watch for opportunities to allow groups to self-organize, and encourage it when it happens
  • Beware unconscious bias, particularly gender and power dynamics
    • Take time to be aware of gender dynamics, both between facilitators as well as between facilitators and participants. In particular, when a facilitator is less experienced, it’s harder for them to identify how to feel useful or valuable, and perception of value is a key component of challenges in gender dynamics. Even just acknowledging the issue is a big help.
    • Power dynamics can be a natural challenge for groups that include management. It may behoove facilitators to discuss this with those that have more power in groups, to mitigate challenges to collaboration that stem from hierarchies.

Time management[edit]

  • Strongly encourage everyone to show up on time or early
    • Start sessions on time, even if not everyone is there ("reward those who showed up on time")
    • Remind people how valuable face-time is; don't waste it!
  • Enlist a timekeeper or find another way to watch the clock so each session ends on time
  • Ending each session and each day on time builds trust and credibility as a facilitator
  • Within a session be aware of what topics might deserve to run longer than expected, and which do not
  • Be honest with the group if you are behind schedule, and find the best way(s) to handle it, such as:
    • Drop some optional material
    • Take over some of the "unstructured" time
    • Compress some less important sessions
  • During the event, new topics will come up that are worth discussing; be willing to adjust the original plan to accommodate them
  • Consider having a daily "kanban board" showing sessions and breaks, so people know what is upcoming and can visually see progress
  • Facilitators need breaks too, but often spend breaks prepping for the next session
    • No suggestions here yet, but wanted to raise awareness

Documentation[edit]

  • Although taking notes electronically might sound more efficient, writing on flipcharts is more visible and keeps people more involved

End of each session[edit]

  • Summarize action items, and make sure each has ONE person who will follow up on it
  • Consider asking someone to agree to transcribe the photographed notes into text form
    • Agree on a deadline by which the transcription will be completed

End of day[edit]

  • Clearly share the evening plans (e.g. team dinners) and morning plans (e.g. start time)
  • Quickly go through the parking lot to see if anything should be addressed the following day
  • At the end of each day, hold a retrospective with attendees
    • A simple +/delta or strengths/improvables format seems to work well
  • At the end of each day, photograph any generated materials (flip charts, post-it collections, etc.)
    • Verify that the photos are readable!
    • Upload the new photos to a shared directory each night for safety
    • Rename photos from default numeric names to descriptions of the contents, such as "Day 1 Retro Page 1"
  • Facilitators should expect to miss at least some of the team dinners or evening activities
  • Each evening, facilitators should go over the retrospective notes
  • Each evening, facilitators should also have their own "faciliretro" to look for opportunities for improvement that the attendees might not have noticed or mentioned
  • Each evening (or the following morning), write up a "punchlist" of all the materials that will be needed the following day
  • Each evening, write as many of the next day's charts as possible, to avoid crazy mornings

End of event[edit]

  • Go through the parking lot, to make sure everything has an owner for follow-up after the event
  • Make sure any action items that were identified during sessions have an owner
  • Have a whole-event retrospective near the end of the last day
    • NOTE: This might not be practical with more than 10-20 people
    • At the start of the final retro, quickly review the offsite goals (if they were explicit) and "hopes and fears" (if the group did that exercise at the start)
  • Consider some kind of "closing ceremony", where people share something personal: Something they learned, something they appreciated that someone said or did, etc.
    • NOTE: This might not be practical with more than 10-20 people
  • Decide whether any of the flipcharts or other materials need to be saved/brought home
  • If there were any confidential materials, dispose of them properly
  • Update the list of "things that will have to be done back home"

After it's over[edit]

  • Allocate (substantial) time to consolidate the notes, publish any public artifacts, follow up on action items, etc.
  • Get all the photos in one place, and give the files names that will allow someone to easily find what they are looking for
  • Transcribe any especially valuable notes into text form so they will be searchable
  • Post any great ideas from retrospectives back to this page
  • Consider having a facilitator/offsite owner debrief, retrospective, and/or meeting to review follow-ups and action items
  • Consider sending a survey to participants to evaluate the event.
    • The WMF TPG has a standard survey which is reasonable for key stakeholders
    • Attendees should be asked about the event execution, which might include questions like:
      • "Which aspects/activities of the offsite should be included in the next one, and why?"
      • "Which aspects/activities of the offsite should not be included in the next one, and why?"
      • "What thing from the offsite is most directly going to affect your work between now and the next offsite?"

See Also[edit]

(Apologies that these are on a private wiki. I hope to bring any useful non-confidential material into this list):