Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an article about how firms have developed an alternative to the traditional off-site meeting. Many of you, I'm sure, have participated in the pricey boondoggle known as the "leadership retreat" at many companies. You know... the two days of sun, golf, ropes courses, cocktails, dinners, and oh yeah... a meeting or two about actual substance. Some firms have rejected these expensive affairs and simply chosen to keep their meetings in-house. However, a few companies have found a very productive middle ground. They still go off-site for critical meetings of the senior team, but they do not go to expensive hotels and conference centers. Instead, they hold their meetings at other local companies' offices. Why would they do that? Well, the change in location still gets them away from the frequent interruptions of the office; the different scenery can spark creativity. Beyond that, though, the company that they visit can provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about another firm's best practices, as well as the challenges that they have encountered. Thus, the off-site becomes an opportunity not only for introspection and brainstorming on the part of the management team, but also a fruitful venue for learning.
I have always believed that brainstorming and creative problem-solving works best if managers have some "fuel" to drive the conversation. Thus, I often tell managers to do some homework before a retreat. They should go visit customers and competitors, read a few thought-provoking articles, and spend some time with front-line employees. Then, when they come to the retreat, they have some fodder for conversation. Similarly, touring another company's facilities before sitting down for a retreat can be great fuel to spark an interesting conversation. I love this new economical management innovation!