Office distractions take many forms: checking emails throughout the day, responding to text messages, making phone calls, responding to Skype requests, having quick meetings, and even figuring out what’s for lunch. All of these sap our daily decision-making “battery” (yes, science has proven we can only make so many decisions during a day) and subtract from our ability to focus on what’s most important.
For these reasons, I’ve found that quarterly meetings that are unplugged and off-site are a reliable way to get more clarity about where my team and I are going, what’s working, and what isn’t working.
Why Go Off-Site?
My friend Leo Patching, one of the most seasoned, successful entrepreneurs I know, calls an off-site meeting a chance to get a “10,000-foot view” of things. He breaks decisions down into three distinct levels:
- The 10,000-foot level: strategic, long-term decision-making (CEO)
- The 5,000-foot level: executing on ground-level operations (manager)
- The ground level: repeatable tasks and processes (associate)
Most of us tend to get stuck at the ground level doing tasks we should be delegating to someone else. Or we’re at the 5,000-foot level managing others to ensure they’re following through on ground-level activities.
That’s because it’s easy to get stuck at the ground level, where things seem most pressing. A new email — someone wants my help! A new text — someone wants my attention! A meeting — someone wants my opinion!
That’s also why getting up to the 10,000-foot level, where strategic decisions are made, can be such a challenge. Airplanes burn the majority of their fuel getting to cruising altitude. And as humans, it takes discipline to turn off distractions and get to a high enough altitude to see where we’re going and what’s behind us.
How to Optimize Quarterly Off-Site Meetings
Sometimes, to get to that altitude, you have to completely unplug and leave the day-to-day grind. Here are six key points to remember when planning off-site quarterly reviews to ensure a productive, inspiring meeting that gives you and your team 10,000 foot-level clarity:
- Make it special. We convey the significance of an event through its location. Think of a wedding: Couples pay a lot of money to get married somewhere special because the event itself is special. The same concept applies to these quarterly off-site meetings. Pick somewhere that conveys the seriousness of the event. This will subconsciously reinforce the importance of the meeting and lead people to better prepare ahead of time.
- Block out the day. To get up to that 10,000-foot level where strategic, long-term decision-making can take place, we’re just like a plane — we need time and a dedicated boost. To give your team enough time to do this, block out the entire day. This will keep the daily commotion from intruding and bringing you back down.
- Check the tech. You and your team can look at your smartphones during set meeting breaks; however, you shouldn’t have your phones on you when you’re meeting, planning, etc. Give one another your full attention. Treat your phone like a coat and check it at the door on your way in!
- Protect your decision-making battery. Our ability to make decisions diminishes as the day goes on. Steve Jobs knew this, which is why he wore the same outfit almost every day. President Obama knows this, which is why he only chooses between two suit colors.Your team is going to be making big decisions during this quarterly meeting, so you want that battery to be as charged as possible. That means taking care of all the small decisions they might have to deal with ahead of time. Get a healthy catered lunch so they don’t have to think about what they’ll eat. Use the same special location again and again so they know exactly how to get there. Set the same date so people can plan around it. Even take care of how to get there and back so your team doesn’t have to worry about transportation.
- Define rocks vs. pebbles. From a goal-setting perspective, rocks are what you need to have, and pebbles are nice to have. But when we fill our mental buckets with them without defining the two, we’re often left with a bunch of pebbles and no room for the big important rocks. That’s why it’s important to break down quarterly objectives into things that you need to have vs. things that would be nice to have. This will allow your team to focus on what’s most important to the business.
- Simplify before you multiply. Scaling up before you’ve simplified things is a recipe for disaster. Think of Chipotle Mexican Grill. The founder had a simple idea to offer a simple menu that could be prepared fresh every day. Chipotle stayed true to this simple vision and has since multiplied to 130 units in 18 markets. If you want to exponentially multiply your current business, start by simplifying it first.
Although quarterly off-site meetings can seem like an intrusion on what’s most pressing right now, it’s vital to your team’s success to set aside dedicated time and space to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. This gives you time to see where you’ve been and plan where you want to go.
About the Author
Brian David Crane is a serial entrepreneur and technology investor. When he’s not working on making iPhone caller ID better with his business, CallerSmart, you can probably find him dancing Zouk or reading on his Kindle.