25 October 2005

What is the Offsite Retreat?

The next step with our client company, lets call it O1 was to get the top management to understand the entire process of Change. The main tool to initiate deep change was introduced to the top team of directors: An offsite retreat for 2 nights and 3 days where all the heads of departments, and the top team come together on a common platform and go through dialogue, carefully planned beforehand by the team and facilitated by the consultants, resulting in the beginning of a paradigm shift in the organization.

We addressed questions, issues that might affect our effort, and discussed which leaders of the company need to be included at our 3-day offsite retreat. Mr. Yogi joined us online and we had an internet voice conference that lasted for about 1.5 hours. The purpose of the change process was identified, and issues about what needs to change in the company according to each director was also generated in a one-on-one interview between each director and the consultants after the group meeting.

Some of the questions that came up in the director group conference were:

1. What is the format agenda of the retreat going to be?
2. Will it be like an extended training seminar with group activities thrown in?
3. What is the criteria for selecting members of the retreat team.. do they have to be highly educated in order to participate?
4. Since the leaders of the organization and team members will be involved in designing the agenda as well as questions and issues to talk about at the retreat, why do we need an external consultant at all?
5. Some members of the organization are not ready or willing to change. Should we still make them go to the retreat?
6. Will you be showing us the methods to arrive at solutions, or will we get the actual solutions itself during this retreat?
7. Will activity at the retreat handle psychological dimensions of employees like arrogance, competitiveness, egoism, etc.. or is it just going to be about work processes?

It was an exciting discussion about how deep, permanent change can happen. Here are parts of ingenious responses to the above questions from Mr. Yogi to the top director team:

About the agenda and activities
"The agenda of the retreat will be designed by you, the top team. You will have total control of what goes on in the retreat and what topics are talked about. After we collect the data needed from all team members individually, we will design the retreat together. Please know that the three days are going to be full of work for everyone. It is not a picnic and there will be no games. We will be there to address the foundation of your organization. The retreat will not be a place where I come and lecture and everybody listens to the 'management guru'. I do not believe in training seminars. I simply talk for 10 minutes in the beginning, and then we follow the format and agenda that we had set for ourselves."

About selecting team members for the retreat

"We want the leaders of your organization to attend. We need those people who affect the core business of your organization, those directly responsible for its growth. Education is not a criteria, but if the person has a crucial role in supervising a team/department/section, he/she needs to be there.. the most important criteria for selection is whether they need dramatic change, without which the company will not realize its its true potential."

About the role of the consultant

"You will not be able to carry out this process without me the facilitator. I cannot stress this enough. If you try this alone, it will make your goals more difficult to reach and can worsen all situations. I urge you to trust this process and see the results. I guarantee that I will add tremendous value to this entire effort. After all, there is a lot of work and trust-building needed to be done prior to the actual retreat. You need an objective external facilitator who will take individual issues and help facilitate a process where the issues can be changed to meet organizational goals. The most important reason is for there to be absolute 100% confidentiality on all information that is collected. You need an external expert to maintain this confidentiality in addition to making sure that the information does not hurt anybody's feelings. This can only be done by knowing each individual on another level other than in their job roles, which requires a external consultant with a high standard in professional ethics."

About employees who are not ready to change

"The point of the retreat is to initiate deep, permanent, and dramatic change for the organization as well as for individual employees that affect it. We need to align key employees to the goals and vision of the company so that they work in harmony and with minimal friction. Employees who are not ready to change will be a liability for any company because our times require businesses to adapt to changing environments, technologies, and so forth. Bring these difficult employees to the retreat! You may get a pleasant surprise. We do not want people working for our company if they are not ready to change for the better of the organization. In other words, we need to ask them 'Are you in the boat or not?'"

About business solutions

"We will arrive at solutions, as well as chalk out methods for doing so. At one of my retreats, the team was working on a problem they couldn't find a solution to for ages before. Suddenly someone stands up and says 'Well why don't we do this...' and everyone shouts out 'Yes that's the answer!' Funny things happen when you are in an environment that's structure has been altered to bring out the best inside people."

About employee attitudes and the psychological dimension

"It is indeed difficult to change individuals' psychological tendencies. However, it is very possible to change the environment in an organization so that these tendencies do not show up, and eventually go away by constant reinforcement of the behavior that is expected. The retreat will be the beginning of a complete overhaul of how things are going to be from then on. The process takes into account individual differences. Thus, during the team-building effort, individuals will be given a unique development plan to act upon. The duty of the external consultant is to bring out what is already there."

Our next step is the group team meeting. Everybody's questions will be addressed, and I'll be looking to see how interested, positive, fearful, or excited they are about dramatic change that is planned for O1.


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