Making away days work harder
Many organisations run away days for their staff. Many do not, afraid that the freedom such events give, may trigger a moan fest which senior managers will find uncomfortable.  It’s true that any gathering which encourages free expression will run the risk of some discomfort for management, but it is essential that issues are aired and that people get things off their chest. There are ways of doing these that encourage frankness, but preserve anonymity, so people can get their views across ‘safely’.

The alternative is the rumour mill, where the imagined future is always worse that the reality!

We would suggest that away days are essential and not just annually. In a fast changing market, you might need to run them twice a year.  Here are some suggested objectives to turn these into occasions which offer real value to the organisation.

  1. For all staff, at all levels, to gain an understanding of what is changing in the outside world and how it will affect them.
  2. To share feedback from customers and staff on how they think the practices delivers service and what they like and dislike about how it does things now.
  3. To look at suggestions for improvement from the people who do the job – front line staff, administrative, managerial and technical staff
  4. To look at what the organisation might need to do to build on its strengths, address its weaknesses and reduce the impact of external threats
  5. Last but not least, to reinforce team spirit and have some fun!

Here is our step-by-step recommendation

Gaining an understanding of what is changing in the outside world and how it will affect them.
We have devised a tool for looking at the future.  It is the nearest practical alternative to a crystal ball.   It asks the team to look at the major trends in the outside world, which are outside our control, but will have an impact on the organisation, team or service over the next 3 years.

It is called SPECTRE

It covers the following trends

  • SOCIAL TRENDS – What is happening to our population, its composition, its age, its ethnicity, the way families are now, the flow of people in and out of an area (TIP the office of national statistics (ONS) should have some good figures on this which are publically available)
  • POLITICAL TRENDS – Admittedly quite hard to read and closely tied to Economic Trends. You will need to look at local Politics as well as the national scene
  • ECONOMIC TRENDS – Don’t believe the headlines dig deeper for the current trends but the need to do more with less is clear as budgets are put under pressure
  • CUSTOMER – what are customer’s expectations, what is happening to their behaviour and how they want service delivered?
  • TECHNOLOGICAL TRENDS –what is going on that impacts the way technology works is our business, how will this affect the way we could work?
  • REGULATORY TRENDS – What legislation, rules or guidance might be heading our way in the 3 years or so that we will have to implement or react to?
  • ENVIRONMENTAL TRENDS – How will environmental matter affect what we do, things like environmental taxes, fuel costs, paperless operation, waste disposal etc?

Divide the subjects among the team in groups of 2 or 3, get them to use flipcharts to write up their thoughts – you will be pleasantly surprised at the level of understanding people have.

Spectre Chart

ContextThe trends you see and the impact on the services you commission, manage or deliver.
The demographics of society and how people behave
What political initiatives or aspirations might affect us?
The health of the economy, spending patterns and the availability of funds.
 Customer / Client
How are customer needs, wants or expectations changing?
What could new technology do for your team or service?  What will you be able to do that you cannot do now?
How will forthcoming laws or regulations affect us?
How must we adapt to changes in our environment?  What might affect us?

Feedback from customers and staff

For customers
Have available the latest feedback from customers on levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and play this back to the team starting with the high spots and moving on to the things the customers would like you to do better.

Encourage involvement in fixing what needs to be done, ask for ideas and suggestions. To encourage participation you can use a technique called Rich Pictures where small (max 5) groups draw a picture of what they would like to happen in an ideal world.  This is quick, fun and very quickly identifies what an ideal solution might look like. You can separate managers from front line staff to make sure that people are not overawed by their seniors.

Rich picture



For staff
We use a simple Likes and Dislikes survey that is conducted anonymously using your practice intranet. Simply ask everyone to complete it and save a copy. Prior to your away day transfer the key comments to PowerPoint and on the day play them back – starting with the Likes.  Move on to the summary of the dislikes and be prepared to implement the 3 least costly suggestions for improvement there and then at the away day to demonstrate that you listen and act.

Building on strengths, addressing weaknesses and reducing the impact of external threats
As a result of the feedback get the whole team again working in small groups to do a SWOT analysis and identify the actions needed to move from where you are as a team, to where you need to be. as a result of external trends and stakeholder expectations. The resulting plan for change will be owned by the whole team and will create minimum resistance to implementation

Understand role preferences
People are fascinated to know about themselves so what may help break down barriers is looking at team roles.  This examines what roles people like to occupy in a team – do they want to lead or follow, do they like to the social aspects of working in a team or are they more concerned about just getting things right.  We are all different and all the research points to balanced and varied teams being more effective than ones where everyone is the same.

All the roles have something to contribute and it can help to make sure that people do jobs that suit their natural inclinations.
There are a number of well established models out there, some of which are free and some of which have a cost attached.

 Having fun
Google for some team exercises with demonstrate the power of teams to solve problems and deliver solutions.  Some of ours involve finding your way out of the wilderness, or constructing a tower out of Lego against the clock!

For this mix up the staff levels so you have a cross section in each team, and get the teams to nominate a leader.

Provide some decent refreshments and do not stint on the time you give this. Allocate a day away from the work environment – it’s an investment in a shared view of the future.

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