WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

Away days seems very fashionable, but are they just a waste of time?

Well, the Tories certainly seem to have been subject to some ridicule for their recent away day. The BBC has also been getting a lot publicity for its decision to organise away days for its staff. However, it is very difficult to think of any commercial company or major public body that is successful that does not conduct such events.

John Adair, the leadership guru, recently said that he believed away days are crucial, adding that he thought that every organisation needed to take some time out to develop a strategic outlook and to review their progress if they wanted to be successful.

Away days can be used for strategic planning, progress review, brainstorming, team building, celebration, and, hopefully, fun.

In my view, away days are essential both for boards, trustees as well as leadership teams and staff groups. But you should not have an away day just because it is fashionable.

So what would be my tips for success?

First, they should be 'away' from the office. Never hold such an event in the workplace, not only is it distracting when the phone rings, but people are tempted to quickly check emails and rifle through their in-trays which doesn't help teams to focus.

Second, select a venue carefully. Most voluntary organisations do not have snazzy offices, so it helps to treat the staff to a nice conference venue. This doesn't necessarily translate into an expensive venue as lots places offer charity discounts.

Third, it is better hold your event over 24hrs and try to include an evening and night away as this helps the team building.

Fourth, it is advisable to establish in advance your objectives for the event. Think about what you want to achieve at the end of the day, but be realistic.

Fifth, hire a good facilitator. My experience is events work best with someone external.

Finally, it is also good to build an element of fun and relaxation, but you do not need to go rock climbing.

In our sector the expense probably means we can only do this annually. In which case I suggest you need to timetable reviews and progress made. Strategic planning is vital for long-term success: you need to carve out time and space for this. Also remember away days are just one of several tools that can be used to plan for the future.

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