The Three Types of Company Offsite

We just finished a several-day long corporate offsite, and I really like the balance we struck between offsite types.

I’ve found there are three types of offsite: The Balance, The Whatevs, and The Bataan Death March.

Like a Top Ten List I’ll do these in reverse, but TL;DR: go for the balance.

As anyone who’s ever been on the Bataan Death March offsite, it can feel a lot like some corporate idea of “creativity;” something one might imagine is suggested by the very same executives who force you to commute needlessly to the office to “build culture.”

The Bataan Death March

You’re flown to some quasi-exotic sounding resort where you are ushered into an horrific and windowless conference facility and subjected to the live performance of the same Zoom meetings you’re subjected to daily, but worse.

In the evenings, you are marched to a group dinner at some three-star place (the preternaturally just-below-par Columbia Restaurant in Tampa comes to mind) serving a lamentable set menu of “local specialties” that are as convincing as the gristly, pink-tinged, ice-cream-scoop-shape-retaining mound of fried rice your elementary school served on Mexican Food Day), and then one of the mid-level managers (or worse, the Chief Something Officer) will encourage you to seek out the local attractions for the evening. Perhaps visit the trendy new discotheque.

Kill me now.

The Whatevs

The Whatevs is a lot like what was done at my last company, and it has a lot going for it. At Trail of Bits the offsites are generally awesome: you (and sometimes a significant other) are flown to a location (or one of two) and given a room in a rented house with a stocked kitchen.

There are two required meetings for the whole time - cooking and eating dinner with your housemates on one night, and a group dinner on another.

The rest of the time you’re encouraged but not required to hang with your coworkers. The team worked to ensure that like-minded people were put in the same house, so night-owls versus early-risers, etc, which was great.

This is all very effective. It might be counter-intuitive, but this builds teams much better than most approaches I have seen.

Site of Evertas offsite

The Evertas Beach House

The Balance

The Balance is what I have come to believe is the right way to go. Rent a house (the one above is from our offsite last week) and give everyone a room; stock the fridge and the bars, and let people arrive. Build in a lot of activity time each day and have optional group meals.

Do it someplace truly worthy of travel (we were on Lido Key in southwest Florida).

Encourage people to have fun and - and this is the most important thing - hold the kinds of meetings you don’t normally hold. Take a few hours and talk about culture. Strategy. What we can do better.

Make the balance slightly favor meetings - like, no more than 55% or 60% of the total time.

Trust your people to do the right thing.

Correction: In an earlier version, I conflated Bataan and Bhutan, which was, like, really dumb. I’m honored and thrilled to have readers who care enough to point out when I make a mistake.