Trust falls? Whitewater rafting? A clam bake? Not exactly a typical day for a field service technician, but there are compelling reasons to bring staffs together for the day or two of training and team-building that’s more commonly associated with management consultants than service engineers.

Here’s why: in field service especially, techs often feel detached from the home office and their colleagues, making a company culture built around teamwork and camaraderie tough. Offsite meetings are an effective way for field service operators to get their workers to step away from their day-to-day routine and think broadly about the business, its goals and any problems that need addressing, says Bob Frisch, managing partner at Strategic Offsites, a Boston-based consultancy that designs and facilitates strategic offsites.

“It’s worth it for every team, every once in awhile, to get away and think about the business as opposed to doing the business,” says Frisch. “An offsite is a very effective way of hitting the pause button and making that happen.”

The Cost-Benefit Analysis

The biggest hurdle companies face when considering an offsite is the time and money required, both in upfront costs and lost revenues when a business essentially shuts down for a day or two. With budgets tight today, managers have difficulty justifying out-of-the-office gatherings and many have scaled back from remote beach resorts to the local Marriott to the company boardroom, according to Frisch.

Frisch argues that the focus on costs is wrong-headed. Offsites, he says, are an investment in a company’s future. This is especially true for field service companies, where techs increasingly play more than just a fix-it role; they are central to the customer experience and the future of the business. “If you feel like you have to justify an offsite, you’re already behind the eight ball,” he says.

That said, an offsite doesn’t have to break the bank. Frisch’s company provides services that typically range from $25,000 to $50,000 per day, but he says most companies opt to run offsites on their own. There are plenty of resources to help managers plan a successful offsite. One great place to start is at the local college, particular nearby business schools that have plenty of professors with experience in the field. These facilitators can run for as little as a few hundred dollars a day. Throw in a modest picnic lunch and a few outdoor activities and an offsite can be pulled off for under $1,000 for a few dozen attendees.

Getting It Right

Intrigued? Frisch has more tips on organizing an offsite that’s worth the investment:

  • Set and share clear objectives: Don’t just send an invitation to the team letting them know when and where to show up with no other details, Frisch says. Include a short agenda with goals outlining the purpose for the offsite — reviewing financial results, the company’s short- and long-term goals, or team building, for example. Sharing the objectives in advance helps set the tone for the offsite and gets employees to start thinking about the overall business.
  • Establish a timeframe: Will the offsite cover the company’s next quarter or the next five years? Setting parameters around the period of time under discussion helps keep attendees focused and prevents the conversation from digressing.
  • Define the scope: Set clear parameters around issues that are up for discussion, and ones that should be saved for a more appropriate time. Offsites can address any number of issues, from candid feedback about the dental plan or thoughts on year-end bonuses to top-level thought leadership about the trajectory of the industry and how the company will take the lead in the upcoming year. Make sure teams know what they’re in for.

ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.