First steps to design

This guidance will help you think about fundamental and important matters:

  • why are you having an awayday, and what do you want to achieve?
  • what outcomes do you want from your awayday?
  • who should attend and what do you want from them?
  • the venue & practicalities
  • the framework of the day
  • how to prepare by communication and being aware of team dynamics
  • following up to make your work meaningful and sustainable

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  • Because there have been changes in the team
  • Because you're a new manager
  • Because the team needs to start working differently
  • Because there are external changes that the team will have to respond to
  • Because you always have an away day at this time of year
  • Because you want the team to spend some time together

All of these are legitimate reasons to have an awayday, and you should be able to make progress. But if your participants feel their time has been wasted, and they would have been better off getting on with their day to day work, you risk your awayday doing more harm than good.

So you need to give some thought to the question WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?

Here are a few examples of reasons managers have given for wanting to have an awayday:

"The team is divided into people who've been there for many years, and newer arrivals, and a split is developing between the two 'camps'. I want them to come together."

“I've been in post for three months and I'd like us all to know each other better.”

“The department has a new five year Strategic Plan and we need to work out how we'll respond to changes.”

“We've been in a steady state for some time, and I feel that it's time for us to start work on our vision for the future.”

“I notice that people work in their own 'silos' and I'd like them to understand each other's work better.”

“We don't communicate well and this can cause problems.”

“It's an important opportunity, at the end of a busy and difficult year, to celebrate and confirm how we work together.”

  • What will participants know / be able to do as a result of this session? (e.g. knowledge, skills, confidence)
  • What will people be thinking and feeling as they leave the session?
  • What will people do as a result of taking part?  (e.g. changes in behaviour / actions taken)
  • What objectives or outcomes do you want to share with the group?  Use language which will work well for your audience.  Get group agreement on objectives at the beginning of the session.

Deciding what you want to achieve will help you work out who should attend. Most awaydays involve ‘the whole team’, as they usually have an aim related to the way the whole team works.

Awaydays will need to be planned far enough in advance for all your invitees to attend, taking account of part-time and flexible working.

If you decide not to include certain members of staff (such as for instance temporary staff) you should be clear about your reasons and make arrangements for them to be brought up to date with the outcomes.

Getting help from your team: you might want team members to run some activities, such as a discussion or a particular problem-solving method. Get them involved early.

Decide how you will record the day’s decisions: you probably do not need full minutes, but you might consider asking one person to be responsible for recording the main outcomes and any actions that have been decided.

Asking people to prepare: you might want to work on something  quite complex, in which case it will save a lot of time on the day, and enable a better discussion, if team members do some reading and/or thinking before the  day. For example:

“Please could you all read the department’s new strategic plan, and come ready to discuss it.”

or “In preparation for the day, I’d like you to think of (at least) two examples of things that have gone really well in planning for [an activity] and one thing we could have done better.”

Once you know the date (or at least have some possible dates) you can decide where to go. It’s possible to have an ‘awayday’ on your own premises, but going elsewhere can help your team members to leave the day to day work aside and focus their thoughts.

You need to be very clear about how to find the venue and how people will get access: being stuck on the pavement is a bad start to the day.

You’ll also need to check what you can and can’t do, and what you need to take. For instance:

  • is there a projector in case you want to use slides?
  • do you need to take a laptop?
  • do they provide flipcharts, a flipchart stand, marker pens?
  • are you allowed to blu-tack flipcharts to the wall?
  • is there a whiteboard?
  • how are the refreshments delivered and where?

Start with a session plan, putting in your beginning and end times and scheduling in breaks. Here is a template session plan for you to work in; there are several examples of session plans here which you can adapt to your use.

Example outline half-day team-building

Example session plan half-day management team

Example session plan half-day team purpose

Example awayday plan for apprentices

The basic principles of planning a session are:

  • Know the purpose of each activity and make sure it contributes to the outcomes you want from the session.
  • Start with some brief activities which will make sure people are ready to participate fully.
  • Allow enough time for thinking and for everyone to have their say; don’t try to cram a big important discussion (e.g. “What does the new strategic plan mean for us?”) into too tight a timescale.
  • Vary the activities: mix small group work with plenary, thinking with talking, talking with more active problem-solving, detail with big-picture etc. Make a note to check on energy / engagement levels in room throughout the day
  • Give people time to recuperate: there should be one refreshment break (10 minutes minimum) during a morning, one during an afternoon, and at least half an hour for lunch. Participants should not normally be asked to do any work during these breaks, and of course refreshments should be provided.
  • Allow plenty of time at the end to bring people’s thoughts together, decide on next steps and plan follow-up.

See Session design tool kit which provides plenty of ideas, hints and tips about designing the session, and lots of tools and methods for you to use.

One thing that sometimes worries people about facilitating a group activity is what happens between participants (including the facilitator) on the day – the unpredictable things that can arise from ‘group dynamics’. See our page on facilitation tips to find a range of approaches and tips for handling the dynamics of a group activity.

To prepare for your session, you might like to think at the very least about the stage of your team’s development. Tuckman’s ‘Group development model’, also known as ‘Forming, storming, norming, performing’, is a very useful approach. It suggests that  team members  will tend to behave in particular ways according to the state of the team as a whole – whether it is newly formed, or recently shaken up by changes, or has been working together for long enough to get to know each other,  or has had time for tensions to arise about certain things. This can help you to understand why people in the team may be reacting in certain ways, and here we give you some hints about possible helpful approaches; the aim is almost always to help the team move on to the next stage This applies to general, day to day management, but it can be especially useful in a group session. 

If your team is going through a period of change, you might also think about how people respond to change. They may react in surprising ways, as if something personal and traumatic is happening to them. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross worked with people facing bereavement and the diagnosis of terminal illness, and her model of responses to grief has been widely applied to people undergoing changes in their work and organisations. People move through these stages at very different paces, and not always in the same order; understanding that they might be going through can help you to recognise where people may need more time to get used to an idea, or the source of an angry outburst.

All your participants should have the date in their diaries; about a week before, you will want to contact them to remind them of the date and help them prepare. It will help people to feel prepared and ready to participate if you give them a programme: you may not want to share your full session plan but they should be fully informed about:

  • the purpose of the day (see AIMS) and what you expect the outcomes to be (see OUTCOMES)
  • the venue
  • start, break and finish times
  • any preparation you want them to do
  • any roles you’d like individuals to take on, such as recording decisions (or ask for volunteers).

One of the reasons people sometimes approach awaydays with little enthusiasm is that they may have experiences that can be summed up as “all that talk, and nothing changed”.

If you have been working to well-defined aims you will almost certainly have outcomes that need to be followed up. It can be helpful to agree further activities towards the end of the session, so that people can see the point of what they’ve done and feel confident that their energy has not been wasted. If possible, agree who will take on each action point and agree timescales; you can settle the details later.

If your sessions has been part of a larger-scale or longer-term change, you may need to agree what will be carried forward to your next group activities. Can you undertake these at your regular team meetings, or do you need to set aside more time for awayday-style activities? Discussing these matters at the end of your session will help you get a feel for the group’s response. Your schedule of planned group activities can become a vital and fruitful way for you to build your team’s confidence in you and themselves, as well as making the changes you need to see.  

Learning and development needs:  your awayday may well have brought to light some areas in which people need to develop their skills and ways of working. Leaders and managers can book a consultation with a member of the POD to help you develop a strategic plan for learning and development.