Top tips for planning your organisation’s ‘away’ day​

In ‘normal’ times, the autumn is often the time for having your Board or Management Team Away Day. It’s typically a time to take stock of progress in the current financial year and to consider your strategy for the year ahead. It’s a time to bring your team or Board together to strengthen and bolster team dynamics away from the day to day demands of the office. Of course, this year is very different. There can be no ‘away’ day in the traditional sense; for many, there is little chance of being physically together and having any kind of certainty to ‘plan’ for a new financial year seems ludicrous. But, having an ‘away day’ is still worthwhile even if it’s delivered differently than usual. Done well, it can help build team morale and give everyone the time and space to consider how to cope with the months ahead. Here are my top tips for planning this year’s away day: Use an online environment you all feel comfortable with. Most Boards and Management teams have now become fairly proficient in Microsoft Teams or Zoom so stick with one of those so you get a good level of engagement.Make sure your away day doesn’t last longer than three hours. We all now know about ‘Zoom fatigue’ so keep your away day to a half day at most.Consider using an external facilitator to make sure you get the most of everyone’s precious time. A facilitator can free you up as CEO or Board chair to fully engage as a participant and can make sure that everyone participates. Your facilitator can also be briefed if you have particular strategic priorities you’re keen to explore as part of the away day. They may also able to note key actions from the discussions.Many organisations are rightly considering the wellbeing of their teams. Make sure you give some time at your away day to reflect on wellbeing and identify what more you could be doing to support one another in the winter months that lie ahead.Plan your away day carefully to get maximum engagement from everyone involved. There are many tools out there to help you: MURAL, for example, is great for capturing collaborative discussions. Use the breakout rooms feature in platforms like Zoom to get small group discussion and good quality collaborative thinking.Consider getting an external speaker for your away day. They can stimulate your Board or Management team with new perspectives or provocative ideas. The beauty of a remote away day is that you can reach out to a speaker on the other side of the world, bringing new ideas and innovation that you probably wouldn’t have been able to secure if you were having a ‘normal’ away day.Have real clarity about what you want and need to get out of the away day. Ask the rest of your Board or Management team what outcomes they would like to see from the session and be clear from the outset what you’re hoping to achieve. It’s likely you will want time to consider the big strategic issues facing your organisation as well as a chance to reflect on the past six months and what you’ve learned.On the day itself, make sure you agree clear ground rules. Do you want everyone with their cameras on and microphones off (unless they’re speaking)? Is everyone comfortable with using the technology? If not, perhaps organise a short run through beforehand so everyone feels supported and able to fully participate. Be alert to any additional needs your colleagues or trustees may have in terms of an inclusive experience.Build in some time for social engagement at some point during your away day. We are all beginning to feel like we’re missing the informal chats we had at the beginning of meetings or over coffee. Perhaps add an informal catch up either before or after your away day.Similarly build in time to celebrate what you have achieved as a team over the past 6 months. It’s been an incredibly tough time for everyone but almost all businesses and organisations have risen to the considerable challenges. Make sure to recognise that incredible contribution as part of your away day.Think about how you share what’s emerged from your away day with your wider teams. All employees will want to know latest strategic thinking and it pays – particularly in these uncertain times – to be as open and transparent with your wider staff teams as you can. Please contact me if you would like to discuss my away day facilitation package for Boards and Management teams or if you would like me to be the guest speaker at your forthcoming away day.    

When you need a trusted space…

So many Chief Executives are having to lead their teams through profound and difficult change at the moment.  It’s an incredibly lonely place to be.  Arts organisations, charities and businesses that started the year with bounce and energy for the year ahead have found themselves – through no fault of their own – in a very different place, having to make big changes to staffing structures and business models to have any chance of surviving in the coming year. Leadership can be lonely at the best of times but now that loneliness is amplified – through the difficult decisions that CEOs are having to take against an uncertain backdrop and typically working remotely from their teams.  There are a myriad of challenges:  How can you best support your team when you’re still largely working remotely and when you’re really concerned about the mental health of your team members? How can you forge the right kind of relationship with your Board when they’re understandably twitchy about the future of the organisation? And crucially how can you, as CEO, keep yourself energised and cared for so you can lead your team and organisation confidently through this next period?   I’ve been coaching leaders throughout the pandemic and have found that they have really appreciated having a trusted space to talk through – in confidence – the issues and challenges they are facing.  Having a coach gives you that trusted space.  The coach’s focus is only on you and on giving you the confidential space and time you need to discuss and work through your issues.  Coaching is future focused – whether that future is how you can get through the next 3 months or what you might want from your life and career over the next 5 years and on developing and committing to goals that will give you the shape and direction you need to make it through. I’m offering a free hour’s Trusted Space session throughout October and November to any leader who would benefit from the time and space to talk through their challenges and to begin to formulate actions and goals that will support them.  If you feel like you need that Trusted Space, please email to arrange your free session. Please contact me to arrange your free session.    

If now is not the time….......

So many CEOs and senior leaders don’t know enough about technology and what it can deliver for their organisations.  I know from my own time as CEO of Libraries Unlimited, I felt like I knew just about enough to shimmy through and give a good impression of someone who knew about technology!  But scratch the surface and there was so much I didn’t know – about automation, AI, data analytics.  You name it, there’s so much for leaders to know and so little time to gain that insight. Through my Automation Fellowship with the South West Creative Technology Network, I’ve been exploring what leaders of our arts, cultural and civic organisations know about technology and automation and what support they need to help them lead their organisations confidently around technology.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, what I’ve found reflected my own experience:  most CEOs and senior leaders feel they should know more and would like to know more but lack relevant opportunities to engage on the topic.  As we move increasingly into an online world where, for the foreseeable future at least, being a confident and informed digital leader is absolutely essential, it’s important that we find the opportunities for senior leaders to engage and develop their skills. There are some great initiatives out there.  Arts Council England’s Digital Culture Network recently launched their new website  which contains a fantastic selection of online tools and resources for arts organisations.  And within the South West region, the Digital Skills Partnership has been offering some brilliant Bounce Back Digital events for start ups and SMEs over the past 6 months . Cosmic, too, based here in Devon also offer some first class training programmes in digital leadership. Through my Lessons from Now commission from the South West Creative Technology Network, I’m working with James Jameson, a tech entrepreneur to explore the potential to adapt a range of existing tools and approaches to support CEOs and senior leaders to explore automation: Coaching: Coaching is a flexible approach that enables individuals to consider how they want their future to be and the goals they want to develop. We’re building a model that combines coaching with mentoring and elements of thought leadership to provide a creative and thoughtful space for CEOs to explore digital leadership and automation within their organisations Action learning: Action learning sets help colleagues and peers share and learn together, building trust and facilitating sharing of knowledge and ideas for solutions.  We’re considering how action learning sets could be used in this context to support senior leaders to develop, share and collaborate. Self-help books/resources: Self-help books can be powerful platforms to inspire change.  We’re exploring whether an engaging, creative approach could be taken to develop a book or resources that give leaders the insights and inspiration they need to lead well around digital. Our Lessons from Now commission is exploratory and creative – we don’t yet know whether any of these tools could help senior leaders but we’re keen to experiment and learn. James and I would love to hear from you if you’re interested in getting involved with Lessons from Now.  If you’re a senior leader who is keen to explore the potential for technology and automation in your organisation, please contact us for an initial free coaching session or if you have thoughts on any of the tools outlined above and would like to share your insight, please contact us at [email protected].     


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Ciara Eastell | Consultancy Services

[email protected]    |    07495 734887

Ciara Eastell | Consultancy Services