What You Can Achieve in 48 Hours: Why IRL Workshops Yield Huge ROI

Purpose Work Culture

Workshops and gatherings enable collaboration and networking, but they’re expensive—especially given today’s globally dispersed teams. Are they worth the cost?


Future State Client Portfolio Director and U.S. Naval Commander Zoe Dunning has been leading summits, off-sites and workshops around mission alignment for more than 15 years. Here are some of her thoughts on why well-designed workshops are well worth the investment.

Why is personal interaction more important than ever in business today?

Today’s flexible workforce is more dispersed than ever, with global teams and increasing workplace flexibility. Online meeting tools provide amazing opportunities for globally dispersed teams to meet and collaborate in real time, which provides a huge upside. The downside is that we can lose that personal connection, really getting to know and understand our teammates. Our interactions can become very transactional because we’re only getting together for specific outcomes and purposes.

How do workshops impact the ability to connect, build trust and share feedback?

Studies show that for us to build teams that trust one another—high-performing, mission-driven teams—team members must not only align around a mission, but care about one another, as well. This concept is captured well in Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, which she defines as the ability to challenge our work colleagues directly and show we care personally. It’s difficult to build that level of trust with a colleague you only see on a video conference call twice a week. So it’s important to periodically bring teams together in person to build that trust and connection. You can’t replicate that online, even with video conferencing.

How does a strong team contribute to success?

Teams are more likely to align and work toward a common vision when its members feel part of an integrated group in which everyone cares about one another, trusts one another, and knows the team has their back. Compared with the cost of people not being aligned around goals and challenges, a workshop or team meeting is extremely cost effective. Instead of questioning the travel, time and logistical expenses of an off-site, leaders should ask, “What’s the cost of a misaligned team that isn’t fully committed to our mission?”

How does Future State’s perspective influence your workshops?

We pride ourselves on our ability to be empathetic and pragmatic. Being an employee-owned minority business, we come to the table with a variety of perspectives. Our facilitators are diverse, our backgrounds and perspectives are diverse. There is no plug-and-play; everything is customized to help achieve our clients’ goals.

Our workshops are not one-and-done events. One of the biggest challenges in conducting an in-person workshop is maintaining the momentum after attendees head off to the airport, back to their daily routine. We can provide expert follow-up support to help drive implementation of the team’s ideas and strategies. We provide change management, project management, process improvement, communications and training services to ensure whatever is decided in that workshop gets acted upon—that it’s not a one-time event but a catalyst for action.

What workshop follow-up have you seen be most effective?

We did a workshop for a team right after a dramatic reorganization. In breakout sessions, each new function developed priorities for the year, then translated those priorities into 30-, 60- and 90-day action plans. We facilitated the breakouts to make sure there was clarity around what would get done when and by whom. After the workshop, we provided project management support to teams who chose to use our support. We helped these teams drive progress, and offered communication and change management support to help engage stakeholders about the changes and priorities. The teams with consulting support were significantly more successful in achieving their 90-day goals than those that opted out of the support.

What are some ideas for social events around workshops?

Organize social events so people who typically don’t work together have an opportunity to connect. Consider something that engages a different side of the brain: If it’s all logical in the workshop, during social events tap into the right side, the creative side. Create an opportunity for people to see each other differently than they do in the work environment, to break down stereotypes or assumptions about their leaders or teammates.

There are a lot of creative vendors out there you can use if you want something more interactive than just a dinner. We’ve incorporated improv troupes, held art-based networking events, offered scavenger hunts that help people explore the local area, and done room escape adventures. Service learning projects are also a great way to help teams interact in a different way. The key is to make it interactive and fun.

Client Portfolio Director Zoe Dunning drives transformation and enablement for Future State clients using her expertise in team leadership. One of the world’s pre-eminent leaders in organizational complexity, Zoe leads pivotal team-alignment workshops surrounding vision, mission and goals for leading global companies.