Be a Player, Not a Spectator

Copied below is the text of my introductory comments for an offsite retreat held in 1999. My goal was to energize participants and clarify that they were the players, not the audience, and that the success of the meeting – for each individual – was dependent on his/her own efforts. (N.B. The offsite was a huge success. Only three or four people out of nearly 60 chose to stand on the sidelines.)

The philosophy expressed in these comments is not only for extended offsite meetings. Any individual who embraces it will be empowered and invigorated. And when it is embraced by the entire team, extraordinary results will flow.

Over the next three days, you will have lots of opportunities to improve your skills, learn more about our company and our industry, bond with your colleagues – old and new – and open your mind to new technologies, customers, markets, colleagues, and ways of thinking and doing your job. The Offsite Committee has assembled a great agenda and brought us all to a great location. The company has contributed the cost of the offsite and our freedom from the burdens of our day-to-day work.

Soccer player

You will not get all this potential benefit by magic, however. Whether you benefit from the opportunities offered by this offsite meeting is completely up to you. Whether you contribute everything you can to assure that the meeting offers maximum value to your colleagues is also entirely up to you. This is not a chance to sit idly by and absorb. It is not a “talk at” meeting where you have no role to play. You are not here to be educated or entertained, and you are not here to relax. You are not only a participant, but a required contributor. You are here to give as well as to get, and if you don’t give much, you won’t get much.

This theme will come up often during the meeting. You will get out of this meeting value that is exactly proportionate to the effort you put into it and the contribution you make. You are not the audience; you are the players, the team. Leadership, business success, technology, knowledge management, operational efficiency, teamwork and career satisfaction all require interactivity. They are all social activities, group activities. If you sit on the sidelines, you will give little and get little.

You are here to offer your insights, meet new colleagues, reconnect with old colleagues, open your mind, and think about possibilities, improvements and new ways of approaching your job. You are here to understand, articulate and share our department’s vision. You are here to marvel over what an exceptional group of teammates you have the privilege of working with, and how serious our mutual responsibilities to one another are. You are here to dream about what could be, what should be. You are here to think about and decide what you personally are going to do to make “what should be” at the company become “what is.” You are here to take initiative. You are here to hold yourself and your teammates accountable for the success of this meeting.

We have talked often in this department about the nature of teamwork, clicking on all cylinders, pulling together, only being as strong as our weakest link, etc. We are talking across the company now about team/high performance culture and employer of choice. Later this evening, we will be talking about strong and self-renewing organizations and what I believe is the true nature of leadership.

The key to all of this for you is you. This may be a kindergarten lesson, but it’s a good one – you get out of things what you put into them. If you aim low and sit back for the next three days, you won’t have risked much and you may even achieve a few of your goals for the offsite, but that achievement won’t offer you much in the way of satisfaction. If, on the other hand, you aim high and take personal responsibility to participate, contribute, act, make decisions and become a leader, you will astonish yourself by what you can achieve.

Who will benefit from this effort by you? You will – and I guarantee that you will also find the organizational results worth the effort, the prize of personal and career satisfaction worth the risk.

Thank you for the efforts you have already contributed to further improving our department this year via our many, many accomplishments. The company has benefited from your work and so have your colleagues and so have you. Let me also thank you in advance for your contributions to this meeting – I for one can’t wait to get started!