I am just back from Phuket in Thailand where I facilitated the offsite session of the top 120 executives of a major professional services firm in Asia. This is staple work for me. My role at these kind of events ranges from delivering a keynote presentation that brings forcibly home the key themes of the event, for example change or innovation, to in some cases designing and facilitating the entire event, particularly when it is focused on strategy development.
While executive offsite sessions are common to business around the world, there are a few specific dynamics to take into account for organizers of retreats in Asia.
Asian countries, economies, and cultures are far more diverse than those, for example, in Europe. There are often different priority strategic issues across country operations, and management structures need to vary between operations. Offsite objectives and structure should reflect that.
Even in multinationals managers do not always speak flawless English. In some cases it can be valuable to have interpreters for presentations. While the intent should always be to maximize interaction between managers from different offices, occasionally break-out teams can be grouped by language, in which case they can discuss local issues.
While most Asian cultures are not as reticent as many Westerners seem to think, language barriers and different work cultures can result in participatory sessions typical of a US corporate group falling flat. Adjustments need to be made in how interactive sessions are designed.
There are many extraordinary locations and resorts across Asia to host offsites, however travel time and the sometimes limited range of flight options mean that – unfortunately – sometimes major cities will be selected.
Having lived in Japan for several years with Asia-wide responsibilities, speaking Japanese, and travelled and worked extensively throughout East and South Asia, I have an abiding love of the Asian region. I also think I have a good feel for the cultural dynamics of bringing groups together across the region. It’s certainly very enjoyable and rewarding working with diverse executive teams in the most exciting economic region in the world.
Hope to see you at your next retreat!