Planning a getaway — Organising a NHS.UK TD away day

Not a smash and grab but how we improved our last NHS.UK Technical Delivery Away Day.

tl;dr Run your away day like a great one day conference.Mix it up. Offer choice and networking time, do something silly, get feedback and have cake.

When Andrew Palmer and I volunteered to organise the next team away day we decided to look back at some previous away day’s we had experienced.

Some have been good and some have been Death by PowerPoint delivered by senior managers.

The event was for about 80 people which equates to 16 man/woman weeks of time so we had to plan the day to add value and learning.

We wanted to do something different.

Our goals were:

· Fun

· Informative

· Interactive

· Let the team help shape the day

· No numb bums

· Cake

· Be better than the previous one

Feedback from the previous away day had indicated a few areas in the format we thought we could improve. Here are some of the changes we made, why and what was the outcome.

Feedback: Birds of a feather still flocking together

Solution: Allocate people to tables randomly on arrival


  • One of the question we ask every away day is how well people think they know everyone else in Technical Delivery and we actively try to break down silos.
  • We also provided an Only Connect themed quiz as an activity for the team to work on together.


  • Random allocation increased table diversity but a few people still tried to game the system
  • Not enough people watch Only Connect

Feedback: Some of the talks were too long

Solution: Introduce lightning talks


· Lightning talks by definition are short 10 mins

· They lower the barrier of entry for those wanting to present, perhaps for the first time.

· Variety is the spice of life.

· We thought we would generate enough lightning talks to let the team vote on which ones they wanted to listen to. In the end though we only just got enough to fill the available slots.


· The lightning talks went down well we just need to encourage more presenters. We plan to run a workshop around giving lightning talks before our next away day.

Feedback: I couldn’t get to all the workshops I wanted to as they were held simultaneously

Solution: We decided to run 4 x 20 min concurrent workshops and repeat them 3 times


· Having 4 workshops and 3 slots would enable people to choose the 3 most interesting / relevant ones to them and offer them a choice


· Giving people a choice went down well.

· We used sign-up sheets and restricted numbers for the workshops to ensure that any one session wasn’t oversubscribed.

· Next time we will probably run them twice and give the workshop presenters a chance to attend someone else’s workshop.

We also invited Chris Cheadle to come up with a team building activity aligned to our “No numb bums” goal. As managers who work across all of the teams that are attending it’s actually easy to forget that just because we know everyone in the room, that isn’t always the case for the rest of the team.

The brief to Chris was for an active way for the team to find out a bit more about some other members of the team and to work together with those, perhaps unfamiliar people on the same table in competition with other tables. As usual Chris went above and beyond and will the help of a couple of miles of masking tape produced this…

So much masking tape

One other change was to bring in external speakers to introduce new ideas, new faces and new perspectives to the day.

Andrew has blogged about that here.

It so happened that our away day coincided with the Macmillan big coffee morning so we asked people to bake and bring them to the away day. Cake problem solved. We also raised over a hundred pounds .

Finally we got some feedback and had a retro which has enabled us to plan some tweaks for the next one.

[Spoiler] more lightening talks and more cake :)

Like what you read? Give sean craig a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.