There often doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with off-sites. They’re always either wonderfully fun, productive, and successful, or a yawn-inducing waste of time and money. So how can you plan an off-site business meeting in Washington that falls into the first category rather than the second?

The secret to a successful off-site is that there’s no silver-bullet solution. From choosing a Washignton DC meeting venue to creating a realistic agenda, there are myriad factors that need careful attention if your meeting is going to be a winner.

If you’re organizing an off-site, these simple tips will help transform your meeting from bland to grand.

Work out your goals

Before you can get stuck into the nitty-gritty of planning a meeting, sit down to decide on what you want to achieve. Will the off-site be purely for team building and bonding, or are you making key strategy decisions?

Think about the specific problems you want to tackle and decisions you need to make during the meeting. Once you’re crystal clear on your goals for the day, you can start working out how to achieve them.

Choose the right venue

A meeting venue is much more than just a space where you and your team can sit and talk. The venue sets the tone for your meeting right from the start, so it’s crucial that you choose an appropriate space. But with such a diverse range of meeting spaces in Washington to choose from, which one is right for you?

Once again, it all comes back to what you want to achieve. For example, a serious strategy meeting will generally be held in a much more conventional boardroom setting than if you’re looking to help your team bond in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.

There are also plenty of practical considerations, like the size of the venue and the ease of access for all attendees. The perfect venue will also have all the equipment you need, from free Wi-Fi to an AV system, so be sure to shop around to find the right space.

Decide who to invite

Just like when you’re planning a party, getting the guest list right is essential. It can sometimes be tempting to invite anyone and everyone with a minor connection to the project or issues being discussed, but this can cause problems. With too many people in attendance, it can be easy to get sidetracked and difficult to ensure a balanced discussion where everyone’s voice is heard.

So take some time to work out who needs to be there, what they need to talk about, and why. This should help you decide who to invite and who will be better off sticking to their normal routine.

Carefully create the agenda

With your goals and your guest list sorted, the next task is setting the agenda. Think about which topics you’ll address and in what order. Who will need to talk or give a presentation about each topic? How long do you anticipate each point of discussion to take?

There’s sometimes a fine line between ensuring that you allow enough time to discuss an issue in sufficient detail, and getting bogged down in details that would really be better addressed in follow-up meetings. You’ll also need to remember to allow travel time for all attendees to ensure that they can get to and from the meeting with a minimum of fuss.

Distribute draft copies of the agenda to all attendees well in advance. It’s usually a safe bet that someone will request changes or suggest a slightly different approach, so leave yourself time to work out any kinks.

Managing the meeting

Ensuring that a meeting runs smoothly is a fine art. It’s often much more complicated than just sticking to an agenda, so it’s important to read the room and keep your meeting goals in mind at all times.

Sometimes you’ll need to guide the meeting in the right direction, getting the participants to focus on the problem a hand if they’ve veered off course. Sometimes you’ll need to interject yourself into discussions at key times to ensure that more dominant personalities don’t hijack the meeting completely. It all depends on the purpose of the meeting and how the day unfolds.

It’s also vital that you don’t forget about the fun factor. Sure, it’s still a business meeting and you may be discussing some very important topics, but an off-site is the perfect chance for out-of-the-box thinking and approaching problems from a different angle. So if you need to loosen everyone up with a team-building activity or even something like a lip-sync battle, do it.

This should help your team relax and make the day feel a little bit less like work. And as long as you don’t go overboard, it should put them in the right frame of mind to work together to achieve your goals.

Following up

It’s also essential that the outcomes and achievements from your Washington DC off-site meeting are transferred back to the real world. The key to ensuring this happens is communication.

As the organizer and host, it’s your job to follow up with all attendees once the meeting is over. This could mean outlining action items for individuals or groups, summarizing the key strategy decisions and goals agreed upon at the off-site, and plans for future debriefings and strategy sessions.

With careful planning and a clear idea of your goals, you can host a productive and successful off-site — and your business will be so much better off for it.

Don’t forget to balance work and play

If you’ve come from out of town to host your off-site meeting in Washington DC, why not make the most of your trip with a team outing? From national treasures like the Lincoln Memorial to natural wonders like Kenilworth Park, Washington DC offers no shortage of sightseeing destinations.

When planning your meeting, take some time to research fun team-building activities in DC. Better yet, invite your team to pitch in their ideas — it’ll give everyone something to look forward to once the meeting is adjourned.