For some companies, team retreats are organized for the sole purpose of having a good time away from the office, with no emphasis on work-related activities. That being said, many organizations are rethinking the retreat as an opportunity to foster invaluable experiences in culture-building and innovation. Well-organized company retreats provide special magic where camaraderie, communication, and productivity increase, and more meaningful relationships among colleagues are developed.
Offsite retreats can help shake up the status quo and get creative juices flowing in an environment that’s different from the office. A change of environment creates a space for people to recharge their batteries, build human connections through teamwork, and when they return to the office, morale and productivity increases. But it’s important to know that a retreat is not an end in itself; it is the beginning. It is one step among many in a continuing process to establish and sustain a high-performing team.
The most compelling reason for retreat failure is the lack of clarity about purpose and what the company is trying to accomplish by bringing people together. Once the mission has been established, by sharing it with people, it helps set expectations about what the retreat intends to accomplish.
Here are some tips for planning a company retreat that everyone will enjoy, and no one will forget, for the right reasons:
1. Shaping Your Retreat
When setting your vision for the company retreat, get clear as to the purpose. Whether it be a morale boost, building a cohesive team, or your brand needs an injection of knowledge or skills, knowing the goal of the retreat is the first foundation of planning.
Asking intentional questions can help shape up your retreat. Consider the following:
- What are your objectives for the retreat?
- What are your engagement objectives for the retreat?
- What are the specific needs of the team?
- How can you ensure that the company retreat will be inclusive of all staff, including remote working experience?
- When considering a retreat in each location, what are the strengths and limitations?
- If the company delivered retreats in the past, what they can look like in the future?
The purpose of the retreat becomes the foundation for the retreat design. Company retreats can be used to engage in a planning process that brings all contributors together, can engender creativity, synergy, and a degree of shared ownership around designing solutions to current problems or future direction.
2. Setting Up A Retreat Committee
Ask for volunteers to act as a sounding board for retreat planning and to share the workload. Perhaps, some parts can be delegated to employees to run the process during the retreat. Participants can be asked to give some thought to an issue, bring some ideas or questions that they would like to see changed.
3. Company Retreats Don’t Have To Break The Bank
When determining a budget, consider the company size and where you want to go. If you have never run a retreat before, start small. You can save a considerable amount by travelling in the offseason and staying somewhere close to a major airport.
Another alternative if budget restrictions preclude is to source conference centres outside of your location where there is ample space to allow for small group work and activities for team building. Starting and ending the day with some social events can influence the energy in the room.
4. Break Out From Your Everyday Surroundings
Choosing a retreat location can make or break the experience. Changing environments can lead to different thoughts so take a team somewhere fun and conducive to being creative. Consider a place that is an excellent escape from where the team is typically stationed.
Warm weather is a significant factor, and the size of the team will also impact where you choose to go. A large hotel can bring several hundred people together once a year, whereas a small group of 10 people, you may consider renting a house through an Airbnb. Another alternative can be to use a network that features workspace listings, so you find the ideal location.
5. Length Of Retreat
Consideration must give to the duration of the retreat. Take into account the usual sweet spot of 5 days and allow for travel. Be mindful that team members must fly with time zone differences, and jet lag may be a challenge.
6. Who’s Coming To The Company Retreat
Invitations to the retreat depend primarily on the purpose and retreat agenda. Participants can vary from CEO, senior staff to everyone in the company. If the intention is to ensure the leadership team reaches agreement on the direction for next year, then participants may be limited to just that group. If the goal is to impact employee engagement and recognition, then a company-wide approach is mandatory.
7. Shared Responsibility
Encourage your team to pitch ideas for the retreat. Getting everyone involved fosters motivation, connection, and buy-in beyond the retreat. Fun and games can lead to a new perspective and evolving together. Retreats can improve morale, support teams to strategize and create a working environment that can give your team a boost.
8. Input From People To Inform Agenda
Creating an agenda is essential and how you communicate this even more critical. People want to plan and mentally prepare for a retreat, and this is where a schedule is vital. Retreats require structure yet need to be free-flowing to enable the program to change and adapt.
Inviting employees to contribute to the agenda is critical. There are a variety of ways from facilitating focus groups, selecting a random sample of staff to be surveyed, or establishing a planning committee. Smaller companies can survey the team, and if a facilitator has been engaged, that person can ask for suggestions from team members to assist with planning the retreat.
9. Embracing A Range Of Activities
When it comes to agenda design and methodology, the best retreats will often include a combination of different kinds of activities. Whether it be small or large group discussion, café-style approaches, or interactive team games, an impact-driven agenda will have a mixture of these kinds of activities and ensure that different activities build on one another and move the group towards achieving the goals.
It is important also to identify activities and games that you can implement at a moment’s notice to pick up the pace. Research icebreakers identify travel ideas or fun excursions that you can incorporate into the retreat.
10. Where to Work Hard, Play Hard
Finding a suitable spot must be a place where people are genuinely free from routine work pressures. The informal aspects of a retreat contribute measurably to work output. When the environment encourages people to be open with one another, even during social time, people will often find that discussions over lunch pave the way for in-session talks irrespective of the topic.
11. Cater For All
When planning for a retreat, remember that everyone is different and guaranteed you will have both introverts and extroverts on your team. Retreats can be exciting for some and dreaded by others. Delivering activities that cater to both needs will be critical to allow people to shine and feel rejuvenated. Whether it be active team sports or self-reflection exercises that require silence, you are providing opportunities for all parties to grow.
Scheduling unstructured free time for attendees is essential. By allowing people to have downtime, will enable them to step away and unwind as if they would when they leave the office.
12. Create A Timeline For The Retreat
Developing a timeline that captures the essence of your itinerary provides a visual representation that all people can benefit from. Start by identifying the dates, times, and locations, add specific descriptions of each session and key transitions throughout the retreat. When you build the itinerary, consider using a Google spreadsheet and colour code experiences differently based on activities, meals, workspace, transportation, and downtime or add any other essential elements within the timeline.
13. Communicate Expectations
Once the agenda for the retreat has been set, it is critical to finalize and communicate expectations with every team member that will be present at the retreat. Set up an FAQ document early in the process as a living document that can be updated along the way. FAQs can cover a gamut of questions from expenses, accommodation to cultural considerations. Daily reminders can be set up through company communication channels, whether it be through closed groups, slack channels, or having impromptu chats where you allocate one hour a week to discuss pre or post-retreat.
14. Sometimes You Need To Look Outside The Company
An external facilitator is a significant investment. Hiring the right facilitator can make or break a retreat. Hiring a facilitator doesn’t need to have a high level of experience in the technicalities of your industry, as sometimes this can hinder the facilitation as they may become too involved in the subject of discussion. More importantly, the facilitator must be able to differentiate which problems are significant and appropriate for discussion, sense when an issue has been discussed sufficiently, and to push closure on it. Above all, they need to be a deep listener to hear what is not being said and bring diverse views to the table.
15. Start With Reflection, End With Commitments
Stepping out of the daily grind is the perfect opportunity to step back and think big picture. Reflective sessions add significant value by identifying where you are today and where you want to be in the future. By deep-diving into the present sets the scene for clear and creative thinking. It provides an excellent transition for the end of the retreat, with every employee committing to one thing they will do differently as a result of the retreat. This creates buy-in and accountability going forward.
16. Absences Happen Despite All Good Intentions
There will always be that some people can’t attend the retreat, or emergencies happen that warrant their absence. One way to ensure that all get to participate is to record retreat sessions for teammates for the next-day review and how they can communicate with others once they return. Another alternative given the digital world would be to live-stream the event so everyone can contribute in real-time.
A Company Retreat Is The Beginning
Company retreats represent an essential investment. Actions will emerge from a retreat, and expectations will arise about progress and company change for the better. If developments do not materialize, people become disheartened as if the retreat had not happened at all.
A crucial step in the process is to finalize responsibility and deadlines for each priority item. One way is to meet with people who made commitments to lead a particular action to ensure progress. When the step has been accomplished, then cheerleading is critical. Celebrating positive accomplishments on an ongoing basis creates ripples within the company culture.