Planning a Company Retreat
Designing Exciting and Memorable Off-Site Events
Have you ever been on a company retreat, and wondered what the point of it was?
Retreats are great for bringing people together to solve complicated problems. They allow teams to focus on big issues that can't be dealt with in a single meeting, and they can be very useful for improving cohesion. They are also good for rewarding your team for hard work and dedication.
But, retreats can be expensive. Aside from the immediate costs, they take people away from their day-to-day work, and from their homes and families. So, it's important that every company retreat provides significant benefits – for the company, and for the people involved.
This article explores the pros and cons of company retreats, and it looks at how you can plan a successful and productive retreat for your team.
Why Have a Company Retreat?
Do you and your team have a big project, strategy or product idea to work on? Perhaps you find it difficult to get everyone together for long enough to make progress, at the same time that day-to-day activities are competing for their attention. If so, you might benefit from organizing a company retreat.
A luxury automaker is facing a difficult challenge: its average customer is aging, and the CEO wants to redefine the brand to appeal to a younger audience.
The organization decides to host a retreat to bring together potential younger customers, designers, sales reps, core suppliers, and people from the marketing and R&D teams to explore the problem.
It holds the retreat at a five-star resort in the mountains. On the first day, the facilitator divides everyone into small, mixed groups to discuss what "luxury" means to them.
Other exercises focus on identifying the brand's new target customer and brainstorming what this person wants in a luxury car.
After each day's activities, team members socialize at the pool or go hiking, where they discuss the events of the day. By the end of the third day, the group has identified several promising ideas to help rebuild the brand. The format and mix of people heightens everyone's creativity, and the group makes significant progress.
At the end of the retreat, enthusiasm levels are high, and participants can't wait to start putting their plans into action.
Company retreats differ from other types of workshop in that they take place over a number of days, away from your organization's main location. This gives team members a break from the daily demands of their work, so that they can focus on a specific goal.
Here are just a few examples of objectives for a company retreat:
- Improving your team, department or organization's understanding of its core mission.
- Planning a specific project.
- Developing annual goals and objectives.
- Strengthening team relationships.
- Launching or brainstorming a new product or service.
- Writing next year's budget.
- Finding a better way to serve your clients.
- Working through team conflict.
- Training staff.
Thinking About a Company Retreat
It's easy to get excited about organizing a company retreat. But, before you start, take a moment to consider whether it's appropriate for your situation.
Company retreats need a great deal of thought and planning to be effective. It can take weeks or even months to organize a productive one – time which would normally be devoted to other responsibilities – so make sure that you have the time and resources available to make it effective.
Timing is very important, too. If you hold a retreat after introducing a significant price increase for clients or suppliers, these people may be hostile and unwilling to participate. If your retreat falls after a round of layoffs, team members might feel resentful about "bosses having a paid-for holiday."
Also, consider how a retreat will affect the people who are left behind to keep the business running. How will you manage them, so that they don't feel disadvantaged?
Planning and Organizing Your Company Retreat
Follow the steps below to plan a dynamic and effective company retreat.
Step 1: Clarify Your Goal
Answer the question "Why are you considering running a retreat, and what problem does it need to solve?"
Every retreat needs to have a clear, driving objective, otherwise people may resent being taken away from their work and families for a compulsory "working holiday."
Having defined your goal, write down the specific objectives that you want to achieve by the end of the retreat. For example, if your goal is to build positive working relationships in your team, your objective might be to see team members showing respect for one another, communicating honestly and openly, and working together cohesively.
Think carefully about whether you need a retreat to achieve your objectives. How long does your team need to achieve its goal, and is it sufficiently important to warrant the investment?
Step 2: Choose Attendees
Make a list of the people who need to attend the retreat. Clearly, they should be directly involved in the problem, issue or goal you defined in Step 1.
You might also want to invite key stakeholders, including customers or suppliers who could help you achieve your goal.
It's also important to find someone to facilitate the retreat. Your facilitator should be someone who can remain neutral during planning and discussion sessions, so you may wish to choose a person from outside your team or organization.
Step 3: Select the Venue
When you choose the venue for your retreat, think carefully about the costs and benefits of each location.
For example, some organizations choose venues nearby, so that team members can go home at the end of the day. This can lower costs, but it can also increase distractions. Venues that are some distance away are more costly because you will have to accommodate attendees, but they can add to the excitement and focus of the event.
Keep in mind that your venue has a significant impact on the energy and enthusiasm of your team. A "ho-hum" conference center may lead to "ho-hum" results, so it might be worth investing in a venue or location that your team is excited to visit.
Step 4: Plan How You'll Accomplish Your Goal
When you know your end goal and you have a good understanding of who will attend, consider how you and the rest of the group will accomplish your goal.
How will the group reach its final decisions? Will it be by consensus or by majority voting, or will the CEO or primary decision-maker still have the final say? Make sure that your team members understand how much control they have in each planning session or discussion.
If you've ever planned a meeting, then you know how easy it is for people to get off-topic during a discussion. To stay focused, use the "parking lot" technique. When someone brings up an issue during the discussion that takes the team off course, encourage him or her to write it on a whiteboard, "parking" that idea for later discussion.
Step 5: Organize Activities
Write an agenda for your retreat. This should be a day-by-day, hour-by-hour breakdown of how team members will spend their time.
Keep in mind that the retreat should be fun as well as productive. Use activities and techniques like Ice Breakers, Role Playing, Team-Building Exercises, and Business Storytelling to engage your group. If you plan to engage team members in brainstorming activities, consider mixing these up with Rolestorming, Provocation, Random Input, and Round-Robin Brainstorming for variety.
You could also consider using Active Training strategies, such as games and activities, that will boost energy and creativity in your group. Every activity that you arrange needs to bring your group closer to meeting the goal and objectives you defined in Step 1.
Make sure that you schedule frequent breaks and unstructured time throughout the day, to give people a chance to rest and recharge.
Step 6: Manage Logistics
Next, you need to consider equipment, transport and accommodation, as well as food and drink.
List all of the equipment you’ll need for a successful retreat – such as projectors, flip charts, pens, paper, and so on – and think about how you’ll get these to the event if the venue doesn't supply them.
You also need to think about how attendees will travel to the retreat. Will they make their own way there, or will you organize transport for them? Will you reimburse people for their transport costs? Do attendees need directions or information about parking, taxis or public transportation? Also, will you be accommodating them on-site, or do they need information about off-site accommodation?
Food and drink is another factor to consider. You’ll need to provide sufficient meals, snacks, and refreshments, so that people are comfortable and so that they have enough energy to contribute meaningfully throughout the sessions.
Step 7: Get Staff on Board
However well planned and exciting your retreat is, there will always be some people who are reluctant to join in. Make sure that you communicate why the retreat is necessary, and how each attendee is significant to the event.
Also, make sure that you communicate how you will compensate attendees for their time, and let people know whether attendance is compulsory or optional. While retreats can be fun, they are still "work." You should pay team members fairly for their time and energy during a retreat, especially when you require their attendance.
Company retreats can be great for removing the daily demands of work, so that your team can focus on a specific problem or goal, such as planning a budget, training people, or brainstorming new products and services.
To get the most from your investment, define your goal and objectives for the retreat up front. Think carefully about who will attend, and choose a venue that will add energy and excitement for team members. Write a detailed agenda, so that everyone knows what to expect, and spend time selling the benefits of the retreat to get your staff on board.
And remember – it's important to be productive, but a retreat should be really good fun, too.