Planning a Company Retreat Your Employees Will Actually Enjoy
By Drew Gurley
When most people hear the phrase, “company retreat,” they think of unnecessarily complicated obstacle courses, trust falls, and windowless spaces where they will inevitably be forced to sit through lengthy PowerPoint presentations. The reason why many professionals view corporate retreats this way is simply because many companies structure their retreats like so.
Too often, corporate retreats fail to achieve the appropriate balance between work and play. I’ve heard numerous stories from colleagues whose team retreats either put them to sleep with hours of lectures and one-sided discussions or had them returning to work hungover and knowing things about their coworkers they never wanted to learn. Naturally, these experiences accomplish nothing and give company retreats a bad reputation.
But contrary to popular belief, corporate retreats actually do hold a great deal of value for businesses and their employees – as long as you’re doing them right. This means cutting down on the lectures and alcohol and instead putting some strategy behind planning your company retreat.
Achieving Balance is Key
Depending on what you want to accomplish through your company’s retreat, it’s important to identify the right work-play ratio and plan exercises and activities accordingly. If your goal is to develop business plans or company objectives, you may want to save leisure time for the end of each day, but if the retreat is more focused on team-bonding or new employee orientation, setting more time aside for recreational activities may be more beneficial. I like to follow an 80/20 ratio. Allocate 80% of time during the retreat to work-related or company-specific activities and 20% of the time to leisure or relaxation. This gives employees plenty of time to accomplish company exercises and goals while also providing time for them to unwind.
Successful Company Retreats Have Goals
Your company retreat should have a goal or business purpose. This might seem obvious, but too many companies still fail to recognize this when designing corporate retreats. Don’t plan a corporate retreat just for the novelty of it unless wasting time and money is your thing. Identify what you want to accomplish by organizing the retreat. Your goals might include:
- Helping employees gain a fresh perspective and new ideas
- Improving communication skills and relationships within the company and/or teams or departments
- Team building and orienting new employees
- Training employees or helping them develop professional skills
- Discussing challenges facing the organization and ways to overcome those challenges
- Establishing budgets and strategic plans
Identifying what you hope to accomplish from a company retreat will provide a better idea of where to hold the retreat, how long it should last, and what exercises or activities you should have your employees do to best achieve those goals.
Go for Efficiency
Disorganized retreats only waste your employees’ time. Make the most of your colleagues’ experience together by keeping the retreat organized and efficient. If you’re holding a large retreat where the whole company will be in attendance, seriously consider bringing on a facilitator or someone in charge of helping coordinate the logistical aspects of the retreat, such as checking in attendees, making food arrangements, dealing with the timing of activities, etc. If you put one of your employees in charge of this, he or she will be too busy handling the logistics to actively participate in retreat activities.
Also, consider arranging pre-retreat reading materials to have employees review prior to the retreat, allowing them to prepare for discussions and projects. This gives attendees more time to think about what they would like to bring up during discussions instead of having to answer spontaneously, providing for more engaging and proactive dialogue. Other ways to keep focused and maintain efficiency during corporate retreats include keeping and following a schedule of each day’s activities and assigning a theme to each day, activity, or discussion.
Brandon Laughridge, President of PolicyZip, says “Emailing a detailed agenda to the entire team a few days before the retreat is key. Your team will be much more at ease knowing what to expect.”
What Corporate Retreats Should NOT Do
Successful corporate retreats are made not just from what you do, but also from what you don’t do. First off, do not use the retreat to discuss HR policies and updates. The purpose of a company retreat is to accomplish things that you cannot otherwise achieve in the office or during a meeting. Save the HR information for an office meeting – or better yet, an email.
Keeping on track with not boring your employees, avoid one-way communication at all costs. Presentations, PowerPoint slides, and lectures are not good ways to engage employees or promote discussion. Make discussions two-sided and conversational, leaving room for attendees to create dialogue and present their opinions and ideas openly.
Lastly, don’t bother with the cheesy tchotchkes and take-home favors. No one wants a coffee mug or hoodie commemorating your company’s annual retreat. Put the money you would use for these things into the retreat venue or employee bonuses.
Ending the Retreat
At the end of the retreat or when everyone returns to work, be sure to gather feedback from employees. Asking attendees their thoughts on the retreat venue and location, the length of the retreat, the balance of work-play activities, and the daily exercises will help your business improve future corporate retreats. And don’t just let the retreat fade into existence and become nothing but a distant memory in your employees’ minds – bring your discussions and exercises back to the office and build on ideas and discussions that came up during the retreat. Follow up to meet the goals you established when planning the retreat.
Company retreats shouldn’t be dreaded, nor should they be the equivalent of spring breaks in Cabo. They’re a time to accomplish business goals and help employees learn more about the company and each other. Do it right, and your company retreat will bring fresh ideas to the business and have employees looking forward to next year’s retreat.
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