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To retreat or not to retreat?

Glenda LeGendre Big

Once a year or so, it’s a great idea to “market” to your own organization’s staff and members by holding a company or department retreat.

This is not a party or family picnic. Rather, retreats combine formal and informal working sessions with defined company objectives. In the course of a busy day, month, year, not everyone is an effective communicator with other members of your team, or on board with your company culture.

Retreats improve communications. And in the era of telecommunicating, some remote workers may not even have the in-person experiences they need to develop an impactful organizational synergy.

What can a retreat accomplish and how do you justify the time and cost?

There’s a wealth of evidence that time away from the office can energize a group, build teams, boost productivity, enable more creativity, and help attendees to envision the big picture rather than the narrow focus. Marketing, sales and creative teams have adopted these time-honored sessions to successfully refocus on a client’s work or to brainstorm new ideas.

Retreats also enable leadership to present changes, get staff perspectives, and trigger new ideas. New employees can be better integrated with the long-timers. For lawyers and accountants, you could even piggyback a retreat activity to follow a professional CLE or trade group event. Knowing everyone’s skills and abilities promotes more effective cross-selling of client opportunities.

Assuming you choose to start with a local day-long retreat activity rather than a major trip, how do you plan successfully?

Start by setting goals, determining a budget, and selecting the best time to host it for maximal attendance and the least interruption to the work flow. Schedule the date far enough in advance so there are few excuses not to participate. Attendees should have your draft schedule in advance and a clear idea of your goals for the day.

There are many approaches to planning the retreat, but the location should always be off-site to minimize disruption. Cell phones should be muted, but you should schedule breaks for cell phone check-ins. The day’s activities should be varied, not rushed, and diverse.

Generally, it is good to have the educational components in the morning sessions and the fun or team building activities following lunch.

Use of a facilitator or addition of a guest speaker on an important topic to the attendees is a good way to start the retreat. The guest speaker could give a future view of your industry, overview of a technique or skill set, or conduct professional training on personal bests, interactive skills, or similar programs.

One of the best programs I incorporated at a department retreat was working with an expert on “dependable strengths,” a program that is both interactive and enables your team members to learn what drives each of them and their workmates to be happy and successful in their work.

It’s also good to include a management and interactive review of the highs and lows of the previous year.

The location can be key to generating excitement and interest. Consider museum tours, waterfront boat rides, the zoo, scavenger hunts and nature walks (e.g., the Pearlstone Center, Irvine Nature Center) options. Summer baseball games, mini golf etc. are fun in fair weather — fresh air helps.

If transportation is available, a trip to Annapolis or the Newseum in D.C. are well-received. Rope courses and other adventure activities can be good for those with generally good physical abilities.

A happy hour is almost always popular at the end.

For good planning and marketing purposes, prepare a short and anonymous attendee survey at the retreat’s end. Suggestions and comments will abound if you do this on the spot, and you should also ask for suggestions for next year’s retreat.

Internal marketing with your team pays off.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net


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