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Is your team dreaming about the new product launch, or are they too busy fantasising about getting away from it all at an exotic holiday location? Are your managers arriving at work each morning ready to focus on the business objectives on hand, or are they calculating the best time to leave work to avoid the peak hour traffic?
A well-planned company retreat isn’t just an event, it can be a real opportunity to achieve serious business objectives while getting your team back on track. Company retreats provide an opportunity for teams to get away from the day to day distractions while they plan the company’s next moves, strengthen relationships, and celebrate the company’s achievements.
The secret to planning a productive retreat begins with clarifying what you hope to achieve by the end of it. With those goals in mind you can decide who needs to be at the retreat, and what kind of location would satisfy you best.
Set your goals
What do you want to achieve by the last day of the retreat? Knowing what you want to accomplish is the key to planning a successful retreat. Write out your specific, achievable goals before you even think of choosing a location and a guest list.
Select your guests
Let your goals guide you as you work out your guest list. If the aim of the retreat is to improve your customer service, invite employees who work directly with customers. It’s often a good idea to invite a few target customers too. If you want to make your company more attractive to new graduates, invite some new graduates or careers advisors.
Once the retreat is over you’ll need employees with both the energy and the authority to help carry out the new changes, so make sure you invite those who will be able to do this. If you’re also likely to encounter employees who are resistant to any changes, invite them too so they can see firsthand why those changes are important.
Knowing who should be there will help you decide on location. A young team may be inspired by an adrenalin-filled adventure, while an older group may prefer a wellness-centred retreat. Family-centred employees may want to stay closer to home or expect family-friendly accommodation and travel options.
Choose your location
Most employees think that the location is the most important factor when planning a successful retreat, but from a business perspective it isn’t that crucial. You want everyone to be enthusiastic about the retreat, but whether they’re skiing, swimming, meditating or bungee jumping isn’t important. Your goal is to get them away from their everyday lives so they can think more creatively and learn new ways to communicate with each other.
Look for an off-site location which is both flexible and casual where you can spend 80% of the time working with your team, and then they can spend 20% of their time doing the fun activities. If you have employees with special accessibility or dietary needs, make sure the venue will be able to cater for them.
Make the travel arrangements
Once you’ve established the location for your retreat and the number of participants you can start organising your travel arrangements. Will you make the most of your retreat time by chartering a private plane so that everyone begins bonding before they arrive at the venue, or will you leave participants to make their own way to the location?
Find a facilitator
A good facilitator is one who understands how groups work and can maintain a neutral position during workshops and brainstorming sessions. Many companies hire a professional facilitator to run their retreats, but if this is outside your budget you’ll need to choose someone who everyone at the retreat can speak to openly without fear of repercussions. Often a manager from another department can do this job effectively.
Clarify your meeting goals
By the time each guest arrives at the retreat they should have a good understanding about what you aim to get out of the meetings. Are managers asking for ideas that they will then implement, or are they asking for ideas for consideration? Participants need to know that their input is valued and that they won’t be blindsided later by a strategy that was never discussed at the retreat.
Structure your meetings
There are a number of ways that you can structure your meeting time. Some facilitators like to begin with presentations from different departments, others like to run through the company’s history and then outline where the company is going in the future. Still others use role playing, storytelling, improvisation and music to encourage everyone to participate and generate new ideas.
What’s most important is that you use a format that will keep your employees engaged and attentive, as the last thing you want is for everyone to start falling asleep because they’ve been sitting down too long.
Set the right mood
Allow everyone to collaborate in each of the activities while still making activities introvert-friendly. This may mean allowing people to think over their answers and then write them down rather than having to blurt them out in a group setting. Provide opportunities for people to express their opinions without judgement by ensuring that minority opinions are heard and that feedback can be given anonymously.
Create opportunities for team building
Having fun together isn’t the same as working effectively together to complete a task. Good teambuilding activities are ones which ask team members to decide on the steps they need to take together to complete a task.
There are a number of programs designed to help organisations improve team building skills, so it may be worth investigating if any of these are worthwhile organising for your corporate retreat.
Stay true to your goals
It’s easy to get off track when you’re discussing work in a retreat environment, so it’s important that you make a conscious effort to stick to the agenda. If someone brings up a topic that isn’t on the agenda, make a note of it for later reference and return to the task at hand.
Let people mingle
An effective retreat only needs to be between three and five days long - enough time for trust to develop between participants, some effective business planning to be done, and enough time for and bit of recreation. Remember to do a bit of mingling yourself and relax while you enjoy the rewards of achieving a well-planned work retreat.
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