Your staff is a team. And the team consists of people in a variety of skilled positions needed to conduct your business and deliver on your brand promise. If your company is to thrive, economically and as a social group, it is vital to bring your staff along with you at every stage, building a healthy corporate culture by addressing the inevitable gaps that open up between your people and your corporate vision. Off-site staff retreats offer an invaluable opportunity for the whole team to pause, step back from their everyday duties of working “in the business” and gain enough perspective to reflect “on the business” in constructive ways. A successful retreat will not only sharpen your focus and clarify your priorities; it will boost staff morale and benefit your bottom line.
Top-10 Checklist for Retreat Planning
When you are considering a staff retreat, here is a top-10 list of key planning determinants:
1. Purpose and Themes
Understand the purpose of your retreat. Knowing why you want a retreat will moderate all other planning decisions. List everything you need to achieve with your team, and select the most critical topics. Retreats are meaty, requiring intense thinking and emotional investment. Each theme takes considerable time to address thoroughly. Retreats are fatiguing. Even the fun is fatiguing! So define a narrow focus.
2. Goals and Desired Outcomes
Identify the outcomes you desire. Only after you have determined the purpose of your retreat can you focus on your exact goals. Staff retention? Sustained performance? Wake-up call? Motivation? Clarity? Business or divisional planning with staff input? Determine what you want each staff member to leave with, what changes you want to foster within employees and within the team, and what your team will leave with as a unit.
Go off-site. On a larger budget, I have rented a massive log home on Vancouver Island overlooking the ocean for a multiday retreat. On a smaller budget, I might rent a library boardroom, access a vacation property owned by a client or in summer select a quiet outdoor location. In general, the more unique the environment, the better it will be for shifting attention away from daily business and personal demands to the open- and creative-minded focus of retreats.
Decide whether you will give participants all the retreat details in advance or keep most of them a surprise.
Determine the retreat budget. Apart from obvious expenses such as travel and accommodations, factor in any short-term loss of revenues from the retreat itself, including hours spent preparing resources for the retreat and the cost of shifting staff focus from “in the business” to “on the business” while you are off-site.
5. Moderator: Internal or External?
Decide who will moderate the retreat. You may want to act as the moderator yourself, or you may prefer to hire someone with experience as a facilitator.
Settle on the dates and the number of days. Our retreats have ranged from 1 to 5 days, including travel time. Determine what workdays you are willing to sacrifice, if any.
7. Business Agenda
Once you have defined your themes and know the budget, location and duration of your retreat, think through what you will cover each day, who will present which topics, what group or subgroup(s) will attend and interact, and what preparation will be required. Give ample lead time to permit everyone to be successful. Include meal plans and activities, along with initial to-do checklists.
8. Team Builders
In addition to your business items, factor in experiences designed to foster trust, disclosure and inclusiveness. The most important part of a retreat is setting the stage to facilitate the interaction needed to move the group successfully to your objective and desired outcomes. Plan some interactive activities to help people feel open, creative, supportive and close. Map out your ideas.
9. Social Activities
Don’t leave social cohesion to chance or expect it to be a byproduct of success. Fun, engaging, let-your-hair-down moments can still be very purposeful. Plan ways to include these. Your social activities need not be expensive.
10. Movement Experiences
Include opportunities for movement. Short respites from the meet-and-talk business agenda or longer outings interspersed with breakout sessions will be key to having fun and staying fresh and attentive. Know your co-workers, and plan regularly scheduled breaks to help them stay alert and enthusiastic. Of course, movement experiences can be social and team-building in nature as well. In this industry especially, movement is key.
Once you have defined your purpose and goals and drafted your 10-step planning framework, think through how you will measure the return on investment from these efforts. You should be able to use next-quarter productivity and sales metrics as indicators as long as you can factor out normal seasonal market moderators. When determining your objectives, don’t underestimate the power of team building. A unified, friendly staff of employees who express passion for your vision will have a positive impact on your customers. What you net is not an intangible. It is powerful fuel for your business engine.
More details on planning staff retreats are provided in the complete article, “Planning Successful Staff Retreats,” in the online IDEA Library or in July–August 2010 IDEA Fitness Journal.
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