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How to hold a company retreat

What separates the perfect retreat experience from a boring one?

Maybe you hold a company-wide retreat every quarter, perhaps every year. No matter the frequency, this time period is often thought of as a well-deserved break from the more monotonous parts of work, and can be hugely beneficial for employee motivation. Other times the work retreat can be a lackluster experience. So what separates the perfect retreat from a boring one? Well, much like your business strategy, it’s all about having a plan.

Have a clearly defined goal
According to Inc., a company retreat requires a game plan. If the company is funding the trip, logic follows that the activities should benefit the organization in some way.

“Having a retreat to keep things exactly as they are isn’t a good use of staff time,” Marianne Liteman, the president of Liteman Rosse, a consultancy that designs retreats, told Inc. “The retreat should have a business purpose. If you don’t have a strategic reason for holding one, it’s better to do something else with your resources.”

That said, the first step in planning a beneficial and memorable retreat is to designate a particular goal. Some retreats are held to inspire your workforce, others serve as employee awards ceremonies. Whatever you strive for, stick to that one goal and go from there.

Take a look at the big picture
Many work retreats are treated like vacations. Employees relax, unwind and keep thoughts about business out of mind. While the relaxing and unwinding can be welcome feelings, retreats should be the best time to think about the business – just in a different way. Business Insider recommended ditching the micromanger’s mindset and refocusing on the larger perspective. In other words, focus on the three W’s: who you are, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The big picture can be lost in the haze of day-to-day work tasks. The retreat is a time to take a break from the minor details and spark up more inspiring conversations about the business at large.

According to the Boston Globe, retreats that inspire this broader level of thinking have been taken to the extreme in the tech world. Tech giants like Google and smaller start-ups like Alleyoop – a Boston-based education company – use retreats to discuss creative ideas in a more relaxed atmosphere. Dubbed “innovation days,” employees are encouraged to share new ideas and lofty work ambitions with their coworkers during these times. The move has been so successful that Google encouraged employees to use 20 percent of their time in this way, which has spawned major products like Gmail and Google Reader, according to Ryan Tate, author of “20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business.”

Don’t underestimate the value of a company retreat. With an approach tailored toward larger company goals, the innovative, motivational and inspirational benefits can be well worth the careful planning.

Don’t fall for typical retreat gimmicks
No matter how you go about producing a company retreat, it’s important to avoid the less constructive ideas that can seem tempting.

  1. Don’t turn the retreat into a presentation. CBS News stated that retreats are a time to encourage constructive collaboration. Give your employees time to talk and contribute instead of making them listen to a speaker for too long.
  2. Hire a speaker that talks specifically about your company. The news source also suggested that keynote speakers – while inspirational – can be a waste of company resources compared to a TED Talk if the material doesn’t apply directly. If you intend to hire a speaker, stipulate that they speak with company leaders and cater to your goals specifically.
  3. It’s not all about having fun. Inc. recommended a 20 percent fun, 80 percent work ratio. Employees should look forward to a retreat, but you don’t want to lose focus on the beneficial qualities. Some good music and a relaxing drink can be welcome parts of a retreat, but everything in moderation.