Organizing a Corporate Retreat

The executives of the XYZ Corporation were somewhat ambivalent when their consultant first recommended a retreat. While they recognized the benefits that can come from such an experience, they also were concerned about the retreat being either too expensive or too unproductive.

Their consultant reassured them that with his experience with corporate retreats, he could craft an agenda that would not only be cost effective but very productive.

Successful retreats require careful planning in order to be of benefit to the organization and its leaders. What follows are the recommendations of experienced retreat consultants and facilitators, and are based on a history of successful retreats.

1. Carefully select the site for the retreat. The environment of the retreat is critical to its success. Retreats can be either on site or off site. On site retreats tend to be less expensive and provide convenient access to business resources. Off site retreats can promote more creative and expansive thinking and reduce the distractions of day to day business issues.

2. Define the retreat's objectives. Articulating what you hope to achieve by the retreat forms the foundation for the retreat's agenda and direction. Some of the issue you may wish to address in your planning include:

  • What is the mission of our organization? Should we consider other missions?
  • In what direction are we currently headed? How are current trends, both in our market and in the broader community, affecting our direction?
  • What is the image and perception of our organization, and are we succeeding in creating the right image?
  • What are our corporate objectives? Are we meeting them and can we tell from our measurement systems?
  • Do our current organizational systems support our goals?

Sometimes, retreats are more about team building than about strategic direction. If the goal is to build teamwork, consider these issues:

  • What are our communication patterns and how effective are they?
  • Do our incentive systems encourage teamwork or individualism?
  • How is teamwork at the various levels of the organization? Are we setting a good example at the top?

3. Develop the retreat agenda. Consider carefully based on your objectives how to structure the retreat. Is it best to make this a high-octane event that is all work and no nonsense, or should the retreat include some play? The idea of "Work-Play-Work" is an approach to consider for many retreats to allow some diversion and encourage creativity. Make sure that you circulate the retreat agenda prior to the retreat so that participants arrive eager and not apprehensive.

4. Use a facilitator. This is not just a pitch for consulting services, but an independent facilitator is essential to a successful retreat experience. The facilitator can assist the participants in gathering data, can use his or her skills in enhancing group participation, and can be an objective leader without any vested interest in the outcome.

5. Watch the meals. Be aware of any special dietary needs or preferences of the participants. And be particularly careful to avoid heavy meals at lunch and before retreat working sessions–keep the meals light and your participants will stay awake!

6. Create new ways of looking at old problems. Seeking the same old solutions for the same old problems could be done at the office. A retreat is the chance to see things differently. Consider some group exercises to stimulate creativity and change perspectives. One excellent resource is the popular book, A Whack on the Side of the Head.

7. Keep a good record of the event. Make sure that there is a record keeper present to preserve the outcomes of the event. The retreat facilitator may be able to provide a record keeper, or one of the participants might provide an executive assistant for this purpose. One of the major benefits of the retreat is something beyond process, while process itself can be a significant achievement. The record of decisions made, goals and objectives set, and assignments given can bring closure to the event and create a record that will be useful in the implementation phase.

8. Evaluate the retreat. Make sure to solicit honest and direct feedback on the retreat and its outcomes. Ask the tough questions to ensure that there is adequate participation. Don't be afraid of negative feedback. It may clear the air on some issues, and will certainly be helpful in crafting the next retreat.

9. Keep the process alive. Generally, there is an upswing in organizational morale and in the individual commitment of employees. Provide a continuous feedback loop after the retreat to capitalize on these benefits. Provide periodic reports as the implementation proceeds. If there was a team building approach, consider taking pictures and publishing them for the participants and others in the organization.

Effective planning and careful execution of the plan for a corporate retreat will bring significant benefits to the organization and its leadership. Look forward to your opportunity to get a fresh perspective, to strategize and to build your team–the major functions of a well executed retreat.