How to Plan a Company Retreat

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All work and no play would make a retreat dull drudgery, but these off-site sessions can prove to be frivolous (and costly) time-wasters. The trick lies in balancing productive meetings and social merriment. Business goals should be as important as golf scores, and problemsolving sessions as well attended as cocktail parties by the pool.

Start planning early in order to reserve a great site. Many locations are booked a year in advance. Always send someone to check the site in person; brochures and Web sites can be highly misleading.

Determine the strategic goals for the retreat (see 16 Set Goals). Whether your goals are team building and morale boosting, creating a long-range plan or plotting the launch of a new product, be specific.

Decide whether the entire staff or selected departments should attend and whether attendance will be mandatory. Make transportation as convenient as possible. Arranging carpools is good. Renting shuttles is better.

Develop research materials for the working sessions, including background reading and statistical documents. Distribute this information well ahead of the retreat so attendees arrive prepared for meaningful discussions.

Appoint an administrative liaison to handle the logistical issues that inevitably arise once everyone arrives at the retreat site. Make sure key personnel have the liaison's cellular phone number. Don't rely on harried hotel clerks.

Consider hiring an outside facilitator to act as moderator at key meetings. An unbiased outsider can keep discussions focused as well as lead post-retreat sessions to assess how well the group has implemented ideas and goals.

Involve as many attendees as possible in significant roles. Assign them to present specific material at meetings or to lead breakout sessions.

Schedule the heaviest work sessions in the mornings. At least part of each afternoon should be free for rest and relaxation.

Schedule a specific time at the final work session to document key conclusions reached during the retreat. Don't let this vital step slip away in the flurry of departure preparations.

Draw up a detailed evaluation form for attendees' feedback after the retreat. This will make planning next year's retreat considerably easier.

Tips & Warnings

  • Establish a firm rule: Mobile phones must be turned off during working sessions.
  • Schedule one night's dinner at a restaurant other than one connected with the retreat site. Venue variety is the spice of retreat life.
  • See 374 Sharpen the Focus of an Organization.
  • Retreats have as much meaning to those who don't attend as to those who do. Find a way to also show appreciation for the employees who are holding down the fort.
  • Recognize that for some employees, certain vigorous activities--such as wall climbing, rope courses or river rafting--are more of an exercise in terror than a lesson in team building. Make the let's-scareourselves- silly sessions voluntary.
  • Be aware of the effects that a cushy "morale-building" retreat for one team has on all the others who don't attend.

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