By Gretchen Schisla
Corporate retreats are considered by some to be an unnecessary expense or event, but in reality, they offer huge benefits. A well-planned retreat presents a company with precious time to strengthen the business core, while allowing employees the time to reflect and build their best personal selves. Many have found these events to be life-changing.
“Retreats help us to break away from the mechanical life and move into a space that helps to discover and reestablish oneself to grow mentally. It releases one’s limitations, fears and takes us to a world of new possibilities.” This quote from Retreat Network reinforces what I believe — a retreat not only acts as a catalyst to propel a company forward, it also reinvigorates individuals on a personal level.
Last month, our Enrich team headed to Santa Fe for a 4-day retreat. While 2014 had been an exciting, action-packed and productive year for us, I realized that we had spent very little time connecting, reflecting and setting the tone for what’s next in our business. In addition, I wanted to dedicate time to rediscovering what’s important to each of us — in both our personal and our professional, Enrich lives.
If your company is on the smaller side like ours, a retreat can be especially advantageous. Stepping back from the day-to-day business activity refreshes your brain, offers fresh perspectives and opens your mind to new ideas and creativity. It communicates to each person in the firm that they are not only valued, but acknowledges through actions that they’re a key part of what makes the company thrive. Company leaders claim that they support happy, healthy employees, but how often do they 'walk the talk' by creating this type of experience for them?
One month after our Santa Fe retreat, we’ve put much of what we’ve learned into action. The retreat has had such a powerful impact that I’m already setting a budget for our next retreat in 2016!
Here are my recommendations for hosting an awesome business retreat:
- Choose a well-planned destination. The location should be one that everyone can get excited about and view as an escape. Remember, the idea of a retreat is to leave the office behind, so turning off technology is a must.
- Select a facility that’s special. Retreat centers or larger, VRBO homes with enough sleeping accommodations, ample space and common areas can offer the perfect setting.
- Hire a coach or facilitator that knows your team. If you choose to work with someone new, Skype with them beforehand so everyone can introduce themselves and establish a baseline relationship.
- Evaluate what topics you really need to cover most, and create a supporting agenda. Before you leave, share the agenda with the team, so no one’s left in the dark. This will give everyone an opportunity to agree on the topics and offer their input.
- Make time for relaxation. Once at the location, plan to begin with an activity that allows everyone to ease into the situation and let their guard down. Indulge in a massage, take a walk in nature, or participate in yoga or meditation to set the tone of slowing down. Make sure you factor downtime into the schedule throughout the event.
- Stick to the planned agenda and schedule. While new things may come up, don’t wander too far off the schedule — so you can get the maximum value from this time and touch on all the points you wanted your team to cover.
- Share meals, and if time permits, prepare a meal together. This allows time for the team to reconnect and check in with one another. Nothing is more powerful than a shared meal.
- Encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone. Two of our designers were handed a mystery box of ingredients and given a one hour timeframe to create lunch for the team. They enjoyed the challenge, and while they cooked, the rest of the group maximized time by meeting on an alternate topic.
- Learn new tools and practice them, both during the retreat and afterward. With the help of our facilitator, we focused on leadership, enneagram personality styles, crucial conversations and blind spots, all of which have helped us to become more aware and effective in our jobs.
- Commit to putting things learned into action, once you’re back in the office. As with conferences, we get inspired, but once back, we lose the fire and commitment to create change. Make an agreement among the group that this won’t happen when everyone returns to the daily grind. Create the space to follow up and revisit what you’ve learned.
Here are some takeaways from the Enrich retreat:
Gretchen: In setting up the retreat, I had a combination of business agenda items and internal areas to focus on – to help strengthen our company core. The result included a tight focus on who we are as a firm, where we want to go, and how we can serve clients better in 2015. We’re a tight group that really supports each individual's contribution. The retreat gave us a chance to celebrate this, it gives me great satisfaction to demonstrate to each person how important they are.
Suzanne: One of the most impactful parts of our retreat was the study of our enneagram personality styles. Prior to the event, we had been asked to complete a short questionnaire, which was then analyzed by our facilitator. Understanding how I operate internally and how I interact with those around me, especially my co-workers and prospects, is an invaluable tool. It will allow me to become a more effective communicator within my team.
Kory: When you work for a small company, you really do become a family. The retreat not only strengthened this bond, but helped us improve it. The fact that we had dedicated time to reconnect, recharge and focus only on ourselves, was such a powerful thing. Learning about each of our personalities was also key. Such insight not only helps your relationship with your team, it also helps you become a better communicator with your clients.
Bruce: There were many powerful things that I took away from the retreat, including the items that the others already mentioned. The retreat allowed us time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the coming months. We wrapped up the event with a creative activity that gave each of us the opportunity to intuitively collage, while thinking about a theme to guide us through the upcoming year. The collage sits on my desk and is a constant reminder of what I took away from the retreat and what I want to my year to look like.
Images from our retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico