Organizing An Effective Company Retreat Do's and Don'ts
Fall is a good time for an annual retreat. Most of your employees are well-rested after the summer. New entry-level hires often start in August or September, so a retreat provides an opportunity for them to get to know everyone. In addition, for most industries, fall is a relatively slow time of year, which makes it easier to shut down the office. Finally, with Q4 ahead of you, it’s a good time to take a look at the year to date and assess what’s working, what can be improved, and what has to be changed.
If you’re the person responsible for organizing the retreat, you stand to gain in two ways if the retreat goes well. First, your company’s employees will share an experience that in some manner—depending on the objective of the retreat—strengthens the team. Second, retreats are notoriously difficult to get right. Everyone’s heard stories of poorly organized off-site, full-immersion weekends in remote hotels with long days of team building exercises, grueling outdoors activities, and no downtime whatsoever. If, in contrast, your retreat proves to be a positive and valuable experience for everyone involved, then that’s definitely an accomplishment your supervisors won’t forget about.
So how do you organize an effective company retreat? Keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind:
- Do start planning early. You’ll need to find a good venue that can accommodate everyone, plus, you’ll have to decide on the focus of the retreat and plan the activities accordingly. Make sure you’re clear on the budget for the retreat, and choose dates that are convenient in regard to your company’s busy times.
- Don’t forget to ask your employees for input at the planning stage. In order to make the retreat effective, you must determine what requires the most amount of attention. Do the individual departments need to get to know each other better so their collaboration produces better results? Is there a sense of unease among your employees due to a lack of transparency in regard to financials and plans? Or is everything going really well, and you want to capitalize on the retreat by using the time to brainstorm new ideas? Create a questionnaire for your employees and ask them what they feel needs to or can be improved on, and select the retreat’s focus based on their responses.
- Do have a clear objective. Your questionnaire could bring multiple issues to light. However, it’s best to concentrate on one and make sure to give it your full attention.
- Don’t use a standard formula. One of the pitfalls of company retreats is the standard formula that includes getting to know each other, trust exercises, team building exercises, and pre-planned entertainment. However, depending on your objective, you might not need all or even any of those exercises.
- Do choose usefulness over convenience. Determine the retreat’s schedule based on your objectives. Think up activities or exercises that support that goal—even if they’re completely new and unconventional. If you don’t have the knowledge to create exercises yourself, engage a consultant or facilitator who can help develop activities based on your ideas.
- Don’t make it all about work. In his Forbes article “How to Plan a Company Retreat That Combines Work and Fun,” Brandon Bruce highlights the importance of providing unstructured social time so your employees can mingle and get to know each other. Remember: the bonds formed during this time can be just as important to the success of your company as the progress you make in regard to work-related activities.
- Do accommodate your employees’ needs and preferences. There are almost always people in the group who have specific needs, for example people with allergies or diabetes, disabled employees, breastfeeding mothers, and members of some religions. Make sure their needs are taken care of without it being a hassle or embarrassing anybody. The easier and more natural you make it, the better it will be for the success of your retreat.
- Don’t forget to follow up. After the retreat, send out an email to recap the events and mention some of the highlights. It’s also a good idea to include another brief questionnaire to find out how your employees experienced the retreat. That way, you’ll know what to improve next time.
The annual retreat has the potential to be one of the most effective tools in your company’s toolbox. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind, and you can greatly improve your chances of organizing a retreat that’s enjoyable and effective for all involved.