Spring is the perfect time to hold a work retreat, isn’t it? There’s something about budding branches and longer days that inspires us to dust off the strategic plan, giggle awkwardly through some icebreakers and enjoy a day away with the team.
When leaders reach out to me for help with retreats, they’ve typically amassed a long list of items to tackle: Revisit the organization’s identity; update roles and responsibilities; clarify priorities for the year ahead. Oh, and maybe we can work on how to communicate more effectively and finally bring those newer team members into the fold. Sometimes only half-jokingly a client will say, “We can do all of that in six hours, right?”
Let’s face it, you and your team are working suuuuper hard every single day, so it’s nothing short of a miracle when you actually find the time and the money to step away from the office, clinic or board room to do some truly deep work. And because it’s so difficult just to schedule the darn thing, you want to accomplish all you can. I totally get it.
However, we know that it’s not possible to address all of your priorities in one measly day. But don’t fret, here are five strategies and questions to ponder as you plan your next team retreat.
1. Plan around your goals, not around your time—Often we identify a time frame for a retreat (or a meeting) and then shove our agenda into it. Instead, use the opposite approach: Identify your goals first and then determine how much time you’ll need to address them. You may end up discovering that four half-day retreats throughout the year is more effective than 1-2 full days all at once.
Ask yourself: What do you hope will be different at the end of the retreat? What one priority or challenge that if addressed, will make life better in your organization?
2. Make it easy to fully engage—Are you planning to hold the retreat in that nice big conference room at the office?Think again. While it might be free of charge, there are other costs involved in retreating at work—you will lose people’s attention, they will be dressed in work clothes (ugh) and the vibe isn’t very retreaty. The definition of retreat is to literally step back, therefore, prioritize getting away physically and mentally. I just facilitated a retreat that opened with the boss throwing his phone into a box and an invitation for everyone to follow suit.
Ask yourself: What energy or feeling will help the team accomplish retreat goals? What logistical considerations need to be addressed prior and during the retreat to ensure team members can be fully present?
3. Enlist an expert—It’s easy to think that retreats come together once you’ve addressed all of the pesky details related to location, food and AV. However, designing and executing a retreat that is both relevant and meaningful (one where people leave feeling energized, not exhausted) is easier said than done. If you want to participate actively in the retreat, then hire a skilled facilitator who can customize an experience that aligns with your priorities. If you want to lead the discussion, brush up on design thinking and liberating structures to leverage trusted team processes.
Ask yourself: How can you be of the greatest value to the team during the retreat (playing the role of leader, participant or facilitator)? What components of the experience are better managed by an outside expert?
4. Ensure the retreat is part of a larger conversation—The number one challenge my clients face after having team retreats is letting the results either dwindle or become adjacent to the Real Work. Like performance reviews, retreats are an opportunity to dive deep into priorities that are addressed all year long, not just during this one day. Therefore, when you leave the retreat, follow up promptly by thanking the team, outlining action items and highlighting accomplishments. Then immediately integrate retreat outcomes, topics and actions into meeting agendas and other team communication to illustrate that retreat priorities are team priorities.
Ask yourself: How can you integrate retreat topics and outcomes into ongoing processes, goals and work? What work is no longer a priority, based on the results of the retreat?
5. Start planning your next retreat now—Whether you have retreats annually or a few times a year, it’s wise to reflect on what retreat structure works best for your priorities, goals and team. Was the location perfect? Put a deposit down now to reserve it. Was the time of year too close to the holidays? Identify a different time frame. Did you try to cram too much content into the day? Address more items outside of the retreat to keep it reserved for work that really requires close examination, space and creativity.
Ask yourself: What criteria can you develop to determine whether an item is addressed at a retreat, elsewhere or nowhere? What worked well and didn’t work well at the last retreat?
Retreats are ginormous investments of time, money and brain power. By tending to that investment thoughtfully and throughout the year, you can move past the curse of ‘one and done’ and keep that momentum long after the trust fall ends.