Particularly at the height of the GFC, there was a significant backlash against lavish retreats.
According to The Huffington Post, “In 2008, after receiving bailout money, AIG executives spent over $400,000 on a corporate retreat. Understandably, the public was outraged when this information leaked”.
However corporate retreats are back in vogue, and rightly so, as they can provide crucial, authentic time out for leadership and key teams to reconnect, assess productivity and build shared purpose at even the most challenging times; they are a vital part of the strategic year for companies that value their team as much as their bottom line.
The trick is to ensure you plan your retreat like you would your business – identify what your purpose is, who should be there, and what your budget is.
With the right team running this with you, an annual break for body and mind could be the perfect combination for your team to be healthy, wealthy and wise.
Creativity requires space to think and environments that can inspire. Providing a digital detox and a fresh perspective for your team can switch the brain off autopilot and into fifth gear, with energy and vision.
Like the saying goes – keep doing the same thing and you’ll get the same results.
Instead of repainting the office walls and moving some plants around, plan creative breaks that truly allow time to reflect, think, indulge in ideas and provide feedback.
If you want to see changes in the level of creative thinking and initiative, as well as a fresh approach to corporate challenges, then the best thing to do is create a real opportunity for people to switch off and have time to think, talk, create and engage.
Choose your locations based around this thinking. Get back to the beach or other natural spots; think about the use of space and where you will stay. The creativity starts the moment you arrive.
Back to basics
Close the laptops and bring out the A3 paper.
The cognitive connection between thinking and writing is incredible – it allows a flow and a dynamism that cannot often be captured by tapping away at a keypad.
Bring your team back to basics by making idea-generation and problem-solving larger than life on big sheets of paper that hold opportunities, as well as a page for concerns and challenges.
Bring it out into the open and tackle each area with transparency and shared purpose.
Let it flow
Allow the conversation to continue over dinner or lunch and be open to the idea an agenda can flow when people are given the opportunity to open up and share ideas without a stopwatch.
Take notes at lunch or dinner and add them to the ones from the more official creative brainstorming sessions. Carry this through and identify how you will share this information when back in the office.
A retreat is there to help recharge mental and physical batteries, not to deplete them any further.
Integrate a yoga or fresh-air session in the morning, with a mid-afternoon session outdoors or doing something that gets people moving. Have evening drinks before choosing healthy, inspiring dinners, and make sure the venue understands delicious, fresh, good-quality ingredients. Encourage ‘homework’ or calibration time in the evenings and embrace the value of sleep.
View the retreat as time to share the value of bringing personal and business vitality to life and exploring how this can be integrated seamlessly back at the office.
Bring in speakers and facilitators that understand the importance of both personal and business acumen – it can make the world of difference, teaching your leadership team how to take all areas to the next level.
Time out in strategy sessions, combined with fresh air, fresh food and a fresh perspective, can create an incredible shift in old-style work hard, play hard thinking.
Bring balance into the day and watch it find its way back to the office as well.
Create tangible milestones during the retreat that you all agree to strive towards in the office for KPIs. Look at commercial and personal goals at each review.
Most of all, if you’re going to take away your learnings and apply agreed accountability measures, make them official. Follow up. Show that ideas generated and agreed to on a retreat can be swiftly implemented back at work.
I always say there are three pillars of true leadership:
- leading from within
- leading by example
- leading others
Corporate retreats are an ideal opportunity for executive teams to test elements and roll them out for a period of time before sharing with the broader teams. It may be a four-week implementation period post-retreat, which requires a regroup before rolling out.
By leading by example and practising what you preach, the element of authenticity and trust is improved, creating a real engagement with leaders across divisions as well.
Often retreats are an opportunity to see other skills, characteristics and ideas from those around you – a forum where problem-solving and collaboration can show leadership in a different light.
Most importantly, leadership teams and executive-level management have an opportunity to explore the core commercial elements on the agenda, as well as their own personal wellbeing and goals, in a safe and constructive environment.
Increasing personal connections can greatly improve collaboration and work ethic inside a company – it’s essential for our increasingly virtual world.
All of this greatly improves productivity and accountability.
Whatever you do, keep it relevant and efficient, and forget about the fad gadgets and gimmicks or branded flashlights and backpacks.
The best place to spend your budget is on the right location and the people hosting the retreat for you.
You don’t want your leadership team coming back into the office on Monday exhausted from late nights of too many drinks and not too sure of what the next steps are. This is about lifting your corporate sessions up a notch and getting engagement from the get-go.
It’s the conversation, the quality connections, well-organised time and content that allow a perfect blend of relaxation, connection and strategic thinking.
Corporate retreats, if executed well, efficiently and with purpose, are a powerful tool to re-ignite shared purpose, engagement and a passion for performance in business and in life.
Run your break-away sessions like you do your business. Have a purpose, define who needs to be there and what value you want in return.
Building a culture that is healthy, wealthy and wise is the winning trifecta, and corporate retreats are an ideal place to benchmark those three elements together.
Nikki Fogden-Moore is a coach, a speaker, organises retreats, and is also the author of Vitality.