Corporate or off-site retreats provide the opportunity to team up, plan, reflect, and strategize. They can elicit the response “Oh no! This is not another waste of time!” to “Wow! I’m really looking forward to it.” This article presents six design principles to help your next corporate retreat hit the mark.
1. Be strategic in what you want to achieve:
One of the common mistakes of corporate retreats is setting too many or too few goals. Be strategic in what you want to achieve.
Ask yourself: What do you want to accomplish during the retreat? As a result of the withdrawal? What do you want the staff to take? What are your highest priorities? What base do you want to create for the staff team?
Be as specific as possible, making your goals measurable. As the old adage goes, “What is not measured, does not get done.”
2. Involve employees in designing a retreat:
Retreats often fail because employees are not involved in designing the retreat. What would employees like to see covered? Find a balance between corporate goals and what employees really want to see covered. Is it an 80/20 mix? A 50/50 mix?
The retreat facilitator can survey employees to assess what they would like to have included and to find out their expectations of the retreat process and outcomes. This can be done in staff meetings, if the teams are small enough through individual discussions, or via email or a web-based survey tool.
3. Less is more – be sure to schedule enough time:
A common misconception with withdrawal design is that everything tends to get thrown away. In your design work, make sure all stakeholders are clear about what really needs to be covered versus what they would like to see covered. It can be helpful to categorize possible topics into What’s essential, What would be nice, and What to expect for another time or forum.
Less is really more in terms of impact. Allow enough time during the retreat for participants to discuss relevant issues and reflect. It is also important to allow time for participants to create an action plan, linking the retreat discussions to the workplace. If not all of your topics can fit into the retreat you have scheduled, consider adding an additional day to the retreat or scheduling another off-site later in the year.
Four. Choose a facilitator wisely
Who will facilitate your withdrawal? An outside facilitator brings the benefits of neutrality and complete focus and dedication throughout the retreat process. When considering the external facilitator option, choose a facilitator who is committed to partnering with your organization for the long term, at least for various retirement processes. This will foster greater trust with your team, allowing subsequent retreats to start from a higher level. The external facilitator will also develop a better sense of your corporate priorities, culture, and vision over time. When using a new external facilitator, be sure to allow enough time for the briefing, including discussions about expectations, results, and your past experience with the retreats, what worked and what didn’t.
Since corporate priorities can change over time, make sure you allow plenty of planning time and that the facilitator can tailor the program to meet rapidly changing needs. To ensure success with an external facilitator, create an internal retreat planning team that can serve as a liaison throughout the process, ensuring a perfect fit.
Internal retreat leaders also play an important role within the retreat process, bringing “insider” insights into what the organization, culture, and priorities are all about. If an internal retreat leader is used, make sure they are given enough authority and scope to take on their role. You may also consider pairing an internal facilitator with an external facilitator.
5. Make it regular!
To gain the same “traction” you have in withdrawals, make regular withdrawals and not just once a year. Schedule half or full days away from the office several times a year for departments and, if possible, for the entire organization. Virtual withdrawals can also be used to provide mini-withdrawal processes throughout the year, without the additional expense of time and money on an external site.
6. Follow up:
Create the learning link back to the office: Many times the learning is left at the retreat site and sadly, it does not transfer to the office. Throughout the retirement process, ask yourself: What can we do to bring this learning to the office? What systems do we already have that can be leveraged to discuss our retirement learning? What systems should we create?
To strengthen the learning bond back to the office, schedule time during the retreat to create action plans, at the individual, team, departmental, and / or corporate level. Action plans should identify the timelines, the resources needed, and who is responsible. Action plans should be as specific as possible. Action plans need to be tracked, either as part of regular team meetings, through one-on-one with managers, or through other internal systems.
To keep the learning alive, consider conducting group or team coaching sessions after the retreat with smaller teams or individual employees. Monthly or bi-monthly sessions can support the transfer of learning to the workplace.
With these six design principles in mind, your next retreat should be meaningful, engaging and sustainable, leaving your employees wondering “When are we going to do this again?”
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