Just might be a corporate retreat that motivates and inspires.
By: Sarah Brueggeman
In ever-tightening economic times, CEOs must ask: Are corporate retreats worth the expense? Mary Pat Kaufmann, Vice President of Brownell Motivation travel agency in Birmingham, says, “Even as budgets are cut and expenditures decrease, many companies continue holding corporate retreats. “With a well-planned program, employees feel as though they’ve been treated to a luxurious, yet purposeful, vacation. A dull one might as well be another day at the office.
Off-site meetings are often designed to address specific issues. A management retreat agenda teaches effective delegation and decision ma king. Managers not only need technical skills that relate specifically to their industry, but they need training in interpersonal skills. Many man agers rise through the ranks because they excel at completing tasks. Often little consideration is given to how they will lead a team.
Other problems to tackle during a retreat include employee cynicism, absenteeism and missed deadlines. Whether caused by downsizing or personality conflicts, low morale usually revolves around a lack of trust. Rebuilding that t rust only becomes possible by opening the way for honest communication. The structure of businesses, separate locations, and varying work hours can result in territorialism between departments. If your company experiences poor internal coordination and collaboration, or even organizational sabotage, there are activities that can bring individuals’ different agendas in line with a common goal.
Successful team-building events should engage participants, spark creativity, and foster camaraderie. One common activity is a ropes course. Teams explore risk-taking and trust by using helmets, harnesses, cables, ropes and wood beams strung high among trees. ‘They also may use lower ropes close to the ground to walk tightropes, negotiate obstacles, and climb walls. One of the participants in a Southern Co. retreat arranged by Adventure Associates gave this testimonial on the Adventure Website: “They did a good job of making the activities fun and enjoy able, while at the same time keeping them applicable to the workplace.”
Other pursuits that inspire brainstorming, decision-making and conflict resolution are boat or bridge building, team sailing, and indoor rock climbing. In Geo-Trekking, groups receive maps or charts, and then use GPS units to search for the location of a secret cache. Orienteering is similar in that teams read topographic maps and compasses to navigate a course and find hidden markers. All of these activities enable employees to shift from working independently to working interdependently.
With limited time and logistical challenges, it is important to accomplish as much as possible. A double-duty activity, such as a gentle hike, allows participants to enjoy the lush landscape while discussing strategic initiatives.
“If you have a young executive team that wants to meet early and then take down time, “Kaufmann says, “you will look for a different location than if you have a group that is totally focused on preparing for a significant change within their organization.”
Alabama businesses mostly travel outside the state for retreats. However, waterfront Point Clear, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are all enticing getaways. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail also is an excellent option for one-day or weekend gatherings.
Wherever you choose to go, an off-site meeting allows your company to focus on the real work of strategic planning, priority setting, troubleshooting problems, and role clarification. The bonus is that you might just bond with your colleagues.
How To Plan The Perfect Retreat
- Clearly focus on what you want to accomplish. Unless there is a compelling reason to hold a corporate retreat, save your time and money.
- Too many retreats avoid conflict and controversy, maintaining the company line. If tough subjects do come up, build a genuine consensus through constructive conflict.
- Offer a spectrum of recreational activities that will appeal to a wide variety of interests, ages and physical fitness levels. Hardcore mountain hiking isn’t appropriate for everyone, nor is wine tasting, golf or shopping.
- In most cases, participants prefer to receive some advance notice as to the types of activities they will participate in. You can provide minimal information for surprises or a schedule that describes the workshop.
- Virtual, or far-flung, groups of employees have a unique set of challenges to overcome during a retreat. Rapport and camaraderie are difficult to generate over the phone or through e-mail. In this case, it’s even more important to encourage team building.
- If the start of activities coincides with the end of a meal or business session, you have a greater chance of beginning on time and not losing employees to lengthy breaks.
- It’s best to plan programs two to three months in advance, though some services can accommodate you with just two weeks’ notice.
- Feeding a large group at an upscale restaurant may cost $50 to $100 per head, conservatively. Consider a cookout or a modestly catered luncheon for some meals.
- Many retreats are held solely for the CEO and top managers, people who already work closely together and share the same information. If you add some middle managers, board members and salespeople, the group will more likely think outside the box.
- Plan the agenda, but not the result. Your sessions might lead the company in a completely new direction.
Don’t cut corners when it comes to choosing team building exercises or a training provider. These expenses often result in the greatest return on your investment. By booking a novice speaker or trainer, you may end up boring your team to tears.
PICK A PLACE: Here are some guidelines to help in the venue selection process.
Research Online: It’s easy to find an array of properties via the Internet. Video tours, photographs and client testimonials aid in the information gathering process. Sharing links allows coworkers to give feedback on the preferred type of property, whether it’s a mountain resort or a beach cottage.
Size to Fit: If you only have 15 or 20 people attending the retreat, a small boutique hotel may provide the best-personalized care and amenities. On the other hand, if you’re planning a 300-person-conference, a large, well established property will offer more appropriate meeting spaces and services.
Clarify Goals: The more information you give the hotel on the front end, the better. Tell the meeting or sales manager what kind of activities in which you’ll be engaging, the setting and atmosphere you’re seeking, and what you hope to achieve while there.
Set a Budget: Venues will be better able to develop proposals and make recommendations if they know how much you have to spend. For example, if a hotel knows your budget is limited, they may suggest buffet-style meals instead of restaurant-style, or propose double-occupancy instead of single.
Pole Guests: References are typically best-case scenarios but it’s still important to speak to recent guests. Even if the group was happy overall, they can alert you to some smaller problems that they may have encountered.
Tour the Facility: If you plan to spend more than $25,000 on a retreat, it may be worth sending an employee to check out the property in person. Website photos and descriptions can be deceptive. Airfare and one night’s stay usually constitutes 5 to 10 percent of the total investment.