Doing a company retreat is similar to doing an employee review: If you actually care about the results, you’ll have a great one.
But if you’re going to take valuable feedback and fail to act on it, you’ll spend lots of money and yield few results.
To ensure that you don’t have a boring or useless company offsite, you have to really believe that they are useful. Otherwise, you’re going to walk in, do some trust falls and ice breakers, and walk out not having any more plans than when you went in.
So how do you ensure your offsite event isn’t a waste of time?
Fundamentally, each business is going to have its own way of handling things when it comes to these team building events. Plan an event that is true to your company's culture. A 50+ person small business will have a different offsite than a three-person new startup.
Here are a few steps to ensure your retreat is a success.
I've spent entire company offsites doing team building exercises. Let me clue you in on a little secret … I’m not going to trust any of my colleagues more or less if they catch me.
Your coworkers are proactive, capable leaders (or have potential to be). Why else would you hire them? Focus on getting their ideas. As CEO, you have the strategy in mind, but your employees—your front line army—can provide the tactics necessary to achieve those goals. They’ll have ideas that you didn’t even think of.
Powerpoint can be the death of a retreat. We’ve all been there: someone puts up a long powerpoint and then believes that we will stay interested.
People don’t like to be talked to; instead, they prefer to be part of the conversation. And, if they are part of the conversation, they are more actively engaged.
You may not be able to avoid some presentations on the state of the company. But for the most part, focus on brainstorms, on idea generation, and on getting feedback.
The hard part for an event is to plan it. That’s why so many company event planners first find the venue and then plan the event around it. That’s the wrong way to do it. If your goal is to engage over a new strategy, you need to figure out how to do that first and then find a venue that will support you.
Some ideas for offsite venues are:
Camping: It doesn’t have to be in tents. There are many corporate camping grounds that have cabins.
A Tropical Location: My company is in New York City. In February, it’s freezing. So we go to Florida or Puerto Rico.
Conference Center: Perhaps you don’t want to go too far. Find a conference center in your area and work there. Why not just stay in the office? You want to disconnect the people from their day-to-day so they can focus on bigger picture.
Before you do pick a venue, make sure you go and look at it. If it’s not going to work for your business, don’t book it. So many people will book a place because it’s nice without first assessing whether the goals of the event can be met there.
Invite a well-rounded group of people to your offsites. If your company size allows it, invite everyone.
You don’t want there to be too many of one kind of person; instead, you want the entire company to be represented.
More importantly, you want the people that are there to actually want to make a difference in the company. An easy way to determine this is to keep the event small and require people apply to attend.
In that application, first you tell the person what the goals are and then require that they tell you why they want to be part of this innovative event and, more importantly, what they’ll do with the information.
Select a group of people from the total applicant pool and you’ll have a group of passionate, fired-up individuals that want to both learn and then execute on the company’s strategy.
The end of the event, like any good meeting, should include a list of what has to happen next. These are the “next steps” required to actually execute on the ideas that were thought up at the event.
What you, as the CEO should be looking to achieve, is an understanding on where each of the executable ideas is in its life. For example, if the meeting was to come up with five new ways to market the business, you should reach out to each of the five groups and see how that is going.
If you don’t follow up and use the information that you gained while at the event, it will die at the event. All you’ll have gained is a bunch of people realizing you don’t take these meetings seriously and a big credit card bill.
The reality is simple: company retreats can work wonderfully if you actually try. Don’t treat it as an event for your senior executives to talk to your employees. Instead, treat it as an event to get the brightest minds in your company to help you come up with ways to execute on your strategy.
If you do that, you’ll find the meeting is a success. If you focus all your energy on powerpoint and “Catch the Falling Coworker,” you’ll find very little benefit.
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