Plan an Employee Retreat
An employee retreat can be a great break from the day-to-day of your workplace, giving you an opportunity to explore new strategies and build each other up as a team. To make it as effective as possible, you need to plan your retreat well in advance. Start by planning the logistics, then move on to the schedule.
Planning the Logistics
- Identify a goal. Before you decide how you want to run your retreat, you need to have a goal in mind. Maybe you want a retreat that will build unity among your staff. Alternatively, maybe you want a retreat where you brainstorm new ideas for your company. Another option is a retreat meant to train your employees in new skills. Whatever you choose, that will determine how you plan your retreat.
- Other purposes could include bringing people at long distances together or encouraging all employees to have a stake in planning what's ahead for the company.
- You may find that you need different kinds of retreats at different times. For example, you may need team-building retreats when you're first starting a company or when you have a large turnover, while later on, you may need a retreat that focuses on dealing with the changes in your company.
- Prepare your budget. Before you can really plan your retreat, you need to decide exactly how much you'll be able to spend on it. That includes room and board and travel expenses. You also have to think about how long you want the office to be shutdown (if at all), as well as how much time employees will devote to preparation for the retreat. Consider all these factors when drawing up your budget.
- Make sure other people have a say in the retreat. If you want people to get something from your retreat, they need to be invested. Take suggestions from employees about what kind of retreat would work best and what needs to be talked about at the retreat. If they have a say in what goes on, they'll be more likely to participate.
- Try sending out an email asking for suggestions. You can also have an anonymous suggestion box about the retreat.
- Another option is to send a question out to all employees. Have the answers sent to the facilitator. For instance, you could ask, "What will make this retreat a success?"
- Pick a location away from the office. It may be tempting to just have a retreat in your office to help save money. However, that usually isn't enough of a break from the day-to-day to really be effective. Pulling people out of their routine can help generate new ideas and new relationships.
- Even if your company doesn't have a large amount of money to spend on a retreat, you can still help move your employees out of the office. For example, you could rent a room at a local library or even have it at nearby park pavilion if the weather is nice. Another option is to ask clients to use spaces they have available.
- If you have more money, the sky is the limit. You can isolate yourself away in some woodsy location or go for something more exciting, such as Las Vegas.
- Make sure your location has everything you need. When looking at a location, make sure to check into the details. It needs to have a place where you can all work together. It needs to have fast internet if you're planning to work on your computers, along with places to plug in. You'll also need access to good food, even if it's just to order in. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have a nice background, so it really does feel like a retreat, rather than just more work.
- Decide if you want a facilitator. You may think you can run the retreat yourself, and you may be right. However, outside help can be useful. Facilitators can come from within your company, if your company is big, such as from the HR department or another department that has little interaction with your own. Alternatively, they can be from an outside consulting firm.
- The facilitator should be an expert in group dynamics, not in your field. The facilitator will help guide discussions, facilitate decisions, and encourage teamwork. A facilitator can also help you plan the retreat and decide on a goal and schedule for the retreat. In addition, the facilitator acts as an official recorder of the event, so you know what was said.
- Having a facilitator allows you to actually participate in the retreat, rather than just run it. It can also help if you have office in-fighting, and you're using the retreat to solve those issues. A facilitator may be better equipped to handle a large group, particularly if your retreat will have more than 20 people.
- In addition, a facilitator can help generate new ideas in ways you may not be able to. That is, you work with your employees on a regular basis, so they will respond in predictable ways to you. Having someone new can help create a different atmosphere with your employees, opening them up to more participation.
- Decide how you will do food. On a retreat, you can have food catered by the hotel or an outside caterer. You can let people get food on their own with a daily stipend, or you can even encourage team building by having nightly cookouts. Whatever way, you need to plan ahead of time.
- Make sure to meet the dietary needs of your employees. Have both healthy options and not-so-healthy options available, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options available, if that's appropriate.
- If you're serving alcohol and have hired bartenders, make sure you have enough staff on hand to serve drinks. Also, make sure everyone has a safe way home if there's driving involved.
- Give your employees information ahead of time. One way to help facilitate better discussion at a retreat is to provide them with informational videos or presentations ahead of time. That way, they can read up on the information on the plane or at work and be ready to get down to discussion at the retreat.
Setting a Schedule
- Decide on the length of the retreat. How long your retreat is will be based on several factors. One, of course, will be how much money you have to fund a retreat. However, how many workdays you want to give up will also limit how long you want the retreat to be. A retreat can be as short a single day or as long as a week, depending on what you want to accomplish at the retreat.
- For example, a team-building retreat can be accomplished in one day, but more involved retreats, such as those looking to change the direction of the company, will need more time.
- Decide exactly what issues you will deal with. You've decided on a main goal, now break that down into smaller problems. Keep in mind that you don't want to overschedule. Let your employees have the time they need to work on each problem instead of shortchanging each task, leaving you with half-finished solutions.
- Make a day-to-day schedule. You should have the day scheduled out so your employees know what to expect. Try not to start it too early, as it is a retreat. Have time scheduled for discussion sessions and presenters, as well as time scheduled for meals and breaks.
- Be realistic about mealtimes. If you're providing all the food, an hour at lunch may be reasonable. If you're not and you're in a new city, you may want to allow more time for your employees to find lunch and get back.
- Remember to schedule down time. Not everyone has the mental energy to be "on" with co-workers all day, everyday, even into the night. Some people need alone time to recharge.
- Pick presenters. If you want certain topics covered, you need to know ahead of time who will make those presentations. You can have outside consultants come into make presentations or to teach new skills, but you can also have employees present information on their departments or current projects. Schedule those presenters into the program, keeping in mind what's most important to have upfront.
- Make the employees well-informed. When you're planning your retreat, your employees need to be informed of all of the travel details well in advance. A month is the minimum, but longer is ideal. You also need to decide how employees will get where you're going, and how they will be reimbursed. For instance, if you're flying, you can allow employees to schedule their own flights, and provide them with a company credit card or reimbursement after the fact.
- Send the details in multiple formats, including email and a physical packet. Also have information posted around the office.
Following Some Basic Guidelines
- Break away from the day-to-day. A working retreat is an opportunity to move away from all the banalities of day-to-day life at work. It's an opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture. Don't waste the time focusing on the small details. Pull back and focus on moving your company forward.
- One way to focus on the larger picture is to talk about the 3 Ws. That is, focus on who you are as an organization, what you do as an organization, and why you do it.
- Decide how decisions will be made. If the goal of your retreat is to make important decisions about the company, how those decisions are made should be decided up front. The participants should know, for instance, if decisions will be made by a majority vote.
- Also, participants should know whether they are making recommendations to leadership or they are making decisions leadership will abide by. It can undercut the work you do at the retreat if participants think leadership will abide by their decisions, and then leadership chooses to implement only certain parts.
- Let everyone have a say. The discussion should be open to everyone who is at the retreat, not just leaders. If you only want certain people to have a say, that's who you should bring on the retreat. Don't bring people along just to mute their opinions.
- One way you can make it more open to everyone is to hand out similar paper and markers. Then people can write down ideas on paper to help generate discussion.
- You can also have the facilitator encourage people to talk who haven't yet said much at the retreat.
- Realize you can have more than one goal. That is, you may want to focus on generating new ideas for the company, but even so, you can spend time building up your team. Throw in some team-building exercises on the side to help encourage people to work together and get to know one another.
- Team building can be a part of the work. That is, when working on a problem, encourage people to work together to solve it.
- Don't focus on work only. Whatever the goal of your retreat is, it's also a time for people to get to know each other. Make sure you build in time away from the computers, when people can eat together or catch a show together. If you're off in the woods, make mealtimes a chance for everyone to get together and cook.
- Stay on topic. At retreats, just like at any meeting, it can be tempting to go off on tangents. However, it's important to stay on topic as much as possible. One way to help the group stay on topic is to save other ideas for later. If someone starts going off on a tangent, write it down, and come back to these saved ideas later in the day.
- Don't be afraid to get into smaller groups. Smaller groups can sometimes attack problems more effectively. If you're working on a large problem or project, break into more manageable chunks, and let individual teams work on each part. That way, more people have a say in the end result.
- Make an actionable plan. If the goal of your retreat is to implement new strategies or to solve a problem, you can't just come up with ideas. You need actionable steps for how it will get implemented when you get back to your office. Assign tasks to individuals or teams, and let them come up with a plan for how it will work at the office. You should also create deadlines, in conjunction with the person or team, for those plans.
- Expect a debriefing from the facilitator. Part of the facilitator's job will be to summarize and evaluate what went on at the retreat. Within a week, you should receive this evaluation, and you should be able to pass on any appropriate analysis to your employees. The report should focus on what went well but also what can be improved in the future.
- Be sure that you use your time wisely, and keep to the stated goals. Make sure that everyone on your team has a say in what matters and that everyone is collaborating with each other.