Many companies use retreats as a way to build morale, encourage teamwork and set goals. With the fiscal year ending for many businesses in the next couple of months, the timing is excellent for planning a retreat. The process can be as much of a challenge as the work done on a regular basis.
Below are some suggestions on how to make a retreat a fun and productive way to build working relationships and establish company goals.
Avoid stale, outdated activities. Nearly everyone has participated in the "trust fall" exercise by now. Planners should try to come up with fresh ideas for participants. Brainstorming with a few coworkers is always a good idea when planning any company event. Avoid the typical "planning committee" title, keep the official planners to a maximum of two or three people and keep any discussion as an informal as possible.
Have a flexible agenda. Planning ahead is a key to a successful retreat, but there should be room for flexibility. People in charge need to make sure that the schedule is not so rigid that unexpected events don't throw things off too much. One suggestion is to plan for only seven hours instead of eight. This will allow time for any activities that run overtime. Likewise that hour isn't used, knocking an hour off at the end of the typical work day will contribute positively to the participants' morale and make the retreat even more worthwhile.
Get the participants involved. Planning some activities that require physical movement will ensure that people are engaged. Another idea is to offer realistic, but not cheesy, prizes for participation. There is no reason to break the budget on extravagant rewards for winning any competitions. Keep it simple; a free lunch can go a long way. If a bigger prize is in the offing, give the best participant some extra time off (half or full day of vacation).
Throw out the dress code. While tank tops, flip-flops and unwashed hair are not good, allowing a Casual Friday-type dress code during an all-day Wednesday retreat will let staffers know that management is serious about having a fun day. No one wants to run a three-legged race while wearing a business suit.
Keep in mind that people are still at work. All fun would be great, but the business has to come first. This is a great time to teach new skills, develop some company goals for the upcoming fiscal year and to share accomplishments of each department over the past twelve months. Again, interaction is a key.
When it comes to meetings during the retreat, avoid lectures. Interactive training is a key to adult education. Encourage participation whenever possible. Avoid discussing new HR policies. This event is meant to be fun; avoid discussing things that are too serious or boring.
Encourage outside interaction. During group activities or during lunch, plan for people from various departments to be in groups together. This will foster communication and sharing of ideas. It is very possible that the bookish guy from IT may learn something valuable from the marketing supervisor.
Company leaders need to let their hair down. While the CEO needs to maintain a business-like approach, this is also a good time to allow subordinates to see him or her in a more relaxed and fun atmosphere.
If alcohol is served, do so responsibly. No one wants to remember the retreat because it was the time Bob got drunk and ran naked through the hotel lobby. Inform staffers ahead of time what is expected and if possible, hand the bartender some extra cash to water down the booze midway through the evening.