From groan to great: make your next retreat the best yet

employee retreat root canalBe honest: have you ever heard an employee (sincerely) say “OH cool—I’m so excited!” when you announced a staff retreat? For many, the thought of a day away from the office stuffed into a conference room to plan sounds like as much fun as a root canal.


The lack of enthusiasm may come from a number of traumatic past experiences:

  • new ideas were shot down or ridiculed
  • the retreat was poorly planned so the day felt rushed or unimportant
  • a few people talked—a lot—so other opinions were never heard
  • innovative new plans had no post-retreat follow up or support so they fizzled out

Here are smart ways to get people smiling and moving your organization forward together.

have a goal
Having a retreat just because it’s a yearly event isn’t good enough. Why are you gathering? How will you measure the outcomes of your retreat? Define these things first.

create a theme
Set the tone for your retreat with a theme that supports your event goals and your organization’s Purpose. Is it serious, festive or all-hands-on-deck? Setting the tone helps manage expectations so participants arrive in the right frame of mind—and with a shared vision.

send an invitation
An evite or a paper invitation is the second part of setting the tone. It shows that the retreat is important. Let people know the agenda, how they should dress, where you will meet and why their presence is valuable. You must help everyone understand that they are critical to moving your organization forward.

make it fun
Even if you have serious business to discuss, including some elements of fun or creativity will help keep everyone engaged and energized. You should get people outside of their comfort zones, but be careful to structure activities that don’t embarrass or single out someone for ridicule. You want to lift up every single person.

bring in a facilitator
If you want honest feedback and idea generation, someone else should lead the conversation. A facilitator can get input that you can’t because he’s not The Boss. Work ahead of time with your facilitator to define objectives. Ask him to query participants well in advance to take the temperature of the group so he’s not going in cold.

have a no-phone policy
To get quality discussion and input, you need everyone to be mindful and fully present in the meeting. Phones should be packed away so people aren’t distracted by buzzing, ringing and social media temptations. Employees can let their outside contacts know ahead of time that they will be unavailable for a set amount of time, along with a backup plan for emergencies. Then put away the phones.

feed their senses
Offer great food and comfortable surroundings. Try to meet offsite. Think about all five senses and how to cater to them so the energy stays positive and proactive. Consider some breakouts with chair massages, music and a cool factor. Offer regular breaks with healthy snacks and pay attention to when you might need to insert a time out.

follow through
At the meeting, the facilitator should recap discussion and establish post-meeting action steps and deadlines. Ideally, all participants have some TO DOs afterward. Then it’s up to you to support your team. Fulfill your promises and watch morale continue to grow as ideas become real.

Having an effective retreat doesn't have to be like pulling teeth. Reinvigorate, refresh and grow healthy new ideas with a better retreat. Then watch your results come rolling in.

We're experienced and creative retreat facilitators. If you need help injecting better results into your meeting, call Martha Bartlett Piland at 785.969.6203

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