Female coworkers at retreat working in sunroom with view of river.

Company retreats are nothing new. But for us here at EPI, they are. Or, at least, they were. We recently returned from our first-ever retreat and thought we’d share a little about the experience.

Companies have retreats for many reasons, reasons as individual as the organizations themselves.

But the ultimate objective of any retreat is to deepen employee engagement and boost future productivity.

As a virtual team, we cherish any opportunity for in-person connection. A virtual hug only goes so far. So, we felt it was time to gather in one place to do what we do best: work hard and have fun. With two new team members, it was also a chance for the whole team to reintegrate.

We spent several days at a spacious Airbnb in a Minneapolis suburb with lots of trees and a view of the Mississippi River. We talked, learned, shared, explored, and laughed. A lot. And we did good, deep work.

We came away with a renewed sense of team identity, purpose, and direction.

Of course, it didn’t just happen. It took a lot of preparation and planning. Once you’ve decided to have a retreat, and you know why you’re having it, it’s time to dig into the nitty-gritty.

Here are some tips on how to make your retreat a success:

Plan a challenging but not overwhelming agenda.

  • You’ll never get to your complete wish-list, so concentrate on the most important items, your “why.” If your main goal is to bond and get to know one another better, don’t spend all your time discussing next year’s budget. And be sure to build in opportunities for learning as a team.

Be open to spontaneity.

  • Once you have a solid agenda, be okay with throwing some of it out the window. Your teammates may move things in an unanticipated direction. Interactions that provide new perspective are valuable in and of themselves.

Location, location, location.

Green trees next to river.
  • A retreat should be a getaway, not a trip down the hall to a boring conference room. That doesn’t mean you have to go to Bali. If going out of town isn’t within your budget, find something nearby that’s different from your usual work environment. Just keep in mind that natural surroundings enhance productivity.

Remember, a retreat isn’t a business meeting.

  • It should be more ambitious but at the same time more relaxed and fun. Don’t cover the same ground as your weekly team meeting. The whole idea is to remove your team from a stressful everyday environment and allow their creativity free rein.

Provide plenty of social time for the whole team.

  • It can be as simple as eating meals together or playing games. Also allow for various groupings of team members to hang out. The science of successful teams shows that the most productive teams are comprised of team members who regularly connect directly with one another.

Provide adequate alone time.

  • A three-hour group session may invigorate the extroverts on your team, but the introverts not so much. Ensure everyone feels free to ask for a break. A walk outside can do wonders for morale. And breaks spark creative thought. Distracting yourself is a mechanism that allows your subconscious to percolate.

Highlight what your company stands for.

  • You may have a strategic plan to hammer out, but don’t ignore your culture and engagement objectives. It may even be a good time to rediscover your values.

Capture ideas.

  • If you give people time for work and play, the ideas will flow. But it won’t do much good if you don’t keep track of them. At our retreat, we used a simple flip chart and sticky notes. And remember that research shows brainstorming as individuals who then come together to share their ideas is more effective than typical group brainstorming.

Make a food and beverage plan.

  • Maybe you want your food to be catered. Or going out sounds like more fun. We were lucky enough to have Deanell, our resident cook extraordinaire, plan and execute a menu that was tasty and nourishing…but with plenty of chocolate available too. (Check out a team favorite: Cauliflower Walnut Taco Meat.) And decide on your alcohol policy ahead of time. A little wine among friends may not be amiss in your organizational culture, but you don’t want things to degenerate into a frat party.

Have fun!

  • Your retreat is a time for regeneration. For bonding. For planning. But if you don’t have fun together, what’s the point? If you know your individual team members well, you probably know what they’d consider fun. And if you don’t know, ask.

Follow up!

  • Those brilliant ideas you’ve captured will be for naught if you don’t follow up on them. It’s easy to get sucked back into the daily grind. Know that and be deliberate in how you counter it.

Now that we’ve successfully had one company retreat, we plan on making it an annual event (keeping our own advice top of mind, of course). We’d love to hear about your retreat experiences! Or help structure some good learning opportunities for your next one.  

Michelle Kelly, CEO (Chief Enjoyment Officer)

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