Ropes courses. Trust falls. There are all sorts of contrived methods to help you build trust among members of your team. Some have been dismissed as unnecessary at best and detrimental (and expensive) at worst.
But experts say there can be value in an organizational getaway.
"The right retreat has a strategic purpose that helps relationships get stronger and helps people use their brains in a new way," says Merianne Liteman, co-author of Retreats That Work: Everything You Need to Know About Planning and Leading Great Offsites. But the retreat needs to be part of an overall effort. "It is a mistake to assume you can go away for a couple of days and build trust," she says.
Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures, which hosts whitewater trips and team-building outings in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, recommends searching out retreats that focus on a cooperative goal rather than a competitive one.
Here, three activities that won't let trust fall.
Dragon Boat Racing
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing trains teams of 20 people to paddle a 46-foot boat in unison. "Trust is inherent to dragon boat racing, because no matter where you are in the boat, you have to trust that everybody else is playing their part to make that boat move," says CEO Penny Behling. "When I coach I encourage them to communicate when they feel something is off. Teams that work together learn to play to their strengths."
Arizona Outback Adventures gives groups a GPS and a plan for uncovering hidden geocache containers as part of a team treasure hunt. Joint decision-making is essential for success, leading team members to trust each other's instincts.
Leave conference rooms behind with one of ROW Adventures'i whitewater-rafting, fly-fishing or horseback-riding trips. "Being in nature is a great setting," Grubb says. "All the social norms are stripped away and everyone is wearing common clothing, and that can make it so everyone is pushing their limits in one way or another, but in a safe environment." The log cabins at the team-building base camp, River Dance Lodge, have shared bathrooms and common areas, so staffers learn to coexist, rather than "disappear to the cave" of a private hotel room, he says.
Margaret Littman is a journalist who covers small businesses, travel and all manner of other topics, with a sweet spot for anything relating to stand-up paddling or Music City. She is the author of the Nashville Essential Guide iPhone and Android app and many travel guidebooks. Her work has appeared in many national magazines, and she is the editor of Entrepreneur magazine’s Start It Up section.