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7 Tips for a Stellar Company Retreat

Planning a company retreat can be a big undertaking, but it doesn't have to be complicated.
7 Tips for a Stellar Company Retreat
Image credit: Shutterstock

In an episode of the TV show 30 Rock, Liz Lemon attends a conference with her boss, Jack, with the theme “Retreat To Move Forward.” It was a funny episode, but the theme “retreat to move forward” also rings true. Sometimes, if you want to move forward, it’s essential to first take a step back.

Company retreats can have some incredible benefits. They provide an ideal venue for making big announcements, honoring successes, thanking rock stars, summarizing the year’s stories, generating fresh ideas and planning the year ahead. Retreats are chances to reward, encourage, educate, excite and unite the entire team.

Planning a company retreat can be a big undertaking, especially if you’re new to the process, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The keys are choosing a central theme that ties everything together, maintaining a positive tone throughout and leaving room for fun.

Make sure you actually retreat.

The point of a retreat is to let everyone take a step back from the daily fray, breathe a little and refocus on the business as a whole. That’s why you don’t want to host it at the actual office. If you just go to the conference room, people will feel too plugged in to absorb the meaning of the getaway. Whether you go to a local park or a five-star hotel, getting out of the office is the essential. A different setting shakes up the energy of a group that is used to seeing each other in the same place every day, making a unique location one of the easiest foundations of a successful retreat.

Choose a theme.

Whether your retreat is a backyard barbecue or a weekend of skiing, everyone needs a central theme to focus the activities and tie everything together. The theme can be grounding, motivating, team-building, educational, reorganizational or celebratory. Whatever the purpose of your retreat, make it clear to everyone through the theme. This will not only unify the retreat, but also give you clearer focus as you plan activities.

Tailor your retreat based on size of the company.

If your business has fewer than 10 people, you might be able to enjoy a weekend of camping, renting a beach or mountain house, or something else that’s easy to set up for a small group. If the business is small and had a banner year, maybe you can consider splurging on a tropical or wintry setting to stage a major celebration. If you have enough space and want to make the retreat more personal, you could host in your home or backyard.

Make a realistic budget, and stick to it.

A retreat doesn’t have to be hosted at a faraway destination. The point is to get together, strengthen the team, cook up new ideas and plan for the year ahead. If your company takes advantage of industry conferences, piggybacking a retreat onto the end of the conference is an easy way to have a destination getaway that also cuts travel costs. Whatever your budget, whether it’s just enough for a catered lunch or big enough to fly everyone to the Bahamas, stay within that set financial boundary to avoid stress.

If the retreat is a reward, then reward everyone equally.

Some companies throw over-the-top, week-long Caribbean bashes for the sales team, while everyone else gets a voucher for a jelly of the month club. No company can thrive and grow without sales, but spotlighting the sales team every year while overlooking other core contributors is kind of like having four kids and only throwing a birthday party for one of them. In a growing business, every single person is a part of the engine that moves the company forward, and the best way to keep momentum strong is to recognize everyone who contributes. Don’t favor one department with a major outing and ditch the rest of the team. The point of retreats is to connect people in different departments and create new bonds, so don’t leave anyone behind.

Consider adding some competition.

A little competition is a fantastic way to boost interest in an activity. Whether you have a paintball championship or a contest for the most intriguing idea to come out of a brainstorm, a little friendly competition adds a layer of fun and motivation to the activity at hand. If you really want to boost the interaction and motivation, offer some serious prizes, from a nice gift bag to a free afternoon off next summer.

Never underestimate the importance of food.

This may be the single most significant element in a successful retreat. If the food is terrible, people will droop and look for the exits, but if the food is the tastiest you can afford, folks will suddenly be happy to hang around and bond. If you have to cut anything from the budget, don’t let it be the food. If you have a barbecue in the park, get gourmet hot dogs instead of generic. If you host a weekend away at the swankiest hotel in the region, make sure you leave room in the budget for some good eats. In any event, good food yields good results.