On it’s face, it might seem counter intuitive to pull all staff away from their work. In our company everyone is busy and productivity requires spending as much time checking off to-do lists and fulfilling core duties as possible. I often wondered if it really makes sense to take everyone away from their desks and off to a team retreat? Could we cope with the work, manage the clients, deal with the burden of playing catch up?
The short answer: absolutely.
When executed the right way, with leadership buy-in, annual team retreats actually have the potential to influence major positive change in organizations. Done right, they enhance your company’s culture while also building a better plan for the year ahead and encouraging collaboration across office walls. Truthfully for my career, and for nvision, it’s paid dividends.
Over the past two years, at the start of our fiscal year, we shut the world out and closed up shop. The entire nvision team headed north to a beautiful ski resort town called Blue Mountain located in Collingwood, Ontario. The staff participate in 3 days of learning, team building and extracurriculars in Ontario’s only four season mountain village resort. There’s something for everyone which makes it an ideal destination for us. Not too far, not too close, and just the right amount of scenery, adrenaline pumping mountain activities and entertainment.
More specifically, here are 5 reasons every company (regardless of size or industry) should have an annual retreat a core part of the yearly planning efforts.
1) Getting the Team on the Same Page
The first and central function of an annual retreat tends to be the planning aspect. In many cases, this is the one and only situation in which you can get your entire organization together to lay out your plans for the coming year in broad strokes.
To maximize your organization’s productivity alignment between strategy and execution is absolute key. Here’s a depressing statistic, courtesy of Forbes.com: while 65 percent of organizations across industries have an agreed-upon strategy, only 14 percent of employees within these organizations actually understand it. As a result, only 10 percent of organizations successfully execute their strategy.
Your retreat is not the only opportunity to reverse that trend, but it’s a crucial part. It’s an opportunity for top-level management to not just communicate the strategy, but also build it through feedback from all levels of the workforce. This type of participatory decision making tends to significantly increase understanding and buy-in from all employees.
2) Building Team Morale and Culture
A team retreat also helps your organization on a more intangible level. As businesses of all sizes have begun to recognize the importance of employee morale and corporate culture, a number of activities have begun to spring up that aim to improve and support it. An annual retreat is a major opportunity in that regard.
As research shows, happy employees are productive employees. If your workforce feels like you care for them, they will return the favor with better work. An established tradition of a corporate retreat establishes that feeling of belonging. It sets the tone for more productive and mutually beneficial day-to-day behaviours in the workplace.
In this regard, your retreat can even take the shape of an outing that has little to do with your day-to-day work. An annual trip to the local bowling alley, for instance, allows your team to grow together, build stronger bonds, and enhance their teamwork. This year we had a ping pong tournament, where yours truly came out at the bottom, but I also had a torn MCL… so that was my excuse. ?
3) Encouraging Collaboration
Your retreat is an invaluable opportunity for every member of the organization to get out of the office and interact with each other in a social environment. As the saying goes, two people working together is teamwork while two teams working together is collaboration. Through a retreat, that collaboration across departments is more easily possible.
Think about it from your own position: How often do you interact with members of departments that are not directly connected to yours? Probably not enough, especially considering the potential benefits that a fresh perspective and cross-departmental collaboration can bring.
Three quarters of your workforce rate collaboration as very important, while almost half think that their employer does not encourage collaboration enough. And not surprisingly, even a slight increase in collaboration can have a significant effect on productivity. Through your retreat, you can help your employees build relationships and connections. Ones make it more likely for them to reach out and collaborate on mutually beneficial projects down the road.
We ask all of our leadership to put together presentations in an effort to educate the other departments and to engage in dialogue.
4) Getting Out of the Office
Another benefit of the annual retreat is simple: it allows your employees and management alike to get out of the office. This benefit is more intangible than the above, but it’s just as important. Simply leaving the office and stepping away from daily tasks can clear your mind to move from tactical work to strategy, and gain a 30,000 foot overview of the work you do. For us, being at the foot of a ski mountain allows this for sure.
Despite the meetings and teleconferences, most office jobs are relatively monotonous. From analysts to marketing experts and call centre professionals, most workers go through a daily routine that doesn’t change much from day to day. Sometimes, being removed from a familiar environment can re-invigorate and re-energize your focus for the future.
Of course, the exact nature of your retreat will drive the effectiveness of this benefit. A meeting that takes place on company premises might not have the same effect as an outing that takes your employees to an exciting, new location and activity. The general point though remains the same: if you get everyone in your company out of the office for a day or two, the benefits for productivity down the road can be significant.
5) Engaging in Professional Development
Finally, don’t underestimate the potential of your retreat to act as a professional development opportunity. This is one of the few, if not the only time that all members of your organization come together for a common purpose. So why not offer them the potential to further their tangible and intangible skills?
For instance, you might want to consider bringing in an external expert on a subject beneficial to everyone. From improving your office’s organizational skills to understanding the importance of body language, plenty of these speakers exist in topics that are both fun and informative. In the process, everyone can learn something that relates to their job performance, even if indirectly.
More than three quarters of your workforce wants and needs regular development opportunities to stay happy in their jobs. In addition to conferences and webinars, your retreat could become the perfect opportunity to satisfy that need.
Potential Topics for Your Next Annual Team Retreat
The potential benefits of planning an annual retreat that involves your entire office staff are immense. From leadership to administrative support, every level of your organization can benefit from the energy, planning, and collaboration drivers that this type of event brings.
To get to that point, you have to be strategic. That means planning exactly what topics your annual retreat should cover. The possibilities here are significant, from overall company strategy and direction to individual topics that deserve special attention in the coming year.
One idea: leverage the combined power of your organization’s brain power toward positive change in your company’s online image. In many ways, your website and online presence are the front door to your brand, products, and services. Optimizing them requires not just strategic direction at the top, but buy-in throughout the organization.
You can get that buy-in at your retreat. Use the occasion to outline your web design plans, or introduce your online partner who will help you improve your brand presence. You can even conduct some informal research on what your internal stakeholders think a website needs to include.
Whether you choose this or other topics, your newly emphasized annual retreat has the potential to become the defining event of your organization every year. Start your planning now to optimize 2018 through a team retreat that energizes, empowers, and encourages your staff to do their best in the coming year.