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The Purpose of a Business Retreat
First off, don’t confuse a business retreat with a staff outing. A staff adventure is more of a kudos to all time as well as a fun and relaxing experience. That doesn’t mean that when retreat planning, businesses must stick to only the strictest of agendas and not allow for some downtime, however.
For the most part, business retreats are a venue to exchange ideas, focus on what’s working and what needs to be improved and, especially, aligning the company’s mission and vision, enabling the company to reach its goals.
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Planning a Great Retreat
Retreat Agenda – An agenda should be developed first. Briefly list the topics you want to cover at the retreat.
Budget – What can the company afford? A full-blown retreat that requires hotel reservations, travel expenses and meals will cost more than a day-retreat with snack, lunch and drink offerings. Be realistic on what you can afford to spend.
Retreat Committee – A designated group should be assigned to make the appropriate arrangements for the retreat—even if it’s local, drinks, snacks and meals may be required. This group should also arrange appropriate electronics, whiteboards or other displays you’ll need at the retreat. A committee can also keep close watch of the budget. The committee can also be in charge of any materials speakers will need at the retreat including more detailed agendas, session times, etc.
Venue – Based on your agenda, you can determine if the retreat needs to be a few days in a different location or if attendees can gather daily at a rented space such as a community center or Chamber of Commerce—many often rent rooms to business owners on the cheap.
Retreat Arrival – You can use the assigned committee or offer this up to a few other chosen staff. Here the retreat arrival team ensures everyone knows the schedule, what’s mandatory to attend and what’s not, assigned rooms and locations and designated meal times, and even appropriate attire.
Now that you’ve planned the where, what and why, good retreat planning for a business also means what to do once everyone’s there.
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Typical Retreat Activities and Tips
Some business owners may choose to be the main speaker at all the events, utilize senior staff or even hire an outside facilitator. An outside facilitator can often spot problem areas faster as they are disassociated with the company. If you can afford a facilitator—hire one.
Follow your agenda schedule as closely as possible so you have ample time to cover everything.
Next, here are some activities and tips you can include in the retreat:
Mind-Mapping Tools – Mind Maps are excellent visual tools that allow for content from retreat attendees as well as brainstorming sessions.
Role Playing – Also invaluable, role playing can be used in almost any situation with staff members changing roles from time to time and comparing thoughts and results.
Open Exchange – In retreat planning, businesses should include a time for open exchange discussions. These are best held at the end of each session with set time limits.
Questionnaires and Surveys – Retreats are a great time to utilize tools such as questionnaires and surveys as long as they are focused on the purpose of the retreat. A facilitator can analyze results and discuss findings.
Entertainment and Downtime – No employee will ever want to attend a future retreat if all they have time for is meeting after meeting. Sitting down for long periods of time can make for yawning and disinterest. Plan some sort of activity that is relaxing—you may even ask the venue to help with this. Don't forget appropriate short breaks.
Retreat Follow-Up – Whether it’s the facilitator or the main retreat speaker(s), a written retreat follow-up is important. You can deliver the results and findings of the retreat via interoffice e-mails or a full-blown written handout. Either way, this essentially wraps up the retreat in a synopsis form allowing attendees to stay focused on what has been learned.
When retreat planning, business owners should take the time to follow the appropriate steps to gain the most from a retreat and avoid turning it into a free for all where nothing is accomplished.
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Off-Site Meetings retrieved at http://www.chiff.com/business/off-site-meetings.htm
Richards, Heidi, 13 Tips to Plan a Successful Retreat retrieved at http://stepbystepfundraising.com/plan-successful-retreat/
Retreat Venue - Flickr/SOI Toronto Centres
Retreat - Flickr/Briety