"You start to understand perspectives that maybe you hadn't considered before," CEO and founder of Tutor.com George Cigale says of his company's past retreats. "Slowing down time allows you to think a little bit differently about the way you communicate and depend on each other." Throughout the years, Tutor.com's retreats have facilitated both large changes, like deciding to expand into the consumer market, and small changes, like instituting monthly meetings about operational metrics.
Taking time for a retreat eliminates daily work distractions and helps set the tone that the project you are working on is important and worth extra time. Here's how to get started on making yours a success.
Your goals should drive your invitation list. Cigale invited all of his employees to his retreats because one of his goals was to have every employee understand how different parts of the company work. Because Tutor.com has under 50 employees and many people telecommute, this made sense. Depending on your company and goals, it may be more appropriate to invite just the senior management team or a vertical slice of the organization. In some cases, such as when you are looking for ways to better serve your clientele, it might even be appropriate to invite a handful of customers. "In a retreat you make a lot of decisions, and that requires action afterward," says Bruce Honig, the founder of a Bay Area-based meeting facilitation company called Honig Idea Guides. "So if you have people who provide energy or support for that action to occur, you want them there. If they can sabotage the process after the retreat, you also want them there."
If you can afford it, however, adding some fun to the trip does have advantages. First, it can help get your employees excited about the retreat and somewhat compensate for pulling them away from their homes and families. Second, it can provide time for informal discussion and help your team get to know each other better. "Just the time together at dinner and talking about the Olympics or whatever, I think that that helps with communication," Withrow says. Cigale recommends sticking with about a 20 percent fun, 80 percent work ratio.
Using a facilitator from a different department may also be an option. "In a strategic planning session, it will be very tough to have someone more junior in the organization telling the CEO and the VPs when to talk, when not to talk, and pushing back on them," Withrow says. "But a retreat for another reason, say it's a customer support area or they want to talk about new CMS system or something like that, a peer facilitator from somewhere else in the organization could handle it."
There are innumerable ways to format your meeting time. Honig likes to start out strategic planning sessions by examining the history and milestones of the company. Withrow sometimes asks people to defend assigned positions during a debate. Cigale devotes much of his time to presentations by different departments of his company. And Liteman uses tools including improvising, role plays, storytelling, music, metaphor, silence, and art to facilitate retreats.
Image: The Haven Resort, Ipoh, Malaysia Do you need to work out a strategic plan? Build your team? Launch a project? It's unlikel...