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To Retreat, or Not to Retreat, That is the Question

Does your leadership team retreat?  Do you look forward to retreats as an opportunity to grow your team and have focused strategic thinking time together?  Or, do you dread them because in the past, retreats haven’t met your desired outcomes?  Or, with everything else going on, have retreats just disappeared from your organization?

Below are the top 5 reasons we’re hearing for why teams are NOT retreating in 2011:

(1)    Retreats ended when the recession began and we just haven’t reinvested in the team culture.

(2)    Retreats are too risky.  There are so many things that can go wrong.

(3)    Retreats are just all fun and games.  We’ve got serious issues on our plate right now.

(4)    Retreats are too expensive and too time consuming.

(5)    Retreats are great when you’re at them, but there’s no ROI once you’re back at the office.

And, here are the top 5 reasons we’re hearing for why teams are retreating in 2011:

(1)    We’ve been working so hard at the daily grind, it’s time to step back, slow it down, reconnect as people, align ourselves with our vision and make sure that we have clarity around where we’re trying to go and the next steps to get us there.

(2)    We’ve been in a reactive mode for the past couple of years and feel that it’s time to get back to a more proactive leadership approach.

(3)    We have been going so fast and we are at a critical place where we need to have some in-depth discussions as a team so that we can make the best decisions moving forward.  If we don’t, the results could be costly.

(4)    We’ve cut back in so many areas, particular developing our people.  We don’t have the resources to revamp our training program, but we do feel it is vital to continue to invest in and grow our people.  We’ve found that periodic retreats are highly beneficial for learning new skills and our employees appreciate them.

(5)    Our culture has taken a major blow as a result of the past few years.  We are strong and we’ve survived, but we need to get back to being that place that we all look forward to coming to each day.  It’s time.

Whether you’ve had good or bad experiences in the past isn’t as important as taking the lead to figure out what is right for your team now.  As Peter Drucker says in our favorite quote, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.” The future is in your hands.

If you’re thinking about your retreat as a major investment – you should be.

It’s easy math that runs through your mind – X number of people multiplied by the hours they’re pulled away from their jobs, plus the expense of an off-site location, food, a facilitator and more.

But, there’s more to consider … below are some tips to help you design a retreat that is sure to deliver a significant return on your investment.

12 ><((“> Tips for Retreats

  1. List all of your desired outcomes, then prioritize and assess how much time you need. Desired outcomes should be relevant to the team and not too focused on one individual (this is not a time to issue a public performance appraisal).  We also recommend that you make this process collaborative by getting input from your colleagues.
  2. Plan your agenda and don’t try to do too much.  Give yourself some breathing room – you’ll be surprised what comes out of the down time. Allow some time for personal reflection, team time and organizational strategy.  Instead of asking how much you can get done in one day, ask how much time do you need to accomplish your objectives?
  3. Gather as much information in advance to make the most efficient use of your time.  Pre-retreat work is encouraged to get everyone’s minds on the subjects at hand. In some cases research and/or assessments may be in order.
  4. Establish what the follow up process will be as a step to ensuring commitment & accountability. Plan to have people report on their progress in staff meetings following the retreat. If you don’t make the connection between the work at the retreat and the work back at the office, there will be a perception that not much was accomplished.
  5. Assign all participants a role in the retreat.
  6. Go offsite and create a comfortable, safe, creative environment with a facilitator.  A neutral, outside party will be invaluable in directing the meeting, keeping things on track and stepping in to provide skills training when appropriate. An effective facilitator will establish guidelines about participation, how disagreements will be handled and how decisions will be made.  They will guide discussions to action plans and document the process which is a major step in ensuring that the work continues once you’re back at the office.
  7. Always start with celebrations/accomplishments/bright spots.
  8. Be sure to have all the materials that you need to work and capture all the ideas that you generate and decisions that you make.
  9. Establish ground rules and be sure that everyone is engaged and participative.  Remember to have a policy for mobile phones, laptops, etc.
  10. Try to have a meal together.
  11. End the retreat by asking everyone what their take-a-ways were.
  12. Work hard. Play Hard. Breaks are a strategic part of the retreat.  They allow our minds to get around the issues at hand and to be more creative and innovative with solutions. Besides, these are tough times – we could all use joy and laughter – it’s incredibly therapeutic.

Remember, the future is in your hands.  Create something that is worthy and has value for you and your team. Lead the retreat process, follow the guidelines above and you’ll be well on your way to catching your limit!

><(("> Melissa Laughon

Melissa is a ><(("> Team Member at Catch Your Limit, a management consulting firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, visit

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. The Agency Retreat: Get Out of Dodge or Get Your Act Together…or both. « Foster Marketing linked to this post on July 8, 2011

    […] Laughon in a recent blog on addressed this very topic To Retreat or Not to Retreat? That is the Question. She listed the top five reasons why firms are not retreating in 2011 and five on why they are. […]

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