Offsite Leadership Retreat Planning
There are two major factors in the preparation for an offsite leadership retreat: logistics and content. This article will focus on the preparation necessary for the logistics of the retreat. Bear in mind that the purpose of the retreat plays a critical role in the logistics. The retreat location and activities should act in conjunction with the intended purpose.
Where should the retreat be held?
As mentioned above, the purpose will dictate which locations will be appropriate. For instance, if the sole purpose is to come up with a budget for the following year, and you plan to lock down your financial staff for a two-day session with eight hours of work per day, a meeting room in a local hotel may be appropriate. However, if your intent is to build trust and a team concept, then incorporating some fun into the non-work hours is important — this will allow for additional team bonding. In this case, a resort destination, the mountains, the beach, or even a desert location like Palm Springs would make more sense.
What are you looking for in accommodations?
The accommodations are an important factor as well. Not just the meeting space, but also the room accommodations, matter. The meeting space should be comfortable, well-lit, and have appropriate A/V technology available. Comfortable seating is a must. The room layout is also key. For team-building activities, including trust development, we recommend seating people in a circle without any desks. This setting creates a sense of community without barriers (i.e. desks or conference tables), which can block access to one another or their ideas.
Housing your team is a very important consideration. Will you have people sharing a room? Do you prefer a large house, a series of bungalows, or hotel rooms? Especially if you have a large group, it may be easier to book a hotel rather than a large home; however, if at all possible, book a home through Airbnb or VRBO if you are looking to build your team. While everybody may have separate sleeping quarters, the shared space in a home creates a sense of intimacy and allows for better conversations in the off hours.
If the retreat is local, will you drive together, or with your own cars? While this seems simple, be clear on the process and the expectations. If you are flying, how will you handle the ground transportation both to, and from, the airport, as well as at your destination? There are several options to consider, but the point is that transportation is important for the success of the trip.
Having a prepared agenda (in advance) allows for the participants to understand their time commitments. It also provides them with expectations for when they may be able to handle their personal business, call home, or whatever they may need. This simple act of providing the agenda before the retreat settles some concerns your team will have. The agenda should include the content, the meals, activities, and downtime.
Food and Beverage Considerations
A retreat should include three meals a day plus snacks. Keeping your team well-fed will allow them to focus on the task at hand. Well-prepared meals show that you care about them and their welfare. The added bonus of scheduling meals together is that your team will continue to converse during meals. In some cases, they will develop their personal relationships on a deeper level. In most cases, however, they will continue the conversations that were based on the exercises and discussions that were held before the meal. This is invaluable! You will find most people will be more comfortable talking one-on-one with another team member, than they are in the group setting. These conversations create a synergy, and from our experience, ideas from one-on-one conversations are often brought back up when the group reconvenes.
Snacks are also important. They provide a quick pick-me-up and allow for continued energy throughout the day. We recommend not having them out or consumed during the working sessions, but available during the breaks. Water, tea, soda, and/or coffee are appropriate during the working sessions. However, be cautious about drinks becoming a distraction, as the participants might be getting up during the sessions to refill. In order to alleviate this problem, schedule frequent breaks in the sessions.
Having planned activities will enhance the retreat experience. These activities can include sports like golf, hiking, biking, and the like. They may also include high-energy, adrenaline-pumping sports like jet skiing, off-road adventures, or zip lining. The makeup of your participants is a very important consideration when choosing activities. You will want to pick activities that everybody will want to do, so you can do them together.
Scheduling in downtime is very important. It’s important to remember a few things about an offsite retreat. First, the exercises of the retreat itself can be both physically, as well as emotionally, draining. Give people an opportunity for recovery between sessions and activities. Second, remember that people need some alone time. The purpose of the retreat is to be together, work together, and build a team, but people also need a break from each other. Make sure to plan that into the program.
The logistics of planning a retreat can be complicated and take a lot of time to organize. Make sure you prepare months in advance to ensure a smooth experience for your team!