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Corporate Retreats 101

Many organizations host annual offsite corporate retreats for a variety of reasons. This article focuses on why you should utilize a professional corporate retreat facilitator, and the role that facilitator should play.

Why Use a Corporate Retreat Facilitator?

The facilitator’s sole purpose is to assist the event organizer in obtaining desired retreat outcomes. It is as simple as that! You might wonder why bosses can’t fulfill this role themselves. It’s the same reason you can’t teach your spouse to drive a stick shift car. Bosses are too close to the situation for this particular role.

Bosses almost always influence conversations in unintended directions, because they hold power over the retreat participants. The group will tend to anchor on any statement made by the boss, rather than opening up to a free flow of ideas. No matter how open the boss is to new ideas, the tendency for the group will be to converge on what they think the boss wants to hear.

So, why not just leave the boss out of the room? That can work, however, the problem is that the boss may have some great ideas that should be included in the discussion. We want to hear those ideas, but also avoid creating a situation where those ideas become the sole focus. A corporate retreat facilitator is trained to allow everyone in the room to have a voice, and minimize the power dynamics between the participants.

A Word of Caution

A facilitator is NOT a consultant. Many consultants try to play that role, and in my opinion, they should not. This is for two reasons. First, is that the power dynamics noted above will shift to the consultant, and the results will suffer. Second, is that the facilitator is an expert in getting people to discuss ideas and synthesize information. A corporate retreat facilitator can then assist the group in narrowing their ideas into actionable items. A professional facilitator is not an expert in your industry, or within your organization.

The best facilitators recognize that THE ANSWERS ARE IN THE ROOM. This means that the ideas will come from the participants themselves. The participants are the ones who best understand the needs, as well as the limits, of the organization. The facilitator’s role is to make sure that all relevant ideas are presented. Then, the group can discuss the ideas to a point where decisions can be made.

Build Trust and Minimize Power

There are several ways that facilitators can perform their magic. In fact, there are probably as many techniques as there are facilitators. The overriding concept that corporate retreat facilitators use is the process of diverging, then converging. It is my belief that there are two main factors to allow for this process. The first factor is building trust, by:

  1. Building trust in the facilitator
  2. Creating trust with the others in the room
  3. Developing trust in the process

The other main factor centers around the concept of power. Power comes in many forms, and may show up in different ways during a corporate retreat. The key is for facilitators to recognize when this happens, and then use their skills and tools to minimize the destructive forces of power dynamics.

Conclusion

If a group wants to maximize the experience of a corporate retreat, a professional corporate retreat facilitator should run the meetings. It is important to find a facilitator who does not have a direct interest in the outcomes, in order to minimize bias. You will want to interview this person to ensure that they are capable of not only setting an agenda but managing the egos in the room. They also need to be able to listen. By this I mean that they need to listen to both what is spoken, as well as the unspoken. The key to understanding the meaning of what is being said lies in the inflection of the voice, the volume, symbols, and gestures. A corporate retreat facilitator is trained to consider all of these things when helping organizations achieve their desired corporate retreat objectives.

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