5 Tips for Creating an Impactful Off-Site Team Retreat

When was the last time you pulled your team away from the daily grind to work on the team, not just as a team?

 

The best leaders recognize the need to get off the hamster wheel of never-ending operational tasks to focus on building a cohesive, high-performing team. An off-site retreat is one of the best ways to do just that.

 

While you may consider an off-site retreat to be just a warm, fuzzy, nice-to-have, research shows that there’s plenty of value in investing in in-person team development. For starters, as many as 80% of jobs are now in remote or hybrid work arrangements, according to Gallup. Additionally, according to “The Great Resignation Research Report” from Plan Beyond, participants ranked a bad relationship with their supervisor and a lack of respect for colleagues as two of the top four reasons for quitting their jobs.

 

The good news? An off-site retreat can help resolve these startling trends and build back the “know, like, and trust” factor among your team members. To help you get started, here are five tips for creating an impactful retreat experience for your team.

 

  1. Create an Environment Conducive to Team Building

 

Do everything possible to escape the office and the distractions and interruptions that reside there. Although your team might welcome a trip to the Caribbean, you don’t need an exotic location to create energy and spur creativity. Of course, there’s the typical hotel or corporate meeting facility. But I’ve also facilitated client retreats at a coastal resort, public library, golf club, local community center, and nearby church. The key is to get away to a place that suits your team!

 

Additionally, take some time to prepare and set up your space in advance to ensure its conducive to an engaging, lively discussion. This may include:

 

  • Distributing an agenda of topics and activities will help your team know what to expect and help them determine whether they need to plan for your discussions.
  • Providing healthy and not-so-healthy snacks and beverages to accommodate a variety of tastes.
  • Enlisting interested team members in planning these logistics, as their involvement will encourage their ownership of the experience.

 

  1. Use Assessments to Provoke Insights About Workplace Tendencies

 

Assessment tools offer significant insights that provoke self-discovery and an understanding of differences among team members. Some of the more well-known and widely used tools on the market are DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and StrengthsFinder. In fact, you might already have profile reports on file from one of these assessments. I prefer the combined Path4 and Path6 profiles from RightPath Resources due to their narrower focus on workplace behavioral preferences versus general personality traits.

 

Assign the assessment as advance preparation for the retreat, providing team members with a self-debriefing guide to help them identify strengths, struggles, and potential blind spots. The assessment can also help your team members identify their keys to productive working relationships, leadership styles, communication preferences, and approaches to conflict and change.

 

  1. Appreciate Individual Differences and Recognize Team Dynamics

 

As you provide team members with opportunities for self-discovery from their profiles, invite them to share these insights with their colleagues. This provides an opportunity for team members to better understand how their differences and preferences can create breakdowns in communication and relationships, as well as how they can complement their strengths and create opportunities for collaboration to move crucial team initiatives forward.

 

For example, a highly extroverted team member might see the value of providing time and space for their introverted colleagues to think through challenging questions and issues before jumping into a discussion. Likewise, the more structured, detail-oriented team member can appreciate the creative thinking that more unstructured, spontaneous teammates bring to the table.

 

  1. Make Commitments to Play Well Together in the Sandbox

 

I grew up before the video game age (unless you count the original Pong game), so playing in the sandbox was one of my favorite pastimes. I recall how my neighborhood friends and I would gather at Johnny’s sandbox, each of us in our own corner to play with Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, and Tonka trucks. Our playtime started with all of us getting along well, but often devolved into territorial battles, arguments, harsh words, and someone leaving the sandbox in tears. It usually required parental involvement to restore order, remind us of healthier behavior, and obtain commitments to play well together.

 

Leading your team can feel the same way at times. After all, adults aren’t that much different from kids when conflict arises, just with bigger problems and bigger bodies. As such, your team needs to work together to create rules of engagement for healthy communication and other team behaviors. Rather than having your team follow a list of rules and expectations, I suggest having each member state and make positive commitments to one another. Here are a few examples:

 

  • I commit to responding to my teammate’s email or voicemail message within 24 hours, even if it’s simply to acknowledge that I received it and to estimate when I can provide a more thorough response.

 

  • I commit to addressing disagreements or conflicts directly with the person(s) involved rather than involving third parties who are neither part of the problem nor the solution.

 

  • I commit to approaching feedback from my teammates with openness and teachability rather than resisting it with defensiveness.

 

  1. Play With Purpose

 

During your retreat, I recommend building in opportunities for socialization, such as happy hour, dinner, or an evening activity. Or you can wrap up the retreat with such activities. Axe-throwing, improv night, go-kart racing, an escape room, Whirlyball, and a cooking class have been hits among my recent clients.

 

One of my favorite activities was with a health care team that ended their first afternoon of a two-day retreat with a “sip and paint” event (i.e., tasting wine while painting under the tutelage of an experienced art instructor). I kept my lighthouse painting as a memory from that event—miraculously, you can even tell it’s a lighthouse!

 

Notably, these playful activities offer a great opportunity to kick off discussions at your more structured team gatherings. For example, you can incorporate a debriefing of the activity in your discussions and focus on observations of team dynamics in action and how they can shape a more healthy, productive team experience.

 

Soon after the retreat, conduct an after-action review with your team: Identify what went well, what didn’t, and how to improve the experience for next time. Most importantly, make your retreat a regular experience (at least annually) to build a healthy team culture that no one wants to leave.

 

This article was first published in my Leadership Matters column for the Illinois Society of CPAs Insight magazine.

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jon@yourbestleadership.com