Let’s Chat About: Company Retreats
Without corporate retreats,
your company is like a football team that never huddles,
never practices, never plans and doesn’t hold training camps.
How cohesive and harmonious is your workplace culture? Does your staff share a unified vision? Are your employees on board with the systems you have in place? Do they know they have a voice in your organization? Would you say your company has soul?
To ensure the growth and profitability of your business, you must continuously re-evaluate your goals, business model, plan of attack and focus – but that isn’t all you have to think about. Ultimately, your business will not grow well—meaning both profitably and with a happy, connected staff—if your employees cannot recharge, if they are not inspired or if they have hit competence thresholds that leave them unable to deliver at a new level of business complexity, size or performance. Similarly, your “game plan”—the company’s infrastructure, systems and processes—must be regularly reviewed and updated to enable your employees to succeed.
Your staff is a team. The team consists of people in a variety of skilled positions needed to conduct your business and deliver on your brand promise. If your company is to thrive, economically and as a social group, it is vital to bring your staff along with you at every stage, addressing the inevitable gaps that open up between your people and your corporate vision. Off-site staff retreats offer an invaluable opportunity for the whole team to pause, step back from their everyday duties of working “in the business” and gain enough perspective to reflect “on the business” in constructive ways. A successful retreat will not only sharpen your focus and clarify your priorities; it will boost staff morale and benefit your bottom line.
Staff Retreats: Why, Who and When?
Even with good leaders, high-quality staff and an intelligent game plan, a company immersed entirely in the minute-to-minute operations of its business will not achieve its highest potential. Even when profitable, it will limp along carrying quiet symptoms of dysfunction.
By pausing your operations and taking some uninterrupted time to develop staff cohesion; to reflect on changes needed to handle current business and market conditions; and to secure 100% buy-in from employees on key aspects of your business, you are acting in the best interests of both your customers and your staff.
Corporate retreats are relevant for emerging businesses and veteran companies alike. They are not reserved for larger corporations with cash reserves or for senior management; even mom-and-pop businesses can benefit from them. Many top-performing companies schedule mini leader retreats quarterly and more involved staff retreats annually. However, the smaller your company, the more important a corporate retreat is to your success—and the simpler it will be to block off time away from your daily operations.
Proactive retreats are the best kind, but in reality, it is often some kind of challenge that ignites companies to recognize the need for on-the-business reflection. Retreats become more obviously valuable opportunities for getting everyone on the same page when a new business launch is imminent; when extra employees need to be integrated to handle growth; or when staff skills must be upgraded in order to achieve key business goals. In times of challenge or crisis, retreats become inevitable. Business plateaus, heavy staff turnover, shifting markets, new competition and, yes, the changes that come with successful growth all demand big-picture attention and all-staff integration.
The On-the-Business Huddle
Staff retreats can encourage employees to embrace change and sharpen their skills but retreats are also a perfect vehicle for team building. There are three essentials of effective teamwork: social cohesion, task cohesion and vision cohesion (see “3 Essentials of Effective Teamwork”). Your initial retreats will focus strongly on building a team. Later retreats will strengthen your team, while addressing the challenges of growth (see “Staff Retreats: What to Cover”).
Initial Retreats: Building a Team.
In any cooperative group aiming to achieve specific objectives, there are fundamental challenges to perfecting the operational flow and feel within the team. Inherent in these challenges is the composition of your staff. The group is composed of disparate people interrelating from perceptions anchored to different backgrounds, IQs, EQs (emotional intelligence), experiences and cultures. Veteran employees work alongside recent hires, bringing their varying levels of company history to each situation. Moreover, only some aspects of workflow, like upgrading abilities, are teachable; others, like each employee’s fundamental character, are more rooted and resistant to change.
In general, especially if your company is smaller or younger, you should use your early retreats to foster closeness among your employees and to help them be clearer and more passionate about the company’s objectives. You want people to identify ways in which the company’s successes fulfill and enrich their own lives. A positive, supportive environment is essential, as success depends on openness, trust and creativity.
Ongoing Retreats: Navigating Change.
Combined with the right business model at the right time in the marketplace, effective teamwork will net exciting success. But success and growth bring new challenges and the need for a larger, more mature organization. Roles become more specialized. People need more advanced business acumen. The communication channels required to process the greater workload must flow through a larger business engine. Success netting growth leads to more customer interactions. Sustaining growth requires a more united team, more competent staff, clearer processes and better orchestrated execution.
With a bigger staff, more business deliverables and more customers to service, what worked before may no longer suffice. Taking a purposeful pause at each step of growth allows you to review the past; acknowledge and celebrate successes; identify gaps among people, processes and the company vision; plan for the future; and establish improved “go-forward” guidelines for systems and staff.
No Room for Complacency.
Without corporate retreats, you are like a football team that never huddles, never practices, never plans and does not hold training camps. Your growth will be haphazard and, if unchecked, may lead to an acceleration trap, in which you find yourself struggling to meet ever-increasing demands on your time and resources. Even if you are meeting your goals and have a hard-working, dedicated staff, you should never assume that your team cohesion is at its best. Among your employees there may be a few who feel they are not valued or heard. Unless you regularly update your systems, improve process execution and close gaps between people and vision, staff can become frustrated and hindered in their work by communication flow barriers. Ignored, these grievances will fester, and full-roster unification is the only solution. So keep in mind that team building is a fluid challenge, requiring regular scheduled attention.
Once you have defined your purpose and goals and drafted your 10-step planning framework, think through how you will measure the return on investment from these efforts. You should be able to use next-quarter productivity and sales metrics as indicators as long as you can factor out normal seasonal market moderators. I recommend examining the purpose and goals of your retreat and working back from these primary objectives to determine some measurable outcomes.
When determining your objectives, don’t underestimate the power of team building. A unified, friendly staff of employees who express passion for your vision will have a positive impact on your customers. Trust, cooperation, openness—elements once viewed as intangibles—can all be orchestrated through your staff retreat. What you net is not an intangible – it is powerful fuel for your business engine.