Employee and executive retreats are a popular way to build rapport and plan for a company’s future initiatives. Often, however, if they are not planned well, they can have a negative effect. With all the time, energy and resources involved in hosting a retreat, it’s important to plan one that will have lasting impact. Here are seven tips for planning and executing a memorable and impactful retreat.

1. Plan Well in Advance

It begins with deciding on the key purpose and desired outcomes, which then help establish a retreat theme. Timing is a critical component in booking the best possible venue, facilitator, speakers and recreational activities. The earlier you start planning, the more options will be available to you and the better the pricing you will find.

2. Pack a Full Agenda

If employees or executives are sacrificing personal and family time for a retreat, don’t schedule big blocks of “free time” in the agenda. Start the agenda at wake-up time, and stack it to the end of the day. You want your people leaving exhausted yet invigorated and inspired. Plan optional activities like golfing, fishing, spa treatments, winery visits, etc. at the beginning or the end to ensure the full engagement of participants during the core of the retreat.

3. Provide Variety

No one likes sitting in the conference room doing strategic planning for hours on end. Not only does it cause physical fatigue, but it also stifles creativity and collaboration. Break up the critical thinking and working sessions with more physical or fun activities, providing opportunities for participants to get to know one another more deeply, discover commonalities and solve problems together. There are a multitude of team-building exercises available with different purposes, from getting to know each other to problem-solving. Be sure to use them all.

4. Mix up Participants

Provide opportunities and set expectations that people will be working in different groups. Deliberately break up cliques and “power couples” to get people out of their close circles and expand their spheres of influence. Establish seating charts that are mixed up for each session, break up into small groups by counting off and let members pick partners (as long as they’re different for each activity).

5. Know Your Audience

When building the agenda, be considerate of team members with limitations. Adjust physical activities so no one is left out, and look beyond the physical to consider other potential limitations that could impact the exercises. Once, I led a team-building exercise using specific colors of balloons, only to find out afterward that the vice president was color-blind. Lesson learned!

6. Ask for Feedback

At the end of every workshop or retreat I conduct, just before adjourning, I always make a list of the participants’ “pluses and deltas”: I ask, “What did you like about this retreat?” and, “What would you like to see changed for next time?” Using this tactic at the end of every retreat will allow you to continually improve and customize retreats over time. And, your participants will come to expect this question and provide remarkable and tailored suggestions!

7. The End Is Just the Beginning

The biggest pitfall of retreats is that the momentum stalls when everyone reconvenes at the office. To keep the benefits going, inject the retreat’s outcomes into your regular cadence points. Provide giveaways or SWAG to take back to the office to serve as physical reminders of the retreat. Keep track of “To Dos,” communicate the retreat’s outcomes and track progress throughout the year, and invite different team members to contribute to planning next year’s retreat.

Employees take notice when you put in the time and energy to plan a retreat with attention to detail, and it becomes something your team looks forward to rather than just another event they are required to attend. Following these guidelines can structure and simplify the planning process, allowing you to focus on the fun and productivity the retreat was intended for. Put in the extra effort in advance, and enjoy the impact for years to come!

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