Six Tips for a Great Retreat


Recently, Chartwell closed for the day for our quarterly retreat. We hold them regularly, each one with a particular focus. Instead of just looking at a retreat as a day off work as many people do, I always find myself mentally exhausted but invigorated at the end of the day.

According to Fortune, retreats offer a chance for employees to refocus, connect with each other through team-building events, show your employees they are valued and give everyone time to reflect. It is a great time to not only discuss the future of the organization but also build on your culture. That being said, more often than not, not many folks look forward to a retreat for a variety of reasons.

So how is it that for five years now, I’ve been walking out of our retreats tired but more invested in our company than when I walked each morning? Here are some tips that I’ve gleaned from our retreats.

Consider going offsite

Getting out of the office helps people focus on the topics being addressed at the retreat instead of the regular day-to-day activities in their office. Unless laptops are necessary for the retreat, we leave them behind and keep our phones tucked into bags. We inform our clients that we’ll be out of contact for the day unless it’s an emergency. It also provides an opportunity to introduce some fun activities and, usually, great food.

Bring in an outside speaker

While we don’t always have someone from the outside, we have benefited from it every time that we have. Bringing someone in allows for a new perspective on the topics at hand. It also allows for everyone at your retreat to participate in discussions since they don’t have to lead it. At our most recent retreat, we brought in Elise Mitchell who shared not only her insights about our industry but also led all of our discussions. Not only did we learn some great things about the future of our industry but everyone was able to participate equally in every discussion.

 Plan a clear agenda and share it

The best thing that retreats can do is foster good discussion, and that comes from having a well-planned agenda with a clear focus. If your agenda includes topics for discussion, send those ahead of time. It often takes me a few days to wrap my head around subjects and think my way through them. Give your team the chance to plan their thoughts, so you get the most out of the time you have.

Create a safe space

This sounds very new age-y but it is important. Speaking at a retreat can cause anxiety in people and therefore they don’t say anything. Even if they have the next great idea, they’ll remain silent. If you’re leading these discussions, this may also mean hearing things that are challenging. You will have to accept those with grace and get to the root of the issues. If you take the time create an environment where your teams feel valued and heard, then you may get some great insight.

Don’t put the notes on the shelf

Once you’ve fostered good discussion, don’t let these notes gather dust. Show your team that you place value in their thoughts by creating action plans around the outcomes of the retreat. If it becomes apparent that nothing they say has an impact on the future of the organization, then they will be less likely to contribute at future retreats. When our retreats end, we usually have action items in place to address some of the topics that come up during the day.

Host a culture-building event

At the end of our retreat days, we’ve done a variety of activities like learning how to make guacamole and holiday cocktail recipes, or just had a drink together. Doing so gives us a chance to decompress and come together just for fun. I’ve also been to retreats where we were given a few hours to wander downtown Chicago after our morning sessions. Each afforded me the opportunity to connect with my fellow team members in a more casual environment and at a level that I was most comfortable. Consider some events that your team may be interested participating in but let them choose their level of interest in the activity. The last thing you want is their anxiety of this activity to be their main focus during other parts of the day.

Hosting a retreat is a very time-consuming, challenging process and can be met with skepticism and often disinterest. Creating an environment that lends itself to open dialogue without distractions, led by your team and outside presenters will lead to great action plans that will help your organization continue to grow. It is also a great time to help your teams grow together through discussion and fun activities. If you find planning or facilitating a retreat is giving you anxiety, then Chartwell can help. We offer a variety of training topics and can help facilitate your discussions.