The Art of the Off-site

Just because corporate off-site activities have gotten better — think Outward Bound as opposed to falling into the arms of less-than-enthusiastic colleagues — doesn’t mean planning one has become a cakewalk. We spoke with expert event planners who’ve handled shindigs for the likes of Cisco, Calvin Klein, and Target for pointers on planning a successful retreat.



1. Articulate your goals.

“You’d be amazed at how many can’t tell us their goals for their off-site,” says Howard Givner, president of Paint the Town Red, a New York events company. With an objective, it’s easier to figure out whom to invite, what to do, and where to go.

2. Make the location exotic.

“Wherever you go, you have to have the feeling that it’s special,” says Joy Pecchia of MSP Resources, a Minneapolis event planner. If you can go to Cancun, great, but if not, stay local and pick a hot restaurant or some other offbeat venue.

3. Plan a signature moment.

And if you can tie it to the goal, that’s ideal. “We put on an Amazing Race-type event for a publishing company’s ad-sales staff where the participants created an ad,” says Givner. “It’s a critical part of their business, but something most of them had never done.”

4. Hangovers happen.

Eight a.m. breakfast meeting? Get real. People will party. Consider saving the really important stuff for the afternoon. If you must work mornings, Pecchia suggests evening activities like a night cruise where you can control the crowd more easily.

5. Review your progress.

You want the ideas or lessons that come out of the off-site to live beyond those few days. So you have to continually gauge whether you’re actually doing what you said you’d do when you get back to the office. Otherwise, what’s the point?